St. Ultan's Church, Ardbraccan - history
The Ecclesiastical Register of 1820, lists Ardbraccan as: "being a Rectory united to the Rectories of Liscartan, Rateyne, Churchtown, Clonmacduff and the Vicarage of Martry. The Parish contains one Church and a Glebe House with 33 acres of glebe land, the Incumbent being the Hon. and Reverend Henry Packenham." The 'Register' for 1830 mentions the same information but gives the Hon. and Reverend Packenham's date of admission to the Cure as 1818, the Patron of the Parish being the King.
Lewis lists Ardbraccan as once being the site of a monastic community founded by St. Braccan, who died in 650 CE. The monastery became the seat of a small Bishopric, until the twelfth century. Ardbraccan was united to the Sees of Clonard, Duleek, Kells, Trim, Dunshaughlin, Slane and fore, all of which, except Duleek and Kells, were consolidated at the Great Synod of Kells, held by Cardinal Paparo in 1152. The Sees of Duleek and Kells were afterwards annexed to the rest to create the newly established Diocese of Meath.
Lewis states: "The Living is a rectory in the Diocese of Meath, united by Act of Council in 1771, to the Rectories of Liscarton and Rataine, the Chapelry of Churchtown and the Vicarage of Martry, and by the same authority, in 1780, to the Rectory of Clonmacduff, which six parishes constitute the Union of Ardbraccan, in the Patronage of the Crown. The tithes amount to £433.16.10. the gross amount of tithes payable to the Incumbent is £820.15.5. The Church is a handsome edifice, erected in 1777, under the auspices of the late Bishop Maxwell. The Glebe House is situated about half a mile from the Church". Bishop Maxwell was also responsible for building the Bishop's Palace, 'one of the most elegant Ecclesiastical residences in Ireland'.
The Church, built in 1777, stands beside a large bell tower, part of the fifteenth century Church building. The tower is surmounted by an unusual slated spire, believed to be the only slated spire in the Country. Lewis describes the tower and spire thus: "a square tower with a spire and vane, forming a pleasing object." The Church itself is entered through a fine portico leading into a lofty entrance hall. A Vestry room on the left is matched on the right by a small room containing a staircase leading up to a large gallery and down to the crypt beneath the Church. The main Church itself is a large spacious building with a chancel at the east end. Its magnificence can be attributed to the fact that Ardbraccan Church adjoined the grounds of the Bishop's Palace. Its handsome and lavish furnishings were also indicators to the importance of this Church in the Diocese. The historic graveyard contains the graves of several Bishop's of Meath, including that of Bishop Montgomery, who died in London, on January 15th 1620.
Although a monastic site and a place of importance the village of Ardbraccan declined in population, and by the 1830's, only contained the Church, Palace and a few cottages. The parish school, beside the Church, was aided by a legacy of £500 left by Dr. Chetwood and Dr. Stearn, Bishop of Clogher left £30 per annum, for: "apprenticing the children of Protestant inhabitants of the diocese to Protestant Masters and Mistresses". Lewis notes that: "about thirty children were annually apprenticed from this fund." Although the Parish was in decline, the Ecclesiastical Commission, of 1868, mentions the fact that the Rector of Ardbraccan, J. Brownlow, was assisted by a Curate who received £80 per annum. The Commission also noted that there were 267 members of the Established Church resident in the Union of Ardbraccan.
St. Ultan's Church, Ardbraccan - now
In the present century this decline in the numbers attending Ardbraccan Church continued. The effects of the First World War took their toll on the Parish, and after the Second World War, the question of Ardbraccan's future was very uncertain. The school was closed in 1963, whilst the congregation had dwindled to ten by 1968. It was decided to close the Church in 1970. Despite its closure the Church was not de-consecrated and continued to be used for weddings and funerals.
On September 18th 1979 the historic Church at Florencecourt, Enniskillen was badly damaged by fire. The Rector of Florencecourt heard about the furnishings still intact in Ardbraccan Church, and requested them for Florencecourt. Ardbraccan Church was de-consecrated in 1981 and most of the furnishings went to Florencecourt. Some of the old memorial tablets were also removed and were re-hung in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trim. An Ethel Rhind stained glass window (1933) depicting 'The Woman at the Well' was presented to the Holy Ghost Fathers monastery in Ardbraccan and was restored by the Abbey Stained Glass Studio in Dublin. Ethel Rhind (1879-1952) was a member of the group of stained glass artists called "An Tur Gloine" (The Tower of Glass) who radically altered and improved standards of stained glass making in Ireland.
Ardbraccan Church is now in very poor condition and the Parish have not got the resources to ensure its preservation. It is suffering from vandalism, water damage and general decay and an urgent proposal for its future use is needed.