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Co Meath Overview.
Meath a maritime county of the province of LEINSTER, bounded on the east by Dublin and the Irish Sea ; on the north by Louth, Monaghan, and Cavan ; on the west by Westmeath ; and on the south by the King’s county, Kildare, and Dublin. It extends from 53º 23’ to 53º 55’ (N. Lat.), and from 6º 13’ to 7º 19’ (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 567,127 statute acres, of which 561,527 are cultivated land, and 5600 unimproved mountain and bog. The population, in 1821, amounted to 159,183 ; and in 1831, to 176,826.
The Eblani, whose territory also extended over Dublin and Kildare, are mentioned by Ptolemy as being settled in this county. According to the native divisions it formed part of one of the five kingdoms into which Ireland was partitioned, and was known by the name of Mithe, Methe, Media or Midia, perhaps from its central situation. Other writers, however, derive its name from the Irish Maith or Magh, a “plain,” or “level country,” a derivation indicative of its natural character.
It was afterwards divided into two parts, Oireamhoin, or “the eastern country,” which comprehended the portion now known by the name of Meath ; and Eireamhoin, or “the western country,” comprehending the present counties of Westmeath and Longford, with parts of Cavan, Kildare, and the King’s county.
The prince of East Meath was O’Nial, hereditary chieftain of Caelman or Clancolman, who is distinguished in the native annals by the name of the southern O’Nial. The district surrounding the hill of Taragh was originally called Magh-Breagh. On this hill, called also Teamor, from Teaghmor, “the great house,” was held the general assembly of the states of the kingdom, which met triennially, from a very early period to the end of the sixth century.
Here was preserved the Labheireg, or “stone of destiny,” on which the monarchs of Ireland were placed at their inauguration, and which, after having been removed to Scotland, was carried away by Edw. I., among the other trophies of his victory, to Westminster, where it still remains. From this hill, which St. Patrick chose as the most appropriate place for promulgating the object of his mission, the Christian religion spread itself rapidly over every part of the island.
The numerous religious institutions founded by that apostle and his immediate disciples throughout the surrounding districts, attest the rapid progress and permanence of the new doctrine. This part of Ireland suffered severely by the invasions of the Danes. In 838, Turgesius, king of that nation, sailed up the Boyne , and after making the country the scene of unexampled devastation, in which the persons and property of the Christian clergy were principal objects of persecution, he fixed here his seat of government.
The erection of the numerous raths scattered over the county is attributed to him and his followers ; one of them, of peculiar extent and strength, in the immediate neighbourhood of Taragh, is said to have been his chief place of residence. After his assassination by Melaghlin, king of Meath, the Danes who escaped a similar fate, after a continued struggle for more than a century, were totally defeated at Taragh in 980. Yet the frequent destruction of monasteries and towns recorded in the annals of the religious houses afford melancholy proof that, though unable to regain their former dominion, this ferocious and warlike people were powerful enough to disturb the tranquillity of the country by their frequent predatory incursions.
The Norman Invasion.
After the arrival of the English, Hen. II. granted to Hugh de Lacy the whole of the ancient kingdom of Meath , to hold by the service of 50 knights. De Lacy shortly afterwards divided the greater portion of this princely grant among his principal followers, giving to Gilbert Nangle the territory of Morgallion ; to Jocelyn, son of Gilbert, Navan, Ardbraccan, and their dependencies ; to Adam Pheipo, the district and manor of Skreen ; to Robert Misset, the lands of Lune ; and to Gilbert Fitz-Thomas, Kells.
From these grants, and from their first possessors having been created barons by the lord of the palatinate, who exercised the rights of sovereignty, the divisions were called baronies, which term ultimately became the general name for the great divisions of counties. The new occupants were not permitted to enjoy undisturbed the possessions thus acquired. Roderic O’Conor, King of Ireland, at the head of a large army, suddenly entered Meath, and laid siege to Trim, which was saved by the rapid approach of Raymond le Gros, then celebrating his marriage with Strongbow’s sister in Wexford.
The county also suffered about the same time from the incursions of the Irish of Ulster, and from an invasion of Melaghlin, King of Meath, who took and demolished Slane Castle , after its governor, Richard Fleming, had been killed in its defence.
On the death of Hugh de Lacy, who was assassinated at Dermagh or Durrow, in the King’s county, by one of his own dependants, Meath descended to his son Walter. King John spent some time in this county during his abode in Ireland , and tradition says that he held a parliament at Trim, which is very doubtful, as there are no traces of its proceedings.
