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Parish of Ratoath
The parish proper comprises of the following townlands: Balfestown, Ballybin Minor, Ballyhack,  Bradystown, Brownstown, Cabinhill, Cheeverstown, Commons, Curkeen, Darthogue, Elgerstown, Fidorfe, Flemingstown, Glascarn, Grange, Gunstown, Harlockstown, Jamestown, Kilrue, Lagore Big, and Lagore Little, Legagunnia, Loughlinstown, Mooretown, Mullinam, Newtown, Paddock, Peacockstown, Rackinstown, Rathcool, Ratoath, Raystown, Tankardstown, and Twenty-park.Townlands are peculiar to Ireland and how they originated is uncertain. Hence to define a place in Ireland we say it is “ in the townland of -, in the parish of -, in the county of - ,”.

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Ratoath Village

Ratoath gives its name to a village, a townland, a parish and to a barony. The derivation or meaning of the word is uncertain. Gaelicised forms of the name are Rat-tógh and Rath-tachatacta. These place names occur in Irish manuscripts and scholars say that the writers were referring to Ratoath. Evidently they were trying to give a phonetic rendering of a name that was unfamiliar to them. Mruigtuaithe occurs in the Book of Armagh as the name of one of these places in Meath where St Patrick founded a church and Eoin MacNeill identifies it as Ratoath. If this correct it would seem that the second portion of the word comes from the Gaelic word “tuath” which means a territory belonging to a family or sept. “Mruig” means a grazing plain. The first part of the word “Ratoath” may be derived from the Gaelic word “Rath” which means a fort or fortification, but this is unlikely, as the place name probably existed before the Normans erected the “moat” unless they built it on top of a rath already in existence.

The Barony of Ratoath

The barony of Ratoath comprises ten parishes and portion of two others viz Rathbeggan, Dunshaughlin, Kilbrew, Crickstown, Killegand, Cookstown, Donaghmore, Ratoath, and portions of Ballymaglasson and Trevit. There is an historical explanation as to how Ratoath became a barony.

The Normans landed in Ireland in 1161 and captured the Danish city of Waterford. It is likely that the only cities or strongholds in the country at the time were those founded by the Danes, and of these the most important wad Dublin, which was captured soon afterwards by Milo de Cogan and successfully held by him in spite of a long siege by Roderic O’Connor, the High King, who had the co-operation of the Danes. Henry 11 of England arrived in Dublin in 1172 and many of the Irish Chieftains made their submission to him, i.e., they recognised him as their feudal lord, who gave them the right or title to the lands they held. In other words, Henry applied to Ireland the Norman or feudal system of land tenure which prevailed on the continent and which the Normans introduced into England. This meant displacing some of the native kings – one of whom was the king of Meath or Tara.
Henry granted Hugh de Lacy “the land of Meath in as full a measure as Murchadh O’ Melaghlin or anyone before or after him held it.” The technical name of this grant was a Liberty and it meant that, within his Liberty, de Lacy’s power of jurisdiction was equal to that of the king himself with one reservation, that the king could dispose of Church lands anywhere. The person enjoying such liberal delegation of royal jurisdiction was known as a Count and the territory over which he ruled was called a county. One of the privileges of a Count Palatinate, such as de Lacy in this case, was that he could create barons or inferior lords who held their land from the Count. Some time after 1196, the son of Hugh de Lacy, named Walter, granted “the whole land of Rathtowth” to his younger brother, Hugh. Hence we have now the sub-division of the county Meath named the Barony of Ratoath and it has the distinction of being perhaps the first instance that the term, barony, was used in Ireland for a division of a county.

Marian Grotto in Ratoath VillageIt is likely that it was this second Hugh de Lacy who erected that large moat that stands out so prominently adjacent to the Catholic Church in the village. The site was well chosen. The summit commands a view of most of the barony. It had all the other characteristics of the typical Norman fort – a keep. Bailium, fosse, etc. The Normans had to defend themselves in a new country that was thinly populated and almost without roads. They set up their own courts to administer justice and keep the peace. As in England, the native population in the area made no resistance. It was not so along the borders where the native kings raided the Norman territory just as they raided and were raided by their neighbours. Before long Ratoath was well inside the Norman territory and it was not necessary for them to build a stone castle for defence such as they erected at Duleek, Slane, Dunshaughlin, etc. It may have been this Hugh de Lacy too, that erected the first Church in Ratoath as the site in the old cemetery was just then right by Norman practice. On the other hand, the fact that’s patron is the Most Holy Trinity suggests either as earlier foundation, as the Normans usually dedicated their churches to Our Blessed Lady or to one of the saints, or that they borrowed the title from an existing church in the neighbourhood.

