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Ardbraccan is an ancient place of christian worship, and the location of the former residence of the Roman Catholic, then after the Reformation the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath. It is located approximately 30 miles (48 kilometres) from Dublin.

St. Ultan's Church of Ireland
The 18th century building was deconsecrated in 1981 by the Church of Ireland, ending over 1400 years of religious worship on the site. To the right of the picture is the thousand year old church tower.

Ardbraccan originated as a place of Christian worship under St. Breacain (also spelt St. Braccan - d.650 AD ) in the seventh century. Its name in the Irish language comes directly from the saint's name: Árd Braccan, namely the height or Hill of Braccan. On this high point, a monastery and a succession of churches were built, each larger than the last to accommodate the growing number of religious worshippers. The most famous was a large circular church known as the Daimhlaig, which was burned to the ground by viking attackers in the twelfth century. Contemporary records say that one thousand people were in the church, seeking protection from the invaders, at the time.

The early Irish church possessed many bishoprics or dioceses, each presided over by a Bishop. For a period, Ardbraccan itself was a diocese, with a large urban centre attached. Under the Great Synod of Kells in 1152 Ardbraccan was united with the Sees of Clonard, Trim, Dunshaughlin, Slane and Fore, forming with other small dioceses the Diocese of Meath. Its central importance was shown in the fact that the new merged diocese's bishop lived in Ardbraccan.

When, in the aftermath of the crisis over Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon a section of the Irish Church formally broke its link with the Roman Catholic Church to become the Church of Ireland the Anglican or Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath continued to live in Ardbraccan, in an estate attached to the main church. In this period, Ardbraccan possessed two churches; St. Mary's (which was located in the Bishop's residence) and St. Ultan's, which was named after a local saint who had lived in St. Braccan's day.

The thousand year old church tower
The tower predates the current church on the site by over 700 years. It was scheduled for demolition when the new church was built in the 1700s, but the plans fell through and the medićval tower avoided demolition.

In 1777 a new anglican church was erected on the site of the earlier church of St. Ultan's. The church remained in use until 1981 when it was deconsecrated, due to the dwindling size of the Church of Ireland community in Ardbraccan, though it ceased to be used for general worship in 1970. The Ecclesisatical Commission of 1868 recorded that there were 267 members of the Church of Ireland living in Ardbraccan parish. By 1968, that had dwindled to 10. The church was finally offered for sale by the Church of Ireland in 2002. Its cemetery is used for burials by both the local anglican and Roman Catholic parishes.

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath moved out of the eighteenth century bishop's palace in 1885 to live in a smaller mansion nearby. In 1958, the anglican bishop moved away from Ardbraccan altogether.

While the anglican community used the name 'Ardbraccan' to refer to its parish, the nearby Roman Catholic parish in the nineteenth century opted to use a different name, Bohermeen, from the gaelic Án Bothar Mín, meaning the smooth road, referring to a famous stretch of road that two thousand years before had passed through the neighbourhood and went to Tara, the ancient Irish capital and home of the High King of Ireland or Árd Rí.

Additional Reading

Dean Cogan, The Diocese of Meath (2 Vols, 1862 and 1867)