Some Meath History
There is a plaque to Garret Wesley by William Kidwell in storage in Laracor Church. Below are some details.
William Kidwell – Sculptor.
William Kidwell was born at Weybridge, Surrey, 27 April 1662. He is described in his will as a ‘stonecutter’, but a number of signed church monuments reveal that he was a sculptor of considerable ability with a delicate touch ideally suited to carving in the naturalistic manner fashionable at the height of the Baroque. Kidwell was responsible for several monuments in England and Ireland which incorporate elements from the baroque repertoire with a somewhat heavy hand.
He was first apprenticed in 1678 as a joiner to John Bumpstead, who had worked at St Stephen’s, Walbrook, London, and then to Edward Pierce , perhaps the finest English sculptor of the 17th century. Kidwell established his own yard in Westminster, London, and from c. 1690 executed several worthy monuments, notably that to Sir Robert Bernard, with a fine portrait bust, and to Francis Coventry, composed of an inscription tablet flanked by a pair of atlantids, which seem to be influenced by Pierce. In 1711 Kidwell settled in Dublin; He was made a freeman of Dublin at Christmas that year; by 1712 he was supervising Sir John Perceval’s marble quarry at nearby Duncarney. He became the leading sculptor of tombs in Ireland, where many examples of his work remain, the most elaborate being the memorial to Sir Donat O’Brien (d. 1717) at Kilnasoolagh, Co. Clare; [for these, see Homan Potterton, 'A new pupil of Edward Pierce: William Kidwell', Burlington Magazine 114 (Dec., 1972), 864-867, and, by the same author, Irish Church Monuments 1570-1880 (UAHS, 1975), 52-54, Figs. C, 12 & 16.] From there he supplied chimney-pieces to various houses, including Kings Weston, Bristol, in 1713. Kidwell’s masterpiece, the monument to Sir Donat O’Brien (d 1717; Kilnasoolagh, Co. Clare;, has the deceased reclining on a mattress, surrounded by a rich architecture executed in black and white marble, and shows Kidwell’s debt to Grinling Gibbons and William Stanton. The monument to William Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon (d 1724; Fiddown, Co. Kilkenny), is an early and remarkably pure example of an architectural wall tablet in the Palladian style. In Fiddown church, Co. Waterford, is a tablet of white marble on a background of black Kilkenny marble, embellished with various objects, skulls, cross-bones, hour-glasses, etc., erected to the memory of William Ponsonby, 1st Viscount Duncannon, who died in 1724, inscribed Kidwell London fecit. The monument to Garret Wesley (d 1728; Laracor, Co. Meath) suggests that Kidwell remained faithful to Baroque conventions. The monument to Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Armagh, in Blessington church, is also his work as is the Dillon Ashe monument in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim.
By 1733 he had a yard on the Strand in Dublin, where marble was sent to him from Cork. Kidwell remained in Ireland for the rest of his life, making occasional visits to London. William appears to have been a bachelor most of his life, but he married a widow, Letitia Moore of Dublin, on 14 September 1733, when he was approaching the age of 70. Kidwell settled in Dublin and died there in 1736. His will, in which he describes himself as “of the city of Dublin, stone-cutter,” was made on 7th August, 1736, and proved on the 13th September following.
It was said that the first Wesley to come to Ireland came with Henry II as his standard bearer in the twelfth century. The first Wesley of Dangan, that can be identified, was Christopher, son of Sir Richard Wesley, who served as High Sheriff of Meath during the reign of Henry V, 1386-1422.
Garrett Wesley was the son of Garret Wesley of Dangan and Mornington who was married to Elizabeth Colley of Castle Carbury, Co. Kildare. He was born about 1665. Garret married Catherine Keating, daughter of Maurice Keating of Narraghmore. She was a sister of the wife of Garret’s older brother, William, and she died in 1745. Garret’s older brother, William, died heirless and so Garret inherited the Dangan estate.
Garret and Catherine were friends of Dean Swift of nearby Laracor and corresponded by letter when he was away from his parish. A silver Communion service donated by Garret Wesley for use by Swift at Laracor has survived and is now in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim. One of the chalices has the inscription, “The Gift of Garret Wesley, Esqr., To ye Church of Larracor, 1723.”
Garret was an Irish Member of Parliament. He represented Trim from 1692 to 1693, Athboy from 1695 to 1699, County Meath from 1711 to 1714 and then Trim again from 1727 to his death.
Garret had no children and he may have considered taking Charles Wesley of Epworth, England, as his heir. Charles was the brother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism. A story suggests that Garret paid for the education of Charles.
When Garret died childless 23 September 1728 his first cousin Richard Colley inherited the Dangan estate and took the Wesley name. Richard’s grandson was Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.
Paschal Marry’s review of new book entitled “Of Other Days”
(To be launched in Meath County Library on Thursday 15th May at 7pm.)
On a warm summers evening in the shade of a willowtree, the perfect companion to a comfortable chair and a mug of rich coffee is a great book. The problem is finding a book that would complement this scene. The highest honour I can give to Anthony Holten’s new book “Of Other Days” is its ability to make this scene perfect.
Tony relates the story of his boyhood between the years 1948 – 1958 atDowdstown in a collection of connected stories. The book is beautifully written with a freshness and an honestly that is hard to find in a world where quality content has sometimes been lost to the back space or the delete button at an editor’s desk. As all biographies take bravery to write, to find one that is written with the addition of honesty and humility takes great strength by the writer and means an enjoyable experience for the reader.
Tony tells the stories of his youth with amazing honesty and unlimited humility. In the book you read the story of a young boy’slife amidst a loving warm family. You can experience the excitement of the antics of characters likeMickseyGeraghty on his bike and the pleasure of a young boy’s fun in the countryside of County Meath. Tony brings you back to a time when tramps and tinkers(tinsmiths) were an integral part of Irish life and when an “Irish welcome on the mat” was a reality not fantasy in a Hollywood film. He tells of a time, when times were hard but people shared what they had and yet the concept of being poor did not exist. Going to the bog was a family outing where everyone shared in the work and the laughter collectively.
Tony has published the book in a limited signed edition of 200 copies and in time I am confident it will be a scarce historical social resource about life in County Meath in the 1950s.
For one day only the pop-up museum is coming to town. It’s a chance to see precious objects and memorabilia, loaned by members of the public, that tell the story of their local community. Seoidíní Staire. The Ráth Chairn programme will be broadcast on Thursday May 22nd at 8.00pm.
Members of the public are asked to rummage through their attics and cupboards for objects and artefacts of local historical interest. Presented by Mairead Ní Chuinneagáin, who has help from a different historical enthusiast in each area, the artefacts are displayed for the entire community at a one day only pop-up exhibition.
This series features some intriguing objects which tell stories of emigration, lace-making, the Straw Boys, Whaling Stations, religion and every day domestic life. Some items uncovered include a cross from penal times, a coin with the image of a local woman, vintage vehicles, farming equipment, cooking utensils and clothes all with a unique story to tell.
