Ringfort @ Brittas

The Heritage of Brittas Estate dates back to the very first settlements in Ireland. Apart from the more recent flora & fauna and architectural features the land and the surroundings are possessed of a truly ancient heritage that include Ringforts and sites of early Irish dwellings called Crannóg.

Not exactly Heritage but watch here the RTE documentary featuring "The Monster of Whitewood Lake". The lake is located a mile north of the estate.

Throughout this page are given relevant links to articles and a further reading section presents some original documents in PDF format. The current owners have worked to rebuild The Estate heritage not only in its function as a working estate but to preserve Bligh family documents. Surviving documents include The Will of John Bligh and can be viewed from the "Further Reading" section.

Brittas - An Historical Monument

Brittas has been entered into the Register of Historic Monuments. Click to open up the National Environment Viewer, search for "Brittas, Leinster".

Department of Arts, Heritage

There are 32 entries in the National Register of Historic Monuments that lie within Brittas Demesne. Seven of these are raths or enclosures. Six are characterised as ringforts with a further enclosure which maybe itself a modified ringfort. The others of the 32 are associated with the excavated early Medieval site at Moynagh Lough. In the ongoing landscape study of the demesne two further features have been identified that should be on the register. A motted site and another rath.

Whilst ringforts are a very common feature of the Irish landscape at Brittas the concentration within such a close compass gives the ensemble greater importance. In addition within the collection the presence of a Hillfort bivallate specimen , a double circuit of defensive earthworks and the special form of one these whose interior is shaped as a perfect shallow dome endows a unique status to the collective.

Brittas can be described as a rare survival of an intact demesne landscape complete with most of its architectural elements: house, house farm, stables, walled garden, dairy and lodges. It is a landscape of long habitation each period leaving its mark and many elements of earlier periods incorporated and exploited in later re-configurations and re-designs of the landscape and its architecture.

The topography of terrain of the demesne itself is dramatic and picturesque in its own unique way, affording many high points some given greater prominence with patches of woodland and plantings. Each high point provides views within the demesne and to the surrounding neighbouring landscapes with their features and continues beyond to distant views of the Mountains of Mourne, Loughcrew Hills, Kells and the Hill of Lloyd. The singular topography of Brittas has been exploited by each period of the demesne's history.

Most of the trees have grown and aged within a woodland in a situation of mutual shelter. To commemorate his military achievements during the battle of Cherbourg Lieutenant General Thomas Bligh planted a lime tree wood replicating the formation in which he deployed his troops at the battle of Cherbourg.

Brittas House

The name Brittas derives from the old French word ‘bretesche or bretèche’, a term used in the late 12th and early 13th century to denote the wooden towers built by the Normans atop their motte-and-bailey castles. Although Brittas today contains no archeological evidence of such a motte The Cruise family may have erected such a protective structure and later built a house as there are a number of mottes located close on its borders such as the mottes of Nobber and Cruicetown.

Whether there was a hunting lodge at Brittas, which is claimed by local folklore, or whether there were substantial buildings in which The Cruise family lived is yet to be confirmed. The earliest map of Nobber that could be sourced in the National Library dates back to 1681 and indicates buildings in the location of the Brittas Estate.

An Architecture of Many Periods

Rather than being one uniform architectural style, the Brittas House is an amalgamation of four buildings annexed together each of which appears to be quite distinct with architectures and landscapes from many periods.

Brittas House is composed of an old structure, the “original building”, which dates back from 1672 with features from the 17th and 18th century. It is quite possible that the first members of the Bligh family to have owned Brittas, John Bligh and his son Thomas, used this earlier structure. Brittas however did not serve as the "seat" for the main branch of the family who resided instead at their other property, Rathmore Co. Meath. No significant work had been done to the property prior to Thomas Bligh's occupation.

It is only in the early 18th century that Brittas was occupied for the first time in an official manner by a member of the Bligh family, Lieutenant General Thomas Bligh who probably began to live at Brittas when he inherited it after his father death in 1710.

The Front Door

General Thomas Bligh (1693 -1775) extended the Brittas House in 1732 incorporating the earlier house of 1672. When Brittas was passed to his nephew, Thomas Cherburgh Bligh, who had married into the powerful and wealthy Naper family of Loughcrew, many improvements to the house and estate were carried out. Thomas Cherburgh commissioned the services of one of the most renowned Irish architects, Francis Johnston (1760 – 1829). Johnston is well known for the architectural artistry he applied to Slane Castle, Tullynally Castle, parliament buildings, Townley Hall, Áras an Uachtaráin and the original General Post Office in Dublin among many other projects.

Francis Johnston did indeed confirm this in a letter penned in 1820 in which he stated that he "planned and directed additions to the villa of Thomas Bligh, Esq. of Brittas, near Nobber, the birthplace of Carolin, the famous lrish bard." A watercolour sold at the Adam's Auctioneers "Slane Castle" sale in October 2009 signed by Francis Johnston and dated 1801 shows the plans that Johnston designed for the east side of the ballroom addition, see below.This painting however, suggests that the renovations were carried out in or around 1801.