A tomb in which one of this king’s daughters is said to have been interred was hewn in the abbey of Newtown , near Trim, About the year 1220, Meath was almost ruined by the private quarrels of Hugh, Earl of Ulster, and William Marshall. Walter de Lacy having died in 1234 without male issue, his princely possessions descended to his two daughters, the wives of Geoffrey de Geneville and Theobald Verdun,
In the reign of Henry VIII., the extensive church property in the county fell into the hands of the king on the dissolution of the monasteries ; and towards the close of the same reign Con O’Nial, King or Prince of Ulster, invaded Meath and pillaged and burned Navan in his progress ; to prevent a recurrence of this calamity a cess of 3s. 4d. was laid on every ploughland in the county, to be applied towards enclosing Navan with a wall,
In the 34th year of the same king’s reign, the division of the county into Meath and Westmeath took place. During the reign of Elizabeth the county was in a state of great wretchedness and destitution, as appears from the report made by Sir Henry Sidney, in 1576, in which he says “ that, of the 224 parish churches then in the diocese, the walls of many had fallen ; very few chancels were covered, and the windows and doors were spoiled. Fifty-two of these churches, which had vicars endowed, were better maintained and served than the others, yet but badly: 52 of the residue, which belonged to particular lords, though in a better state, were far from well.” In the year 1798 a large body of insurgents, who had posted themselves on the hill of Taragh, were routed with considerable loss by a detachment of the King’s troops and yeomanry.
The county is partly in the diocese of Armagh , partly in that of Kilmore, but chiefly in that of Meath. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Upper Deece, Lower Deece, Demifore, Upper Duleek, Lower Duleek, Dunboyne, Upper Kells, Lower Kells, Lune, Morgallion, Upper Moyfenrath, Lower Moyfenrath, Upper Navan, Lower Navan, Ratoath, Skreen, Upper Slane, and Lower Slane.
It contains the disfranchised borough, market, assize, and post-town of Trim ; the disfranchised borough of Duleek ; the disfranchised boroughs, market, and post-towns of Kells, Navan, and Athboy ; the market and post-town of Slane ; and the post-towns of Ashbourne, Clonard, Clonee, Crossakeel, Dunshaughlin, Enfield, Nobber, .and Oldeastle, The principal villages are Carlanstown, Dunboyne, Mornington, Ratoath, and Rathmolion.
The county sent 14 members to the Irish parliament, two for the county, and two for each of the boroughs of Athboy, Duleek, Kells, Navan, Ratoath, and Trim. Since the Union its representation has been confined to the two members for the county : the election is held at Trim. The constituency, as registered at the close of Hilary sessions, 1836, was 581 £50, 260 £20, and 781 £10 freeholders ; and 48 £20 and 198 £10 leaseholders ; making a total of 1868 registered electors.
It is included in the Home circuit: the assizes are held at Trim, in which town the county gaol and court-house are situated ; and there are sessions-houses and bridewells at Navan, Kells, and Dunshaughlin. The Easter and October general quarter sessions are held at the two latter towns, and the Hilary and Midsummer sessions at Trim and Navan. The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 19 deputy-lieutenants, and 105 other magistrates, aided by the usual county officers, including two coroners.
The district lunatic asylum is in Dublin ; the county infirmary at Navan ; there are fever hospitals at Kells and Navan ; and dispensaries at Crossakeel, Oldeastle, Clonard, Moynalty, Raddings town, Kentstown, Stamullen, Trim, Maher, Duleek, Kells, Balliver, Julianstown, Athboy, Dunboyne, Slane, Agher, Kilmainham Wood, Drumconrath, Wilkinstown, Kilmore, and Skreen. There are 46 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of an inspector, a paymaster, a stipendiary magistrate, 7 officers, 54 constables, 279 sub-constables, and 9 horses.
There are two coast-guard stations belonging to the Swords district; one at the mouth of the Boyne, the other on the Nanny water. The amount of Grand Jury presentments for 1835 was £25,783. 4. 3½., of which £475. 16. l0½. was for the roads, bridges, &c., of the county at large; £9475. 17. 2½. for the roads, bridges, &c., of the several baronies ; £7914. 8. 10. for public buildings, charities, officers’ salaries and incidents ; £6280. 5. 11½. for the police, and £1636. 15. 5. for repayment of advances from Government. In the military arrangements the county is included in the eastern district, and contains three barrack stations, one for cavalry at Navan, and two for infantry at Trim and New Inn ; affording in the whole accommodation for seven officers, 163 non-commissioned officers and men, and 50 horses.