Seoidíní Staire was produced by Waddell Media for TG4 with assistance from Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund.
What did the Romans ever do for Meath?
The Roman’s never came to Ireland or did they? In recent decades there has been discussion as to whether the Romans came to Ireland or not. A lot of significance is given to a fort in north county Dublin called Drumanagh or Loughshinny. Ireland was not isolated from the Roman world and there must have been interaction on a number of different level – trade, culture, religion, agriculture and warfare. The development of Irish culture from the first to the eighth centuries AD owed much to the imperial Roman and Christian empires respectively.
Agricola, the Roman governor of Britain from 78 -84 AD entertained an Irish royal, with the intention of using him as a pretext for the invasion of Ireland. It has been suggested that the Irish prince was Tuathal Techtmhar who ruled Ireland from Tara in the first century. Tuathal may have received Roman assistance in regaining his throne. Tuathal’s father was overthrown and killed. His mother was a native of Britain and so Tuathal amy have returned to his mother’s home to organise a campaign to regain his kingdom. Tuathal returned to Ireland and carved out the province of Midhe, Meath, from the other provinces. Excavations at Tara have uncovered Roman material from the first and second century which would prove a connection between the royals of Tara and the Roman world. Lead sealing from box and shreds of Roman pottery were discovered at Tara.
The second century Roman poet, Juvenal, who may have served in Britain under Agricola, wrote that “arms had been taken beyond the shores of Ireland” but the meaning of this is unclear.
Roman merchants would have been familiar with the east coast of Ireland, facing across the Irish Sea to Roman Britain. In the second century the Greek geographer prepared a map of the world which included Ireland. Coordinates for the Boyne river, called by Ptolemy Buvinda, were marked on the map. Obviously the Boyne and its estuary were known by Roman traders.
There have been numerous Roman items discovered in Meath. The items uncovered may have come from trade or raids, from returning mercenaries, refugees or adventurers.
At Newgrange coins and jewellery have been uncovered. It is thought that the items were deposited as votive offerings to the god, Daghda. Coins from first, third and especially fourth century have been uncovered. The first Roman coins uncovered at Newgrange were discovered about 1699 when the tomb itself came to light. Coins from various emperors were unearthed – Domitian AD 81-96, Postumus AD 260-168, Probus 276- 282, Maximian 286- 305, Constantine I 308-337, Constantine II 337- 340 and later emperors. The wide date range, high value and quantity rule out casual loss. The suggestion is that they were grave goods or votive offerings. The likely depositors are the native Irish rather than Romans. In 1842 five gold items were uncovered at Newgrange near the entrance - a gold chain, two bracelets and two finger rings. In 1967 the hook end of a gold torc with an inscription SCORNS.MB was discovered at Newgrange.
At Lagore crannog, near Dunshaughlin, various Roman items were uncovered in the dig in the 1930s. Sherds of Samian ware , a fine bright red pottery originating in Gaul, were found at Lagore. This type of pottery was created in Gaul, France, in the middle of the second century. Sherds of this type of pottery were also uncovered at Tara and Knowth. A number of chains and collars uncovered at Lagore have been interpreted as slave chains or chains for dogs. The Romans traded in slaves. Roman toilet articles were uncovered at Lagore, Knowth and Tara.
At Knowth a bronze spoon was discovered. A bronze ladle was uncovered at Bohermeen but its find details are not known. It has a round bottom and a long winged handle. It is of a kind found widely and commonly throughout the Roman world and is now in the National Museum. A coin of Younger Faustina 161-175 was uncovered at Navan but the site of the find is not located.
Water mills had a long history in the Roman World. Could Lismullen have been the first Roman water mill in Ireland? The mill was reputedly built by the High King of Tara to
relieve his concubine of the arduous task of grinding by quern stone.
Ogham stones and the use of the Roman alphabet was a fourth and fifth century introduction into Ireland. Meath had its own ogham stone at Painestown.
While the Romans never conquered Meath or Ireland their religion did. The Roman Briton, Patrick, was the most influential missionary to introduce Christianity to Ireland.
So the Romans did influence Meath in a whole variety of ways.
Lionsden House is located at Castlerickard, near Longwood in south west Meath.
The house was erected in 1788 by Godwin Swifte IV. John O’Donovan said the name Lion’s den was a fancy name. O’Donovan preferred Irish names. Beaufort’s map of 1797 showed Lion’s Den. The name could be a play on Richard the Lionheart or through the Fitzleon family. A two-storey over basement house it has bow ends.The ground floor accommodation includes an entrance hall, a drawing room, a living room, dining room, kitchen, utility room, back hall, bathroom, boot room and boiler room. Upstairs are six bedrooms and bathroom. There are two rooms in the basement. The house is vaguely similar to Roristown, Trim. Lionsden was the centre of a small estate which had canals, two ornamental lakes, a fishpond and a dovecote. Lionsden is currently accessed by what was the back entrance. The main entrance to the house still stands with its original gates but its gate lodge has been removed. There is a dovecote and a lake near the house.
Godwin Swift was the first of the family to be associated with Lionsden and Castlerickard. He was the uncle of Dean Jonathan Swift. The main seat of the Swifts was Swiftsheath, Co. Kilkenny. The Dean’s second cousin was Deane Swife Deane Swift wrote and Essay on the life of Jonathan Swift and edited Swift’s works which included the bulk of Swift’s letters.
Captain Henry Hoener de Mamile, of Nancy, France married Anna Marie Caroline Swifte in Belgium in 1833. The couple moved to Lionsden about 1835, shortly before the birth of their second son Oswald. They gave him the second name of Napoleon. Anna Marie died in childbirth in 1849. Their children seem to have emigrated to Austriala and America. In 1854 Honeur De Mamiel held Lionsden from Godwin Meade Swift.
Goodwin Meade Pratt Swift of Swiftsheath, Co. Kilkenny was granted a patent in 1856 for an aerial chariot or apparatus for navigating the air. He constructed what he called an “aerial chariot” which consited of a boat-shaped carriage with one wheel at the front and two at the rear with silk covered wings. The device was drawn forward by an aerial screw or propeller turned by a winch and gear system. He constructed his chariot in the dining room of the house and then widen the doors to get the device outside. He had it hoisted tot eh top of Foulksrath castle and had his butler climb inside before pushing it over the edge. It plummeted to the ground and the butler broke his leg. The butler received a pension for life. In Castlerickard church there was a brass tablet which read: ‘Godwin Meade Pratt Swifte, Viscount Carlingford, natus 13th August 1805, obit July 4th 1864. In Castlerickard churchyard the Swift family vault is surmounted by a large three-sided pyramid. The stonework fits tightly together, to form an almost smooth surface. Erected about 1815 the pyramid is inscribed ‘Swifte’ on west elevation.
