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Local history movement thriving in the four corners of Kildare
The local history movement in Kildare is regarded as being one of the most prolific and productive of any county in Ireland.  Since 1980 more than a dozen local history groups have sprung up and have set about the task of researching, portraying and publicising the story of their localities.  The various groups have different patterns and levels of activity. Some have full-blooded monthly programmes of talks, lectures and outings with associated social events. Others centre around smaller groups which meet informally to share information and knowledge of sources.  As well of course as the groups there are also a number of ‘solo’ historians who have delved into the history of their generations and published articles and books sharing the results of their dedication with a wider audience. A prominent example in this category is Mr. John Colgan of Leixlip who has published extensively on the history of the Liffeyside town.
Returning to the history groups, a level of networking has evolved in the form of the County Kildare Federation of Local History Groups which organises various activities, occasional and ongoing, to foster the sense of camaraderie that exists among local historians.  The Federation was founded in 1999 and since then has organised an annual seminar in Kilcullen which is attended by groups from various parts of the country. Other get-togethers for local historians have been organised by the Local History Department of the Kildare County Library and also the Heritage Forum of the County Council. Most recently for example the KCC Heritage Office ran a seminar on graveyard recording and inscriptions for local historians where the Kildare local enthusiasts benefited from some cross county-boundary advice from their compatriots in County Meath. A group in the Enfield-Rathmoylon area had undertaken a professional standard survey of graveyards in south Meath and north-west Kildare and shared their methodology with a wider audience from County Kildare.
The County Federation has since its foundation adopted the latest in technology in helping to disseminate knowledge and enthusiasm for enquiry into the county’s history.  A website maintained by the Federation carries news and reports of history group activity and also includes the facility of a forum where queries and discussions regarding local history topics can be aired. Last winter the Federation launched a CD of talks which had been broadcast on Kfm radio during Heritage week. The talks authored by a number of local historians throughout the county were particularly aimed at secondary school students taking the history syllabus which now includes a significant local studies element.
However it is a more traditional mode which the Federation has employed of late as part of its objective of spreading word about local history. Two Federation committee members, Larry Breen and Brendan Cullen, have produced a newsletter appropriately titled ‘ The Short Grass’ which includes a short selection of articles written by distinguished local historians in the county. The articles cover an immense range of the county’s history from the ancient to the relatively recent. Among the articles featured is one by Des Travers which reminds us of the importance of the site of Dun Ailinne, the hill south-west of Kilcullen which the writer emphasises ‘ is unquestionably Kildare’s most important heritage site.’  Also featured in the newsletter is a summary by Brian McCabe of the history of Kill which relates that ‘ Kill was the scene of much action in the Confederate or Cromwellian Wars in the 1650s and Hartwell castle was used as a headquarters by the Royalist commander, the Duke of Ormonde …’
The dramatic story of the Flight of the Earls is given a Kildare angle by Donadea historian Seamus Cullen who reveals the connection with the Fitzgeralds of Maynooth. Bridget Fitzgerald was daughter of Henry the 12th Earl of Kildare. At 16 she married Rory O’Donnell, one of the most prominent of the Irish chieftains. However their union was to be shortlived as Rory O’Donnell took flight with his fellow Irish leaders in 1607 leaving Bridget behind in Maynooth.  A secret meeting in the garden of Maynooth castle involving a priest who brought money and a message from the departed O’Donnell form another twist in the story.  These and other articles including a series of book reviews form the content of the ‘The Short Grass’ history newsletter which on its cover indicates the range of groups affiliated to the County Federation including local history societies in Athy, Allen, Ballymore Eustace, Caragh, Clane, Celbridge, Curragh, Donadea, Kilcock, Kilcullen, Kildare town, Kill, Maynooth, Monasterevin, Naas, Newbridge, Rathcoffey, and Timahoe. Truly the four corners of the Short Grass are recognised in this inaugural publication.
Series no. 57

An article from the Leinster Leader of 6 March 2008 by Liam Kenny on the ever-growing popularity of Local History in Co. Kildare, taken from his regular feature, 'Nothing New Under the Sun.'

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