MEATH (pronounced with th soft, as in the), a county of Ireland in the province of Leinster, bounded E. by the Irish Sea, S.E. by Dublin, S. by Kildare and King's County, W. by Westmeath, N.W. by Cavan and Monaghan, and N.E. by Louth. Area 579,320 acres, or about 905 sq. m. In some districts the surface is varied by hills and swells, which to the west reach a considerable elevation, although the general features of a fine champain country are never lost. The coast, low and shelving, extends about 10 m., but there is no harbour of importance. Laytown is a small seaside resort, 5 m. S.E. of Drogheda. The Boyne enters the county at its south-western extremity, and flowing north-east to Drogheda divides it into two almost equal parts. At Navan it receives the Blackwater, which flows south-west from Cavan. Both these rivers are noted for their trout, and salmon are taken in the Boyne. The Boyne is navigable for barges as far as Navan whence a canal is carried to Trim. The Royal Canal passes along the southern boundary of the county from Dublin.
In the north is a broken country of Silurian rocks with much igneous material, partly contemporaneous, partly intrusive, near Slanc. Carboniferous Limestone stretches from the Boyne valley to the Dublin border, giving rise to a flat plain especially suitable for grazing. Outliers of higher Carboniferous strata occur on the surface; but the Coal Measures have all been removed by denudation.
The climate is genial and favourable for all kinds of crops, there being less rain than even in the neighbouring counties. Except a small portion occupied by the Bog of Allen, the county is verdant and fertile. The soil is principally a rich deep loam resting on limestone gravel, but varies from a strong clayey loam to a light sandy gravel. The proportion of tillage to pasturage is roughly as I to 3}. Oats, potatoes and turnips are the principal crops, but all decrease. The numbers of cattle, sheep and poultry, however, are increasing or well maintained. Agriculture is almost the sole industry, but coarse linen is woven by hand-looms, and there are a few woollen manufactories. The main line of the Midland Great Western railway skirts the southern boundary, with a branch line north from Clonsilla to Navan and Kingscourt (county Cavan). From Kilmessan on this line a branch serves Trim and Athboy. From Drogheda (county Louth) a branch of the Great Northern railway crosses the county from east to West by Navan and Kells to Oldcastle.
The population (76,111 in 1891; 67,497 ' n 1901) suffers a large decrease, considerably above the average of Irish counties, and emigration is heavy. Nearly 93% are Roman Catholics. The chief towns are Navan (pop. 3839), Kells (2428) and Trim (1513), the county town. Lesser market towns are Oldcastle and Athboy, an ancient town which received a charter from Henry IV. The county includes eighteen baronies. Assizes are held at Trim, and quarter sessions at Kells, Navan and Trim. The county is in the Protestant dioceses of Armagh, Kilmore and Meath, and in the Roman Catholic dioceses of Armagh and Meath. Before the Union in 1800 it sent fourteen members to parliament, but now only two members are returned, for the north ^nd south divisions of the county respectively.
History and Antiquities. A district known as Meath (Midhe), and including the present county of Meath as well as Westmeath and Longford, with parts of Cavan, Kildare and King's County, was formed by Tuathal (c. 130) into a kingdom to serve as mensal land or personal estate of the Ard Ri or over-king of Ireland. Kings of Meath reigned until 1173, and the title was claimed as late as the 15th century by their descendants, but at the date mentioned Hugh de Lacy obtained the lordship of the country and was confirmed in it by Henry II. Meath thus came into the English " Pale." But though it was declared a county in the reign of Edward I. (1296), and though it came by descent into the possession of the Crown in the person of Edward IV., it was long before it was fully subdued and its boundaries clearly defined. In 1543 Westmeath was created a county apart from that of Meath, but as late as 1598 Meath was still regarded as a province by some, who included in it the counties Westmeath, East Meath, Longford and Cavan. In the early part of the zyth century it was at last established as a county, and no longer considered as a fifth province of Ireland.
There are two ancient round towers, the one at Kells and the other in the churchyard of Donaghmore, near Navan. By the river Boyne near Slane there is an extensive ancient burial-place called Brugh. Here are some twenty burial mounds, the largest of which is that of New Grange, a domed tumulus erected above a circular chamber, which is entered by a narrow passage enclosed by great upright blocks of stone, covered with carvings. The mound is surrounded by remains of a stone circle, and the whole forms one of the most remarkable extant erections of its kind. Tara (q.v.) is famous in history, especially as the seat of a royal palace referred to in the well-known lines of Thomas Moore. Monastic buildings were very numerous in Meath, among the more important ruins being those of Duleek, which is said to have been the first ecclesiastical building in Ireland of stone and mortar; the extensive remains of Bective Abbey; and those of Clonard, where also were a cathedral and a famous college. Of the old fortresses, the castle of Trim still presents an imposing appearance. There are many fine old mansions.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)