In 1901 the house was vacant but owned by the Swift family. In 1911 the house was vacant. The Hatton family later acquired the house. In 2006 Lionsden House and 53 acres was sold. The house was again for sale in 2010.
Meath Folktales Book launched
LAUNCH OF NEW FOLKTALE BOOK
The launch of Richard Marsh’s book Meath Folktales
Takes place at 8.00 p.m. on Friday 13th December 2013
At Teach Scurlog, Scurlogstown, Trim.
The book will launched by Pat Farrelly and Noel French
Launched St. Ultan’s Historical Society Calendar at Kellys in Greetiagh, Bohermeen.
I want to congratulate St. Ultan’s Historical Society on their new calendar. Last year’s calendar was a great success. This year they have chosen sport as their theme and there are 14 lovely photographs of various sports recorded in this calendar.
Bohermeen GAA were founded in 1895. The Bohermeen team won six consecutive Meath Senior Football Championship titles from 1909 to 1914 and won another championship in 1916. However that is not the full story and here is where Trim comes into the story. Trim footballers were defeated in the county final of 1908 and in a game later that year the Trim team got into trouble with a referee and he abandoned the game. Trim’s players were suspended for six months and their best players joined the Bohermeen team and were on the team that won the six championships in a row.
Bohermeen won the Meath Intermediate Football Championship in 1973 and reached the Senior Football championship again in 1974 when they were defeated by Summerhill.
The first official Athletics club was founded in 1927. Pat Coyle was national cross-country champion in 1927 and 1928 and represented Ireland in international cross-country events in Wales and Scotland. In the 1930s cycling took a lead role in athletics and Pat Coyle came to the front. In 1943 Pat Donlon, chairman of the Bohermeen club was elected as chairman of the Meath Board. The club struggled for a few years and was re-formed in 1954 and again in 1969. The club secured land adjacent to the Community Centre and developed an athletic training grounds. Club members have been consistently active in cross-country, road, and track and field events at local, regional and national level. The club is a very active one and I see Stephen Ball at many events throughout Meath.
Jimmy Farrell from Cortown was capped 29 times for the Irish rugby team from 1927 to 1930. Born in 1903 he died in 1979 in England. He was educated at Castleknock College and captained Castleknock to the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 1920. He played for Bective Rangers. He toured with the Lions to Argentina in 1927 and to Australia and New Zealand in 1929-1930. He scored two tries and a conversion during the New Zealand Australia tour.
In view of the of how close Ireland got against the All Blacks a few weeks ago it is very appropriate that Jimmy Farrell be included in this calendar.
Bohermeens successes in soccer and cycling and other sports is also recorded in the pages of this calendar.
The calendars would make an ideal gift for any natives of the parish that has been forced to emigrate. There will be no reprint this year. When they are gone they are gone. Well done to the Society and every success in the future.
ROUTE – FOOTSTEPS OF FAITH 28th October 2013 commencing at 2.00 p.m.
- St. Patrick’s Church – Assemble
The foundation stone for St. Patrick’s Church was laid by Dr. Nulty, the Bishop of Meath, in 1891. The altars are the work of the Pearse Brothers of Dublin, one of whom was the father of Padraig Pearse, leader of the 1916 rising. The sanctuary mosaics are taken from photographs of the Book of Kells. The church was dedicated to St. Patrick on the 12th October 1902 by Bishop Gaffney. A stained glass window in the church commemorates the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Trim. Opposite is a window depicting St. Patrick addressing the High King on Tara.
- Maudlin’s Cemetery and Our Lady of Trim.
The Maudlins Cemetery was the site of the Leper Hospital of Mary Magdalen. The crusading knights brought leprosy back from the Holy Land and in the middle ages there were between twelve and fifteen leper hospitals in the area around Dublin.
Later the cemetery was utilised as a burial ground for the poor who died in the nearby workhouse. In 1976 a local committee erected a bronze sculpture of ‘Our Lady of Trim.’ Today this statue, with arms outstretched in greeting, welcomes all who visit the town.
- Franciscan’s Site
The medieval Franciscan Friary of Trim originally occupied the courthouse site. Dedicated to St. Bonaventure, the monastery was called the Grey Friary or the Observantine Friary. The Franciscans are recalled in the name ‘Frenches Lane’.
The Franciscans reformed the friary in 1325. In 1330 the Boyne flooded and did much damage to the friary. Richard, Archbishop of Armagh, afterwards St. Richard of Dundalk, preached many controversial sermons in Trim in the mid 1300s. Henry VIII ordered the monastery confiscated in the sixteenth century. In 1662 Rev. Richard Plunkett, a brother in the Franciscan convent in Trim, wrote a Latin and Irish dictionary. The friary was continued at Dunderry until 1820 when it was dissolved and its remaining friars went to Multyfarnham.
The main castle or keep in Trim is unique. Over the entrance hall is the chapel where there is a credence table built into the wall.
- St. Mary’s Abbey
Facing Trim Castle across the Boyne are remains of the Augustinian monastery of St. Mary’s. The Abbey was founded in the twelfth century. The house is known as ‘St. Mary’s Abbey’ or ‘Talbot’s Castle’.
The Yellow Steeple, the bell tower for the Abbey, takes its name from the golden colour of the stonework at sunset. In 1368 the church of St. Mary in Trim was burned and it was probably after this fire that the Yellow Steeple was constructed. The destruction of the Yellow Steeple is usually ascribed to Cromwellian times. One story has it that Cromwell mounted his cannons across the Boyne and faced them at the Yellow Steeple and destroyed half the building. This is shown in the stained glass windows of the church.
St. Mary’s was the centre of great medieval pilgrimages to the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Trim. The first record which appears about the statue is in 1397 when Hugh Mc Mahon received his sight by fasting in honour of the Cross of Raphoe and the image of the Blessed Mary at Ath-Trim.. In 1444 ‘Great miracles worked through St. Mary’s Image in Ath Truim to wit, gave his eyes to the blind, his tongue to the dumb, his legs to the creeple or lame, and the reaching of his hand to one that had it tied to his side.”
With the coming of the Reformation the worship of statues was frowned upon by the established church. It is recorded that the statue of Our Lady of Trim was burned and the abbey was confiscated.
The building was purchased by Esther Johnson, better known as ‘Stella’ who sold the building later to her friend, Jonathan Swift, author of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and Rector of Laracor, just south of Trim. Swift was appointed vicar of Laracor in 1700. Between Trim and Laracor lie the remains of “Stella’s Cottage” reputedly the residence of Ester Johnson and her companion, Rebecca Dingley.
In the latter half of the eighteenth century Talbot’s Castle became the Diocesan School for Meath. Arthur Wesley, the future Duke of Wellington, attended school here as did William Rowan Hamilton, the famous mathematician and discoverer of quaternions.
- Dominican Friary Blackfriary
In 2010 The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS), commenced a long term programme of archaeological excavation at the Blackfriary site. Excavation has been carried out by a team including local people from Meath, Irish students from all over the country and international students from all over the world.
