A Forgotten Irish County

scolairebocht

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When reading recently Steven Ellis’ valuable account of Meath in the Middle Ages, “Defending English Ground”, he refers to the “sheriff of the geographically tiny county of the cross of Meath”. What is the county called the ‘Cross of Meath’, are there many references to it in medieval times, I hear you ask? Well yes, quite a few really:

1306, An elaborate argument, which revealed some corruption, broke out in this year over the appointment to the
“office of Coroner in the Cross of Meath, and to be admitted to that office.”
(James Mills, Calendar of the Justiciary rolls, Ireland, Edward I (London, 1914) pt2, p.174-5.)

1361, “To the Treasury and barons of the Exchequer.
Order to account with Peter Wakefield and Peter Okebourn, appointed to purvey in counties Dublin and Kildare and the cross of Meath.
Attested: Maurice fitz Thomas, e. Kildare, Justiciar”
( https://chancery.tcd.ie/roll/35-Edward-III/close .)

1372, “The Sheriff of the Cross of Meath.”
(William Betham, The Origin and History of the Constitution of England and of the early Parliaments of Ireland (Dublin, 1834), p.313.)

1374, In a Close Roll for a Great Council in that year:
“Writs were also directed to the sheriffs of Dublin, Louth, Kildare, and Carlow, and the county cross of Meath, and also the seneschal of the liberty, to direct them to cause to be elected two sufficient men for each,”
i.e. two MPs for that Irish parliament.
(William Betham, The Origin and History of the Constitution of England and of the early Parliaments of Ireland (Dublin, 1834), p.315.)

1417, “To the sheriff of the crosslands of Meath.
Order to pay, without delay, to William Baldwin clerk, summoner in the Exchequer of Ireland, 20s which the King granted to him annually from debts and issues collected in the said sheriff’s bailiwick; receiving letters of acquittance.”
( https://chancery.tcd.ie/roll/4-Henry-V/close .)

1433, “To the sheriff of the crosslands of Meath.
It has been ordained in the English council that men of 70 years and over shall not be placed on assizes, juries and other recognizances. Order that if Michael Lynham of Scurlageston exceeds the said age the sheriff is not to place him on assizes, juries or other recognizances, in accordance with the said provision, and to release any distraint made against him.
Attested: Christopher Plunket, deputy Lt.”
( https://chancery.tcd.ie/roll/11-Henry-VI/close .)

1450, “Sir Walter Cusack, 7th Lord of Gerrardstown, who was made Coroner of the Cross of Meath, 3rd October, 1450, by Richard, Duke of York, Viceroy of Ireland.”
(Journal of the Co Kildare Archaeological Society and Surrounding Districts (Dublin, 1911) vol vi, p.465.)

1455, A Great Council in this year heard and supported a petition from the Bishop of Meath, Edmund Oldhall, who had been deprived of his diocesan lands by an inquisition which heard “false and slanderous” testimony against him. It was claimed that his Bulls of appointment from the Pope were defective, because they didn’t mention his previous life as a Carmelite friar in Norwich. This was all probably political, a result of arguments during the nascent days of the Wars of the Roses. The Bishop had been acting Lord Chancellor of Ireland under Richard Duke of York, and his brother Sir William Oldhall was another leading Yorkist, so probably he was ousted by a kind of Lancastrian coup when Richard left for England, and this Council, under Yorkist influence as the nobles in Ireland tended to be, is now backing the Bishop. The resulting ordinance refers to the “Escheator of the Cross of Meath” and talks about lands within that County.
(James Graves, A Roll of the Proceedings of the King’s Council in Ireland for a portion of the sixteenth year of the reign of Richard the Second AD 1392-93 (London, 1877), p.lxiii-lxv.)

1455/6, There was a complaint that the cases before the Court of Pleas for Louth were heard in a ruinous cottage on the Louth side of Drogheda, and at the same time that court:
“for the Cross of Meath [held] in another old ruinous cottage in the said town of Drogheda next adjoining to the side of Meath, to the great dishonour of our sovereign lord the King, his crown and dignity.”
(Henry Fitzpatrick Berry, Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland, King Henry VI (Dublin, 1910), p.359.)

1456, “Appointment, by the election of the community of the crosslands of Meath, of Patrick Golding of Ardbraccan as escheator and clerk of the market in the said county.”
( https://chancery.tcd.ie/roll/35-Henry-VI/Patent .)

1472, “Thomas Walshe, who served briefly in 1472 as sheriff of the geographically tiny county of the cross of Meath”.
(Stephen G Ellis, Defending English Ground (Oxford, 2015), p.92.)

