by ehistoryadmin on May 13, 2017

The long and winding road to Maynooth

Liam Kenny

It is probably true to say that Kildare people do not appreciate enough the fact that there is a third-level college within the county bounds. Maynooth University is a vibrant and burgeoning educational powerhouse which, among its many claims to fame, embraces – uniquely in Ireland – teacher training for primary, secondary and third-level education on the same campus. Any other county in the country would – in terms at once anatomical and metaphorical – give its right arm to be able to enumerate a Maynooth-type University within its boundary. Consider, for example the mountains that are being moved in the south-east of the country to achieve a university centred on Waterford. Or recall, going back some years, the long term campaigning that was needed to get a university into the Limerick region.

Since 1795 thanks to an unlikely match between the British Government and the Irish Catholic Church there has been a college establishment in Maynooth. Funded by the former and gratefully taken on charge by the latter Maynooth had a brief dalliance with lay students but by the early 1800s had become a Catholic seminary from which thousands of priests were ordained to minister in home dioceses and in far foreign mission fields in the four corners of the earth. It retained this exclusively sacerdotal status until the late 1960s when the first lay students found their way through its archways, corridors and quadrangle. From then the floodgates opened and the number of lay students grew exponentially as the numbers of clerical students diminished. In the 1990s there was a separation of the most amical kind – the lay college gained university status while the seminary – which in itself embraces a Pontifical University – continued. Both share the time-honoured leafy campus known to generations of students as the south campus. From that time the north campus on the Kilcock road sprang up with a miscellany of architectural styles capturing the technological zeitgeist of the late 20th century.

While all of this will be familiar to students – and their parents who at least get a trip around on graduation day – the college is probably not known to people across the county as well as it might be. Part of the reason is the mental map which Kildare people seem to carry between their ears. This shows the north of the county fringed with two corridors. The first might be called the M4 corridor (after the Dublin-Sligo motorway) which by-passes and yet embraces Leixlip, Celbridge, Maynooth and Kilcock. The second might be named the M7 corridor which draws into its slipstream the towns of Kill, Naas, Newbridge, Kildare and Monasterevin. And it seems that never the twain shall meet. While cross-county organisations such as the GAA, Community Games, and others, provide some level of county coherence they are battling against some fairly formidable obstacles for easy congress between the two corridors on the Kildare mental map.

Chief amongst such impediments is that there is little in the way of public transport from mid to north Kildare. True, there is a good bus network for students converging on the college. But outside of the academic term a journey from, say, Newbridge to Maynooth is a tortuous trip by public transport. An attempt to travel by rail involves a three legged itinerary by train to Heuston, then along the city quays to Connolly, and finally train to Maynooth. Certainly manageable and with good train frequencies on the lines but nonetheless a roundabout schedule. Similarly, by bus, proceedings are long-winded and require much grappling with Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus schedules.

Attempting a cross county itinerary by road has its own pitfalls. Driving from Naas to Maynooth means an inevitable encounter with the permanent traffic queue that snakes over the two bridges of Sallins. An alternative route from Kill across the bucolic plains of Baronrath and through neat Straffan to Barberstown cross has its attractions. However there is no passing room for miles and getting stuck behind the ubiquitous four-wheel-drive-and-horsebox combination turns an ostensibly pleasant cross country drive into an endurance exercise.

However none of this difficulty with mental maps, train timetables, bus schedules, and slow trailers, should be used as an excuse for not seeking out some of the finest things that Maynooth University has to offer. Among these is its Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates (abbreviated to CSHIHE for those in the know) which for some fourteen years has been bringing academic firepower to bear on the battleground of Ireland’s big country houses. Despised by some in the past as bastions of the elite exploiting the labour of the Irish poor, and regarded by others as powerhouses and sources of valued employment and local improvement, the legacy of the big house looms large in any consideration of the story of modern Ireland. If nothing else the big houses cannot be ignored such as is their eminence in the landscape even if they have found a role in modern times quite different than what their architects and patrons could have imagined. Kildare has an embarrassment of riches regarding the survival of the big house. Placenames such as Castletown, Carton, Castlemartin, Barretstown, Straffan, Forenaghts and Furness, are just some of the locations of big houses in Kildare’s multi-layered inventory of architectural and social heritage.

The stories behind big houses of this class both in Kildare and in neighbouring counties will feature in an exhibition opening this week in the Maynooth University library display area entitled “1916 and the Irish Country House.” Access to the display area is not confined to students and the public are welcome. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Ciarán Reilly of the Maynooth University, CSHIHE, who is himself the epitome of how good things can come from straddling boundaries: son of Edenderry, resident in Clane, and researcher in Maynooth. Triangles don’t come any better than that. Leinster Leader 10 May 2016, Looking Back, Series no. 485



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