The Dominicans or Black Friars arrived in Ireland in 1224 and in that year established monasteries in Dublin and Drogheda. The Blackfriary at Trim was founded in 1263 by Geoffrey de Geneville and his wife Maude. It was situated just outside the town walls, near Athboygate.
Geoffrey de Geneville (or de Joinville), was born of noble parents in the Champagne province in France. Geoffrey’s celebrated brother, Jean, became the companion and biographer of St. Louis, king of France. At the English court Geoffrey met and married Lady Maude de Lacy. Maude, Lady of Coverside of Ludlow and of Meath was a fine prize as she was co-heiress, with her brother, Gilbert, of the vast estates of their father, Walter de Lacy. In the year 1263 Geoffrey and Maude jointly established the Friary of the Dominicans at Trim in honour of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Geoffrey was called upon to take up his sword and join the crusades where he fought to retrieve the Holy Land from the Saracens. After spending several years fighting the Saracens Geoffrey returned to Ireland and in 1273 he was appointed Lord Justice of Ireland.
Geoffrey’s only son and heir, Peter, died in 1292 while ten years later Maude passed away. Geoffrey continued to hold the Lordship of Meath until 1308 when he resigned and handed over the reins to his youthful granddaughter, Joan, and her ambitious husband, Roger Mortimer.
On 17th November 1308 Geoffrey entered the Blackfriary as a simple monk where his remaining days were spent in the cloister of the monastery he and his wife had established fifty years before. The founder of the abbey went to his reward on 19th October 1314 and his remains were buried in the friary he loved.
King Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries and in 1540 a grant was made to Sir Thomas Cusack of the Blackfriary.
The Blackfriary may not have existed any more but the Dominicans and other religious orders were not going to abandon their ancient houses or their flocks. The Franciscans returned to Trim in 1629 and it is likely that the Dominicans re-opened their friary there at the same time. The Dominican Priory of Trim re-located to Donore where the friars rented a farm from a Mr. Joseph Ashe in addition to serving in the adjoining parish.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, situated on St. Loman Street, is the remnant of the medieval parish church of Trim.
The tower and the ruins of the chancel at the rear of the church date to the fifteenth century. The square castellated tower dates from 1449 and is attributed to the generosity of Richard of York who was Lord Lieutenant in Ireland at that time. A small plaque on the tower shows the Duke of York’s coat of arms.The clock in the tower commemorated Dean Richard Butler, rector of Trim and author of ‘Trim Castle.’
A stone font built into the wall of the church bears the royal arms of England, the Butler coat of arms and the personal arms of the Duke of York. Various scenes are depicted – a fox making off with a goose, various monsters which are really the Devil in disguise.
The church was largely constructed in 1802. On the wall of the church is a clause from the will of Robert Briddock recorded on a wooden plaque. This merchant who held property in Dublin and Roristown, Trim, willed the interest of £500 sterling to provide clothes for poor Freemen of Trim and also left money to provide for apprentices.
The church was elevated to the status of Cathedral in 1955, thus providing the Church of Ireland diocese of Meath with a mother church. The chapter stalls come from the former Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, Elphin. The stalls are titled with the former diocese which were amalgamated in 1111 to form the present Diocese of Meath.
- Loman Street
The Ford of Trim was situated near where the Watergate Bridge is now. This is the ford which gave Trim its name, Baile Atha Truim – the town of the ford of the elder tree. A site between St. Mary’s Abbey and Trim castle is also suggested as the site of the ford.
When King Laoighre was high king a well sprang up at Trim in which the druids saw the coming of St. Patrick and the fall of the ancient religion. When Patrick came to Ireland he left his nephew, Loman, at the mouth of the Boyne with instructions to stay there for 40 days and 40 nights. Loman waited for 80 days before venturing up the Boyne. He came as far as the Ford of Trim which was situated near the Fort of Feidilmid, son of Laoighre.
The next morning Loman sat reciting his gospel when Feidilimid’s son, Foirtchern, came upon him and instantly believed. Loman baptised him in the nearby well. Foirtchern’s mother came looking for her son and she was delighted to meet Loman who, like her, was a native of Britain. She brought Loman back to her husband and the whole family were baptised into the Christian faith.
Feidilimid donated his fort to Loman and crossed the Boyne to set up a new home. Loman remained with Fortchern at Trim until Patrick arrived and founded a church there, this church was one of the first churches founded in Ireland, being established twenty-two years before the church at Armagh. St. Loman was created Bishop of Trim by Patrick. St. Patrick is said to have baptised the first converts in the area at St. Patrick’s well in Crowpark. This well was situated in the middle of a field but is now located near the river. An annual pilgrimage to this well commenced in 1995.
Fr. O’Connell the parish priest invited the Sisters of Mercy to his parish in the 1860s. Four Sisters of Mercy arrived in Trim in 1867 to establish a convent and school. The school opened in June 1868 and new schools then opened in 1925. The sisters continue to serve the parish.
- Return to St. Patrick’s.
Celebrating the presentation to
Bishop Joseph Shiel in 1913
Bishop Joseph Shiel – Native of Kilmessan
Bishop of Rockhampton, Australia. – 1913-1931
The fourth bishop of Rockhampton, Australia, was a native of the parish of Kilmessan/Dunsany. Joseph Sheil was born at Swainstown, Kilmessan, County Meath, on 17 February 1873. The surname was spelled Sheil by his parents and family and then in Australia it was spelled Shiel.
The bishop’s parents came from Westmeath. Richard Sheil married Anne Smyth in Mullingar on 11 June 1859. Their first child, Mary, was born in 1860 and baptised in Mullingar. Their second daughter, Anne, was born in 1864 and baptised in Mullingar. By the birth of their next child, Patrick, the family were living in Multyfarnham. Pat became an engineer in Ohio, America and died in 1930. There is an Elizabeth Sheil born in Westmeath about 1869 listed as a member of the family in the 1901 census.
By 1871 Richard and Anne had moved to Swainstown, Kilmessan, where twins Helen and Richard were born that year. Helen became a Franciscan De Sacre Coeur nun, Mother Mary Etheldreda. She entered the order at Clevedon, England in 1899 and then went to Belgium for a two-year novitiate. She became a missionary in Chefoo, China, and took her Perpetual Vows there in 1907. She remained in China for the rest of her life working as a sacristan, superior and infirmarian before dying at Ichang, China, in 1932.
Joseph was baptised on 21st February 1873 at Kilmessan Church by the curate, Fr. James Nulty. A note says “Baptised sub conditione” which may suggest that he may have been in danger of death at his birth and he was baptised by the mid-wife. The church in which he was baptised was altered in the 1890s and 1970s but still serves the parish today. John was the next of the family to arrive in 1875 and Margaret in 1877. John established butcher shops on Moore Street and Manor Street, Dublin. Another brother, William, is recorded as attending the 1913 presentation but no trace of his birth can be found.
