Coordinates: 53°39′13″N 6°44′54″W / 53.65373°N 6.74835°W / 53.65373; -6.74835
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St. Ultan's Church of Ireland
The 18th-century building was deconsecrated in 1981 by the Church of Ireland, ending over 1400 years of religious worship on the site. To the right of the picture is the thousand-year-old church tower.

Ardbraccan (Irish: Ard Breacáin)[1] is an ancient place of worship in County Meath, Ireland. It is the location of the former residence of the Roman Catholic, then, after the Reformation, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath. it was also a place of prominence in pre-Christian Pagan history [2]. It is approximately 52 km (32 miles) from Dublin via the M3 Motorway, and 4 km (2.5 miles) from Navan.


The original name for Ardbraccan is said to have been Magh Tortain named after the Uí Tuirtri people of the Oirghalla.[2] The area is said to have maintained strong druidic traditions until St. Brecan converted the local Uí Borthim tribe in the 6th century.[3] It was home to 2 of Ireland's sacred Celtic trees - Bile Tortain and the Mullyfaughan tree.[4] There are many local druid wells in the area, 2 of which were dedicated to St. Ultan of Ardbraccan and St. Brigid after the introduction of Christianity.[2][5]

The current name of Ardbraccan originates from the Irish placename Ard Breacáin, meaning the heights or hill of Breacáin[1]. St. Breacáin (anglacised as Brecan or Braccan) was the founder of a Christian monastery in the locality. He is thought to have established a monastery on a high mound in the sixth or early seventh century.[6] On this high point, a monastery and a succession of churches were built, each larger than the last to accommodate the growing number of religious worshippers. This included a large circular church known Daimhliag ("stone house").

Ardbraccan is mentioned in Cogad Gaedel re Gallaib as the site of a victory of the Uí Néill over the Vikings sometime in the mid-9th century. However the accuracy of this medieval text is questionable and has been cited as propaganda.[7]

Raids on Ardbraccan[edit]

The settlements and churches at Ardbraccan were raided and destroyed many times from at least 866. Known raids include:

  • 886, 940, 949, 992 The area was attacked and plundered by the Danes.[8][6]
  • 1031 The Abbey was raided and burned down by the Danes of Dublin led by Sitric.[9] It is said that 200 people were sheltering from the raid in the Daimhliag, and perished when the raisers set it alight. A further 200 people were taken into captivity [10] The attack is referenced in The Annals of Tigernach.[11]
  • 1035 Ardbraccan was again attacked by the Danes, which led to Conchobar Ua Máelshechlainn plundering and burning Swords in retaliation.[10][12]
  • 1069 attacked by an army led by Murchad. He is said to have burned down many buildings before receiving being mortally wounded.[13][11]
  • 1109 attacked by the Uí Briain's of Munster. The Annals of Tigernach note the churches were destroyed and "humans were burned alive and captives taken out of it".[11]
  • 1115 attacked by the Munster men and the Damliag was destroyed once again.[6]
  • 1133[14]
  • 1136 attacked by Dermot MacMurrough and the Danes, including the stealing of cattle.[14]

King John in Ardbraccan[edit]

On 29 June 1210, King John of England, Lord of Ireland and his forces met with Cathal Crobhderg, King of Connacht and his men in Ardbraccan before proceeding north to attack the forces of Hugh de Lacy, 1st Earl of Ulster.[15]

The Diocese of Ardbraccan[edit]

The early Irish church possessed many bishoprics or dioceses, each presided over by a bishop. For a period, Ardbraccan itself was a diocese, with a large urban centre attached. [citation needed]Under the Synod of Kells in 1152, Ardbraccan was united with the Sees of Clonard, Trim, Dunshaughlin, Slane and Fore, forming with other small dioceses the Diocese of Meath. Its central importance was shown in the fact that the newly merged diocese's bishop lived in Ardbraccan.[citation needed]

From Catholic to Protestant[edit]

The thousand-year-old church tower
The tower predates the current church on the site by over 700 years. It was scheduled for demolition when the new church was built in the 1700s, but the plans fell through and the medieval tower avoided demolition.

When, in the aftermath of the crisis over Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the Irish Church was ordered to formally break its link with the Roman Catholic Church to become the Church of Ireland[citation needed]. The Anglican or Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath continued to live in Ardbraccan in an estate attached to the main church. In this period, Ardbraccan possessed two churches; St. Mary's (which was located in the Bishop's residence) and St. Ultan's, which was named after a local saint who had lived in St. Braccan's day.[citation needed]

New church[edit]

In 1777 a new Church of Ireland church was erected on the site of the earlier church of St. Ultan's. The church, built to a design by Rev. Dr. Daniel Augustus Beaufort, remained in use until 1981 when it was deconsecrated due to the dwindling size of the Church of Ireland community in Ardbraccan. Although in 1868 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of Ireland recorded that there were 267 members of the Church of Ireland living in Ardbraccan parish, by 1968, their number had dwindled to 10 and it ceased to be used for general worship in 1970. The church was finally offered for sale by the Church of Ireland in 2002. Its cemetery is used for burials by both the local Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic parishes.