As the head or chief centre of a barony, Ratoath enjoyed a certain prestige. The local “baron” must have lived here at one time. Ratoath was chartered for the holding of fairs and markets at an early period and it had its “portreeve” (local magistrate) and all the usual officials. The courts were held here also and had  its Manor House where manorial courts were held up until 1830.  This is now the Nursing Home. So, too, Ratoath sent representatives to Parliament in Dublin, not that the ordinary people had any voice in their section. It was an example of what was called a “rotten” borough, belonging to or in the patronage of some family and usually sold to the highest bidder,  e.g. in 1775 Ratoath was represented by Sir Marcus Croftin and William Irwin, was married to Mr Lowther’s daughter of Kilrue.

Church of the Most Holy Trinity

Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Ratoath

Most authors recount of a consultation in Ireland, when St. Thomas of Canterbury was sentenced by King Henry VIII, degraded and forbidden to be honoured as a saint, how the people met near a chapel which had been formally dedicated to the same St. Thomas, being by the King’s appointment to elect as the Patron and one coveted to choose St. Peter, St Paul, etc. At length, by advice of one of the best judgement, they elected the Blessed Trinity for their Patron, saying: If the King for other respects would also degrade or depose St. Peter and St. Paul, yet if any would maintain their state against him, none could more forcibly than the Blessed Trinity, The owld Justice Plunkett of Donsoghly was present at this consultation.”

Rev. Reade, S.J., in his commentary on the Book of Machabees refers to the above and says that the Holy Trinity was suggested by Patrick Mached of Lagore as “the best protection against the unpiety of the heretics” (the Irish Monthly, January 1947, p.3)
It is also recorded in Archibold’s Mss History of the Capuchins that Fr. Barnaby Barnwell, Capuchin, came to Ireland in 1627 and his first missionary excursion took him to Ratoath on the Sundays of Advent. On the last Sunday he exhorted all to gain the indulgences on the Christmas Day.” He was apparently very popular and attracted people from many of the neighbouring villages despite the “tempests and snow.”

In 1623 a Fr. Columba Flynn, also a Capuchin missionary priest, converted a number of local townsmen – 22 in all, including the Magistrate Cardiff.

In 1733 in the parish of Ratoath there was one priest and approximately 215 Catholic families and 35 families of the established church.

The present Church of Ratoath replaced a Mass- house of the 1760’s, the site of which is still pointed out at a place called the ‘stepping stones’. Like all the chapels of the period, it was in constant need of repair. At his visitation in July 1797, Dr Plunkett offered ‘congratulations on the improved state of the house of God’. Of the nature of the building we know nothing beyond brief information contained in an account of a meeting ‘held in Ratoath, Skreen and Dunboyne Independent Club’ on 27th January 1829. It stated ‘notwithstanding the unfavourable state of the weather, the chapel was crowded to excess at an early hour and the galleries exhibited all female rank, beauty and fashion of the surrounding neighbourhood’. At least three galleries would have been necessary to accommodate such a galaxy.

Having provided his children with schools, Rev Richard Carolan, P.P since 1818 directed his attentions towards the need of a proper church. Tablet erected to the memory of Rev. Richard Carolan P.P., located in the Church balconyWe know from his monument that the church was ‘begun under his auspices’. Tradition gives the date of erection of the church at about 1836 and his plans were probably interrupted for in 1845 we find a bequest of Miss Catherine Bonynge of Rataoth of “he sum of £100.00 towards the completion of the new chapel of Ratoath which is now erected for the greater honour and glory of God”

Rev. Patrick Sheridan does not appear to have added anything to the building and it was left to Fr Fullam to complete it. The stone facing and belfry were added by him in 1868 and the sacristy in 1874. Extensive repairs were carried out by Fr Kelly during 1923-26. They included a new heating system, pitch pine ceiling, windows, chancel arch and altar rails. Speaking at his visitation in July 1925, Dr Gaughran said “You have practically built a new church; £5,637.00 has already been expended on your church repairs and in addition, two contracts for the erection of a new organ gallery and for painting the church are now in hand. The cost of these two contracts will be £1,077. You were asked to put your shoulder to the wheel and you did it. God will not be in your debt. He will give you a rich reward for what you have done for the beauty of His House”

In the intervening years some renovation work was carried out on the church. In the late 1980’s it was decided that a major restoration was necessary. Arthur Lardner, architect, drew up the plans and work was carried out by Pat Donnelly, builder. The church was rededicated by Most Rev. Michael Smith on 20th October 1991, Rev John Kerrane, P.P Dunshaughlin preaching the homily. The total cost of the project was £250,000.

In 1999, as the building was over 164 year old it was decided by the Parish Finance Committee to do work on the Church with the aim of the long-term preservation of the fabric of the building. As a result work was undertaken on a phased basis. In the year 2000 the Church was re-roofed; in 2001 the outside walls were re-plastered in lime plaster. In 2002 extensive repairs were carried out to the windows, the interior of the Church was re-plastered where there was plaster defects. 2003 saw the interior of the Church repainted and the grounds outside the Church enhanced. In 2004 the Church was re-carpeted and the Church railings re-painted.

The church still retains its medieval dedication to the Most Blessed Trinity.


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