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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Figures from the Past

Ardbraccan 2. I mentioned how I had ‘disrespected’ Ardbraccan by not doing my homework before going there. However I am probably not the only one unaware that it had been the centre of an independent diocese for 500 years. Even after 1152 when it was combined with four other small neighbours to form the diocese of Meath, bishops of Meath continued to live there until the Reformation and after.  

Breccan’s foundation grew over the years, famous for its Daimhliag  or Great Stone Church. This was burnt by the Vikings on numerous occasions and in an attack in 1031, two hundred persons were burnt in ‘the great church of Ardbraccan’ and two hundred carried away into captivity

The present unused church on the site comes from the post-Reformation era when the COI bishops were still living there. Built in 1777 in the place of a 14th century predecessor, the only section to survive is the ‘stand-alone’ tower (making it almost 1000 years old).   A Charter School (to the left of the entrance gate) was built in 1747. It was intended, ‘to rescue the souls of thousands of poor children from the dangers of superstition and idolatry, and their bodies from the miseries of idleness and beggary.’

The grave stones around the church are testimony to the more than a hundred bishops who lived (and died) at Ardbraccan but it was that of George Montgomery (bishop from 1610 to 1620) that caught my eye. He is shown there with his wife Susan and daughter Jane.

He came from a staunch Scottish family and his value to the Crown led to rewards as bishop of Raphoe, Clogher and Derry (and later, Meath). His wife, Susan, told her friends, ‘that the King had gifted him three Irish diocese which names I cannot remember, they are so strange’.  For his services he was known as ‘darling and chief advocate of the Church of Ireland.’

From 1641 the COI bishops of Meath lived in a ‘strong castle’ on the land attached to the church. In 1760 this was rebuilt by Watt the English architect and known as the ‘Bishop’s Palace’ (now Ardbraccan House).  By 1876 it was in poor condition so the newly appointed bishop sold it and moved to a smaller establishment nearly to be called ‘Bishop’s Court’.  This house eventually came into the possession of the Spiritan Fathers who opened it as a Retreat Centre under the name ‘An Tobar’, restoring a link with the ancient nearby Well of Ultan.

More on that later.

Photos: The Montgomery monument, the Charter School and the gate to Ardbraccan House (old Bishop’s Palace).



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