Renaissance Project 

June 2012.

Renaissance Projects currently being finalized and should have Copy of Final Oldcastle Community Plan to hand in next couple of weeks.

Main Projects being comsidered presently are

Community Centre - Old Gilson School.

Heritage Trail , Town Square Improvements , Paint Plan, Harvest Mile Development, Approach Roads , New Tennis Courts.   

In July of 2011 the Bord of Meath Partnership invited Community Groups to submit  "Expression of Interest"  following a  Meeting in Ardboyne Hotel Navan. Oldcastle Tidy Towns attended the Meeting and subsequently completed the Expression of Interest and were on of 10 towns/villages in Meath to be invited to join this Initiative, in which Leader Funding of up to €150,000 is being made available to successful Groups to suppport and implement realistic and pratical town/village design plans. Renaissance represents an exciting opportunity for Oldcastle to access expertise in community planning and landscape design, free of charge, and the prospect of capital costs to bring to life significant projects in and around Oldcastle Town. Oldcastle Tidy Towns Group submitted the following successful  "Expression of Interest".   

Identity, Uniqueness & Pride

Although every town and village in Ireland will make claim to its uniqueness and special nature, there is something lodged very deeply in the in the landscape around Oldcastle, in the character of the people and the way they have held on to their heritage over hundreds of years that is remarkable. Spend any small amount of time in Oldcastle and you’ll realise that even though it’s just over 50 miles and an hour away from Dublin you are in the heart of rural Ireland.

On any given day modern family cars are parked side by side in town with mud covered jeeps hauling a couple of sheep to the town Vet. In the local Coop you are as likely to be standing beside a farmer buying bailer twine as you are to be overhearing an order placed for packets of sweet pea. Local restaurants and hotels serve great big plates of meat and two veg for hungry manual workers and can also cater for those who fancy a lightly toasted Panini or a skinny cappuccino.

The geography and topography of Oldcastle have had a huge bearing on the development of and formation of the town’s identity over the years. Located as it is in the far northwest of the county, Oldcastle is one of the furthest points from Navan the administrative centre of county Meath.  There is also the physical boundary of ‘the mountain’ – the three hills comprising Sliabh na Cailli – which both ‘shelters’ Oldcastle from the rest of the county, but paradoxically may also serve to ‘hide’ it too.

So in one sense Oldcastle is on the periphery  with all that may entail – a sense of isolation from the mainstream, feelings of marginalisation and disadvantage, of being ‘forgotten’. However Oldcastle is also a frontier town with close ties and borders with counties Cavan and Westmeath.  It’s a place with a strong tradition of integration initially with its neighbouring counties, but in more recent times with people coming from abroad to live and work in Oldcastle.

As we’ve noted elsewhere in this submission, Oldcastle has been a market town since the 1500s. It sits at the centre of a triangle between three county capitals Navan, Cavan and Mullingar  – a centre for commerce, a place to meet and mingle – a lively, bustling crossroads where people from three counties and beyond meet to do business.

It is hardly surprising therefore that the people of Oldcastle display an eclectic mix of characteristics. They are true frontiersmen and women  – self reliant, closely knit, independent and  hardworking with a ‘can do’ attitude. They’ve taken their ‘isolation’ and turned it into an attitude of mind that takes pride in doing it for themselves.

Oldcastle runs its own Agricultural Show, it’s own music and arts festival and has a new Summer School in the pipeline. When the town needs something, the community swings into action to fund raise – a new bus for the Alzheimers Day Centre or new kit for the football team, St Vincent De Paul Society hold Annual Fund Raising Activities and run a Shop opening all year round, Loughcrew Gardens/Coffee Shop & Adventure Centre are unique in history and hosts to many and varied activities on weekly basis and  are very important part of community life.

Culture and Heritage

There is pride in the contribution Oldcastle people have made and are still making to their country and communities. People like Bishop of Meath Thomas Nulty who fought against ‘landlordism’ in the 1800s; or Fr John Hand who founded All Hallows College in 1842. Norbert McDermott, native of Oldcastle, now Chief Executive of Clondalkin Group with annual turnover of over €210m. Joseph Lynch, former Gilson School Student and current Ambassador to Swiss Confederation. Famous  Rock Bands like Hot House Flowers, Aslan, The Script and Sharon Shannon are regular visitors to Oldcastle and  Le Cheile Festival. St Oliver’s Annual Open Air  Mass has been  celebrated in June/July  each year at the Church of his birthplace in Loughcrew for 25 years now  and draws large crowds annually. Winter & Summer Solstice at Loughcrew Cairns and the many and varied events taking place at Oldcastle Library make Oldcastle a unique place to visit and hopefully stay.  Of Course last but by no means least Tosh Kellett, owner of Respa Bedding, famous throughout Europe and Asia and home to Respa Bedding, currently employing over 100 people with absolutely no jobs lost even during this harsh recession.

