Meath, Ireland & Its History

History of Meath, Ireland & information on some of the historic sites & home of the ancient high-kings.

Meath is steeped in history. It even has what they call the oldest building in the world a megalighic tomb. The history of Meath can be traced back at least 4,500 years, beginning with this building, its most famous monument.

Newgrange

The megalithic tomb at Newgrange in the Boyne valley was built by a people who must have had a very organised society. It is a massive structure, built possibly 1,000 years before the pyramids of Giza and 500 years before Stonehenge in England. Many of the stones used were brought from over 40 miles away, probably by boat. The most striking thing about Newgrange is the opening above the main entrance. Normally, the centre of the tomb is in total darkness. Every Winter however, right at the solstice, the dawn sunlight snakes its way through this opening and down the long narrow tunnel, right into the heart of the tomb. This fascinating and mysterious event takes about fifteen minutes. For a few precious minutes the centre of the tomb is bathed in light. Then the sunlight slowly retreats back down the tunnel, and darkness returns.

There is no certainty about why this alignment with the Winter solstice was chosen by the people who built Newgrange. The usual explanation is that the path of light created by the sun was believed to be a way for the dead to travel to the afterlife. The more cynical feel that this is a sick Irish joke, because Irish weather is not conducive to sunshine in the Winter. The souls of the dead might be many years waiting for a Winter solstice with a sunny dawn!

What is clear is that the builders of Newgrange knew a fair bit about astronomy. Newgrange is just one of the megalithic tombs in an ancient graveyard. Dowth, another megalighic tomb about a mile from Newgrange, is in fact two tombs, with entrances on opposite sides. These entrances are aligned with the sun at the equinox. The sun shines in through one passage in the morning, and through the other in the evening.

While the tombs at Newgrange are the best known, they are not the only ones in Meath. Another large megalithic graveyard lies at the opposite end of the County, near Oldcastle. The tombs at Lough Crew are even more impressive in some ways than those at Newgrange, but they have not been as thoroughly excavated and access to them is more difficult.

Tara

Meath is known as the Royal County. It has this name because it was the seat of the High-Kings of Ireland. They ruled from their stronghold at Tara, which is about 25 miles North-West of the current capital, Dublin. It was to Tara that the other kings came to pay their tribute to the high king. Here too was the old religious centre, where the druids held sway. It was to Tara that St. Patrick was taken when he dared to light a flame on the Hill of Slane before the druids lit their ceremonial fire at Tara. Patrick managed to convert the high-king and it was from that famous event that Christianity spread throughout Ireland.



The Tara brooch can be seen in the National Museum in Dublin, where it serves as a reminder of the glorious age of the High kings of Ireland.

The Book of Kells

Many of the treasures of Meath are no longer in the County. Some of the artefacts from Newgrange and Tara are now in the National Museum. The Book of Kells is another Meath treasure which is housed in Dublin. This fabulous manuscript contains beautiful illustrations which have survived for over a thousand years. Many thousands of visitors queue for hours in Trinity College to get a glimpse of this ancient book.

Drogheda

Drogheda features prominently in Irish history through many centuries. Officially, Drogheda is in County Louth, but much of the town is on the Meath side of the County border. It still has a section of the old medieval wall, which served as a defence for the town. Unfortunately the wall was no match for Oliver Cromwell's forces in the 17th Century and folk stories of the slaughter that took place then are still recounted to this day. The town also had another famous Oliver. Oliver Plunkett was a catholic bishop from the area who was hung, drawn and quartered for refusing to change his religion. His head is kept in the cathedral on the main street.

Across the river is the motte and bailey known locally as the "cup and saucer". This was renovated in 1999 and there is now a guided tour available. You can see the whole town from the tower and then visit the museum below to get an idea of the wealth of history in the area.

The Boyne

The Boyne is the main river in Meath. It was a life source for an ancient people. . It joins many of the most historic sites of Meath in a timeless memorial to history. The Boyne was used to bring rocks to the megalithic tombs thousands of years ago. It was also apparently the way that one of the high-kings avoided being buried at Newgrange. His funeral bier was lost in a flood on the way to Newgrange, and ended up where he had asked to be buried, several miles downriver.

The Boyne is a permanent reminder of the great Battle of the Boyne, fought in 1690. It was also the river over which the revolutionaries of 1798 fought their way through the British forces at Clonard. From there they continued through Meath until they were finally defeated just across the border with Dublin. There are many memorials to the heroes of 1798 throughout Meath, most notably in Summerhill, Dunshaughlin and in Curraha.

From one end of the County to the other, the Boyne links the historic King John's Castle at Trim with the famous abbey at Bective and on through Slane, where St. Patrick lit the flame, to the National heritage site at the Boyne valley. Here in this valley the history of 5,000 years is encapsulated in a few square miles

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