Richard worked as a steward/gamekeeper on the Preston estate at Swainstown. Richard Sheil died 29 September 1894 aged 63 years. The family then moved to Lower Exchange Street, Dublin and established a number of businesses in the city including Grattan Stores in Temple Bar and the Grattan Hotel on Essex Street. Richard’s widow, Anne Sheil, died 12 January 1924 aged 85 years and was buried in Kilmessan.
Joseph Shiel began his education at Kilmessan National School. The school would have been a single storey building at the time. Having shown signs of a vocation he received his secondary education at St Finian’s College, Navan.
In June 1892 Joseph won a scholarship place to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, entering in September 1892. He was ordained there on 19 June 1898 by the Archbishop of Dublin, William Walsh. Dr. Carr, Archbishop of Melbourne, was on a visit to Ireland and made an appeal to the newly ordained priests to volunteer for Australia. Fr. Shiel applied and the Bishop of Meath granted permission for him to go for five years.
On 11th October 1898 Fr. Sheil arrived in Melbourne. He did temporary work at St. Patrick’s, Melbourne, until January 1899, when he was appointed assistant to Ven. Archdeacon Slattery, Geelong. In January 1901 he was transferred to Collingwood and in March 1903 to St. Peter’s and Paul’s, South Melbourne. Dr. Higgins, the second Bishop of Rockhampton, was in Ireland in 1903 and as a native of Meath diocese he visited the bishop of Meath. The Bishop of Meath gave permission for Fr. Shiel to remain in Australia and relocate to Rockhampton diocese.
In April 1904 Fr. Sheil transferred to Rockhampton diocese at the invitation of Bishop Higgins. He became Administrator at Mt Morgan, and then in February 1905, he was appointed Administrator of St Joseph’s Cathedral, Rockhampton. Bishop Higgins was appointed Bishop of Ballarat and in March 1906 Father Joseph Sheil joined him there. He later became Administrator of the Cathedral at Ballarat. Fr. Sheil also visited Japan, China and all parts of America.
On 19 August 1912, while visiting his mother in Ireland, Father Sheil was notified of his appointment as Bishop of Rockhampton. Rockhampton was a relatively new diocese; it had been created in 1882. He was the second priest from the Diocese of Meath to serve as bishop to this diocese in Central Queensland, Australia. Bishop Joseph Higgins, Moyvore, Co. Westmeath was Bishop of Rockhampton (1899-1905). The diocese of Rockhampton was ten times the size of Ireland. The Catholic population amounted to one quarter of the total population of nearly 400,000 people.
At a special presentation held in the Temperance Hall, Kilmessan, on Sunday, 12 January 1913, Bishop Joseph Shiel was presented with a silver-gilt crosier by the parishioners of Kilmessan and Dunsany. The silver crosier was based on the crosier of Clonmacnoise.
Fr. Lynch, curate, read an address and then parish priest Fr. Morrissey made the presentation to Bishop Shiel. Fr. Morrissey said it gave him great pleasure of presenting the beautiful present on behalf of the parish. Dr. Shiel thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart. He was pleased to be back in Kilmessan, his native parish, among the friends of his youth.
“With the coming of Home Rule”, Bishop Sheil looked forward to “brighter and happier days for Ireland.” He advocated that prospective emigrants consider Australia as their destination. “Although under British rule no country in the world was freer and nowhere offered better prospects to a man of energy and sobriety. For eight months of the year the weather was delightful, although perhaps somewhat warm. During this time the sun shines and the sky is always blue.” Bishop Shiel said he loved the old church where he first received the Sacraments, and where when he became a priest he celebrated one of his first Masses. Bishop Sheil said every time he held up the crosier it would remind him of the people of Kilmessan. The crosier presented to Dr. Joseph Shiel was made by Messrs John Smyth & Son, Wicklow Street in Dublin.
Prior to the presentation children from the local school presented an operetta entitled “Princess Snow White.” Children who performed included Eileen Martin, Ada O’Reilly, Ellie Maher, Mary Foley, Lily Whelan, Annett Martin and Kathleen Comey. With funds left over from the collection for the crosier Father Lynch said he would organise an outing for the children in the summer.
Joseph was consecrated Bishop of Rockhampton at Maynooth by Archbishop Mannix, Bishop Gaughran of Meath and Bishop McKenna of Clogher on Sunday, 26 January 1913. Bishop Shiel sailed from Dover, England on 15 February 1913 on the RMS Orana with Archbishop Mannix and Archbishop Mannix’s cousin, Dean Foley, afterwards Bishop of Ballarat. Joseph Shiel was enthroned by Archbishop Duhig at Rockhampton in May 1913.
His lifetime of service given to the Australian church was a busy one. Rockhampton’s Mater Misericordiae Hospital was opened and blessed by Bishop Shiel in 1915. Bishop Shiel opened a number of new churches including those at Duchess, Ingham, Giru and Hughenden. He was also involved in the establishment of parishes and schools. Bishop Sheil was described as a quiet unostentatious worker, who had a strong personality.
Bishop Shiel returned on a visit to Ireland in 1920 and visiting Drogheda, carried the Relic of the head of the martyred Blessed Oliver Plunkett, in a procession from the Dominican Convent to St. Peter’s Church on West Street. Pope Benedict XV beatified Oliver Plunkett in May 1920 and the procession may have been the high point of ceremonies in Drogheda.
In June 1923 Bishop Shiel celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination. The laity of the Cathedral parish presented him with a Hupmobile motor car while the Sisters of Mercy gave him a statue of St. Joseph.
Bishop Shiel became unwell and was hospitalised in early 1930. He continued his duties though still unwell but was again hospitalised in late 1930. Bishop Joseph Shiel died the Mater Hospital, Rockhampton on 7th April 1931 aged fifty-eight years.
Thank you to Rev. Fr. Terence Toner, Mary Gannon, Richard J Farrelly, Kevin Murray, Martina Shiel O’Beirne (grand-niece of Bishop Shiel), John Donohoe, Mairead Crinion, Fr. V. Soolepoff, the Archivist of Diocese of Rockhamption, Kerry Scanlon of FMM Archives, Meath Chronicle, Navan Historical Society, Central Queensland Herald and Maynooth College.
Text: Noel French. Published Kilmessan, 2013.
Trim Sculpture Trail
Trim town contains a number of public artworks, many commissioned in the recent decades, financed by public and private groups. These public works of art are an integral part of the urban fabric of Trim town, enriching the sense of place and the physical beauty of the natural environment. This leaflet gives a flavour mainly of the more modern pieces.
Some of the public works were created by Meath County Council though the Per Cent for Art Scheme which allows institutions of the state to allocate a certain portion of the costs of the construction costs of a project to finance a work of art. These pieces include King and Queen, Cross Sundial and The Bell.
