Saturday, 28 October 2017

Ardbraccan House

SEVERAL small bishoprics gradually coalesced into one See, which received the name of Meath, at the end of the 12th century.

In 1568, the bishopric of Clonmacnoise was incorporated with it by act of parliament.

It extends from the sea to the River Shannon, over part of six counties, viz. Meath, Westmeath, King's County (Offaly), Cavan, Longford, and Kildare.

From east to west it extends 80 miles; and in breadth, about 25 at a medium.

The Lord Bishop of Meath traditionally took precedence next to the four archbishops, and has been styled Most Reverend.

The other bishops, excepting only the Lord Bishop of Kildare, took precedence according to the date of their consecration.

Entrance front

ARDBRACCAN HOUSE, near Navan, County Meath, is a large Palladian mansion house which served from the 1770s until 1885 as the seat of the Lord Bishop of Meath.

By the Middle Ages a large Tudor house, containing its own church, known as St. Mary's, stood on the site.

Bishop Evans left money for the building of a new residence here early in the 18th century.

His successor, Bishop Downes, came here with Dean Swift to lay out the new ground; though it was not until 1734 that Bishop Price (1678-1752) decided to replace the decaying mansion with a new Georgian residence.

Initially the two wings of the house were built, before the main four-bay two-storey block of the house was completed in the 1770s by Bishop Maxwell.

It was partly designed by the acclaimed 18th-century German architect Richard Castle (also known as Richard Cassels).

Garden front

When the two two-storey, five-bay wings had been completed, Bishop Price was translated to the archbishopric of Cashel.

For the following thirty years, succeeding bishops did nothing about building the centre block, but resided in one of the wings, using the other for guests.

It wasn't till the early 1770s that Bishop Maxwell, a younger son of the 1st Baron Farnham, decided to complete the house.

This prelate boasted that he would erect a palace so grand that no scholar or tutor would dare inhabit it.

The centre block, which was eventually begun in 1776, took a number of years to complete.

It comprises two storeys and seven bays, with an Ionic doorcase.

This block complements the wings with curved sweeps and niches.

The garden front has a three-bay central breakfront.

The interior plasterwork is Neo-Classical in style.

Bishop Alexander carried out more elaborate renovations to the outbuildings in the 1820s and 1830s.

THE disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871 fatally weakened the economic survival of the bishops' estate, which was left totally reliant on the small local Church of Ireland community.

In 1885, the Church of Ireland sold the estate and house.

The bishop moved to a smaller mansion nearby (until 1958, when it was sold to a Catholic religious institute, the Holy Ghost Fathers).

Ardbraccan House was bought by Hugh Law, the son of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and remained in the ownership of his descendants until sold by Colonel Owen Foster in 1985 to Tara Mines who used it as a guest residence for visiting businessmen.

In the late 1990s, Ardbraccan once again changed hands.

The new owners invested large sums to restore the mansion house.

First published in October, 2015.

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