So we have the Cross of Meath anciently described as a county, we have what seems a County Court of Common Pleas in operation for it, we have repeated mentions of county officials like sheriffs, coroners, and escheators, and crucially we have specific mention of this county electing two MPs to parliament, which is quite a touchstone characteristic of a shire or county in England and Ireland. Hence we can agree this really is a proper Irish county, but a very ill known one!

How or when did it come about? That question is tied in with that of ‘Liberties’ or individual grants to some lords of specific rights over certain areas. Meaning: in theory Ireland under the Normans was administered by sheriffs of given counties and various local and national office holders appointed by the King etc etc, but in practice some lords had been given extensive local powers that overrode the national and local county officials. Hence, famously, the Butler family had been given palatine rights over the County of Tipperary in 1328, which meant that this county had even a separate High Court under the jurisdiction of the Butlers, not the King, etc. However, it transpires that under these ‘Liberties’ the King did not grant jurisdiction over Church lands to these lords, hence that had to be separately administered and these are known as the Cross of these areas, or Crosslands. Therefore, for example, there is a separate County of the Cross of Tipperary, including Cashel, which was not under the control of the Butlers and by the same token we get the creation of the County of the Cross of Meath at the same time as the Liberty or Lordship of Meath in 1172, administering the Church lands in the area of that Liberty until the latter was abolished in 1479.

Where exactly is it? is the next obvious question. Well the list of lands in the County of the Cross of Meath presented by the Bishop in 1455 (remember he is complaining about “the Escheator of the Cross of Meath, where the said messuages, lands, and tenements are”), is:
– “Ardbrackan”, Ardbraccan the well known residence of the Bishops of Meath;
– “Scurlogstown, and of a mill there”, mention of the mill gives us the Scurlockstown south east of Trim, near Newtown;
– “demesne as of fee of the chief rent of Newton, near Trim, which is of the yearly value of c shillings”, this is an eastern suburb of Trim and a well known ecclesiastical and monastic site;
– “Balgeth”, Balgeeth in Ardcath Parish. Due to the fact that Ardcath was part of the monastic demesne of St Kienan of Duleek, you get now a list of lands in Ardcath;
– “Ardcath”;
– “Park”, probably Bryanspark. It, Corestown, and Porterstown are all located in the modern townlands of Porterstown and Maryland, or near there, see Robert Christopher Simington, The Civil Survey 1654, Co Meath (Dublin, 1940) vol v, p.xv and 31, and Fr Anthony Cogan, Diocese of Meath (Dublin, 1862) vol i, p.333.
– “Porterstown”;
– “Corestown”, see above under Balgeth;
– “Clony”, Cloney;
– “Bertremeston”, Bartramstown;
– “Irishtown”;
– “Baynerston”, Bunnanstown;
– “Deannestown”, Denhamstown.
– “was seized in his demesne as of fee of all the messuages, lands, tenements, rents, and services, with the appurtenances, in Kylleyhan, the which are of the yearly value of x pounds.” We can combine this reference with Fiant 393 of Henry VIII which mentions the Church land in Meath as including “Killeane and of Clonard Co. Meath” (Robert Christopher Simington, The Civil Survey 1654, Co Meath (Dublin, 1940) vol v, p.xv), Killeen also has an ancient Church so the reference isn’t too surprising;
– Clonard, see above and of course this is another great monastic/ecclesiastical site of Meath, obviously a great monastery and the original bishopric of the Diocese of Meath.

So that is the story behind the accompanying map although the dates are quite complex in this instance. While the Lordship-of-Meath/Liberty-of-Trim/Liberty-of-Meath (it went through different titles at different dates) does indeed date originally from 1172, it is nonetheless a confusing and changing picture. The de Lacys, who received those rights in 1172, went through many episodes when they did not have such royal favour, and hence the Liberty wouldn’t be real at that time or at least respected. Also the Liberty was divided between two de Lacy heiresses in 1244, with the Liberty rights seemingly going into abeyance in one branch of the succeeding families, and in practice the Liberty was also challenged by the creation of Meath County in 1297. Nonetheless in some shape or form it existed between these dates, and hence so did the County of the Cross of Meath.

Bet you never knew that now!

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Declan

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I have been unable to learn how counties first formed and how boundaries were determined. Do you know where to learn that knowledge??
 

scolairebocht

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This greatly depends on the county, it was up to the government of the day to create a shire/county and the boundaries are just as they wanted them to be then, there is no rule to it.

That said Irish counties usually encompass the area of a Gaelic tribe. So the lordship of Meath would track the area controlled by O'Melaghlin, and that was then subdivided into Meath and Westmeat in 1542 I think, and the various Plantations, including Ulster, also generated a lot of shires.
 

scolairebocht

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The shiring was often done by Act of Parliament, so if you can find the Act you can find out the boundaries and maybe why they came about that way.
 

Declan

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Well it ertainly is not easily done
 

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