Oldcastle & Moylagh (Co. Meath / Northwest)
Oldcastle (An Seanchaisléan) (pop. 3000), located in the foothills of the Loughcrew / Slieve na Calliagh range close to the border of County Cavan, has some interesting C18th and C19th buildings, old fashioned shop fronts etc. (Photo by Sarah777)
Long known as an angling centre due to its proximity to Lough Ramor and Lough Sheelin, the town offers a good range of accommodation options and eateries; the local pubs are very friendly, and several host regular live music sessions.
Oldcastle is nowadays called “the bed-making capital of Ireland” due to its three furniture factories, which together with engineering firms in nearby Moylagh and Dromone, attracted an influx of new residents from Dublin and Eastern Europe at the start of the new Millennium, and at one stage had the highest population of Lithuanians in Ireland.
Culturally and politically the Oldcastle area has a strong tradition of support for the GAA, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and radical republicanism.
The local townlands of Fennor Upper and Lower are said by local folklorists to derive their name from Findabair, a daughter of Queen Maeve of Connachtsent as a peace offering to the legendary warrior Cúchulainn only to be rejected, murdered and buried here.
Oldcastle is thought to have derived its name from a Norman motte erected in the C12th by the Tuite family.
This was the birthplace of Isaac Jackson, perhaps the first Quaker born in Ireland, whose father Anthony Jackson (possibly a son of King Charles II‘s Lancashire-born courtier of the same name) died nearby c.1666. Isaac moved to Ballitore, Co. Kildare, where he married and raised a large family, most of whom emigrated with their parents in 1725 to Chester County, Pennsylvania
Although there is evidence that markets were held here as far back as the C15th, the modern town of Oldcastle owes its C18th foundation to the Naper family of Loughcrew, who were responsible for its street layout and the construction of its most significant buildings.
Despite earnest relief efforts by the Naper family, Oldcastle suffered badly during the Great Famine and its aftermath. Due to the continuation of a Gaelic way of life in northern County Meath, the poorest class lived where Irish culture was strongest until obliterated by starvation and emigration. Land patterns still visible today reveal a strong attachment to Gaelic farming practices.
Sinn Féin, a local paper published in the town in the early 1900s, gave its name to the political party closest in ideology to the IRA.
Oldcastle Union Workhouse is said to have been used during WWI as an detention centre for suspected German spies and sympathisers.
The “Real IRA” was supposedly established at a meeting held in November 1997 in a local farmhouse between disaffected Provisional IRA members.
An environmental disaster occurred in Oldcastle in 2005 when a sewage treatment plant overflowed into the nearby River Inny, killing 4000 wild brown trout.
The old Market House in Oldcastle Square, built by the Naper family c.1750, was used as a barracks in the turbulent 1790s. It was described as “a handsome oblong building” bySamuel Lewis in 1837, when it contained a dispensary and an upstairs courtroom for fortnightly petty sessions hearings, while the commercial space downstairs was used for every type of trade, notably the largest yarn market in the county, held every Monday. The building has since been extended and degraded almost out of recognition.
St Bride’s church (CoI) was rebuilt in 1816 on the site of an earlier church serving the old parish of Clolyne. The splendid tower and clock were funded by JLW Naper of Loughcrew, and the interior contains interesting family memorials, plus pews etc. transferred from Loughcrew church.
The Naper Arms Hotel***, founded c.1850, is a highly regarded establishment on the Square, with a restaurant named after the radical C18th Dublin shopkeeper and revolutionary propagandist James Napper Tandy (1740-1803), who may have been a distant relative of the Napers of Loughcrew.
A Celtic Cross erected in 1961 by the local branch of the Old IRA Federation, 1916-1921commemorates Commandant Seamus Coogan and Commandant Patrick McDonnell, killed by British forces during the War of Independence.
The Gilson Endowed School, a Palladian edifice probably designed by Charles Cockerell, is locally regarded as “the Gem in the Crown of Oldcastle’s architecture“. It owes its existence to the generosity of Laurence Gilson (né Magilsenan, d. 1810), a native who, having made a fortune in London, bequeathed money to establish a school “on the Lancastrian principle” for Catholic and Protestant boys and girls on Oldcastle’s Green, and also left all his books to the school’s library. In 1976, three local schools were amalgamated within a new building, which still bears the philanthropist’s name. (Photo – www.beyondtheblarney.ie)
(A life-size bronze statue of Laurence Gilson by Ann Meldon Hugh was unveiled at the school in May 2011, and a Laurence Gilson Summer School is scheduled for May 2012).
Oldcastle railway station, opened at the end of a branch line from Navan on 17th March 1863, and improved in an Italianate style c.1880, closed for passenger traffic in 1958 and finally closed altogether on 1st April 1963.
St Brigid’s church (RC), designed in the Neo Gothic style by WH Byrne to replace an earlier edifice (1815), was built between 1899 and 1904, although the imposing 150ft spire was not finished until the early 1930s. The church features two fine stained glass windows by Harry Clarke.
The Show Hall near the church regularly hosts bingo, dances and concerts.
The Fincourt on Oliver Plunkett St is an award-winning pub and guesthouse with both B&B and self-catering accommodation facilities, good food and a pleasant beer garden.
The Oldcastle Show is held every August in Gilson Park, home of the local GAA and soccer clubs.
Le Cheile is a traditional music & arts festival held on the August bank holiday weekend at various venues around the town, run by volunteers. Events include historical talks, art workshops / exhibitions, street traders and stalls, fire dancing, street entertainment and big name music gigs each night.
Crossdrum House, an Italianate villa built c.1800, was the home of Edward Rotheram, agent to the Naper estate at Loughcrew. Some of the plasterwork has been attributed to Michael Stapleton‘s son George. Sadly, the house is now derelict.
Upper Crossdrum House, attributed to Charles Cockerell, is a handsome Georgian dwelling.
Moylagh Castle, a Tower House dating from 1328, stands within a walled enclosure containing an old graveyard around the fragmentary remains of a church that once belonged to the Abbey of Fore in County Westmeath. (Great photo here)
Moylagh (Maigh Locha) is a rural district.
St Mary’s church (RC) dating from 1834, is a large edifice with an adjoining graveyard.
Moylagh’s well-equipped community centre has two racquetball courts (where several all-Ireland tournaments have been played), two GAA pitches and an indoor soccer hall, occasionally used for drama competitions such as Scór na nÓg.
Ballinacree (Co. Meath / Northwest)
Ballinacree / Ballynacree (Baile na Criagh – “townland of the briars”) is a rural community with an active Historical Society.
Ballinacree Community Centre, housed in the former National School (1891), contains a small Museum of local artefacts.
The Ballymacad Foxhounds, a hunt that can trace its history to 1730, meets regularly around the area at the southeast end of Lough Sheelin where Co. Meath, Co.Westmeath and Co. Cavan meet, and also organise hunter trials, point-to-points, charity rides etc.