From the level aspect which the general surface exhibits, the only considerable elevations being the hills of Loughcrew in the western extremity of the county, there is not much romantic scenery ; yet many parts, particularly in the vicinity of the larger rivers, present prospects of tranquil beauty. The small part of the county which borders on the sea, between the mouth of the Boyne and the Delvan, contributes as little to its scenic beauties as to its commercial advantage ; the character of the line of coast being that of a shelving strand, with little depth of water and no opening adequate to admit large vessels.
The prevailing character of the soil is a deep rich loam, resting on a substratum of limestone, and the earth has been found, at the depth of four feet, in many places, equal in quality to that on the surface ; so that when the farmer finds his fields beginning to be unproductive, he has only to plough somewhat deeper, and turn up a proportion of mould previously untouched. In the undulating districts the soil is a light earth upon a stiff clay bottom, beneath which a vein of limes tone gravel of irregular depth is frequently discovered ; but otherwise an impervious substratum of ochreous clay runs to a considerable depth.
In the northern part the soil on the hills is generally a dry gravelly clay, from 12 to 18 inches deep, but in the intervening valleys there is a deep rich loam. The herbage of the hills is remarkable for fattening sheep, and that of the low lands equally noted for feeding cattle. The district stretching along the shore is composed of a very light soil chiefly of sand, with little vegetative power, and yielding little but bent grass. The quantity of bog is small in proportion to that of the general surface, and very unequally distributed. Lough Sheelin forms a small part of the county boundary towards Cavan ; Church Island in that lake belongs to Meath. The Blackwater opens out into a fine expanse of water near Kells.
Farms are of every size from 2 acres to 3000 ; the small holders generally keep their land in tillage, and even many of the largest farms have but little meadow or pasture ; yet, there are many large grazing farms, and some of the proprietors consider pasturage to be the most profitable system of agriculture.
On the banks of the Boyne and Blackwater, the land is mostly in demesne or pasture ; to the east of Nayan, most of the land is under tillage, and toward the western border of the county it is nearly if not altogether so. The farmers who hold from 50 to 100 acres are a very industrious class, working harder and faring little better than the common labourer,
In the treatment of the soil the general principle, arising from the great depth of vegetable mould, is, that the deepest ploughing is the best tillage: the turning up of fresh earth possessing vegetative powers hitherto dormant is deemed to act as powerfully as the application of manure on the surface. This process, to be effective, must be done by degrees, not turning up the utmost depth to the surface at once, but penetrating deeper from year to year, so as to allow the new earth to be gradually and moderately blended with that already subjected to cultivation. Instances have occurred of the luxuriance of the soil being so great, that the labour and expense employed upon the first few crops was useless, the plant running wholly into straw and lodging ; the same richness produces an abundance of weeds, so that he who keeps his land most free, and at the same time friable and pulverised, is deemed the best farmer, and most of them proceed no farther in the improvement of their grounds. A summer fallow is considered absolutely necessary, at stated periods, to eradicate weeds effectually, every attempt to cleanse the ground by green crops proving utterly inefficient.
The succession of crops for rich ground is potatoes for two seasons, followed by three crops of oats, and after a season’s fallow, wheat for one crop, again followed by three crops of oats and a fallow: when land has been exhausted by bad management, the fallow is resorted to every fourth year. The crops commonly cultivated are, wheat, oats, barley, bere, rye, clover, flax, and potatoes.
Considerable benefit is thought to arise from a change of seed even between neighbouring baronies ; and the use of a pickle either of water saturated with salt, of chamberlye, or of quicklime and water mixed thinly together, is universally deemed essential to the securing of the expected wheat crop. Flax is generally sown in small patches for domestic use, but seldom cultivated largely for sale.
