Oldcastle – an hour from Dublin, but a world away!
Oldcastle has been a market town since the 1500s and today it’s still a lively, bustling crossroads where people from three counties and beyond meet and mingle.
The town is located in the north west of county Meath, where the fertile plains of the Royal County meet the rolling drumlins of Cavan and the beauty of Westmeath’s lakelands.
A place rich in heritage and history, Oldcastle offers an excellent starting point to explore the many attractions this ancient landscape has to offer.
Oldcastle also has a very vibrant Chamber of Commerce which actively promotes and fosters the business and tourism interests in the town.
Oliver Plunkett Street
Telephone: +353 49 8541153
Things to do and see
History & Heritage
Located just outside the town of Oldcastle in Co. Meath, the Loughcrew cairns are a series of approx 30 tombs situated across a ridge of four hills. Of a similar age to the monuments of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth (c.3,000BC) and located on the highest point in County Meath there are spectacular views from the cairns to the surrounding and distant landscapes. Guides from the OPW are available June – September and entrance to the Cairns is free.
At all other times of the year, the key to Cairn T is available from the coffee shop at Loughcrew Gardens.
Click here for fantastic aerial views of the Loughcrew complex
Just outside the village of Fore, in Co Westmeath lie the remains of a thirteenth century Benedictine priory, itself preceded by a monastery founded by St. Fechin c. 630. The priory remains are the largest group of Benedictine remains in Ireland. The ‘seven wonders of Fore’, which combine folklore and religion, are well known locally and include ‘the water that won’t boil’ and ‘the tree that won’t burn’.
Between Oldcastle and Kells lies St. Ciaran’s Well, which offers an excellent and continuing example of popular religious worship in Ireland, that part of belief where religion, superstition and magic often mingle. It was described by Sir William Wilde (father of Oscar) as “one of the most beautiful holy wells in Ireland”.
The great outdoors (not sure if this is the right way to describe these things!!)
Loughcrew Adventure Centre
Try It ... Zip It ... Climb It ... at Loughcrew Adventure Centre!. Enjoy the magical freedom at Loughcrew, feel your adrenaline boiling as you venture onto the Witches Ropes Course, try your hand at archery and navigate yourself through the Forest Crystal Maze.
Tullynally Castle & Gardens
Tullynally has been the home of the Pakenhams’ later Earls of Longford, for over 350 years. The original 17th century fortified house was remodelled first as a comfortable Georgian mansion, then as a huge rambling gothic revival castle in the early survive in private hands. The gardens, like the castle are on a magnificent scale, taking in nearly 12 hectares.
Fishing by permit is excellent at the moment with visitors enjoying good sport on Lough Lene, the White Lake, Lough Ramor and the river Blackwater - all within 15 minutes drive from Oldcastle.
Headfort Golf Club
Navan Road, Kells
(046) 924 0146
The Loughcrew Lake Walk is about four kilometers long and can take anywhere between one 1 hour 45 minutes and 2 and a half hours. The path is marked with red fairy arrows.
The largest planted Beech Forest in Western Europe, a wonderland of wildflowers with an arboretum of native trees. There are a variety of signposted trails for various levels of fitness.
Kells Girley Bog Eco Walk is a 3.5 miles/ 5.6 km waymarked National Loop. It covers varying landscape of forest and bogland. The terrain is flat and uneven and walking boots are recommended. The first section of this looped walk takes you through a tranquil Coillte forest, where there is a coniferous forestry plantation located on high bog.
Events & Festivals
Le Chéile Arts & Music Festival (www.lecheile.com)
North Meath’s longest running independent music and arts festival
Laurence Gilson Summer School
Celebrating the educational legacy of Laurence Gilson
Oldcastle Agricultural Show
The Oldcastle Agricultural Show takes place in The Gilson Park, Oldcastle, Co Meath each July. It’s a fun filled, enjoyable day for all the family including your 4 legged friends. Enquiries to show secretary Carmel Foy 087-9604380.
The Loughcrew Opera Festival is set in a fully decorated marquee located in the beautiful Loughcrew gardens. Call Loughcrew Gardens for details of the Opera Festival.
The workhouse and internment camp
The Oldcastle workhouse was one of five in Co. Meath and opened in 1842. Originally designed to house a maximum of 600 people, within a few years the devastation of the Great Famine meant that by October 1847, 713 people were inmates in the workhouse.
At the outbreak of the First World War, it was used as a detention camp for German and Austrian nationals and by 1916 there were 579 internees. The internees were removed from the camp in late 1918 and as they marched to the train station they were waved off by local people.
The War Office handed the premises back to the Board of Guardians in 1919. On 6 Mar 1920 the workhouse was badly damaged by fire. The remains of the workhouse were demolished in the late 1930’s. No photographs exist of it.
To see a map of the workhouse site and for more information see Peter Higginbotham's web site.
Oldcastle and the railway
The Oldcastle line was opened in the summer of 1863 and was deemed profitable from its earliest days. The railway facilitated the arrival and departure of produce to and from the area, and its impact on the economic and social life of Oldcastle cannot be underestimated. Just a brief walk around the town will show a number of buildings dating from that period, new businesses emerged – drapers, hotels and public houses. Clearly the railway was bringing people to the town who were spending money here and it inspired and aided the growth of commerce and agricultural activity in the area.
