The pre-famine years brought dramatic changes associated with industrialization and rapid increase in rural population.

Navan was a relatively prosperous urban centre in 1821 with important market and manufacturing functions.   As a result, the town was attracting immigrant without being able to provide the necessary employment and facilities.  Its population in the period 1921-31 rose by more than 13% and almost half the workforce depended upon agriculture.

When potato blight struck in Germany, Belgium and Britain, these countries had guarded against starvation through buying supplies of cheap food as substitute for the potato.  In total contrast the British Government neglected to do the same for Ireland and this country consequently was completely dependent on one crop, ie, the potato.


In 1845 the blight appeared first on the Wexford coast and then spread throughout the country.  The failure of the Irish potato crop was almost total, resulting in hardship and starvation.  The Catholic Church and associated organisations played an important role in alleviating the lot of the urban poor.

After centuries of oppression, the church was permitted to spread its gospel and hold services again.  Due to this newly-won freedom the number of church buildings increased and came to dominate the skyline.  This could be clearly  seen in Navan in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the landscape, particularly in the location of church lands, and as church property.

The present parochial house in Navan, for example, built in 1845, is an accurate indicator of the Catholic Church’s “rehabilitation” in society.  The Meath Catholic people, despite their own hardship and suffering, gave willingly to the church the capital required to construct the building.


John Cantwell was Bishop of Meath at the time when Eugene O’Reilly built it in 1845.   There were three priests in the parish and, in 1931, Rev. Patrick Mulvany extended the parochial house.

A new oratory was built into the house in 1973. The rooms on the ground floor, which previously had been bedrooms to facilitate students from St. Patrick’s Classical School, Navan, were converted to reception rooms for the public.

The funds required to construct this impressive building were given voluntarily even though it was at the height of the famine.  It was a structure through which Meath Catholics could assert their own identity, and today the parochial house stands as a monument to their sacrifices and faith.