Kilberry (Co. Meath / North)
Kilberry Graveyard contains the ruins of a rectangular church, a box-tomb with a good Crucifixion at its west end, and a plain six-sided baptismal font. A stone with a raised-letter inscription commemorates ‘peers’ erected by Christopher Everard of Randlestown in 1715. (Photo by Kieran Campbell)
The church of St John the Baptist (RC) was built in 1839 by Fr Matthew Kelsh, who was also responsible for the construction of the local National School (1856, demolished 2011). It replaced a former church of the same name, reported as having been in ruins for the previous 70 / 80 years by Cogan in his 1862 Diocese of Meath, where he also recorded that in 1702 ‘There was a mud-walled thatched chapel in Kilberry and another at Oristown; and oftentimes, owing to the intolerance of the age, these humble temples were closed, and Mass was celebrated at the back of a ditch in the townland of Balsaw.’
Baile Ghib / Gibbstown (Co. Meath / North)
Gibbstown House was from the mid-C17th the property of the Gerrard family, who at the end of the C19th replaced the original building with a very impressive Italianate house designed by W H Lynn, lamentably dismantled in the 1960s. The former demesne contains a derelict farmyard, stables etc. and a large walled garden, all now in regular use as a war game zone by young men clad in military camouflage, members of The Compound Airsoft Club. (According to Wikipedia, airsoft is a sport in which participants shoot round non-metallic pellets launched via replica firearms. Gameplay varies in style and composition but often ranges from short-term skirmishes, organized scenarios, military simulations, historical reenactments, to competition target shooting events. Combat situations on the battlefield often involve the use of common military tactics to achieve objectives set in each game. Participants typically emulate the tactical equipment and accessories used by modern military and police organizations).
Baile Ghib road sign. (Photo by JP)
Baile Ghib was used for a social experiment in 1937, when the Land Commission moved poor Irish-speaking families from the west coast of Ireland to the area and gave each a house, 22 acres, farm animals and farming implements in exchange for land and property in their native county, A scheme already implemented in neighbouring Ráth Cairn / Rathcarne had some success, but a similar 1937 settlement of Baile Ailin / Allenstown failed. A large percentage of the “colonists” returned to Connacht or emigrated in the early years, but Ráth Cairn and Baile Ghib were finally awarded Gaeltacht status in 1967. The original aim of spreading the Irish language into the local community had little effect, and the newcomers had to learn English to farm effectively.
(Randalstown House, the stately early C18th home of the Everard family, was demolished c.1970 to make way for a tailings dam, leaving only gateposts and minor remnants.)
Donaghpatrick / Domnach Phadraic is the reputed location of the royal palace of the C5th AD Ard Rí / High King Laoghaire’s brother Conall, who was baptised by Saint Patrick; and indeed an ancient ráth, which originally comprised a mound surrounded by four ramparts, is visible near the church.
Domhnach Phadraig / Patrick’s church, supposedly built by Prince Conall to give thanks for his baptism, survived in some form throughout the Middle Ages, although it was burned in 745 AD, plundered in 949 AD and again, in 1156. It was in ruins in 1682, apart from the bulky medieval Tower.
St Patrick’s church (CoI), erected on the same site in 1805, incorporated the old tower in a new edifice which was otherwise demolished in 1895 to make way for the present church, designed by the architect JF Fuller.
The new church was funded by Thomas Gerrard and his sisters of Gibbstown House, who insisted there should be no Memorial Tablets on the walls. Fine stained glass windows by Heaton, Butler & Bayne illuninate the plain interior, which retains its original furnishings. Some Tablets from Kilshine church, now closed, have been erected in the inner porch.
The Tower was once residential, with a large room on each of its four storeys, linked by a stone staircase in the North wall. The floors have long since been removed, but access to the top of the tower is still possible, as the ancient stone steps have survived. The view from the top of the tower is well worth the climb and one can appreciate the beauty of the surrounding country-side, from its battlemented roof.