Bishop's residence for one thousand years[edit]

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath moved out of the 18th century bishop's palace in 1885 to live in a smaller mansion nearby, Bishopscourt. In 1958, the Church of Ireland bishop moved away from Ardbraccan altogether, with Bishopscourt being bought by a Catholic religious order, the Holy Ghost Fathers, who renamed it An Tobar (Irish for "The Well", linking it to an ancient well at Ardbraccan associated with St. Ultan). When the old church underwent some vandalism, its valuable stained glass windows were removed by the Church of Ireland and donated to An Tobar.

While the Church of Ireland community used the name 'Ardbraccan' to refer to its parish, the nearby Roman Catholic parish in the 19th century opted to use a different name[citation needed], Bohermeen, from the Irish An Bóthar Mín, meaning 'the smooth road',[16] referring to a famous stretch of road that two thousand years before[citation needed] had passed through the neighbourhood and went to Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.


In 1747 the first Irish Charter School was opened in Ardbraccan. [citation needed]The Charter Schools admitted only Catholics, under the condition that they be educated as Protestants. These schools were intended, in the words of their programme, "to rescue the souls of thousands of poor children from the dangers of Popish superstition and idolatry, and their bodies from the miseries of idleness and beggary."[17] The Ardbraccan school, like the others, focused on training girls for domestic service in the houses of the gentry and aristocracy, while training boys in agriculture and gardening. As with the other schools, the charter school in Ardbraccan failed and eventually closed down.[18]

Ardbraccan stone[edit]

The Irish parliament building is built from Ardbraccan stone.

Ardbraccan is also famous for its quarries that supplied cut stone for many Irish and British buildings. The most famous building built with Ardbraccan stone is Leinster House, once the Dublin residence of the Duke of Leinster, Ireland's premier peer, and now the seat of the Irish parliament, Oireachtas Éireann.[19] Ardbraccan limestone was also used on the restoration of The Custom House in Dublin after it was burned down by the IRA in 1921.[20]

Notable persons[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Ard Breacáin/Ardbraccan". Retrieved 23 August 2022.
  2. ^ a b c "Navan Historical Society - History of Ardbraccan. Lecture to Meath Archaeological and Historical Society at Ardbraccan from 1964". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  3. ^ "Navan Historical Society - History of Ardbraccan". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  4. ^ Healy, Alison (20 December 2023). "Sundering of long-standing cedar tree may be a portent for our times". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  5. ^ Harney, Lorcan (2017). "Christianising pagan worlds in conversion-era Ireland: archaeological evidence for the origins of Irish ecclesiastical sites". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature. 117C: 103–130. doi:10.3318/priac.2017.117.07. ISSN 0035-8991. JSTOR 10.3318/priac.2017.117.07. S2CID 165970409.
  6. ^ a b c Cogan, Anthony (1862). The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern. J. F. Fowler.
  7. ^ Beckett, J.C. (28 July 2016). "The Oxford illustrated history of Ireland. Edited by R.F. Foster. Pp xvi, 382. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1989". Irish Historical Studies. 27 (105): 78–79. doi:10.1017/s0021121400010336. ISSN 0021-1214. S2CID 164164673.
  8. ^ Thunder, John M. (1889). "The Kingdom of Meath". The Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland. 8 (77): 507–525. ISSN 0790-6382. JSTOR 25506494.
  9. ^ "Part 17 of The Annals of Tigernach". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  10. ^ a b O'Clery, Michael (1846). The Annals of Ireland. B. Geraghty. p. 532.
  11. ^ a b c "The Annals of Tigernach". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  12. ^ "Sitriuc Silkbeard (Sitric, Sigtryggr Ólafsson Silkiskeggi) | Dictionary of Irish Biography". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  13. ^ Farrell, James P. (1886). Historical Notes and Stories of the County Longford. Longford Printing and Publishing Company. p. 91.
  14. ^ a b "Ardbraccan – Meath History Hub with Noel French". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  15. ^ South Armagh History - The Norman Invasion Archived 13 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "An Bóthar Mín/Bohermeen". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  17. ^ William Edward Hartpole Lecky: A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, Chapter VII
  18. ^ Kenneth Milne, The Irish Charter School 1730-1830, Four Courts Press, ISBN 1-85182-232-1 pp.404.
  19. ^ Oireachtas Éireann website Archived 2017-11-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ "History revisited: The Custom House Visitor Centre in Dublin". 5 January 2021. Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  21. ^ Moran, Patrick Francis (1879). Irish Saints in Great Britain. M.H. Gill. p. 271.
  22. ^ Eyre, Charles (1849). The History of St. Cuthbert: Or an Account of His Life, Decease, and Miracles of the Wanderlings with His Body at Intervals During 124 Years (etc.). James Burns. p. 4.

Further reading[edit]

Dean Cogan, The Diocese of Meath (2 Vols, 1862 and 1867)

External links[edit]

53°39′13″N 6°44′54″W / 53.65373°N 6.74835°W / 53.65373; -6.74835