Circa 1800, in addition to a lodge attached to the main house, Johnston designed the four bay two-storey east wing. This served as a ballroom with bedrooms overhead. His architecture projected a new concept for classical interiors as it was much plainer in style than that associated with Robert Adam who was the popular and predominant architectural influence of the time.

Garden View

The Brittas Surroundings

Brittas, located in The Royal County of Meath, has as neighbours many other places of cultural heritage. Newgrange a world famous prehistoric monument is located 20 miles south east from The Estate and close to Slane Castle. 20 miles to the west are the Megalitic Tombs of Loughcrew and the town of Kells, famed for "The Book of Kells" a 9th Century manuscript is 10 miles to the south with Trim Castle 15 miles further south, the Hill of Tara is 10 miles east of Trim; the general area being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A little closer to home is Cruicetown. The association to Brittas with The Anglo-Norman "Cruise" family of Cruicetown is documented on The History Page of this website. Also bordering the Estate is the village of Nobber which bears its own distinct heritage. Formally settled by The Normans following Hugh De Lacy's appointment with Lordship of Meath (seat @ Trim Castle) by Henry II in 1172 the name of Nobber is an anglicised version of the Irish "An Obair" meaning "The Work" and locally suggested to derive from "the work" done by labourers in building the village's Motte & Bailey.

However there is evidence that may tie "the work" to the industry that grew up around Moynagh Lough around 700 BC. The "Further Reading" section links to a study by John Bradley "Archaeological Excavations at Moynagh Lough". The lough is within Brittas and while it has receded over time the area is generally described as "marshy". John Bradley suggests a link to the village name of Nobber as being connected to the Irish for "the marsh", An Abhar. The study asserts that a Crannóg was constructed on the lough in 650 BC and one of the main works carried on was metalwork. A find of metalworks from the lough are on display at The National Museum of Ireland with evidence of trade with Scandinavia for amber and some fine jewellery with connection to the Orient in design and craft. It does seem possible that "the marsh" where "the work" was carried out did through etymological device create the current village name of Nobber.

The village is also linked with Turlogh O'Carolan a Harpist born in the village in 1670. A statue can be found in the village erected to commemorate the travelling Bard from Nobber. The "Further Reading" section tells the story of O'Carolans infatuation with Brigid Cruise and how many of his compositions were about / dedicated to Brigid. His music has permeated through the years and has been recorded and published many times with "O'Carolan's Concerto" used by The foot Guards of The British Army.

The village cemetery of St John's is reputed to date from the 10th Century and there is evidence of a very early monastic settlement once existing on the site of the village following the discovery of "Celtic" High Crosses together with the more recent High Crosses unearthed at the cemetery.

Another famous son is renowned archaeologist George Eogan who worked for over 40 years on the Neolithic Passage Tomb of Knowth which is part of the World Heritage Site of "Brú na Bóinne", Place of the Boyne. This site contains Newgrange the most known passage tomb in Ireland dating from 3200BC. In 2018 a new discovery was made when a drone picked up the outline of a previously undiscovered passage tomb to the west of Newgrange.

"The Place of the Boyne" is in reference to The River Boyne and the Boyne Valley where in 1690 the forces of Prince William of Orange fought and defeated the forces of the then deposed King James II of England at The Battle of the Boyne. This defeat and continued reign of William of Orange as King of England, Scotland and Ireland ensured the continuing rise of Protestantism in Ireland and is the evolution of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649 - 1653) that resulted in the confiscation of Brittas from The Cruise family with its entitlement passing to John Bligh in 1657.

Links to further reading on The Heritage of Brittas

**Extract transcribed from the document linked @ VI above:

Some Lines of Descent of the Bligh Family of Brittas (from 430 AD).
Descents from the Blood Royal of England

The above six Pedigrees show the descent of the Bligh family of Brittas in 53 inclusive generations, extending over 15 centuries, from Pharamond, father of Chlodio, the founder of the Merovingian Dynasty of French Kings, thence through Charlemagne and the Kings of Carlovingian Dynasty to Charles of Lorraine, the last of that House, whence a most interesting descent through his daughter, Hermengarde, and the counts of Namur and Hainaut carries the lines into the House of Capet, the third dynasty of French Kings, and through Saint Louis to Edward III of England and his son, Lionel duke of Clarence, whence it descends through many families of note, including Percy Stafford Howard and Stuart to Bligh.

Pedigree III (sheet 7) shows descent from Edmund, duke of York, son of Edward III and from Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile and León, through Anne Plantagenet , sister of Edward IV and Richard III.

Pedigree IV (sheet 8) gives descent from John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. While Pedigree V sheet shows the descent from Edmund, duke of York, both sons of Edward III. There is therefore a direct descent from no less than four sons of Edward III and a line from Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I can be seen on sheet 9 (no 2) and from Joan of Acre, born in the Holy Land, another daughter of that monarch, sheet 10 (no 5).

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