The crops less common are turnips, vetches, rape, peas (both grey and white), beans, cabbage, and a little chicory. Turnips are only met with on the farms of gentlemen who unite tillage with grazing, and are sown mostly for feeding sheep. The culture of vetches has been long partially practised, particularly in the neighbourhood of Drogheda, being chiefly used as winter-feeding for the working horses, for which purpose they are cut before the plant is quite ripe, and made up and given as hay. Grey peas have also been sown for many years, throughout the county, upon poor gravelly soils and sometimes upon clay ; they are invariably allowed to run to seed, and then pulled with a crooked stick, bound in sheaves, and housed when dry, to be either threshed at leisure and the straw used as litter, or given to horses without being threshed, particularly in those parts where meadow is scarce. The barony of Duleek is almost the only district in which beans form part of the staple crop, and even there they are raised in small quantities only. Cabbages, chiefly the large fiat Dutch, are found to succeed well ; but the expense of transplanting and the difficulty of protecting them from depredations have excited great prejudice against their general introduction.
The quantity of land applied to green crops and artificial grasses is comparatively small, in consequence of the vast tracts of natural grasses of the most productive kind ; the depth and richness of the soil, and its tendency to moisture without being absolutely wet, causing it to throw up a sward of nourishing verdure unequalled in other parts ; hence it is that grazing is so generally followed. All the old pastures produce natural grasses of the best kinds ; graziers seldom direct their attention to procuring artificial kinds, from an impression that after three years the land will revert to its natural coating, though covered with other kinds when laid down.
The dry warm gravelly soils spontaneously throw up a luxuriant herbage of white clover, and lands of a clayey nature, when drained and manured with limestone gravel, exhibit a similar tendency. As cattle are considered to thrive best on grounds that produce the greatest variety of grasses, the main object of the farmer, when about to lay down land, is to procure the greatest variety of seeds of the best quality ; others sow white and red clover mixed in equal quantities, without any hay-seed, from an opinion that the land thus treated will throw up its natural grasses more luxuriantly the third or fourth year, than if sown with hay-seed. The marshes of Rosmin and Emla, on the Borora, are the only wet lands of sufficient extent to claim special notice, though there are others of smaller size scattered. through the county, which, being mostly improved by draining, are chiefly applied to rearing young cattle.
Those of Rosmin and Emla are nearly in a state of nature, and are covered with water during winter from the overflowing of the river: in summer they throw up an immense crop of grass, which is greedily consumed by horses. The land held by small farmers is badly fenced, but on the lands of the gentry and large farmers, the fences are formed of quicksets after the English method. From ten to twelve years after being first made, the hedge is either cut down or plashed and laid.
Wall fences are very rare, though stone-faced ditches are not uncommon. The kinds of manure in most common use are stable dung, ditch-scourings, limestone gravel, marl, and lime. Meadows are manured either immediately after being mown or during the frosts of winter. Coal ashes are used as a top- dressing on clay meadows with good effect, as also are marl and limestone gravel.
Much attention is paid to the breed of black cattle both for the butcher and the dairy ; the art of fattening cattle is an object of principal attention with most farmers. Early in May the graziers open their pastures for the stock for the stock to be fattened ; for feeding is their principal object, as land bears too high a rent to admit of its being applied to raise stock: the cattle, after being bred, are turned out till they become fit for the butcher, when they are sent to the Dublin market, or sold at the neighbouring fairs.
There are several graziers who fatten from 300 to 500 cows during the season, besides bullocks and sheep. A few sheep, generally pets, are occasionally pastured among the neat cattle, but the practice is condemned as injuring the “ proof” of the beast, because sheep devour the sweetest grass, and it is the ultimate object of the grazier to obtain a character for fattening proof beasts that will “ do well,” a term applied by butchers to animals possessing a considerable quantity of inward fat.
Beasts purchased in May are often fattened and sold before Christmas, otherwise they are fed during winter with turnips, potatoes, and hay. Where distilleries are near, the bullocks are fattened on the potale and grains ; these animals attain an uncommon degree of fatness, and are preferred by the butchers on account of their superior weight in proportion to their size ; but their beef, though juicy, is not well-flavoured: it eats dry, and the fat melts before the fire or in the pickling tub.
There are a few dairies of considerable extent, but the butter made in them is held in little estimation. Most of the farmers who occupy from 80 to 100 acres keep a few milk cows, the produce of which, after supplying the family, is sold ; yet, from the want of nourishing green food in winter and spring, they cannot supply the market with milk and butter during the season they bear the highest price. Where potale can be procured, milk is plentiful but of inferior quality. Few calves are reared on these farms ; those that are brought up are fed on new milk for the first fortnight, and then on hay water, thick milk, and other substitutes.
