Originally called Atherdee, the towns name is from Irish: Áth Fhirdia (the Ford of Ferdia) which itself is derived from the fabled four-day battle between Cúchulainn and Ferdia, for the defense of Ulster from Queen Maeve of Connacht. It is said Ferdia fell after four days of battle, and is buried on the southern banks of the river alongside the Riverside Walk. A depiction of the pair is located on Bridge Street in the town as a bronze statue.
Ardee is an example of a medieval "walled town", a number of which can be found across Ireland. The town itself is situated in the southern part of the ancient territory known as the Plain of Muirheimhne. The town lies along the 15th century Pale frontier between Dundalk and Kells.
The town comprises the townlands or townparks – the greater portion of which is made up of Ardee bog, and a small portion of Dawson's Demesne, which takes in the southeastern quadrant of the town on the northern side of the River Dee.
A philanthropic trust founded by Erasmus Smith in the 17th century funded the establishment of a boys' school in 1806 and a girls' school in 1817. Both Protestant and Catholic children were allowed to attend. At the time there were other schools but in 1824 they became the sole schools in the area. The Smith schools amalgamated into a combined-sex establishment by 1858, by which time the National School movement was leading to the creation of denominational schools there.
The school remained a non-denominational institute but the school decreased in numbers and in 1868 had a roll of only 16 Protestant boys. It was fully integrated into the National School system in 1954, when it became known as Saint Mary's Church of Ireland National School.
Ardee's identity of a walled town is further enhanced by surviving medieval buildings and some of the features that survive within the town, including the intact medieval street pattern and the castle itself. Previously known as St. Leger's Castle, Ardee Castle is the largest fortified medieval tower house in Ireland. Built circa 15th century, the castle was used as a prison during the 17th and 18th centuries, before going on to become Ardee's district courthouse until June 2006 when a specialised facility was built as it "could no longer meet the official needs of court users in the 21st century".
Founded a short time prior to 1487, "Chantry College" consists of a gabled tower, four storeys in height, which has an adjoining two-storey hall to the north. Although the structure was defensible, it is not classified as a fortified town house. It was an ecclesiastical building, and as such differs from the two castles in the town. The small section of the original building shares similarities to another surviving building in Howth, Dublin.
A gift given to the Hatch family by Oliver Cromwell, Hatch's Castle is still in use as a private family home and as a bed and breakfast. A late 14th century urban fortified house, it is the older of the town's two castles. It was modernised in the 19th century with large windows placed in the east and west faces. The southern corner has a projecting turret which houses a spiral stairway to roof level.
Jumping Church of Kildemock
The west gable that "jumped"
The Jumping Church of Kildemock (also known as Millockstown Church) is a tourist attraction in Ardee which claims to be an "unsolved mystery". The site was restored in 1954 after the site was cleared of debris by archaeologists the previous year. Legend surrounding the church states that a non-Christian was believed to be buried inside the church walls in 1715, and that the church "jumped" later that night to leave his remains outside of the sacred grounds.
A plaque on the site reads:
"Is léir ar an bhfalla seo gur aisbrigh sé tuairm 3 troithe isteach óna bhonn. Tá trácht i gcúntais i 1715 ar stoirm mhór sa bhliain sin o'ardaigh an falla as a ionad ach do reir seanchais na ndaoine is amhlaidh a léim an falla isteach thar uaigh dhuine a cuireadh faoi choinneallbhádh."
and is accompanied by a translation in English:
"This wall by its pitch, tilt and position can be seen to have moved three feet from its foundation. Contemporary accounts mention a severe storm in 1715 when the wall was lifted and deposited as it now stands but local tradition states that the wall jumped inwards to exclude the grave of an excommunicated person."
All that remains at Kildemock today is a small ruin, containing the wall that for a reason unknown moved three feet. It is believed to be caused by a storm but this cannot be confirmed.
Nativity of our Lady Church
The church is a detached multi-bay Roman Catholic church, built 1974. The church replaced a previously existing Catholic church built 1829, which is now a furniture store.
It is a post-Vatican II church, designed by Guy Moloney and Associates. The leaded light clerestory windows introduce colour to what is otherwise a plain interior.
Saint Mary's Church
Built in the early 19th century on the site of an earlier church, St Mary's Church was substantially repaired and rebuilt preserving portions of a tower belong to a previous church. This site has been the focus of Christian worship for at least eight hundred years.