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Kildare > About Kildare

St Brigid | Geography & Environment | History | Horse & Rider

St Brigid

County Kildare takes its name from St. Brigid’s monastery beneath an oak tree; Cill Dara, the church of the oak tree.

This 6th century saint is one of the three patrons of Ireland. Little factual evidence is known about the saint but it is traditionally believed that she founded a monastery at Kildare which was unique in that it was a mixed community of nuns and monks. It was there that she died in 525 AD. The eternal fire, which was tended by the nuns there, was extinguished at the time of the Reformation.
St Brigids Cross
The stories about Brigid have been linked to a pagan sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Brigda on the same site, beneath the oak trees. Many miracles are attributed to Brigid, one of which explains her links with the Curragh plains. In reward for curing the local king of an ailment he offered her whatever she wished for. Her request was that he give her as much ground as her cloak would cover to graze her flock of sheep on the plain. He agreed, and when she spread her cloak it marvellously spread out to cover the entire plain.

St. Brigid’s Cross, woven from rushes, is said to have been first plaited by the saint when she was explaining the mysteries of the Christian gospel to a dying pagan. The cross is still being made, and it is placed over the door to protect people from illness or bad luck. It was also the symbol chosen by the National Broadcasting Station, RTE.

Even allowing for the exaggerated stories told of St. Brigid by her numerous biographers, it is certain that she ranks as one of the most remarkable Irish women of the fifth century and as the patroness of Ireland. She is lovingly called the "Queen of the South: the Mary of the Gael" by a writer in the "Leabhar Breac". St. Brigid died leaving a cathedral city and school that became famous all over Europe.

Today, her feastday, February 1st, marks a popular festival in Kildare town, Feile Bríde. Many pilgrims and visitors visit the site of St. Brigid's well on that day and throughout the year.

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Geography & Environment

As an inland county, Kildare's landscape shares many of its features with its neighbours, but it has the advantage of the Wicklow mountain range to the east, with the foothills spreading westwards to meet the Curragh of Kildare. It extends into the undulating central lowlands, beneath which the layers of carboniferous limestone, sand and gravel provide good drainage. The great raised Bog of Allen on the western side of the county, with its covering of black peat and mantle of heather and gorse, is a dramatic contrast to the well-tilled fields of south Kildare, or to the bright green paddocks and the wooded estates of the livestock and stud farms scattered throughout the county.

Ardscull, County Kildare
Three great rivers water the county, the Liffey which flows northwards from the Wicklow mountains to enter the sea at Dublin, the Barrow which forms the border of the county with Laois, and the legendary Boyne, the fount of which is beneath the historic hill of Carbury. Both the Grand and Royal canals traverse the county, the Royal along the northern boundaries, and the Grand which crosses the county from Lyons on the east to Rathangan and Monasterevan on the west, and with a line southwards to join the Barrow navigation at Athy.

The river valleys, canals, bogs and woodlands are habitats of wild fowl, birds and animals, and the nature reserves at Pollardstown Fen and Ballinafagh are especially noted for their varieties of flora and fauna. Walking routes on the towpaths of the tranquil canals open up vistas of unspoilt countryside, while the walks known as ‘The Kildare Way’ explore not only parts of the canal system, but also the Curragh plain. The open forests of native and imported species at Donadea, Glending, Kilkea and Monasterevan are restful oases for walks and picnicking.

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Kildare has a long and well-documented history with abundant physical evidence of ancient habitation. The tall granite standing stones at Punchestown, the stone circle at Broadlease, the hill forts at Dun Ailinne, Sillagh and Hughstown, and the many raths and other earthworks of the Curragh are all reminders of early settlers.
There are early Christian sites at Kildare, Taghadoe, Old Kilcullen and Timolin.

At Moone there is one of the most beautiful High Crosses to be found in Ireland.Moone High Cross, County Kildare

Castledermot traces its roots to the 9th Century hermitage of St. Diarmada on the banks of the Graney river. It too has the remains of a fine High Cross and a Round Tower.

Mullachreelan Woods, three miles north of Castledermot, marks the birthplace of Saint Laurence O'Toole. Born in 1130 he became abbot of the Celtic monastery at Glendalough and archbishop of Dublin. He died in 1180 at Au in France.

At Ardscull and Rathmore there are fine examples of Anglo-Norman mottes. It was at Ardscull that Edward Bruce defeated Sir Edmund Butler in 1315. The many castles, such as those at Kilkea, Maynooth, Athy and Kilteel, and the ruined religious houses at Kildare, the Franciscan friary at Clane and Celbridge, link the medieval world with the modern.

Maurice Fitzgerald, from an Anglo-Norman family, was recruited by Dermot Mac Murrough in 1168 to assist in the recovery of territory from Roderick O’Connor, the High King of Ireland. As a reward for his assistance, two of Maurice’s sons were granted lands in Leinster as barons of Naas and Offaly. From Gerald Fitzmaurice, the first Baron of Offaly, descended the Kildare family. His great grandson, John Fitzthomas, was created the first Earl of Kildare in 1316.

The Fitzgeralds held extensive estates and had many castles in the county, the principal one being at Maynooth. By the 15th century they had become the most powerful dynasty in the country. Notable amongst the Earls were those of the 16th century, Gerald, the 8th, known as the Great Earl, Garret Og, the 9th, Thomas, the 10th and Gerald 11th Earl. So powerful had become the 8th Earl that the king said of him "If all Ireland cannot rule this man, let him rule all Ireland." The 9th Earl, suspected of disloyalty, died in the Tower of London in 1534, and his son the 10th Earl, ‘Silken Thomas’ (so called from the silken fringes on his soldiers helmets), renounced his allegiance to the king and retired to his stronghold at Maynooth. When it was taken by the army the garrison was given the ‘Maynooth Pardon’, that is, they were executed. He was taken to London and hanged at Tyburn., with his five uncles. Gerald, 11th Earl, was known as the Wizard Earl. Smuggled for safety out of Ireland as a minor, he was educated in Rome. When he later recovered his estates he came back to Kilkea and there his interest in alchemy merited for him the title of "The Wizard Earl." His ghost is said to reappear on the Curragh every seven years, and will do so until the silver shoes of his steed are worn out.

In 1766 James, 20th Earl and Marquis of Kildare, was created Duke of Leinster. He was the father of the patriot Lord Edward Fitzgerald. He remodelled Carton house at Maynooth, and it remained the family seat until the 1940s. It is one of the finest examples of an Irish 18th Century house.

Examples of 17th century houses are found at Graney and Jiggenstown, but the grander mansions of the 18th century are more spectacular. Castletown at Celbridge ranks beside the Carton Estate as one of the finest in Ireland. Our History & Heritage website has more details.

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Horse & Rider

If the waterways and the bogs contribute largely to the character of the county, the horses and the soldiers likewise have a special association with it. County Kildare Trained Horses

While the Curragh may have associations with the legendary Fionn mac Cumhaill and his Fianna warriors, it has historic links with armies since the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. Military encampments were made there from the 18th century, and in 1855 the British army built a permanent camp on the plain.

It developed into being the main training ground for the British garrison in Ireland, and during the First World War 20,000 men were based there. Since Independence it has been the principal training base for the Irish army, and the presence of the soldiers in the area has become an important part of the social economy.

The Curragh has been known as the premier racecourse in Ireland since the 17th century, and it remains the home of the Irish Classics. Punchestown has been celebrated as the location of the Kildare Hunt Races since 1850, and at Naas both flat and hurdle races are held regularly.

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