The draught horses most prized are of a light, active, yet stout breed, being a cross between the saddle and waggon horse: the number kept for agricultural purposes is in the proportion of one to ten acres. Most of the saddle horses are brought hither from Roscommon, Galway, and Sligo. Little attention is paid to the breeding of sheep. Pigs are not so general as in most other counties. Orchards and gardens are seen around some of the smaller farm-houses and cabins. Bees are kept in large numbers in several districts, and poultry is most abundant and cheap.
Though the quantity of natural wood is very small, ground being considered too valuable for the purposes of grazing or tillage to be enclosed for woodland, yet the plantations about noblemen’s and gentlemen’s seats are very extensive. The old woods around Bective, Lismullen, and Ardbraccan are very large and valuable ; and from the numerous ornamental plantations throughout every part of the county except the west, and from the number of timber trees planted as hedge-rows, the country in general has a very furnished appearance, much resembling the county of Worcester or Hereford in England.
Oak timber is scarce ; but beech, elm, ash, poplar, sycamore, and alder are so abundant that, after. supplying the local demand, much is sent to other counties ; there are several nurseries of considerable extent and many osieries of from two to ten acres each, the produce of which is mostly worked at home and the remainder is bought by the Dublin basket-makers.
The quantity of waste ground in this county is extremely small. Commons are in general attached to the corporate towns for the use of the inhabitants. In consequence of the small quantity of bog compared with the extent and population of the county, fuel is extremely scarce, and the poor suffer much from the want of it. Some large proprietors, in order to relieve their tenants and to prevent depredations upon their fences and plantations, are particularly careful to have their ditches sown with French furze.
The deficiency of fuel is also supplied by the importation of coal, chiefly from Drogheda, by the Boyne navigation, In the neighbourhood of that town, and along the line of navigation, the labourer often stipulates for a ton of coal in part payment, and, when near bogs, the turf is sometimes drawn home for him by his employer.
The county forms part of the great limestone field of Ireland, that mineral constituting its general substratum, except in its northern part, where the clay-slate formation is found ; in the western, where basalt is found mixed with the clay-slate, in some places rising in bare rocks, in others scattered over the surface in de-tached masses ; and on the line of sea- coast, which is formed of transition rock. At Ardbraccan the limestone is of a fine white grain, capable of being worked into any form. The beds lie horizontally, and are of considerable thickness ; the stone is susceptible of a high polish, assuming a grey tinge when finished, though appearing white under the chisel: tombstones and door-cases made of it are sent to a great distance.
The seam of rock extends to the Blackwater, but the quarries opened in other parts do not afford blocks of such scantling as at Ardbraccan. The works are also much impeded by the difficulty of keeping the quarries free from water. In Slane barony there is a fine quarry of vitrescent stone, which makes excellent flagstones, but does not take a high polish.
It has been conjectured that coal exists in the same barony, in consequence of the appearances that present themselves where the edges of mineral strata are laid open by the washing away of the surface soil ; but the position of the layers presents difficulties that have hitherto prevented the search from being prosecuted with any prospect of success.
A vein of copper has been found near the banks of the Boyne, the analysis of which gave 21 parts of copper from 120 of ore ; but the difficulty of keeping the workings clear of water has prevented it from being profitably explored. At Knock, in Morgallion barony, is an argillaceous clay containing a portion of iron, and adapted for the coarser kinds of earthenware ; and there is a vein of potters’ clay, of superior quality, at Dunshaughlin. Petrifactions are found in the caverns and fissures of the limestone districts, and some very brilliant spars and crystals in the Nanny water, particularly near the Diamond rock.
Fossils of various kinds have also been discovered in the limestone caverns and in several of the small bogs. The fossil remains of moose deer were discovered a few miles from Kells, imbedded in marl beneath a bog, within an enclosure of circular form, which is conjectured to have been used for entrapping the animals ; the remains were very numerous. Three heads of deer with uncommonly large horns were also found imbedded in the earth at Dardistown ; they are supposed to have belonged to animals of the moose deer kind.