The graves in the well maintained churchyard date mainly from the last 200 years. C19th stone, to the Carolan Family, features a very fine winged head. A fine Celtic Revival cross, erected 1913, features figure carving symbolic of the Evangelists. Beside the church is a fine Standing Stone and a plain stone font.
The adjacent Parish Hall, designed by RS Barnes and built in 1889, has also kept most of its Victorian interior intact.
Donaghpatrick bridge spanning the River Blackwater. (Photo by JP)
Teltown & Oristown (Co. Meath / Northwest)
Teltown / Telltown (Tailtin, historically aka Tailte / Taillte) has strong legendary associations.
The toponym supposedly derives from the Celtic mythological figure / goddess Tailte / Tailtiu, said to have been buried locally by her foster son, Lugh Lamhfhada (Lugh Long-hand) and long revered as a deity mainly identified with horses.
This was also the likely location of Aghaid Tailteann, the graveyard where Ollamh Fodhla (the legendary first law-giver of Ireland, who according to the Annals of the Four Masters died in 1277 BC) was reportedy buried.
The Hill of Tailte, often referred to in older guide books as one of the most celebrated spots in Ireland, nowadays appears to attract only a few wild-eyed enthusiasts interested in ancient Celtic folklore, occult wisdom, faery shamanism, lay lines, mystery and magic etc.
A very unimpressive set of mound structures, commonly regarded as a prehistoric burial site, are said by the Book of Invasions to have been constructed over 2500 years ago, and this would seem to be confirmed by archaeological reports identifying them as a complex of man-made earthworks, apparently dating from at least the Iron Age. This was the probable venue for the ancient Tailteann Games.
The Tailteann Games
The Tailteann Games, Taillten Fair, Áenach Tailteann, Aonach Tailteann, Assembly of Talti, Fair of Talti or Festival of Talti, were names given to an event known to have been celebrated off and on in medieval times, and said to have very ancient roots.
Modern folklore claims that the Tailteann Games started around 1600 BC, with some sources claiming as far back as 1829 BC or as recently as 632 BC. A few enthusiasts suggest that they may have been the inspiration for the ancient Olympic Games in Greece (776 BC – 394 AD).
According to the Book of Invasions, the games were founded as a mourning ceremony for the death of Tailtiu, daughter of “the King of Spain” and wife of Eochaidh, last of the kings of Firbolgs, by Lugh Lámhfhada, variously identifies as a king or as the Ollamh Érenn (master craftsman / doctor of the sciences / bard expert in genealogy / jurisprudence).
Lady Gregory‘s version of the story: “While [Lugh] was king, his foster-mother Taillte, daughter of Magh Mor, the Great Plain died. And before her death she bade her husband Duach the Dark, he that built the Fort of the Hostages in Teamhair, to clear away the wood of Cuan, the way there could be a gathering of the people around her grave. So he called to the men of Ireland to cut down the wood with their wide-bladed knives and bill-hooks and hatchets, and within a month the whole wood was cut down. And Lugh buried her in the plain of Midhe, and raised a mound over her, that is to be seen to this day. And he ordered fires to be kindled, and keening to be made, and games and sports to be held in the summer of every year out of respect to her. And the place they were held got its name from her, that is Taillten (Telltown).”
(Another theory propagated by local residents J Hill and M Pye is that the Funeral Games were those of Queen Teia Tephi, who “had journeyed from the near East in company with Jeremiah and the Ark of the Covenant. The Queen had also brought with her the Israeli system of laws, as outlined in Deuteronomy, which then became the law of Ireland” – a felicitous turn of events, since the theory also holds that Irish people are all the descendants of the Tribe of Dan. Teia had a palace at Teltown and died at the beginning of August 534 BC. The Ark of the Covenant is believed to rest in Tara).
The ancient Aonach had three functions; honouring the dead, proclaiming laws, and funeral games and festivities to entertain.
