ByRoute 13.1 Co. Meath // Co. Offaly
Horseleap (Co. Offaly / North)
Horseleap (Baile Átha an Urchair / Áth an Urchair), virtually straddling the border between the modern counties of Westmeath and Offaly, is a straggling village on the old main Dublin / Galway road.
Il Calvino Rampante, the 3m tall Ferrari prancing horse logo in the village green, supposedly came to Ireland as a gift from the Italian car manufacturer for F1 racing driver Eddie “Irve the Swerve” Irvine, runner up in the 1999 World championship; tragically for his front garden, he left to join the Jaguar team before the planned surprise presentation. A delegation from the village acquired the bronze statue for less than it cost to make, and it was erected in 2000. However, journalist Joe Saward has identified the tale as an urban myth, pointing out that Ferrari denies the story.
This district was historically aka Ballanurcher / Ardnurcher / Athnurcher. The topographer Lewis (1837) explained this as a version of ”Ard-an-orchor, literally translated [as] ’the fort of slaughter’.”
Ardnurcher is recorded in the Ulster Cycle of Irish myths as the place where the warior-king of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa, was mortally wounded by the Connacht warrior Cet mac Mágach, who had stolen the petrified brain of Mesgegra, king of Leinster, one of the battle trophies kept at Emain Macha, and shot it from his sling so it became embedded in the Ultonian monarch’s head; the royal physicians were unable to remove it, but told Conchobar he would survive as long as he remained calm. Seven reasonably peaceful years later, on being told of the death of Christ, the king became so angry that the brain bursts from his head, and he died baptised in blood. (This “Christianised”account bears strong resemblances to the Scandinavian myth of Thor’s fight against Hrungnir, suggesting either a common origin or a later Viking source).
Also according to Lewis (1837), “the fort of Ardnorcher” was a “doon or moat” forming a strong link in a chain of frontier forts built in the Meath part of the Pale “to protect the new settlers and check the inroads of the Irish.” He wrote that it was “vulgarly called ‘Horseleap’” to commemorate the feat of “an English knight”, elsewhere identified as the Norman lord de Lacy (quare: Hugh or his son Walter?), arising from a late C12th encounter with “members of the Mac Geoghegan clan, who had long disputed his claim to the lands“. Fleeing on hoseback, he saw to his dismay that the drawbridge of his castle was raised, forcing his horse to jump the moat, and thus escaped “almost certain death at the hands of the Mac Geoghegan clan.”
Ardnurcher was undoubtedly an important place in the Norman era, achieving borough status by 1235.
The Battle of Ardnocher, according to the Annales Hiberniae, was fought on 10th August 1329, when the fort of Ardnorcher was attacked by Crown troops under Thomas le Botiller (Butler), who was defeated and killed along with several others, including 140 soldiers, by William Gallda MacGeoghegan of Cenel Fiachaigh / Kenaleagh. The Annals of the Four Masters offer a different account, giving the date as 1328 and stating that 3500 English were killed.
The manor was granted by Queen Elizabeth I to Gerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, in 1568.
Ardnocher parish church
The Church of Ireland edifice overlooking the village, a fairly typical Board of First Fruits church built c.1810, was closed for worship in the late C20th due to a “dwindling congregation“. (photo by VW)
Set back from the road in its own grounds, and surrounded by graveyard with mostly C19th grave markers, it occupies the site of a medieval abbey, and is adjacent to a deserted medieval borough and the remnants of a Motte & Bailey.
(Could this be the place Lewis (1837) identified as Temple-Maccateer, the location of a monastery said to have been founded in 440 AD by Saint Kiaran?).
Next to the main entrance gates are ruins identified as those of the ‘late built church‘ mentioned by Sir Henry Piers in his description of Westmeath (1682).
A number of C18th memorials to the interior of the present church were moved from this earlier church, including a fine sandstone monument erected “at the expense of Hon Robert Rochfort Esq., Speaker of the House of Commons” in honour of George Payton / Peyton, Member of Parliament for Westmeath (d.1698).
The Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) opened Horseleap railway station in 1876. It was closed to passenger in 1947 and finally closed altogether in 1965.
Horseleap shopfront. (Photo by jimmyk9)
Temple Country Retreat & Spa, an adult only destination spa, occupies a pleasantly isolated converted farmhouse, and features the Garden Room restaurant, specialising in organic food.