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Diocese of Meath
Diocese in Ireland, suffragan of Armagh. In extent it is the largest diocese in Ireland, and includes the greater part of the counties Meath, Westmeath, King's, and a small portion of the counties Longford, Dublin, and Cavan. The present Diocese of Meath anciently comprised eight episcopal sees, the chief of which was Clonard, founded in the middle of the sixth century by St. Finian, "Tutor of the Saints of Erin". At the national Synod of Kells, in 1172, over which Cardinal Paparo presided as legate of Eugene III, it was decided that these sees be joined together. The united see was assigned as first suffragan to Armagh, and ranks immediately after the metropolitan sees in Ireland. In his "Hibernia Dominicana" De Burgo says that Meath is the foremost suffragan of Armagh, and has precedence even though its bishop be the youngest of the Irish prelates in order of consecration. Meath being the country of the Pale, many Englishmen were appointed bishops of Meath, among them the notorious Staples who apostatized in the reign of Edward VI, and was deposed in 1554. Dr. Walsh, a Cistercian monk, succeeded, and more than repaired the scandal caused by his recreant predecessor. This noble confessor of the Faith bravely withstood all the threats and blandishments of Queen Elizabeth and her agents. He spent thirteen years in a dungeon in Dublin Castle, and finally died an exile at Alcalá in Spain. His name is reckoned in more than one Irish Martyrology. Like honour is paid to him by his own order, and his Cistercian biographer contends that the martyr's crown is his as truly as if he had died in torments. The succession of bishops in the See of Meath has been continued without interruption to the present day, except during a few brief interregnums in the penal days. It is a noteworthy fact that, omitting Dr. Logan's short reign of a few years, but three bishops ruled the Diocese of Meath from 1779 to 1899, Drs. Plunket, Cantwell, and Nulty. Dr. Plunket, who had been professor and superior in the Irish College of the Lombards, Paris, was consecrated bishop by the papal nuncio at Paris in 1779. The vessel in which he returned to Ireland was attacked and plundered by the famous Paul Jones, the American privateer, who, however, to his credit be it said, afterwards restored the episcopal property. For eight and forty years, with a truly Apostolic spirit, this great bishop traversed the whole diocese yearly, visiting every parish, preaching, catechizing, giving seasonable counsel to the clergy and suitable instruction to the people, so that in his declining years he was fittingly called, by the Primate of Armagh, "the ornament and father of the Irish Church". The catechism compiled by Dr. Plunket cannot easily be improved, and is still used in the schools of the diocese. He died in January, 1827, in his eighty-ninth year. His successor, Dr. Logan, lived only a few years, and was succeeded by Dr. Cantwell, the steadfast friend of Daniel O'ConneII. With great energy Dr. Cantwell gathered the scattered stones of the sanctuary, and re-erected the temples levelled in the penal days. Dr. Nulty became bishop in 1864, and during his episcopate of thirty-four years spent himself in the service of God and his people. A profound theologian and ardent student, he put before his priests a high intellectual standard; at the same time he did much to overthrow landlordism and to root the people firmly in their native soil. The population of the Diocese of Meath at the last census (1901) was 143,164, of whom 132,892 were Catholics. Since 1871 the population of the diocese has decreased 27 per cent.; during the same period the non-Catholic population decreased 35 per cent. There are 144 churches and 66 parishes, 155 secular priests and 12 regulars, 3 monastic houses of men with 17 members, and 13 convents of nuns with 134 members. St. Finian's College, an imposing structure erected in Mullingar and opened in 1908, replaces the old building in Navan, which had held, for more than one hundred years, an honoured place among the schools of Ireland. The new college, which cost over £340,000, has accommodation for 150 students and is intended both as a seminary to prepare priests for the diocese, and to impart a sound Catholic liberal education to those intended for worldly pursuits. There is a Jesuit novitiate and college at Tullamore, and a house of Carmelite Fathers at Moate. The Franciscans of the Irish province have a monastery and preparatory school at Multyfarnham, near the cathedral town of Mullingar. The Abbey of Multyfarnham has been in Franciscan hands since pre-Reformation times, and has witnessed the good and evil fortunes of the friars in Ireland. The Franciscan Brothers have a school at Clara, and the Christian Brothers have a school at Mullingar (500 pupils) and at Clara (200 pupils). At Rochfortbridge, St. Joseph's Institute for the Deaf and Dumb is conducted by the Sisters of Mercy. The Loreto Nuns have educational houses in Navan and Mullingar, which have won favourable recognition. The Presentation Sisters have foundations in Mullingar and Rahan, where they have charge of the primary schools, while the Sisters of Mercy have orphanages at Navan and Kells, take care of the hospitals in Tullamore, Trim, Mullingar, Drogheda, and Navan, and at the same time conduct national schools in the principal towns of the diocese.
The Diocese of Meath, often called the "royal diocese", is rich in historic associations, pagan and Christian. In Meath was Tara "of the kings", the palace of the Ard-righ, whither came the chieftains and princes, the bards and brehons of Erin. The principal cemetery of the pagan kings of Ireland was at Brugh-na-Bóinne. Competent authorities declare that the surrounding tumuli are among the oldest in Europe. Close at hand is Rosnaree, where Cormac Mac Art, the first Christian King of Ireland, who refused to be buried in pagan Brugh, awaits the last summons. Uisneach in Westmeath, Tlachtgha, or the Hill of Ward, and Teltown were celebrated for their royal palaces, their solemn conventions, their pagan games, and their druidic ceremonies, and in Christian times were sanctified by the labours of St. Patrick and St. Brigid. Slane reminds us of St. Patrick's first Holy Saturday in Ireland, when he lit the paschal fire, symbolizing the lamp of Faith which has never since been extinguished. Trim, founded by St. Loman, one of the first disciples of St. Patrick, still retains in its many ruins striking evidences of its departed glories. Kells, with its round tower, its splendid sculptured crosses, and the house of Columcille, reminds us of that "Dove of the Irish Church", whose memory is also cherished in his beloved Durrow. Finally, Meath is the birthplace of the Venerable Oliver Plunket, the martyred Primate of Armagh, the last victim publicly sacrificed in England for the Faith.
[Note: Oliver Plunket was canonized in 1975.]
COGAN, Diocese of Meath (Dublin, 1862); HEALY, Ancient Schools of Ireland (Dublin, 1890); Irish Ecclesiastical Record (June, 1900); Irish Catholic Directory (Dublin, 1910).
PATRICK E. DUFFY