Oldcastle is justifiably proud and conscious of the significance of the Loughcrew Passage Tombs which have looked out on the countryside for 5,000 years. People are proud that the town resisted the call of the so-called Celtic Tiger and retains is essential character – there are no ghost estates in Oldcastle.  Unlike many places in Ireland, people are free to roam and to walk unhindered, Oldcastle is a friendly and welcoming town, which takes care of its own while always extending the hand of friendshipCulture & Heritage

Oldcastle is a town steeped in culture and heritage and it remains a cultural hub for its large cross-county hinterland. From the 5,000 year old megalithic tombs at Loughcrew to the War of Independence monument; from the present day music and arts festivals to its heritage as a noted centre for traditional music; from poets of the 18th Century to some of the notable artists and writers who live nearby, Oldcastle is justly proud of its heritage and culture.

Though not officially classified as a ‘Heritage Town’, Oldcastle has a lot to offer. Even an hour’s stroll through the town will take you through the dark days of the Great Famine and WW1 at the site of the Oldcastle Workhouse; the Ireland’s colonial past and the Reformation at St Bride’s Church; the economic development and building boom of the 1860s at the site of the old Railway; Oldcastle’s links with radical republicanism and the effects of the War of Independence at the Monument in the Square; the struggle for equality of access to education for all at the Gilson Endowed School.

The cultural life of Oldcastle today is as varied and lively today as it has ever been. The Le Chéile Arts & Music Festival ( now in its 14th year, is one of the largest and longest running community festivals  in north county Meath. Organised on a voluntary basis by locals with an interest in contemporary music and arts, the festival runs without any major sponsor and is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of local people who support it from year to year. Le Chéile has been responsible for staging musical acts such as Shane McGowan, Hothouse Flowers, Kíla, Something Happens, The 4 of Us, Picture House, Aslan, The Frames, The Saw Doctors, Kila, Jack L, John Spillane, Damian Dempsey, Republic of  loose, Lisa Hannigan and many more.

In terms of the arts, the festival has organised exhibitions from local and visiting artists, held poetry and book readings, staged theatre performances, held film screenings and hosts a range of workshops for children and adults as well as street entertainment and firework displays.

Opera lovers have come to know Oldcastle very well with the annual opera performance in the spectacular setting of Loughcrew Historic Gardens. ( The weekend brings an extraordinary energy to the local area as everyone prepares for this much-anticipated 'opera weekend'. People arrive with picnics during the day for lunch and set them up to enjoy during the hour long break during the performance, which takes place in a spectacular marquee with excellent acoustics. This unique and wonderful event has been running now for 11 years and has built a very special reputation and a passionate and loyal following both locally and nationwide.

Outside these weekend ‘spectaculars’ there is always something to do and see on the cultural front in Oldcastle. Traditionally the home of Irish music and dance in county Meath, the local Comhaltas Branch keeps up this tradition both in terms regular classes for young musicians and in the staging of regular concerts and sessions around the town.

Following the footsteps of James Martin (1783-1860; a small farmer and millworker from Oldcastle  who published 21 small volumes of satiric verse) is the Oldcastle Writing Group ( They meet weekly in Oldcastle Library publishing a selection of their writing in ‘Equivox’ in 2010 and currently busy preparing for another publication. Incidentally it may or may not be a sign of Oldcastle’s cultural leanings, but Oldcastle Library has one of the highest footfalls of any public library in the county!

A number of important artists and writers have made Oldcastle their home. Peter Fallon,  himself a distinguished poet , is also a publisher and owner of The Gallery Press whose impressive backlist includes Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, John Montague, Derek Mahon,  Medbh McGuckian  and others too numerous to mention. Artist Michelle Boyle also lives, works and teaches at her studio just outside Oldcastle. Her work has been recently selected from a vast number of applicants for The RHA Annual Exhibition-  the longest running established open submission show in Ireland and the biggest show of contemporary Irish art.

The recently formed Laurence Gilson Commemoration Committee look set to add another event to the cultural calendar of Oldcastle. Following the success of a Weekend Festival in 2011 to celebrate the unveiling of a bronze of Laurence Gilson, the committee has decided to hold an annual Laurence Gilson Summer School at which it is planned to revive the Patsey Cook Memorial Trophy for traditional music.

Environment: Physical & Natural

The town of Oldcastle is situated in the far north west of county Meath( N053 25143 and W 00628061]. Bounded to the north east by county Cavan, to the west by Westmeath and to the south by the natural boundary of the Loughcrew Hills, it is in many respects a place apart.