- The first function took between one and three days depending on the importance of the deceased, guests would sing mourning chants called the Guba after which druids would improvise songs in memory of the dead called a Cepóg. The dead would then be burnt on a funeral pyre.
- The second function would then be carried out during a universal truce by the Ollamh Érenn, giving out laws to the people via bards and druids and culminating in the igniting of another massive fire.
- The custom of rejoicing after a funeral was then enshrined in the Cuiteach Fuait, games of mental and physical ability. These included long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, contests in sword fighting, archery, wrestling and swimming, but especially chariot and horse racing. They also included competitions in strategy, singing, dancing and story-telling along with crafts competitions for goldsmiths, jewellers, weavers and armourers.
Many believe that games in honour of the the dead were held locally every summer, presided over by the King of Tara, and were amongst the great ceremonial occasions of pagan Ireland. The festivities were said to climax with the celebration of Lughnasa, aka Lammas Day (1st August).
Saint Patrick reportedy attended the event c. 445 AD, but was met with hostility by Cairbre, the brother of Conall and king Laoghaire.
In later medieval times the games were revived and called the Tailten Fair, consisting of contests of strength and skill, horse races, religious celebrations, and a traditional time for couples to contract “Handfasting” trial marriages.
“Taillten / Teltown Marriage” was the name given to arrangements said to have originated at the Tailteann Games with Moonie-style mass weddings, where couples met for the first time and were given up to a year and a day to divorce on the hills of separation, the marriage contract being dissolved by their walking in opposite directions on / around the mound. This trial marriage practice is documented in the fourth and fifth volumes of the Brehon law texts, compilations of the opinions and judgments of the Brehon class of Druids. “Taillten marriages” were legal up until the C13th.
The last Tailteann Games to be celebrated in ceremonial fashion reportedly took place in 1168 under Roderick O’Connor, the last Ard Rí / High King of Ireland. The tradition largely died out after the Norman invasion, although informal gatherings are said to have continued until the middle of the C18th.
A C20th version of the Tailteann Games, announced by Éamon de Valera in Dáil Éireann in 1921 as “the revival meeting of the Irish race“, open to all people of Irish birth or ancestry, with participants from the UK, the USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia as well as Ireland, was held by the Gaelic Athletic Association in Dublin’s Croke Park in 1924, 1928, and 1932, coinciding with the modern Olympics and attracting world-class sportsmen. Chess competitions were also run in conjunction with the Irish Chess Union, and sailing and motorboat events were held in 1924 and 1928.
A modern inter-provincial athletics event of the same name is held every year under the auspices of Athletics Ireland.
John O’Donovan claimed that loughs near a fort in the area called the Rath Dhubh “have the appearance of being artificial lakes and may have been used when the Olympic Games of Tailteann were celebrated by the Irish“. He also mentions a tradition that the shade of king Laoghaire was imprisoned by Saint Patrick until Judgment Day to the east of Rath Dhubh in the Dubhloch.
Part of one of the mounds in the area called the Knockauns was partially destroyed by bulldozers for urbanisation in 1997.
Teltown House, a beautiful creeper-covered C17th country house with lovely gardens, is set among three hundred acres of rich Boyne Valley pasture land, on the bank of the River Blackwater. It is run by Renée Clarke as a delightful B&B, featuring elegant bedrooms with views across the surrounding farmland, a gorgeous sitting-room, a cosy library – both with open fires – and delicious Irish breakfasts served at a huge communal dining room table.
Ancient Rock Art may be seen in a graveyard adjacent to Teltown.
The church of St Catherine of Alexandria (RC) in Oristown was constructed in 1969 with a time capsule inserted in a foundation stone containing a parchment scroll, some current coins and a newspaper of the day. It replaced an edifice built in 1841 by Fr Matthew Kelsh to improve on a chapel erected by John Reilly at his own expense in 1730 and renovated c.1799.
Grangeclare Paddocks is run by former racehorse trainer Peter Mooney as an equestrian centre specialising in corporate Wild West events, school outings, hen parties and weddings.