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A look at Kildare in the 1840s

KILDARE, a market and post town, a parish, and the seat of a diocese, in the union of NAAS, partly in the barony of CONNELL, but chiefly in that of EAST OPHALY, county of KILDARE, and province of LEINSTER, 9 1/4 miles (W.S.W) from Naas, and 25 miles (W.S.W.) from Dublin, on the coach-road to Limerick; containing 2654 inhabitants, of whom 1629 are in the town. This place derived its name either from Chille-dara, “the wood of oaks,” or from Kill-dara, “the cell or church of the oaks,” on account of the situation of the first Christian church founded here among trees of that kind. The source of its ancient importance appears to have been the foundation of a MONASTERY by St. Bridget, the daughter of a native Irish chieftain, who in the fifth century is said to have received the veil from the hands of St. Patrick. This monastery, which was both for monks and nuns under the same roof, and had only one church, soon caused other habitations to be erected on the spot, which, on its being subsequently made the seat of an episcopal see, became a town of importance. It is recorded that, in 638, Aed Dubh, or Black Hugh, King of Leinster, resigned his authority, and took the habit of the Augustine order in this monastery, of which he afterwards became abbot and bishop. The town and monastery were consumed by fire in 770, and again about four years after; and in 830 they suffered greatly from the depredation of Ceallach Mac Brann, who slew many of the clergy in their own house. Farannan, abbot of Armagh, attended by a retinne of his clergy, visited the abbey in 835; and during his stay, Fethlemid, at the head of an armed force, seized the church and carried off the clergy prisoners. In the following year, a Danish fleet of thirty ships arrived in the river Liffey, and another also in the Boyne, and, making an irruption into the country, not only plundered every church and abbey within the territories of Magh-Liffe and Magh-Breagh, but also destroyed the town with fire and sword, and carried away the shrines of St.Bridget and St.Conlaeth.

From this period till the commencement of the 11th century, the annals of Kildare present only a continued series of Danish rapine and massacre; and scarcely had the ravages of these invaders ceased, when the town was plundered by the people of Hyfaoian. It was either wholly or in part destroyed by fire in 1038, 1040, 1071, 1088, and 1089; and, in 1135, the abbess of the monastery was forcibly taken from her cloister by Dermod Mac Murrongh, King of Leinster, who compelled her to marry one of his followers; on which occasion not less than 170 inhabitants of the town and inmates of the abbey were slaughtered. Till the of the English invasion, the town and monastery continually exposed to depredation by fire and sword; but shortly after that event, one of the English adventurers who had obtained possession of this territory erected a castle for its defence. In 1220, the sacred fire, which had been maintained here from the time of St.Bridget, was extinguished by Henry de Londres, archbishop of Dublin; it was, however, soon afterwards rekindled, and continued to burn till the Reformation. In 1260, a monastery was founded by William de Vescy, for Grey friars, which was completed by Gerald Fitzmaurice, Lord Offaly; the same William also founded a convent for Carmelite friars in 1290; and in 1294, Calbhach O’Connor of Offaly took the town and castle by force, and destroyed all the rolls of the Earl of Kildare. A parliament was held herein 1309, or the beginning of the following year; and in 1316, the castle and town were granted to John Fitzgerald, who was at that time created Earl of Kildare; but in the wars during the reign of Elizabeth, the town was reduced to a state of entire ruin and depopulation. In 1641, the castle was garrisoned by the Earl of Castlehaven, but in 1647 was taken by Colonel Jones for the parliament; it fell again into the bands of the Irish, but was finally re-taken by the Lord-Lieutenant in 1649. During the disturbances of 1798, 2000 of the insurgents, under a leader named Perkins, having agreed to surrender themselves on the 28th of March, on condition of being allowed to return unmolested to their several homes, and of the liberation of Perkins’ brother from the gaol of Naas, Major-General Sir James Duffe advanced at the head of 600 men to the Gibbet-rath on the Curragh, where they had assembled for that purpose; but some imprudent firing taking place on their part, they were charged by the troops, and more than 200 of them were killed.

