by ehistoryadmin on July 11, 2015


By Liam Kenny

War, war, and more bloody war. That’s one of the main topics running through this year’s programme for Heritage Week in Kildare. The programme comprises more than sixty events embracing the built and natural history of the county. And all come with an invitation to locals to participate in the exploration of the county’s richly layered history and heritage. Many of the events are family friendly, most are free, and all will open doors to gems of information about Kildare which will surprise even the most well-informed locals. While the diversity of the programme is striking with everything from poultry shows to harp recitals there is no doubt that this is a bumper year for the military history brigade.

The confluence of a number of war-themed anniversaries starting with the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 and continuing to the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 drive a series of talks, re-enactments and exhibitions during the Heritage Week octave beginning on 23 August 2014. Fortunately there are celebrations of anniversaries of a more peaceful nature including the bicentenary of the founding of Clongowes Wood College in 1814 and the 150th anniversary of construction of the grand old lady of Liffey bridges, the Alexandra Bridge in Clane, which are given their due prominence in the programme.

However there is no escaping the fact that war in all its forms has had its influence on Kildare from early to modern times. The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 although named after the location on the Dublin shoreline where the bloody climax was played out had its impact on the society which lived in what was later to become the county of Kildare. Such local dimensions will be illustrated in dramatic form in the Athy Heritage Museum on the first Sunday of Heritage Week when participants are promised “murder, mayhem and much more.” The Clontarf battle which in reality was an orgy of slashing and hacking fought between the Irish and the Norsemen will also be highlighted in Kildare’s most Norse-influenced town, Leixlip, where the town’s name echoes the old viking terminology for “salmon leap”. Historian and prolific author James Durney will speak in Leixlip library under the banner “Leinster v Munster: the battle of Clontarf 1014.” He will repeat his illustrated talk in Newbridge library where “Sarsfields v Moorefield” might be a more apt metaphor to describe the presentation.

While war at home and overseas may have drawn Kildare people into the fray there is perhaps only one conflict which can be said to have started in the county. Among the first shots of the 1798 rebellion were those fired in Prosperous in the heady opening days of a summer of bloodshed which was to culminate on the hillsides of Wexford. Naas and Old Kilcullen were the scenes of the earliest urban and field engagements of the rebellion. Among those who witnessed the fighting locally were the members of the peace-loving Quaker community in Ballitore who left first-hand written accounts of the mayhem. Thus a talk on the rising could not find a more appropriate locale than the Ballitore library and Quaker museum. The talk will focus on the horrors of this national conflagration and how it impacted on a small community in the tranquil heartlands of south Kildare. Monasterevin was another location in the county to witness at first hand the visceral consequences of rebellion and repression. Local historian and military re-enactor Barry Walsh will give a talk in Ballitore library on the gruesome hanging of Fr. Prendergast who was sent to the gallows when government informers learned that he had celebrated Mass.

Fast forwarding by over two centuries and the spotlight swings to a truly global carnage – the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. The British army’s need for manpower and for horsepower soon had the great barracks at the Curragh, and its counterparts in Newbridge, Kildare and the Curragh, strained to capacity as they prepared man and horse for the terrors of the battlefields of Europe. So intensive was the preparation that it left its mark on Kildare’s landscape. While the Curragh Camp is noted for its infrastructure devoted to military training, few are aware of the practice trenches, excavated to emulate the new mode of trench warfare, which was unfolding on the battlefields of Belgium and France from late 1914 onwards. A guided walk to the trenches on the airy slopes of the plain east of the camp is being organised by the Co Kildare Archaeological Society for the last Sunday of Heritage Week.

While those who trained on the Curragh were largely soldiers from English units being rotated through the camp, there was a more personal consequence for many local families with Kildare men being recruited in large number for the British army. No town in the county was untouched by the catastrophic tragedy of the war and to help interpret its local impact, historian James Durney will be visiting the libraries in Celbridge, Athy, Naas, Kildare town and Maynooth with an illustrated talk focussing on the stories of loss and survival particular to the men of the area who found themselves embroiled in the conflict.

The militancy of the 1914-18 period was not confined to those who fought under the Union flag. The story of the nationalist Irish Volunteers who convened in the county in 1914 to support the Home Rule campaign will be portrayed in an exhibition at Maynooth library throughout heritage week. It is from Maynooth also that one of the most innovative events in the week’s programme will take place when a combined walk/and train tour will recall the men from north Kildare who marched to the GPO in Easter Week 1916. The itinerary will begin in Maynooth and continue by train into the city, paralleling precisely the route taken by the Volunteers, and culminate at the GPO where the travelling party will be met by re-enactors recalling the combatants in this most famous of Irish battle sites. Leinster Leader 19 August 2014, Looking Back, Series no. 395.


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