King and Queenby Ronan Halpin
Location: Trim Ring Road
The artist was inspired by the mythological site at nearby Tara, traditionally the seat of the High Kings of Ireland. The Hill of Tara was central to the political and pagan life of the Celts. The nearby castle at Trim was also visited by the kings of England. The bronze sculptures stand on the roadside and the nearby trees and vegetation have grown and regularly threaten to cover them.
In 1992 as part of the Per Cent for Art Ronan Halpin was commissioned by Meath County Council for ‘The King and Queen’ for the Trim by-pass. Ronan Halpin was born in 1958. He attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and completed his studies at the Yale School of Art, Newhaven, Connecticut. USA. In 1985 he returned to Dublin where he worked for a number of years before transferring his studio to Drogheda and in 1998 he moved to Achill Island. His works are in the private collections of former Taoiseach, John Bruton, former US President Bill Clinton and the poet, Seamus Heaney.
Máel Sechnaill by James McKenna
Location: Fr. Teahon Park.
Presented to Trim by Bord Failte on winning the Tidy town’s competition for a third time.
Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill was king of Mide and High King of Ireland. He achieved a great victory over the Vikings of Dublin at the battle of Tara in 980. Brian Boru took over as High King in 1002 but Máel Sechnaill returned as High King following Brian’s death at the battle of Clontarf in 1014. Máel Sechnaill ruled until his death in 1022.
The sculptor, James McKenna, 1933-2000, was born in Dublin and educated at the National College of Art and Design. His first exhibition was held in 1957. He was a founding member of both the Independent Artists Group and the Sculptors’ Society of Ireland. McKenna was a prominent figure in the visual arts and in literary circles from the 1960s writing his first play “The Scatterin” in 1959, described as “the world’s first rock musical.” His work “Oisin Caught in a Time Warp”, a giant horse and rider was exhibited to mark Ireland’s first Presidency of the E.U.
Our Lady of Trim by Christopher Ryan
Location: Maudlin’s Cemetery.
In medieval times St Mary’s Abbey was a place of pilgrimage as it held a wooden statue of “Our Lady of Trim.” In 1444 a list of miracles attributed to the statue were recorded. There are two stories as to what happened the statue. During the Reformation many statues and object of veneration were destroyed including the statue at Trim. Another story suggests that the statue survived only to be destroyed in 1640s during conflict at that time.
The statue was commissioned by a local committee in 1976. Christopher Ryan of the Barrenhill Gallery, Howth, designed the statue which was cast in bronze by the Dublin art Foundry. The Barrenhill Gallery was operated by Elizabeth and Christopher Ryan from 1970 to 1976 at Barrenhill House, Bailey, Howth, Co. Dublin.
A Hunger for Knowledge by Joey Burns
Location: Castle Street.
In the summer of 2007 Joey Burns worked this two thousand piece of bog oak in situe to produce a Hunger for Knowledge. The inscriptions relate to the work of William Rowan Hamilton on quaternions. The bog oak came from Gallon Bog, Co. Cavan, close to Carnaross Co. Meath.
The Salmon of Knowledge is a well loved traditional tale. The salmon was a magical fish which lived in a pool in the river Boyne. The first person to taste the fish would acquire all the knowledge of the world. An elderly bard, Finnegas, devoted his live to catching the fish and eventually hauled the salmon out onto the riverbank. Exhausted by the struggle he set his apprentice, Fionn, to cook the fish. As the fish cooked a blister arose on the side and Fionn thrust in his thumb to burst the blister. As he did so a particle of the fish burned onto his thumb and he naturally reacted by putting it into his mouth and thereby acquired all the knowledge of the world. Fionn later went on to be head of the high king’s army and a great hero.
Joey Burns grew up along the Cavan-Meath border and spent his early years touring as a performing musician and studying the art of wood carving. He facilitated two large-scale sculpture projects to coincide with Cavan town hosting the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. In 2011 Burns was commissioned by Cavan County Council to produce a series of sculptures in Dún a Rí Forest Park, Kingscourt. Burns has been commissioned to produce work for visiting dignitaries and Irish Taoisigh.
Cross Sundial by Michael Verdon
Location: Trim Branch Library, High Street.
This steel piece was completed in 1989 for Trim Branch Library. The semi-spherical sundial is painted yellow to reflect the sunlight. The piece is in the rear garden of the library on High Street.
Michael Verdon was born in Dublin in 1951. He studied sculpture in the National College of Art and Design, Dublin and the Dublin Art Foundry. He participated in the Arklow Sculpture Symposium in 1983 and has exhibited regularly in group exhibitions nationally.
The Bell by Vivienne Roche
Location: Trim Fire Station
This steel and bronze work was completed in 1990-91. Unfortunately the bronze bell was stolen and remains missing.
Vivienne Roche was born in Cork in 1953 and attended the Crawford School of Art before completing her studies at the School of the Museum of Fine arts, Boston. She was elected a member of Aosdana in 1996 and a member of the R.H.A. in 2004. She was instrumental in the establishment of the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, and served as a member of the Arts Council from 1993 to 1998. She lives and works near the sea in Co. Cork.
At the End of the Day by Patrick Barry
Location: Knightsbrook Roundabout
The statue of a man ringing a bell was created by Patrick Barry. The title of the piece is “At the end of the Day” and consists of a zinc bell tower, a copper bell and a limestone figure. This piece of sculpture consists of a male figure in historic garments ringing a bell. The bell represents a common theme that runs throughout the heritage and architecture of the town. This is a per cent for art scheme project, funding for which is being made available through the Trim Water Scheme.
Wellington Column by James Bell and Thomas Kirk
A Corinthian column, 75 feet high, was erected in honour of the Duke of Wellington at the corner of the Fair Green in Trim. The inscription reads “This column was erected in the year 1817 in honour of the illustrious Duke of Wellington by the grateful contributions of the people of Meath.” The monument was erected on this site because Wellington resided nearby while M.P. for Trim.
The column was designed by a local architect, James Bell of Navangate, and the statue of the Duke is by Thomas Kirk. Thomas Kirk, born in Cork in 1777 was trained as a sculptor in Dublin and was an original member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. He executed a statue of Nelson for Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin and a number of other notables in Limerick and Greenwich.
Other works by sculptors appear in Trim. The reredos of St. Patrick’s Church are by the Pearse brothers. There is a metal salmon created by MOT on the riverside in front of St. Mary’s Abbey. There is a carved tomb known as “The Tomb of the Jealous Man and Woman” at Newtown. Along the river walk to Newtown there are seats bearing lines from the poetry of William Rowan Hamilton.
Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill was king of Mide and High King of Ireland. He achieved a great victory over the Vikings of Dublin at the battle of Tara in 980. Brian Boru took over as High King in 1002 but Máel Sechnaill returned as High King following Brian’s death at the battle fo Clontarf in 1014. Máel Sechnaill ruled until his death in 1022.
