Ardagh

One of the cottages in Ardagh Heritage Village, County Longford.

Location
Ardagh, another of Longfords National Tidy Town’s Winners, is situated a short drive from Longford town along the R393. This beautiful and unique village is three-time Supreme Winner of the prestigious National Tidy Towns Competition, claiming the title in 1989, 1996 and 1999. Ardagh is also the 1998 European Winner of the British Airways – Tourism for Tomorrow Environmental Awareness Competition and in 1999 it was Overall Winner of the 32 county Ireland’s Best Kept Towns Competition. It has claimed several other European Awards. Ardagh neighbourhood park was created in 1990 and is the site of the first official planting of the sessile oak, the national tree of Ireland, by An Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey in March of that year.

Name
The name Ardagh, Árd Archadh in Irish, means the high field, most likely in reference to Brí Leith, Ardagh mountain. The importance of the hill rested in the fact that it commanded extensive views over the surrounding countryside.

History & Info
The early history of Ardagh begins a short distance outside the village at Brí Leith (Ardagh Mountain) which stands 650ft (200m) high. This forested hill was once a famous centre of pre-Christian religious worship and is believed to have been the home of a pre – christian diety named Midir, a Prince of the ‘Tuatha De Dannan’, the fairy people of Ireland. It is named after Brí, the daughter of Midhir and her doomed love, Leith who are reputed to be buried on the hill.   There is much folklore associated with Brí Leith. It is mentioned in the ‘Book of Tara’ and the ‘Book of Rights’ tells how bilberries grown on Brí Leith were part of the harvest meal for the High King of Ireland .The tradition of gathering Bilberrys continues even today with the villagers climbing Brí Leith on the first Sunday in August.  The village of Ardagh played an important role in the development of Christianity in Ireland. During the fifth century, the centre of religious worship moved away from Brí Leith to Ardagh itself and the village grew around the christian settlement made by St Patrick and then St Mel, who became the first bishop of the area. St Mel, after whom the great Cathedral in Longford town is named, is reputed to be buried under the ruins of old St Mels church in Ardagh Village.

While Ardagh’s importance declined with the coming of the Normans, a change in its fortunes was to occur with the arrival of a new family, the Fetherstons. The Fetherstons made Ardagh their new home and built Ardagh House in the early 1700’s.The present building displays a typical early to mid-nineteenth century style. It was originally a three-storey building, but only two storeys survived a fire in 1949. The stable court at the side of the house was added during the nineteenth century. The estate walls surrounding Ardagh House were built mostly during the famine in the 1840s and provided relief work for the local population. The gate lodges were used to control access to the estate. The enduring legacy of the Fetherstons, however, is the village of Ardagh itself. The village and estate were managed by Sir George Ralph Fetherston and his English wife Frances Solly from Essex. It was Sir George’s nephew who employed Victorian architect John Rawson Carroll to improve the village as a memorial to his late uncle. Many of the buildings in the village were built at this time.

Things to See & Do
After taking a walk around the village and its various sites of interest, the visitor can pass some time in the friendly local Lyons Pub. This is a beautiful traditional pub full of character and indeed full of characters ! Ardagh Heritage Centre run the Midhir and Étain Café & Craft Gallery, which showcases works of art created by talented Longford artists. Behind the Heritage Centre is a pretty park used by families for summer picnics with the children. The centre runs a year long calendar of events for both adults and children. 

The entire village of Ardagh is a heritage site. Buildings of importance in the village include the Rectory which is set back from the road on the right hand side and was built in 1823 at a cost of 1,300 pounds. On the road from the Rectory into the village stands the Demesne National School, which was built in 1892 and is now the Community Centre. Beyond this is a group of buildings that were built to the design of J. Rawson Carroll during the mid-eighteen hundreds. The first was the old post office, the second was the house where all the rents were paid to the landlord’s agent and the third was the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks.

Ardagh Clock Tower is the focal point of the village green. Built during 1862-3, it commemorates Sir George Ralph Fetherston and was commissioned by his wife and nephew. The Clock is the most gothic feature of the village and was designed by Gothic architect John Rawson Carroll. It was intended as a symbol of mortality and bears an inscription of dedication to Sir George. Other features of interest in the village green area include the ‘Travellers Rest’ seat in the churchyard wall and the wonderful flowerbeds. The village courthouse was located in one of the buildings on the village green. In the centre of the main green stands the village pump.

Brigids church is of neo-gothic architectural style and came out of the great building period of church architecture in post-emancipation Ireland. It was built 1881 to a design by William Hague, the brilliant pupil of the famous Agustus Welby Pugin. It incorporates Irish (Watson of Youghal) and German (Mayer of Munich) stained glass and furnishings in Irish and Italian marble. The high altar and altar rail was carved by James Pearse, father of the patriots Padraig and Willie Pearse, to the design of William Hague. Reliable authorities suggest that St Brigid’s is one of the most ornate of William Hague’s churches. The presbytery built in complementary style was added some years later. St Brigid was a follower of St Patrick and she did reside in Ardagh for a period of 12 years prior to founding her monastery in Kildare. It was from Ardagh that many Irish nuns were tutored by her and sent forth throughout Ireland to preach the Christian faith. According to legend she was professed as the first nun in Ireland and there are even some claims that she was also made a bishop. She is along with St Mel the patron of the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and for this reason is also the patron of this magnificent nineteenth century Catholic Church.

St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Church was built in 1810 and is still in use today although not as frequently. The entrance to the churchyard is marked by a lych gate, typical of Anglican churches, and used as a point where the coffins of the dead were traditionally met by a clergyman. Close by are the ancient ruins of St Mel’s Cathedral, dating back to the 8th Century. An earlier timber building preceded this ruin beneath which the remains of St Mel are reputed to be buried.

Ardagh has several literary associations, the most famous of which is the visit of young Oliver Goldsmith to Ardagh House in 1744. He was fooled into mistaking the mansion for an inn. His endeavours to court the Fetherston daughters in the belief that they were servant girls formed the plot of his most successful play “She Stoops to Conquer”, a comedy which explores the contemporary themes of sexual morality and double standards. During the annual Goldsmith Festival guided tours of the village and its surrounds can be taken.

Information on the heritage sites of Ardagh Village can be found on the ‘Explore Longford’ App available to download for both Apple iOS and Android Devices: Android Store: http://bit.ly/1gMKZYY   Apple Store: http://bit.ly/1n104Kk

County Longford Tourism Office Market Square, Longford, Ireland    Phone: +353 (0)43 33 42577 +353 (0)85 8888876    Email: info@longfordtourism.ie