The town, consisting of 327 houses, is situated on boldly rising ground, and, from the numerous remains of its ancient religious edifices, and its former importance, is a place of considerable interest. It is badly supplied with water, raised from a very deep well near the market-house, by a forcing pump, into a public cistern; the principal streets are portions of the public roads, and are kept in repair by the county. Kildare is a great resort during the races, which are held on the Curragh in the last week of April, the second Monday in June, and the second Monday in October, when the king’s plates are contested. A gift of two annual plates of £100 each was obtained through Sir W. Temple; and, in 1821, George IV attended a meeting at this place. The Jockey Club have a house in the town, for the use of the members during the races, which are well attended and under good regulations. The Curragh is under the care of a ranger appointed by the crown, and is distinguished as the “Newmarket” of Ireland, not only as the principal race-meeting, but as a central spot for the breeding and training of the best horses in the country. No manufactures are carried on in the town, nor any trade except what arises from its public situation and for the supply of the neighbourhood. The market is on Thursday; and fairs are held on Feb. 12th, April 5th and 26th, May 12th, June 29th, and Sept. 19th: the market-house is a neat building. There is a constabulary police station. By charter of James II, the town was governed by a corporation consisting of a sovereign (who was a justice of the peace), two portreeves, 20 burgesses, and an indefinite number of freemen, assisted by a recorder, town-clerk, two serjeants-at-mace, and other officers. The charter was granted in the fourth year of the king’s reign, and recites that the town of Kildare had been an ancient borough, but that its franchises, liberties, and privileges, had been seized into the sovereign’s hands by a judgment of the court of exchequer; it then declares that the place shall be a free borough having the same boundaries as those it had formerly possessed, and Lays down the necessary regulations for its government. The corporation returned two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, when the borough was disfranchised, and the £15,000 awarded as compensation were paid to William, Duke of Leinster. The borough court had jurisdiction to the extent of five marks, but no proceedings have issued from it for several years; since 1828 neither sovereign nor any other officer has been elected, and the corporation is virtually extinct. The quarter-sessions for the county are held here in April and October, and petty-sessions every alternate Thursday.

The Diocese of Kildare appears to have been founded towards the close of the 5th or about the commencement of the 6th century, by St. Conlaeth or Conlaid, who, with the assistance of St. Bridget, then presiding over the monastery, erected the cathedral and became first bishop. The first English bishop was Ralph of Bristol, consecrated in 1223, who was at great expense in repairing and beautifying the cathedral. The first bishop after the Reformation was William Miagh, whom, in opposition to the Pope’s appointment, and in vindication of his own supremacy, Henry VIII, advanced to the see, in 1540. During the prelacy of Alexander Craik, who succeeded in 1560, the see was reduced to great poverty by the alienation of several valuable manors, which that bishop exchanged with Patrick Sarsfield for some tithes of very inconsiderable value and it was further impoverished by Bishop Piltworth, in 1604, after a fruitless attempt to recover the alienated property. The estates which had been alienated to Sarsfield became forfeited to the king during the prelacy of Bishop Price, who succeeded in 1660, and might have been recovered by a clause in the Act of Settlement; but the bishop could not be prevailed upon to take the necessary measures at the time, and all the subsequent efforts of his successors were unavailing. Anthony Dopping, who succeeded in 1678, in consideration of the poverty of the see, procured the annexation of the preceptory of Tully, and several rectories in the diocese of Meath, to be held in commendam with the bishopric; and William, Dean of Christ Church, Dublin, who was advanced to the prelacy in 1681, was for the same reason allowed to retain his deanery, which was thenceforward held by the bishops of Kildare; who ranked next to the bishops of Meath, the other bishops taking precedency according to the dates of their consecration. Under the provisions of the Church Temporalities’ act of the 3rd and 4th of William IV, the see, on its recent avoidance, was annexed to the archiepiscopal see of Dublin, and its temporalities, including those held in commendam, are now vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

