The History of Clonabreany House

The Plunkett family came into possession of Clonabreany during the 14th century and continued to rule it through to the dramatic Cromwellian settlement until it fell under the ownership of the Wade family. Indeed, the Plunkett family remained at Clonabreany and later inter-married with the Wade family. The Wade family themselves were very prominent in the administration of the county, holding the positions at various times of High Sheriff and Master of the Rolls. Members of the Wade family were also involved in leading academic and cultural institutions. The Wades remained at Clonabreany until the start of the 20th century and held approximately 5,000 acres in Meath throughout that time.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s the Norman castle and original houses were demolished and Clonabreany House and demesne were commissioned and constructed by the Wade family. The house and courtyard were reputedly designed by the celebrated Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863) although no conclusive evidence of this can be found. The estate was split up after World War 1 when the Wade family left it, and the old courtyard homes were given to returning soldiers from the war. Afterwards the Land Commission divided up the remainder of the property.

For the remainder of the 20th century the property fell into disrepair and eventual dereliction until part of the old servant›s hall was purchased by the current owners in 1998. Over the following 10 years and after a number of purchases they acquired the remaining buildings that formed part of the original demesne.


The opening of Clonabreany House in 2009 marked the unveiling of a major restoration project of the 18th century estate manager›s house and adjoining courtyard. The restoration work, which took place over almost a decade, was carried out by Principal Construction Services and conservation architects Paul Arnold and Associates were brought on board to ensure that the work carried out was in accordance with best conservation practise. In 2008, Clonabreany Courtyard received an Ellison Award from An Taisce, for excellence in conservation.

The Wade Family and Clonabreany

The story that is told by those who knew the Wade’s house at Clonabreany in the years soon after the First World War is that, soon after the massacre at Drogheda on 11th and 12th September 1649, Cromwell surveyed the view from Crossakiel Hill towards Clonabraney. Speaking to one of his officers who had distinguished himself so shortly before, Cromwell offered him 1,000 acres of “that land”. But the officer said “I would not live in an old swamp like that!”. Then he spoke to a drummer boy who replied “I would be delighted to own a thousand of such land” and Cromwell said “Young Wade! I will give you 2,000 acres.” And so, not long after and for the next 250 years, the Wades lived on the site previously occupied since 1190 by the Plunketts. The story goes that having taken Drogheda, with Dundalk and Trim also under his control, Cromwell decided to harry a little of Meath and Westmeath. Lord Plunkett was watering his horse at the ford at the same time that Cromwell arrived and, seeing his reflection in the stream, Plunkett hurled his sword at the conqueror - in vain! Captured and condemned to death, Plunkett asked to die with his good sword in his hand against any two of Cromwell’s officers. At this, he was pardoned. Could this have been the source of the link between Henry Wade and the Plunkett lands, and the basis for the selection of that estate for Henry? The idea that Cromwell camped on Crossakiel Hill probably resulted from that foray in 1649.

Oliver Cromwell and comrades at a table Pub, England, UK, 17th Century, Allegory Painting

If Henry had truly been a Puritan drummer boy at the massacre of Drogheda in 1649, we can assume he was born about 1634, probably somewhere in England which fell under Cromwell’s influence rather than the King’s. Perhaps his father, whomever and whatever he might have been, was drafted into the Cromwellian army so that it was natural for young Henry to follow as soon as possible – drummer boys rarely being older than their mid-teens. By 1669 therefore he would have been around 35, a respectable, albeit young age, to become High Sheriff. So from his position of High Sherriff we can assume that Henry would have approved of the restraints on Catholic freedoms which applied during Charles II reign. Were these restraints considered by him to be the lesser evil compared to his original Puritan attitudes? Or did he only serve Cromwell grudgingly as a member of his army? Fifteen years after his year as High Sheriff, on 3rd November 1684, Henry received a Patent granting him Clonabraney and 1490 acres in County Meath. This detail seems to be one of the limited number of points of agreement between Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland and the New York Librarian, Stuart C. Wade, who wrote the history of several families of Wades and published them in 1900.

Clonabreany House

Clonabreany House was set atop a gentle rise looking South. On the front were four columns of corrugated blue stone with the outer walls of granite. Up four large steps was a spacious front patio leading to the front door of black ebony with two wrought iron foot scrapers on either side.

Inside the entrance was a large, marbled-floor hallway with a crest and the words Plunkett and Wade in mosaic. There was also a huge stone fireplace. The house was four stories high with a basement, so five stories in all. On the first floor, above the basement, was a library, smoke room and a study together with a large reception room later reduced in size to form the entrance to the new wing.

A very wide staircase led from the first to the second floor comprising the drawing room, safe room and small servant’s area with bathroom and cloakroom. The third and fourth floors were comprised of the bedrooms, two bathrooms and the butlers quarters, he being the only member of staff to live in the Big House proper. The new wing included a large banquet-hall-cumballroom, a corridor with arches to the cloak and powder rooms and others besides. Below was a basement with a large fruit store, wine cellar and vat room. In the basement of the main house was the large kitchen, a pantry, wash house, boots room and corridor, off which were six staff bedrooms. There was also a fuel supply chamber. The staff comprised the butler and eight servants.

At the rear to the house were five flights of stairs up to the roof which provided a splendid view of the local foxhounds.

There were two entrances. The main one past the lodge which is still there and the other connected to the main avenue and farmyard. In the farmyard were twelve horse stables, a harness room, coach sheds and cow houses together with a steward’s house, other workers living quarters and even a forge at the entrance through the archway. The farmyard had a steward, a groom and ten farm-hands.

The house overlooked the pond, which was full of water lilies, and two prominent, dropping ash trees. The extensive gardens, as well as containing sufficient produce to supply the house all year round and leave extra for export, also included well-kept grounds with flowers, trees and shrubs of every kind and hue. Much of the grounds were covered with rhododendrons of all colours, surrounded by a huge wooded area. It was a truly magnificent place.

Steeped in History and Heritage

The presence of decorated megalithic stones in the nearby graveyard indicate that Clonabreany, or Russagh as it was also known, had been an exceptional place in the prehistoric community of North West Meath. The site is part of the region traversed by Slighe Assail, one the major route ways of Ancient Ireland. The early Christian settlement at Clonabreany can be dated back to 500 AD. Clonabreany later played host to Richard Detuit from the 11th century and later formed part of the primary Anglo-Norman settlement of the area under James Ormond in the 15th century.
Although Clonabreany was almost forgotten for the last century, it now has the opportunity to return in some way to its former prominence when it stood in the centre of what was the fifth province of Ireland, the ancient province of Meath where tribes came from all over Ireland to celebrate their cultural, ritual and spiritual beliefs.

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