The Burning of Trim R.I.C. Barracks and The Black and Tans in Trim
On Sunday 26th September 1920 a large number of Volunteers from the South Meath division of the IRA burned the Trim R.I.C police barracks.
The local IRA members were drawn from Trim, Longwood, Ballivor and South Meath in general. The Lalor brothers from Castle Street were prominent members as well as the Duignans from High Street and the Proctors. Kit Lynam, O/C 1st (Dunboyne) Battalion, Mick Hynes and Patrick Mooney (V/C and O/C 2nd (Trim) Battalion respectively) were also involved in attack.
The day begun when part of the IRA Active Service Unit blocked all roads leading into Trim. Then a second section of the IRA Unit captured up to eight R.I.C men as they were attending mass in the town. The barracks was a large fortified base located on the Summerhill road with a wall about fifteen feet high all around with large iron gates at the front. At the barracks the IRA Volunteers broke in wounding the Head Constable and capturing the remaining R.I.C officers inside. The IRA removed the police officers from the garrison, captured their weapons before pouring petrol over the building and burning it to the ground. By noon that day the Volunteers had escaped and all that remained was a smouldering heap of ashes. Twenty rifles, twenty shotguns, six revolvers, a box of grenades and ammunition for all arms taken.
Four lorries of police and soldiers drove into the town to seek revenge. They opened fire on a group of boys and men who were playing a game of hurling on the fair green, injuring two in the attack. After a time the Crown forces then withdrew from the area offering a guarantee to the people that no more reprisals would occur. However at about two o`clock the following morning the Crown forces again returned for revenge. They attacked and burned the council offices, along with three houses and business premises. After two hours of attacks they then again withdrew from the town.
A newspaper report of the attack by the Black and Tans on Trim reported “Dublin September 27th 1920 – Early this morning the town of Trim, where the police barracks was burned yesterday and the head constable was shot, was partially wrecked by armed men. Some hours after the burning of the barracks, a party of soldiers took possession of the town and remained on duty until 10 o’clock at night, when they were withdrawn. The town was then quiet, and it remained so until 3 o’clock this morning, when a number of armed men who are said to have been Auxiliary Policemen, arrived in motor lorries and went through the streets shouting and firing their rifles.
The occupants of Higgins’ Hotel got three minutes to leave the place, and soon afterwards it was found to be on fire. A number of business houses in the main street were soon blazing, and this afternoon it was reported that most of the houses on both sides of Market Street, the principal thoroughfare, are burning. Two lads, named Kelly and Griffin, have been taken to hospital suffering from gunshot wounds. The damage to house property is estimated at £50,000. Trim, which is the assize town of County Meath, is within 30 miles of Dublin on the Midland Great Western Railway, and has a population of 1,500. It was ascertained tonight at Dublin Castle that a report will be issued regarding the outbreak at Trim. Full details of the occurrence have been telegraphed for and special officers have been sent to the town to make inquiries.
‘A Navan correspondent telegraphed yesterday: – Two hundred of the Black and Tans entered the little town of Trim early this morning, singled out the shops and business establishments of those residents alleged to be in sympathy with Sinn Féin, and ransacked, pillaged, and burned all. At noon today when I visited the town it had all the appearance of a bombarded town in the war zone of France. Furniture is piled on the main street, houses are still smouldering, and the people are panic stricken. Two young men are lying in the local hospital, having been shot by the military. Head Constable White, who was also wounded, is not yet out of danger.
It appears that on Sunday evening military motor cars full of armed men dashed into Trim on the way to the police barracks which had been burned by raiders that morning. Shots were discharged at a group of boys playing hurley on the green, and one lad of 16, George Griffin, was shot through the groin, while another lad named James Kelly was shot in the leg. The priests sought out some of the officers, gave them an assurance that the town would be quiet, and that all would be indoors by eight o’clock. The military then departed.
At 3 o’clock this morning a force of Black & Tans entered the town. They visited the Town Hall in Castle Street, a licensed premises in Market Street, a drapery establishment in High Street (now Royal Auctioneers) and a mineral water factory and premises in Market Street. The doors were smashed-in. Petrol was commandeered and poured over the shops, and soon all were on fire. Today, nothing remains but the charred walls.
The proprietor of the mineral water factory, who is also Chairman of Trim Urban Council, estimates his loss at £20,000. He added that at 3.45 the door was broken in. His assistants heard the noise and fled. The uniformed men called for the Chairman of the Council, and he hid in the kitchen. Then the Black and Tans went through the place setting the premises on fire. In the drapery establishment, £8,000 worth of damaged goods and property is the measure of the reprisals. One of the two brothers owning the business is a member of the Urban Council.
In Castle Street the residents slept in the gardens. In this street is the Town Hall. A tailor living opposite whose family were in bed, was taken into the street and asked where his Sinn Féin sons were. He replied he did not know. A bayonet, it is stated, was placed against his breast and a Black and Tan is alleged to have said “put it through the beggar”. A postman appealed to the men to spare the old man. Then they smashed the door of his house, went through every room and destroyed every article in the place. All the residents in this street fled from their houses. The Town Hall was afterwards completely destroyed and all the town records burned. At 5 o’clock the Black & Tans left, threatening to return tonight to complete their work’.
Local memories recall the townspeople sheltering down by the Boyne for a few nights as the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries burnt out prominent business and the Town Hall. Footage of the burning of J&E Smyth can be viewed on the ‘Pathe’ website. Records of the adventures of the Lalors rest in Navan library and recount the tale of one of the brothers hiding in the recently dug grave of Fr. Woods in the churchyard. Trim Barracks became the site for what is now the Castle Arch Hotel.
Castle Street Houses, Trim
A number of the houses on Castle Street have recently had their roofs re-done. The houses date to the last decades of the 19th century, 1880-1900. The houses were erected by the Dunsany estate. Lord Dunsany purchased much of Castle Street along with Trim castle about 1858 after the previous landlord had got into financial trouble. There are twelve houses, ten smaller ones with a larger house at each end. The houses in the centre were for the workmen while those at the end were for the foremen.
Casey and Rowan describe them as a row of ten picturesque estate cottages.with decorated bargeboards, quarry glass and canopied porches.
A terrace of ten two-bay two-storey houses, built c.1890 the houses have pitched slate roofs with cement rendered chimneystacks. Cast-iron diamond paned paired and triple windows having central mullions, stone sills, block-and-start surrounds and label mouldings. Gabled dormer to first floor with carved timber bargeboard and cast-iron finials. Timber battened doors with block-and-start surrounds, cast-iron diamond pane overlights, stone steps and slate porches roofs sprung from carved timber corbels.
This group of ten houses, built by Lord Dunsany, makes a picturesque addition to the streetscape. The architectural design, high level of artistic detailing, and retention of many original features make this a significance group of houses.
