Sunday, 21 November 2021

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 customarily takes precedence next to the two archbishops, and is styled Most Reverend.

The other bishops take 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.

The Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1845 remarks:
"Ardbraccan House, the successor of the castle, and the present episcopal palace of Meath, was built since 1766 from designs of James Wyatt, and is regarded, for beauty and splendour, as the second edifice of its class in Ireland."

"It is composed of the Ardbraccan limestone; consists of a main building and two wings, connected by circular walls and niches; and combines the magnificence of the palace with the comfort of the English mansion."

"The circumjacent demesne is extensive, and highly as well as tastefully embellished; and, among beautiful trees and shrubs, it contains some cedars of Lebanon and other exotics, planted by the oriental traveller, Pococke, during his time of being the Bishop of Meath."

"A small, ill-designed, and ill-sculptured slab in the churchyard in the parish does burlesquing duty as a monument to Bishop Pococke."

"The tomb of Bishop Montgomery, Bishop of Meath and Clogher, stands on the north side of the slab; and strongly fixes attention by its minglement of pretension, barbarousness, and absurdity. Figures which it exhibits of the Bishop, his wife, and his daughter, are the rudest productions of the chisel that can well be conceived." 
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. Arms of the bishopric of Meath: Albert H Warren, London, 1868.

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