The growth of the railway network in Ireland enabled a wide range of people to travel widely for the first time. There are many memories in the area of special football trains being laid on from Oldcastle when Meath were in the All Ireland finals, and in the summertime, people often travelled from Oldcastle to Laytown in south Meath to go to the beach.
In 1963 CIE decided to terminate its services to Oldcastle and Kells. The line was closed in April 1963: Oldcastle enjoyed its railway for just 100 years.
Oldcastle parish is dedicated to St. Brigid and both the Catholic and Church of Ireland churches are dedicated to her.
St Bride’s Church (Church of Ireland) is located on the highest point in the town. There are references to a late medieval church and castle erected by John Plunkett, which is said to have been on the site of the present Church of Ireland church. The church contains a number of interesting memorials of local families as well as pews and other objects from the nearby church at Loughcrew. The present church was rebuilt in 1816 and restored in recent years.
St. Brigid’s Catholic Church is just over 100 years old. There was no Catholic Church in Oldcastle from the Reformation until the late eighteenth century when one can be seen on a map of 1778. Like most Catholic churches of that time it was a plain, unimposing building. In 1780 Bishop Plunkett of Meath stated there was “neither order nor decency about the altar”. In 1815 a new church was built on or near the site of the one which had so disappointed Bishop Plunkett. The grounds were donated by James Lennox William Naper who also gave £1000 towards the cost of the building.
In 1888 Bishop Thomas Nulty of Meath, an Oldcastle man, recommended that a new church be built in the town. The building project was initiated in 1889. The new church was finally completed in 1904 and the first ceremony was held on 3 May of that year.
St. Oliver Plunkett
Oliver Plunkett was born near Oldcastle, at Loughcrew, in 1625. The remains of his family’s church can be visited at Loughcrew Gardens (www.loughcrew.com.) He was educated and ordained in Rome and was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1669. He maintained his duties in Ireland in the face of English persecution and was eventually arrested and tried for treason in London. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1 July 1681, and became the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. Oliver Plunkett was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years. An open air Mass in honour of St. Oliver is held at Loughcrew every year.
For more details on St. Oliver Plunkett see www.saintoliverplunkett.com
The struggle for independence
While Oldcastle was not a scene for large scale fighting and activity in Ireland’s struggle for independence, the area has a number of connections to the nationalist and republican history of Ireland. One of the leaders of the United Irishmen of 1798, James Napper Tandy, was linked to Oldcastle through his maternal grandmother, one of the Napers of Loughcrew.
A newspaper ‘Sinn Féin the Oldcastle Monthly Review’ was launched in 1902. Patrick Pearse spoke at the launch meeting. In 1906 Arthur Griffith, who had founded the political party Sinn Féin a year earlier, contacted the founders of the Oldcastle paper and asked for permission to use the title Sinn Féin for his own new newspaper. His secretary, Kathleen McKenna (or Kenna) was an Oldcastle woman.
The War of Independence (1919-1921) saw widespread attacks on British forces in Ireland. The republicans around Oldcastle were as active as elsewhere. Raids were carried out on the home of a retired British Army officer, and in May 1920 the tax office in Oldcastle was raided and all records burnt. Seamus Cogan, O/C of the Oldcastle Battalion, was killed on an operation in 1920. The following year Padraig McDonnell was shot in the back whilst trying to escape a raid on his home. They are both commemorated on a monument in the Square in Oldcastle.
The rich built environment of Oldcastle is reflected in the significant number of important heritage buildings. The town is an Architectural Conservation Area with 33 protected structures from landmark 18th and 19th century residences and public buildings to terraces of 18th and 19th century houses and commercial buildings.
The town has retained its late Georgian/early Victorian character and, as conservation architect Liam Tuite remarked, Oldcastle is a town where ‘it’s worth looking up’ to the very fine and well preserved stucco work which can still be seen above many of the shop fronts.
Some of the most notable buildings include:
The Gilson Endowed School, designed by the noted architect CR Cockerel completed in 1832. A fine Palladian-style limestone building, full of subtlety, austere but not plain. The school was endowed by philanthropist and educationalist Laurence Gilson and is now held in trust for the people of Oldcastle and managed by a Board of Governors.
St Bride’s Church, a site of worship since 16th Century, the current church was restored in 1816. Both the church itself and the adjoining graveyard are protected structures.
The former RIC Barracks on Cogan St built in 1860 is a detached three-bay, two storey rendered house with good iron railings to the front, distinctive chimney stacks and limestone string-course. It defines the historic edge of the town.
St Bridget’s Church, designed by WH Byrne and built in 1904. Again a limestone building but introducing polychromatic marble and a fine tiled floor, the church also contains two Harry Clarke stained glass windows.
Gibney’s Shop, standing on the Square it is a terraced six-bay three storey stucco-fronted building dating from 1862. It has decorative cast-iron ride crest to its roof, shell typana to the window openings and moulded continuous string-courses to the facade.
Click here to listen to a talk on the architecture of Oldcastle given by Liam Tuite.