The manufactures of the county are small and unimportant, except for domestic consumption. The weaving of sacking and sheeting employs a good many hands, particularly on the borders of the county towards Drogheda ; the yarn is mostly brought from the northern counties. Near Navan is a mill for the manufacture of coarse paper ; the straw plat and bonnet trade is carried on more or less in the principal towns ; coarse pottery, bricks, fiat and pan tiles, &c., are made in and around Knock ; there are tanneries in all the larger towns ; flour-mills on a very large scale are numerous on the Boyne and Blackwater, where vast quantities of flour are annually manufactured ; there are distilleries and breweries in Navan and other places ; cider is made, but of inferior quality.
The principal river is the Boyne, which, rising in the county of Kildare, enters that of Meath at Clonard, and flowing eastward divides it into two nearly equal parts, passing in its course, which is by no means rapid, through some very beautiful sylvan scenery. Its estuary forms the harbour of Drogheda, above which town its navigation is carried on sometimes in the bed of the river, and sometimes by artificial cuts, to Slane, and thence up to Navan, which is 15 miles above Drogheda.
The Blackwater, next in size and importance, rises in Lough Ramor in Cavan, and flowing by Kells unites with the Boyne at Navan. The Athboy, Knightsbrook, and Kilmessin are all tributaries to the Boyne, as is also the Mattock, which is the boundary between Louth and Meath ; the Borora is tributary to the Blackwater ; the Nanny water, rising near Navan, takes an eastern course through the romantic glen at Diamond rock, and thence to the sea ; the Delvan, which separates the counties of Dublin and Meath, is a small and otherwise insignificant stream.
The most remarkable relics of antiquity of the earliest ages are two ancient round towers, one at Kells, and another in the churchyard of Donoughmore near Navan. At New Grange, near Slane, is a very remarkable tumulus, in which is an artificial cavern of some extent and singular construction. Near Dowth are a Druidical circle and the remains of a cromlech. Vestiges of Danish monuments are very numerous ; the most remarkable is a rath near Taragh, supposed to have been the residence of the Danish king, Turgesius ; the raths of Odder, Rameven and Ringlestown, are in the same neighbourhood: they have all been planted. Six of the ancient instruments called corabasnas were found by persons digging in a park near Slane, in 1781 ; the corabasna was of a complex form, consisting of two circular plates of brass connected by a spiral wire, which produced a jingling noise when the plates were struck by the fingers ; it was used for the purpose of keeping time.
Two splendid torques of pure gold were found near Taragh, in 1813, and are now in the possession of the Duke of Sussex. Bracelets or collars, being solid rings of pure gold of very ancient and rude workmanship, were found near Trimleston Castle, in 1833 ; the largest weighed 12 ounces avoirdupois.
The ruins of abbeys, priories, convents, and other monastic edifices, are numerous through every part of the county, and still more numerous are the names of others now only discoverable by some local name, or traceable in historic records. The ruins of the old monastery of Duleek, said to be the first monastic edifice built of stone and mortar in Ireland, presents some curious and extraordinary traces of rude architecture. At Bective are extensive and picturesque ruins of the wealthy abbey of that name ; at Clonard was an abbey of Canons Regular, a convent, and also a cathedral, but nothing now remains except the font of the latter ; at Colpe, Newtown, Slane, and Trim, were also abbeys of Canons Regular, all now in ruins ; at Killeen and Kilmainham Wood were commanderies of Knights Hospitallers ; at Ratoath and Skreen were priories of the Augustinian Eremites ; at Eirk, near Slane, was an hermitage ; at Trim a priory of Crutched friars ; on the Holy or Church island, in Lough Sheelin, was an abbey of Grey friars ; Kilmainham-beg and Teltown belonged to the Dominicans ; all have long since fallen into ruins.
The monasteries of which no ruins remain are those of Ardbraccan, Ardceath, Ardmulchan, Ardsallagh, Athboy, Ballybogan, Beaumore near Colpe, Beaubeg, Calliagh, Cloonmanan, Diserttola, Donaghmore, Donney carney near Colpe, Donoughpatrick, a priory of the Virgin Mary and the Magdalen Hospital at Duleek ; abbeys at Dunshaughlin, and Indenen near Slane ; a house of Regular Canons, an hospital of St. John the Baptist, and a chantry, all at Kells ; a house of Regular Canons and a nunnery at Killeen ; .an abbey at Navan, on the site of which the cavalry barrack is now built ; priories at Odder and Rosse, south of Taragh ; an abbey of Regular Canons and a chantry at Skreen ; a monastery of Grey Friars, on the site of which the sessions-house at Trim stands ; a nunnery, a Greek church, and a chantry at Trim ; Dominican friaries at Kilberry, Lismullen, and Dunshaughlin ; besides several others now existing only in name.
