Carton House is situated about one mile from
Maynooth beside the Galway Road. This great house is nestled among a most beautiful
setting of trees and lawns. The Rye Water weaves its way through the estate lands until it
joins the river Liffey at Leixlip.
The demesne is surrounded by a five mile long wall and there are five lodge houses dotted along the boundary. On the demesne itself is the famous Shell Cottage which was built for Lady Emily FitzGerald, a quaint cottage which once had a thatched roof and is decorated outside and within with seashells. All this makes Carton a truly magnificent and breathtaking sight.
The original house was built in the early seventeenth century by a member of the Talbot family of Malahide. Sir William Talbot had obtained the lease of Cartons lands from Gerald, fourteenth earl of Kildare in 1603. In 1691 his son, Col. Richard Talbot, who also became Duke of Tyrconnell died at Limerick. That same year his lands were forfeited to the crown. In 1703, the house was sold at auction and was bought by Major-General Richard Ingoldsby (he was at one time a Lord Justice of Ireland). Richards son Thomas died in 1731, and so Carton passed into the hands of his cousin Henry Ingoldsby who sold the lease back to the nineteenth earl of Kildare - Robert Fitzgerald.
The great German architect Richard Castle was asked to make conversions to the house in order to make it a more comfortable abode. In 1744 the earl of Kildare died. He left Carton to his widow, Lady Mary OBrien, but she immediately signed the house over to her son James, the twentieth Earl of Kildare. In 1766 he became the first Duke of Leinster.
James married Emily Lennox, a daughter of the second Duke of Richmond. They removed the straight avenues and created a more natural parkland to surround their house. Lady Emily is noted to have had a passion for spotted cows and she kept a collection at Carton, taking great pleasure in watching them graze upon the lawns.
Two of the more important rooms in Carton house are the Saloon and the Chinese Room. The Saloon has a beautiful plaster ceiling which depicts The Courtship of the Gods. It was created by the famous Lafranchini brothers. It is probably one of their first works in Ireland, dating from 1739. The other important room in the house which still maintains its eighteenth century look, the Chinese Room, is decorated with panels of Chinese wallpaper and is embellished with gilt wood. It is not unlike the layout of the print room in Castletown House.
In 1815 Lord Gerald FitzGerald, third Duke of Leinster House (his Dublin residence) hired the eminent Cork architect, Richard Morris to make alterations to Carton House.
Later Carton was to fall out of the hands of the FitzGerald family due to the rashness of the seventh Duke of Leinster, Lord Edward FitzGerald. An extravagant young man with many debts, he sold his birthright in 1910 to a moneylender. He stipulated that should he inherit the Dukedom, he would receive £1,000 for life. He lived until 1979. His elder brother died in 1922. The second son, Lord Desmond died on active service in France in 1916. Thus Carton was lacking in the funds it needed for its upkeep. In 1949 it was sold to Lord Brocket.
Although it is not open to the public throughout the year, visits can be arranged through Maynooth College Visitors Centre. The centre is opened from May to September.