It is one of the sixteen dioceses which constitute the ecclesiastical province of Dublin, and comprehends part of Queen’s county, a large portion of King’s county, and the greater part of the county of Kildare; it is 36 miles in length and 23 in breadth, and comprises an estimated superficies of 332,200 acres, of which 49,000 are in Queen’s county, 121,000 in King’s county, and 161,000 in Kildare. The chapter consists of a dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, and four canons; and there are an archdeacon, and the eight prebendaries of Lulliamore, Rathangan, Nurney, Ballysonan, Castropetre, Geashill, Harristown, and Donadea, who are not of the chapter, but have a vote in the election of the dean. The consistorial court, held in Kildare, is presided over by the vicar-general. In the registrar’s office are the diocesan records, which consist of modern documents, those prior to 1641 having been lost during the insurrection. The total number of parishes in the diocese is 85, comprised in 41 benefices, of which 20 are unions of two or more parishes, and 21 single parishes: 12 benefices are in the patronage of the Crown, 10 in lay and Corporation patronage, 4 in joint or alternate presentation, and the remainder in the patronage of the Bishop or Incumbents. The total number of churches is 38, and of glebe-houses 19. The quantity of land belonging to the see is 911 acres ; and the gross revenue of the bishop, including the preceptory of Tully and the deanery of Christ Church, on an average of three years ending Dec. 31st, 1831, amounted to £6451.13. The cathedral, dedicated to St. Bridget, was nearly destroyed in the parliamentary war, and the choir is now the only part kept in repair. The walls of the nave still remain, presenting some plain pointed arches, and those of the south transept are entire; but the north side of the tower, which rose between the nave and choir, is levelled with the ground. The choir, which is also the parochial church, has no interesting details; the south transept contains the sepulchral vault of the earls of Kildare, In the churchyard is a remarkable stone, reputed to be the pedestal of an ancient stone cross, but by some considered, and with an appearance of probability, to be the altar on which the “holy fire” was kept burning; in the surrounding walls are numerous fragments of sculptured monuments, removed from the interior of the cathedral, and of which several are curious both from their subjects and their execution. A few yards distant is a remaining portion of the chapel of St. Bridget, called “the Fire house,” a low and narrow stone cell in which the sacred fire was preserved. There is neither chapter-house nor episcopal palace, nor are there residences for any of the dignitaries. In the Roman Catholic divisions the diocese is united with that of Leighlin, together forming one of the three suffragan dioceses to the archiepiscopal see of Dublin: the joint diocese comprises 46 parochial benefices or unions, containing 110 chapels served by 108 clergymen, of whom 46, including the bishop, are parish priests, and 62 coadjutors or curates. The parochial benefice of the bishop is Carlow, near which is his residence, Braganza House. The cathedral, in Carlow, built during the prelacy of the Right Rev. Dr. Doyle, and chiefly through his exertions, is an edifice of much architectural elegance.
The parish comprises 9215 1/2 statute acres. It is a rectory, appropriate to the dean and chapter: the tithe rent-charge is £242.6. In the Roman Catholic divisions it is the head of a district, called Kildare and Rathangan, comprising the parishes of Kildare, Rathangan, Carne, Dunmurry, Pollardstown, Thomastown, Tully, Lackagh, and Knavenstown: there is a chapel in the town, and also one at Rathangan. Near the town chapel is a convent of nuns of the order of the Presentation, the sisters of which devote their time to the gratuitous instruction of poor girls; and not far from the nuns of the monastery of St.Bridget is a Carmelite friary, a neat building recently erected on the site of the ancient house of that order, and attached to which is a chapel. The county infirmary is situated in the town. About thirty yards from the church is an ancient round tower, 132 feet high, which within the last century has been crowned with graduated battlements; and part of the ancient castle is still remaining. On the Curragh, according to Giraldus Cambrensis, was formerly a circle of large stones, of which no traces remain; but there are numerous earthworks, most of which appear to have been sepulchral. On this plain, Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Earl Palatine of Leinster, who had been invited by De Burgo, De Lacy, and other lords to negotiate a truce, was betrayed by Geoffrey de Marisco, his attendant, into the power of bis enemies, and put to death, in 1234. David O’Buge, who, in the early part of the 14th century, was eminently distinguished as a philosopher, rhetorician, and divine, was a native of the town, he was provincial of the Carmelites in Ireland, and was interred in the monastery of that order at this place, of which he had been a friar. Kildare gives the inferior titles of Earl and Marquess to the Duke of Leinster.

Extract from: Lewis – A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland
Photo from: The Lawrence Collection (not during this time period)

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