Columbkill’s house, a stone-roofed cell, said to be one of the oldest stone-built houses in Ireland, is still traceable at Kells ; in which town there are also several stone crosses, one in particular of beautiful workmanship. In the cemetery at Castlekieran, in which are the ruins of a small church, is also a very fine stone cross richly sculptured.
Castles and Earthworks.
The county also retains many remains of its ancient military structures, of which the most celebrated in the records of remote antiquity is Taragh, already noticed. Whatever may have been its ancient splendour, as set forth in the poetry of the native bards and in the chronicles of annalists, little now is discoverable corresponding with their highly wrought descriptions.
Considerable remains of circular earthworks still exist, but of the palaces and places of scientific study said to have been situated here, there are no traces. The oldest fortress upon record erected after the arrival of the English was that of Kells, built by de Lacy, but of which there are now no vestiges ; the same nobleman built the castles of Clonard, Killeen, and Delvin ; and the erection of Trim castle is attributed .by some to him, but it is more generally thought to have been raised about the year 1220 by one of the Pypart family: its extent and strength, as indicated by its ruins even at the present day, prove that it was designed to be a position of primary importance for the defence of the palatinate ; and from the date of its erection to the termination of the war of King William III., its destinies are interwoven with many of the historical events of the times ; the ruins overhang the Boyne, presenting an aspect of much grandeur.
The other ancient castles of which the ruins are still considerable were those of Scurlogstown, Dunmoe, Athlumney, and Asigh. Liscartin and Athcarne castles have been fitted up as residences ; and several other ancient castles have been preserved by being converted into mansion-houses, among the finest of which is Slane, the property of Marquess Conyngham, and celebrated as being the abode of Geo. IV. during the greater part of his stay in Ireland in 1821.
Contiguous to it, but on the other side of the Boyne, is Beaupark, the modern and elegant seat of Gustavus Lambert, Esq. ; the two demesnes are so connected in their locality that each enjoys the full benefit of the scenic beauties peculiar to the other. The modern mansions of the nobility and gentry are noticed in the description of the parishes in which they are respectively situated. The residences of the gentry of small landed property and of the beneficed clergy are numerous and indicative of a high state of improvement. Until of late years the houses of the proprietors and of the cultivators of the soil exhibited a more marked disparity than could be seen in any other part of Ireland ; the tenements of the working farmers who hold from 20 to 100 acres presented an appearance of great wretchedness, and the cabins of the labourers or cottiers were still more deficient of comfort ; but this characteristic, though not entirely removed, has been considerably diminished by the improvement made in the dwellings.
The lower classes suffer much from the want of fuel, which, as already remarked, is very scarce in many parts, and the low rates of wages prevent the possibility of providing a stock of sea coal to meet the exigencies of winter. Yet the peasantry in general are endowed with a disposition so well inclined to look on the bright points of the prospect before them, that under the depressing difficulties through which they have to struggle during life, they enjoy every momentary festivity with delight and animation.
The English language is spoken throughout every part of the county, and the peasantry in some of the districts possess an originality nowhere else found in Ireland, particularly in the plains stretching from the boundary of Kildare near Maynooth, by Ratoath, Duleek, and to the banks of the Boyne, where a colony called the Fingael or Fingal settled in the 9th century, whose descendants to this day remain a distinct race, retaining many of the peculiar habits, manners, and customs of their forefathers.
At Castlekieran is a remarkably fine spring, the origin of which tradition attributes to the miraculous powers of St. Kieran ; it is much frequented on the first Sunday in August by persons seeking a remedy for various diseases. At Summerhill is a chalybeate spa, but not of much strength. or medicinal efficacy. The waters of the mineral springs of Kileriew and Nobber are said to be serviceable in obstinate cutaneous complaints. At Knock is another chalybeate spring, formerly in much estimation from its successful use in cases arising from debility ; but the opinion of its efficacy has been for some time declining, and it is now but seldom visited. Meath gives the title of Earl to the Brabazon family.