It’s physical geography is quite distinct from other parts of the county. Approaching Oldcastle from the south across the rolling plains of Meath, one must first cross what is locally known as ‘the mountain’. The Loughcrew Hills, or Sliabh na Caillí, are the first sign that things are going to be different from here on in.

Sliabh na Caillí – or the Witches Mountain – is composed of three hills: Patrickstown, Carnbane East standing at 280 meters and Carnbane West. Standing at 276 metres, Carnbane East is the highest point in county Meath and they say that on a clear day you can see 18 counties from the top of the mountain. However the view is not the only attraction around Loughcrew, for it is home to an extensive collection of ringfort and cashels, standing stones, stone circles, souterrains, fluachtí fia and holy wells.

But for most people the crowning glory of Sliabh na Caillí are the Cairns (passage tombs)  – 32 in all -counted and numbered by the Eugene Conwell, a native of Trim and the first person to take a serious interest in the monuments . Largely unexcavated, the many national and international visitors to Loughcrew are left to wonder at the natural beauty of the place and to speculate about the ancient ancestors who first came to this place and left their mark across the millennia.

The remains at Loughcrew are Passage Tombs dating from at least 3,000BC and their influence is still felt today on the people and the landscape around them.  Each spring and autumn equinox people arrive in their hundreds to witness the rising sun illuminate the back stone at Cairn T on Carnbane East.

Making your way from the mountain into Oldcastle you have two choices: take the R195 which takes you past Loughcrew House and Gardens, which as one visitor remarked was ‘like driving through a Constable painting’; or the R154 through the ancient Traveller’s traditional rest at Summerbank and along by the stone walled fields of the Boolies, where a once thriving population were wiped out by the Great Famine.

Which ever way you arrive in Oldcastle you’ll end up in ‘The Square’ (in fact more a triangle than a square) which is the centre and focal point of the town.  A market town since 1480  Oldcastle still has the hustle and bustle you would expect to find in a frontier town. The roads from Virgina, Mountnugent, Castlepollard and Kells all converge in the Square at the site of the old Market House which would have been part of the thriving yarn market in the town in the 18th century.

Speaking at a recent event in Oldcastle, conservation architect and Oldcastle native Liam Tuite remarked that, aside from one road realignment to accommodate the arrival of the railway in the 1860s, the layout of the town has remained unchanged since the 1600s. Neither has the town suffered from excessive over-development, and so Oldcastle is a virtually intact early 19th Century town.

Oldcastle is not a big place (pop. 2,226 Census 2006) – but its rich built environment is reflected in the significant number of important heritage and preservations orders on buildings in the town including:
  • The Gilson Endowed School, designed by the noted architect CR Cockerel completed in 1832. The school was endowed by philanthropist and educationalist Laurence Gilson and is now held in trust for the people of Oldcastle and managed by a Board of Governors
  • St Bride’s Church, a site of worship since 16th Century, the current church was restored in 1816
  • The Barracks, built as an RIC Barracks in 1862 with a double elevation of squared and coursed limestone
  • St Bridget’s Church, designed by WH Byrne and built in 1904 contains 2 Harry Clarke windows.
  • Gibney’s Shop, standing on the Square it is a terraced six-bay three sorey stucco-fronted building dating from 1862. It has decorative cast-iron ride crest to its roof, shell typana to the window openings and moulded continuous string-courses to the facade
  • Republican Monument, a high cross commemorating the death of two men during the War of Independence

Sometimes absence tells a story also – the buildings no longer existing, or no longer in their original form. The Workhouse, demolished by fire in 1920, which at the peak of the Great Famine in 1847 was once home to over 700 people. During WW1 it was used as an internment camp for German and Austrian nationals housing almost 600 of them in 1916.

The old Railway buildings which brought renewed life and commerce to Oldcastle and its hinterland in the 1860s, find new life today as the home of the local Coop.

1st Open  Meeting Held to discuss the Renaissance Initiative was held in Oldcasatle Library on 6th October 2011 which was attended by a large number of both business and residential sector of Oldcastle town and environs.

From Initial Meeting a RWG (Renaissance Working Group was set up and many subsequest Meetings and Workshops wer held to compile data and Info from various Groups

Many residents - either as individuals or through a Club group or business have put forward creative and diverse ideas to enhance the town.

The proposed projects range from developing walking, cycling, ,heritage trails,  peace park, converting existing buildings  into Community Centre, from creating allotments, community fruit trees, tots playground to restoration of existing Playground and many other ideas focused on increasing footfall.

Local Groups, individuals businesses have put enormous amounts of enthusiasm, energy and committmenet into researching and designing their proposals in readiness for presenting them at Public Meeting shortly.

RWG Publin Meeting Brochure Mar 2012.pdf RWG Publin Meeting Brochure Mar 2012.pdf
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