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Titled elite publish Kildare’s first journal of history

This Spring marks the 120th anniversary of the first issue of a publication which has been at the centre of local history publishing in Co. Kildare for many decades. The Journal of the Kildare Archaeological Society may not be a household name but it has become a valued reference work on the archaeology and history of Kildare and  parts of adjoining counties.
The first issue – Volume 1, No.1, -- was published in the first quarter of 1892.  A list printed in the first edition indicating paid up members to January 1892 suggests that the edition came off the presses in the following month. A slip tipped into the journal carries the following message: ‘The Hon. Secretaries regret the delay in the publication of this number of the Journal, but trust that the difficulties always attendant on the starting of a publication of the kind may be considered as a sufficient excuse for the tardy appearance of this, the first, number of the Journal.’ It is signed: ‘Mayo’ and ‘Arthur Vicars’.  They were a pair typical of the colourful personalities among the elite circles in Kildare society who made up the early membership of the Archaeological Society. The ‘Mayo’ referred to is the Earl of Mayo who resided at Palmerstown House near Johnstown. His house was burned during the Civil War. His co-editor Sir Arthur Vicars was also to be the victim of a house burning but with a more tragic outcome. His residence at Kilmorna near Listowel was raided by the IRA in April 1921, set alight, and Vicars was taken out and shot in front of his wife. Arthur Vicars’ life had already been blighted by a controversy which arose in 1907 when the Irish ‘Crown Jewels’ disappeared from his safe in the Heraldic Office in Dublin Castle. However such notoriety was a long way into the future in 1892 when Mayo and Vicars appended their names to the first Kildare journal as ‘Editors, pro tempore’. 
The Journal gives a good insight into the formation of the Kildare Archaeological Society. It records that a notice was circulated in early 1891 with a view to establishing ‘an Archaeological Society of the County Kildare, on the same lines as other County Archaeological Societies in England and Ireland.’
The inaugural meeting took place at the Earl of Mayo’s house at Palmerstown on 25 April 1891. The committee formed from the meeting to work on the establishment of the embryonic Kildare Archaeological Society reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the elite of county society but it must be stressed that they were people with a genuine and well-informed interest in the history of the county. Indeed were it not for their initiative in setting up a society and publishing a journal in the 1890s a great deal of the historic material relating Kildare might have been lost.
The first President was ‘His Grace the  Duke of Leinster’ while the Vice-President was ‘the Most Rev. Comerford, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin’ who was a considerable historian in his own right – his three volume history of the Diocese remains a valued reference work to modern times. The inaugural committee comprised Lord Walter Fitzgerald (Carton), the Venerable Maurice de Burgh - Archdeacon of Kildare, the Rev. Canon Sherlock, Rev Denis Murphy S.J. (Clongowes), Thomas Cooke-Trench (Millicent) and George Mansfield (Morristown Lattin). Hans Hendrick Ayler of Kerdiffstown |House was appointed Treasurer and the aforementioned Mayo and Arthur Vicars doubled as Secretaries and Editors. An early project of the inaugural committee was the compilation of a journal so as to record research into Kildare’s historic sites.
The content of the first issue stays close to the county town featuring articles on St. David’s Church- Naas, Killashee Church and Jigginstown Castle. Notes ‘Antiquarian and Historical’ on the parish of Clane were also included as was an article on Kilteel Castle complete with drawings of the castle rendered into etch format for printing. A miscellanea of notes in relation to the bell of Castledermot church, and to the townlands of Graney near Castledermot and the locality of Castlesize near Sallins, complete the selection of material in the first Journal. Also among its content is an intriguing note about the flag of the old Kildare Militia (established in 1794) which was recorded in 1891 as hanging in the hall of Kilkea Castle, then a Fitzgerald residence. It prompts a question on the fate of the flag in later times given the relocations of the Fitzgeralds in the twentieth century. The Journal of the Kildare Archaeogical Society has remained in publication over the past 120 years and is now published on a biennial basis.
Footnote: Calendar dates are the landmarks of history so it is worth a reminder that ‘Leap Year Day, 29  February will this week make its once-in-four years appearance. Series No: 270.


2012 marks the 120th anniversary of the publication of The Journal of the Kildare Archaeological Society from Liam Kenny's Looking Back, series no. 270

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