MEATH (Diocese of).This diocese was originally formed by the union of several small sees, of which the principal were Clonard, Duleek, Kells, Trim, Ardbraccan, Dunshaughlin, Slane, and Foure, all of which, except Duleek and Kells, were consolidated at the celebrated synod held by Cardinal Paparo in 1152, and the episcopal seat fixed at Clonard. The sees of Duleek and Kells were afterwards annexed ; and the united diocese, which took its name from the ancient province of Meath, was placed under the superintendence of Idunan, who flourished towards the close of the 11th century. The first prelate after the English invasion was Eugene, who was advanced to the see in 1174, and a short time before his death, in 1194, assumed the title of Bishop of Meath, which has ever since been retained.
Simon Rochfort, his immediate successor, founded an abbey for Augustinian canons at Newtown, near Trim, to which he removed the episcopal see, where it remained till the reign of Hen. VIII. ; and Thos. St. Leger, who was consecrated in 1287, extended the pos-sessions and the privileges of the diocese. Alexander de Balseot, who was consecrated in 1386, was appointed Lord High Treasurer of Ireland by Edw. III., and filled many important stations under Rich II. ; his immediate successor, Edward Dantsey, was made Lord-Deputy to Sir John de Grey, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. John Pain, who was made bishop in 1483, preached the sermon and proclaimed the title of Lambert Simnel, at his coronation in Christ- church, Dublin, for which be received a pardon in 1488 ; and on the arrival of Sir Richard Edgecombe to settle the country after Simnel’s defeat, he attended that officer on his landing at Malahide, and was employed by him to proclaim the king’s pardon to all who should return to their allegiance.
In the reign of Hen. VIII., the episcopal seat was removed to the church of St. Mary’s abbey at Ballymore, near Lough Seudy, in the county of Westmeath, but it appears to have remained there for a short period only, and not to have been subsequently established in any particular locality, nor has there been for a long time either dean, chapter, or cathedral church. In 1568, the see of Clonmacnois was annexed to this diocese by act of parliament. In 1621, the celebrated James Ussher was consecrated Bishop of Meath, which dignity he held till 1624, when he was translated to the archbishoprick of Armagh. The bishop of Meath ranks next to the four archbishops ; the other bishops, excepting only the bishop of Kildare, take precedence according to the date of their consecration.
The diocese is one of the ten which constitute the ecclesiastical province of Armagh, and comprehends part of the counties of Kildare, Longford, and Cavan, a large portion of King’s county, and the greater part of the counties of Meath and Westmeath ; extending from the sea to the river Shannon, 80 miles in length and 20 in breadth ; comprising an estimated superficies of 663,600 acres, of which 750 are in Kildare, 4300 in Longford, 9400 in Cavan, 102,000 in King’s county, 324,400 in Meath, and 222,750 in Westmeath. The lands belonging to the see comprise 29,269 statute acres, of which 20,266 are profitable land ; and the gross revenue of the bishop, on an average of three years, ending Dec. 1st, 1831, amounted to £5220. 10. 6.
The bishop was anciently elected, and the affairs of the diocese are still transacted, by a synod, consisting of an archdeacon and all the beneficed clergy of the diocese ; the common seal is annually deposited in the hands of one of the members by vote of the majority ; there is also a dean of Clonmacnois, collated by the bishop. The consistorial court is held at Navan, and consists of a vicar general, two surrogates, a registrar, deputy-registrar, a proctor of office, and three other proctors ; the registrar is keeper of the records, which are preserved in the court-house of Navan, and of which the earliest is dated in 1712. The total number of parishes in the diocese is 220, comprised in 105 benefices, of which 47 are unions of two or more parishes, and 58 single parishes ; of these, 24 are in the patronage of the Crown, 22 in lay patronage, and the remainder in that of the bishop or incumbents. The total number of churches is 100, and there are six other episcopal places of worship, and 89 glebe-houses. The episcopal palace is near Navan, in the parish of Ardbraccan.
In the R. C. divisions the diocese, with the exception of one parish in that of Kilmore and a few in that of Ardagh, is nearly co-extensive with the Protestant diocese ; and is one of the eight bishopricks suffragan to the archiepiscopal see of Armagh. It comprises 64 parochial benefices or unions, and contains 156 chapels, which are served by 124 clergymen, of whom 64 are parish priests, and 60 coadjutors, or curates.
The parochial benefices of the bishop are Mullingar and Kells, in the former of which he resides. The cathedral, at Mullingar, is a handsome and spacious edifice, in the later English style, and was consecrated Aug. 15th, 1836, by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Cantwell, assisted by the R. C. Archbishop of Tuam and the dignitaries and clergy of the diocese.