County Meath encompasses an historic part of the Boyne River Valley to the north of Dublin, and bears the nickname of the Royal County.
Once the home of the High Kings, who ruled from the Hill at Tara, County Meath is rich in historic sites and the birthplace of many an Irish folk legend. It is also known as a centre of the country’s strong religious history, as evidenced by the historic monastery that was founded at Kells.
Neolithic remains, such as those found at the tombs of Newgrange and the rest of the Bru na Boinne archaeological site, date back more than 5,000 years and are famous around the world.
The River Boyne flows through County Meath, past Christian and Celtic monuments, castles, and hills that have witnessed events that exerted major influence over the historical outcomes in Ireland over the centuries.
County Meath Highlights
County Meath is one of Ireland’s centres for interesting and unique religious sites.
They include Bective Abbey, a Cistercian structure dating from 1150 and once of great ecclesiastic and political importance to the region. The ruins of Newtown Cathedral are visible, still standing on the banks of the River Boyne.
The monastic centre at the village of Kells was once the legendary home of the world-renowned book of the same name, one of the most famous surviving illuminated manuscripts from the middle ages.
Some say that the ageless and sometimes mystical archaeological attractions of County Meath transport visitors back to a period beyond recorded time. At Loughcrew, a group of cairns known as passage tombs was built by primitive people to whom the relationship to the seasonal position of the sun on the morning horizon was particularly important.
Older than the Egyptian pyramids and even Stonehenge, the passage tomb at Newgrange is estimated to have been built around 3200 B.C., and is also positioned to capture the rays of the sun on its richly decorated stones at a certain time of the year. Many historians believe that Newgrange was the burial place of the Kings of Tara, while others regard it as a kind of pagan cathedral -- and others claim it to be a home to supernatural beings!
The nearby Hill of Tara is another magnificent megalithic site. As old as Newgrange, Tara was used not only in pre-history, but throughout the early medieval period, as a banqueting venue for the High Kings of Ireland.
Legend also cloaks the Motte of Navan, originally built to serve as a burial place and later the site of a Norman motte and bailey defensive structure.
Defensive structures from ages past are also scattered around County Meath; the most widely known is Trim Castle, a residential and governmental building from 1173, and a well preserved example of Norman building expertise during the medieval period.
Slane Castle is more recent and stylish, featuring a natural amphitheater that has seen many concerts over the years and continues to host renowned performers.
Where the Rivers Boyne and Blackwater run together, the Town of Navan can be found. Established during the 12th century as a fortress settlement, it is today the administrative centre of County Meath.
The town of Trim was once the county seat, it is now popular as a heritage town that contains well preserved medieval ruins, a huge and imposing fortress, as well as the Royal Mint and several notable ecclesiastical ruins.
County Meath History
To look at the history of County Meath is to examine many of the major events in the long history of Ireland.
The hills and valleys of this region are filled with reminders that literally take visitors back in time, from the ancient stone formations at Newgrange, to the regal atmosphere at Tara Hill, to the castles and medieval monasteries across the landscape.
Irish civilization, and some of the earliest civilizations in the world, began here, and thousands of visitors make a practical study of Irish history as they tour its famous landmarks.
Modern day Meath offers a different, more modern variant of civilization -- increasing swathes of the county have engulfed by the sprawling suburbs of Dublin city. But community life still thrives in Meath, where Gaelic football remains especially popular.
Popular Meath Surnames
Common surnames common in County Meath include:
Trim Castle, County Meath by Andrew Parnell