April 23, 2006


Chapter 14 of the An Tostal programme of 1953 is dedicated to the history of the Curragh of Kildare.


             THE Curragh is a fiat plain containing 4,885 statute acres. It is 6 miles in length and 2 miles in breadth at its broadest points. Its mearin or outer boundary is 15 miles. From the earliest times the Curragh has been a great common, an unenclosed plain. The word cuirreach means a racecourse. The ancient name of Cuirreach Lifé shows that long ago the original plain reached that river’s banks, but since Anglo-Norman times it has been gradually encroached upon from all sides, as the names Pollardstown, Brownstown, Maddenstown, Walshestown and others show. The Curragh lay in the ancient territory of Magh Lifé, or Lifé’s plain, so called from Lifé, daughter of Mac Druchta, cup-bearer to Conaire Mór, King of Eire. Hence Abhann Lifé, or the River Lifé, running through Magh Lifé which was situated in the O’Byrne territory of Offelan.
             In pre-Christian times, aonachs or fairs were held at the burial-place or moat of a king or warrior. The Annals of Erin associate two aonachs, Aonach Colmain and Aonach Lifé, with the Curragh where the royal fair and sports of Leinster were held. Dun Auilin, near Old Kil­cullen, was the residence of the King of Leinster. The aonach honoured the dead, by funeral rites and games. Keening and games at wakes were a survival of this. It was a combined parliament and school at which the people were taught the history of their country and clan. The warlike deeds of their chiefs and the laws under which they were governed were proclaimed.
It was the occasion of friendly contests and competitions in juggling, dancing, music, horse and foot-races, feats of arms, recitation of poetry and stories, athletic sports and games. It was a general market for the exchange and barter of livestock, gold ornaments, weapons of offence and defence, cloths, embroidery and all kinds of home and foreign wares.. The aonach was governed by strict laws, all breaches of the peace, insults to women being severely dealt with. No one could be arrested or his goods seized on his way to or from a fair, or while at the fair. The aonach lasted several days and was presided over by the King in whose district it was held. Attended by his brehons, bards and other officials, he distributed the prizes to successful contestants.
            Every cattle and sheep fair is derived from the aonachs of old; the Fair of the Furze held on 26th July is a survival of the ancient aonachs of Cuirreach Lifé.
            About the year 480 St. Brigid had founded her Cell of the Oak on Drumcree and had appeared like as a bright daybreak over the land. How she acquired the Curragh s [is –sic] told by older generations. The King of Leinster who lived at the time was an tight-fisted man. He had refused to grant any ground to St. Brigid on which she might graze her few cows. This king had a deformity, namely two ears like those of a horse, and he kept these concealed under his long hair. He daily dreaded discovery which would have meant loss of his throne, as a king had to be without per­sonal blemish. He had heard of the wonders St. Brigid was working in Kildare, and he decided to see if she could help him. Going quietly to Kildare he had an interview with St. Brigid. She promised to remove the deformity on con­dition that he would grant her as much land as her mantle would cover. The King willingly agreed to the condition. St. Brigid put him into a deep sleep and when he awoke he found the deformity was gone, and that he had two normal ears. The day came when the plot of ground was to be handed over and a large crowd assembled to see St. Brigid acquire the first grant of land for her cell. St. Brigid explained to the people the nature of the King’s promise; she then called her nuns; taking off her mantle she ordered them to spread it on the ground as far as it would stretch, to the North, East and South. They did so, and to the amazement of the King and his people the mantle spread until it covered the area known as the Curragh. The grateful King gladly conferred on her the whole territory. The Round Tower, that graceful guardian of the holy city of Kildare, built more than two centuries after St. Brigid’s time, looks out across the grassy expanse of the Curragh.
           Along these dim green vistas the white-clad Brigid drove so frequently in her swift chariot that the tradition of her passing is still vivid after fifteen hundred years. In the twelfth century, Giraldus Cambrensis wrote “. . . no plough was suffered to turn a furrow in the Curragh, which was called St. Brigid’s pastures. It was held as a miracle that though all the cattle in the province should graze the herbage from morning till night, the next morning the grass would be as luxuriant as ever.”
           Battles were fought here, but all through the centuries the Curragh remained an extensive commons, and race­course. When the English came, they seized it and kept a jealous eye on its grazing rights, and leased them to local landholders.
            Horse-racing and horse-breeding on the Curragh are of long standing. In 1696 the Government of the day gave two plates of £100 each to be run for annually at the Curragh races. In the Public Record Office we have the names of the winners of Plates run for at the Curragh from 1696 till 1820. The Curragh is famous for its horse racing, and the fame of the Irish race-horse is world wide.
In front of the staudhouse, which has lately been extended at a cost of £250,000, a large area is leased to the Turf Club for use as a Race-course, and here are run each year the Derby, Oaks, Guineas, ‘Zarwich and other import­ant flat races.
In 1854 the Crimean war began and the military authori­ties established a camp of instruction on the Long Hill at the Curragh: later it became a permanent training centre. The present Camp and Water Tower were built at the end of the last century. On 16th, May, 1922, it was handed over to the Irish Government. Since then it has been the main training centre for the Irish army.
The Curragh Act of 1870 secured that the Curragh lands belonged to the State. Grazing rights on a commonage basis were allowed to the tenants of the townlands in the vicinity. The tenants were allowed pasturage for as many sheep as they had acres. The landowners on the Curragh verge usually let their grazing rights to Wicklow sheep-­owners. Only sheep are allowed to graze on the Curragh. And over all is the mantle of St. Brigid—the Brat Brighde— and the bleating of the sheep evoke her sweet memory, and the sense of her blessing and protection over Curreach Lifé.
Donnelly 72dpi.JPG
Commemorating the vic­tory of Dan Donnelly, the Irish Champion Boxer over George Cooper, the English Champion, in December, 1815, at this spot, now known as Don­nelly’s Hollow.


[Dun Auilin or Dun Ailinne or Knockaulin near Old Kilcullen; ‘Zarwich is the Cesarwitch; image is to poor to reproduce better]

Chapter 14 of the An Tostal programme of 1953 is dedicated to the history of the Curragh of Kildare.

Posted by mariocorrigan at April 23, 2006 08:14 PM