They houses have a narrow back garden stretching to the Emmet Street car park and are at a much higher ground level than the car park. Constructed from stones, possibly from the ruined castle, the walls in the houses are two foot thick. Two rooms downstairs and two ups stairs the front rooms look out on Town Hall and Trim Castle. The rooms can be quite small but a number of the houses have extensions. Before running water householder got their water from a well, opposite the bus stop.
Today most of the houses are owned privately but there are still a number which are part of the Dunsany Estate.
A Tidy Town judge in 2006 described the “row of cottages in Castle Street” as “quite beautiful”.
If anyone would like to contribute more on the house we would be delighted to receive any information.
Meath Field Names
The Meath Field Names Group is a voluntary group established in May 2008. This project is to record and publish the ‘Field Names’ of County Meath along with their history, features, name origin and folklore. The project is guided by an elected Steering Group along with a network of local volunteers. The project is strongly backed by Meath IFA, Meath Archaeological & Historical Society and Meath County Council Library Services. This project is generously supported by Meath Partnership, FBD Trust, the Heritage Council, the Trim Heritage Centre, businessand private sponsors.
The idea of collecting all the field names in Meath originated with a small group of people. This group took local soundings, canvassed interest, organised a meetingand set up a group of people from varying backgrounds and locations in the county to oversee the project. The Meath Field Names surveuyTeam decided to call the project management group ‘The Steering Group’.
Because of changing farming and ownership patterns in rural Meath, the need to record the field names, folklore and features of our fields has become a matter of urgency. Much of the information is being carried in folk memory and is at risk because of the diminishing population of farmers and rural dwellers. Developments such as motorways, field amalgamations and modern farming practices are also bringing huge changes to the rural landscape of Meath. Old field names and valuable local history is easily lost with all this change process. The County of Meath has always been renowned for its rich heritage and history.
The project has unearthed a vast amountof field names and information that was only available in people’s minds, it had never been written down and was in danger of being lost. The success of this project has hinged on a huge amount of voluntary work. The information gathering stage of the project has been hugely successful.
This project has been co-financed by Meath Partnership through the Irish Department of Environment, Community & Local Government ‘Rural Development Programme Ireland 2007-2013’ and through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europeinvesting in rural areas.
Clonycavan Man discovered 10 years ago in February 2003
Clonycavan Man, an Iron Age bog body, discovered in Meath in February 2003, displayed signs of a ritual death. His discovery provided us with an unparalleled opportunity to come face-to-face with a resident of Meath from two thousand years ago.
Clonycavan Man was discovered on 21 February 2003 on a tram screen at Ballivor Bord na Móna Works by operatives after it had been removed in a block of peat extracted using a mechanical digger. The forearms, hands, lower abdomen and legs were missing, believed to have been hacked off by the machine. An archaeological examination of the find spot did not uncover any additional material, however the body may have been moved by machinery.
The body was found in Clonycavan townland, in the civil parish of Killaconnigan, Co. Meath. The find site was on the borders of the bog, a common site for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age habitation. As depicted in the mid seventeenth century maps of Sir William Petty Clonycavan would appear to have been an island of good land within the bog. It is possible that Clonycavan Man was buried on the boundary between the productive and the bad land. There is a large expanse of bog in the western half of the townland, which continues to the Westmeath border and beyond. In 1835 one quarter of the civil parish of Killaconnigan was recorded as bog. Ballivor bog, covering an area of 630 hectares, is located south of the R156 road which connects Ballivor and Raharney. The bog is surrounded on its eastern, southern and western side by farmland and on its northern side by Carranstown bog. It was on the eastern border of the bog that Clonycavan Man was found. Parts of a human body, bones and hair, possibly remains of a bog body, were discovered in nearby townland of Coolronan in 1952. Bog butter was also uncovered at Coolronan in 1952.
Clonycavan Man was dated to 392-201 BC. Of slight build he was 157 cm (5ft 2 inches) tall. He could have been as tall as 175 cm (5ft 9 inches) as the body may have shrunk in the bog. He was over 25 years of age and his body was naked when found as were most bog body finds. Analysis of hair showed that for the four months prior to his death his diet was rich in plant material and vegetables, suggesting that he died in the summer or autumn before the onset of the meat rich winter diet. Clonycavan Man had been in excellent health with no disease or medical problems.
His body and face were contorted and flatted due to the weight of the peat and his skull had dissolved in the bog. Forensic anthropologists and forensic artists used a state of the art computer system to recreate the facial appearance of the man. The head was reconstructed from the crushed head and soft tissue of the body. The reconstruction displayed a forward-facing profile and not a very strong chin not unlike a modern face.
This adult male was killed by three blows by a heavy cutting object such as an axe, to the nose, to the top of the head, plus one to his chest and also disembowelled. Three was a sacred number for the Celts and other non-‘Celtic’ people. The first blow may have caused unconsciousness. A second blow was made across the front of the head. Then a third blow was inflicted across the face, over the bridge of the nose and running under the right eye. The nose had been literally crushed and the bone had been broken. There is also a sharp cut running across the cheekbone under the eye. One side of his head had been shaved, possibly to prepare for the three blows by an axe. From the angle of the blows, it seems that he was kneeling in front of his attacker. The most common injuries suffered by the sacrificial victims are blows to the head.
Cloneycavan’s nipples were pinched and then sliced. Oldcroghan Man suffered similar injuries. The body suffered a 40cm long cut to his abdomen which suggested disembowelment.
Clonycavan Man had a distinctive hairstyle, at the back of the head the hair was cut to about 2.5 cm long with the rest of hair about 20cm long gathered into a bundle on top of his head. His hair was shaved across the front of his forehead. His hair is extremely fine and swept back from the front to form a sort of a bun on top of his head, in a tall arrangement. This has been christened by some commentators as a ‘Mohawk’ style. Fragments of a hair tie were discovered which had been used to keep the hair in place, wrapped around the hair to secure it on top of the head towards the back. A number of Continental bog bodies have either had their hair cut or partly shaved before death.
Clonycavan Man used a type of hair gel, plant or vegetable oil mixed with pine resin, perhaps to give him the impression of height. The pine resin came from trees which grow in the Pyrenees in south western France or Spain. This elaborate hairstyle may have been part of the ritual to prepare him for sacrifice.
Clonycavan Man had short stubble on his upper lip and longer stubble just under his chin, perhaps a moustache and goatee beard. The stubble may have been part of the ritual where the victim stopped shaving days in advance of his death.
Clonycavan Man is one of the Iron Age bog bodies of northern Europe linked by their ritual death and burial. Clonycavan Man provides additional information on this phenomena. They all suffered brutal ritualistic deaths. Like many of the other bog bodies he was a member of the social elite, perhaps a priest-king. A religious role is more likely as a king might have taken part in military training and his body might bear the consequence of such training. His death may have been dedicated to the goddess of fertility, as a sovereignty ritual or to mark a boundary. The fact that he was had lived to his mid-twenties without performing manual labour or take part in military training suggests that the society he belonged to was quite sophisticated and well developed.