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Ireland Gazeteer

County of Kildare in 1839

KILDARE, an inland county of the province of Leinster, in Ireland; bounded on the north by the county of Meath, on the east by the counties of Dublin and Wicklow, on the south by the county of Carlow, and on the west by the Queen’s and King’s counties.

Its greatest length from north to south is 32 Irish or 40 statute miles, and its greatest breadth from east to west is 21 Irish or 26¾ statute miles.

It has an area of 381,818 statute acres, or 397 statute square miles. The area is elsewhere estimated at 392,435 statute acres, of which 325,988 are cultivated ground, and 66,447 acres are unprofitable bog and mountain. The population in 1831 was 108,424.

The surface is more flat than that of any other county of Ireland.

The only considerable elevations are the hills of Rathcoole, which form the western extremity of the range of the Dublin mountains, and a detached group which occupies part of the southern margin of the Bog of Allen in the central northern division of the county.

This group consists of the Red-hill, Dunmurry-hill, Grange-hill, and the Hill of Allen, which last is detached from the others, and terminates the range on the north-east.

It is a conical hill nearly insulated by tracts of bog, and rises about 300 feet above the level of the surrounding country, which is here about 260 feet above the level of the sea.

An open table-land extends from the southern base of this group to the acclivities of the Wicklow mountains on the south-east, and divides the middle and southern parts of Kildare into two districts, of which the one slopes gradually towards the river Liffey on the east, and the other toward; the river Barrow on the west

North from the Dunmurry range the upland district spreads east and west, forming the southern boundary of the basin of the river Boyne on the west, and the western and northern boundary of the valley of the Liffey on the east.

It is here overlaid to an extent of 50,000 statute acres by a portion of the vast tract of peat bog called the Bog of Allen. This part of the county is traversed by the Grand and Royal canals in nearly parallel lines from east to west.

The district which slopes towards the Barrow, comprising the western part of the county from the Bog of Allen to the county of Carlow, is divided into three open vales by low ranges of undulating ground extending in parallel directions from the central table-land towards the south-west.

The declivity in each of these is very gradual, the channel of the Barrow being not more than 100 feet below the general level of the upland district.

The most northern of these vales, included between the summit level of the Bog of Allen on the north and the range of the Dunmurry hills on the south and south-east, is drained by the Feagile and Little Barrow or Rathangan rivers, which, uniting at the lower extremity of the valley, join the Barrow where that river, changing its course from an eastern to a southern direction, becomes the boundary of Kildare.

The northern side of the valley is greatly encumbered with bog; the southern side is open and arable.

About midway between the source of the Little Barrow and its junction with the Great Barrow is the thriving market-town of Rathangan, through which a branch of the Grand Canal, diverging from the main trunk at the head of the valley, is carried in a direction parallel to the tributary river to join the Barrow Navigation at Athy.

The length of this line from Lowtown on the summit level to Athy is 27 miles 7 furlongs. Monasterevan, situated near the junction of the lesser and greater Barrows, also possesses great advantages as a station for carrying on traffic.

The Barrow is here crossed by the above canal, which from Monasterevan to Athy is carried along the western bank of the river.

From the level at Monasterevan another branch canal is carried westward to the towns of Portarlington and Mountmellick, in the Queen’s County, a distance of 11 miles.

The country about Monasterevan on both sides of the river is well improved.

Moore Abbey, an ancient seat of the Loftus family, and latterly the residence of the Marquis of Drogheda, is situated on the east bank.

The present mansion, which is surrounded by a well timbered tract of country, occupies the site of an abbey founded here by St. Abban in the seventh century, and re-edified by O’Dempsy and O’Connor in the twelfth century.

Ten miles south from Monasterevan on both banks of the Barrow is Athy, at the junction of the Barrow Navigation with the above-mentioned branch of the Grand Canal.

Athy was formerly a place of importance as a frontier town of the English Pale. It had greatly declined prior to the opening of these lines of navigation, but is now the chief point of traffic between Dublin and Carlow.

A series of low detached hills, extending from Athy in a north-easterly direction to Old Kilcullen, includes an open tract of country about eight miles square, watered by the river Finnery.

The lower part of this district is chiefly occupied by bogs. The town of Kildare, at present a small place, is situated on the elevated tract at the upper end of the vale.

It is a town of great antiquity, and still possesses numerous remains of former importance, including the ruin of a cathedral, castle, and several religious houses, with a very high and perfect round tower.

The surrounding country is open, and generally under tillage, with the exception of the Curragh of Kildare, a common containing upward of 3,000 Irish acres, which extends six statute miles along the crest of the table-land between the towns of Kildare and Kilcullen.

This is a celebrated race-ground; the turf throughout is close and elastic, and the surface smoothly undulating.

Old Kilcullen is situated on a hill a mile and a half from the eastern extremity of the Curragh.

It was formerly a walled town, and is said to have had seven gates. The erection of a bridge over the Liffey, in 1309, at New Kilcullen, about two miles to the north, led to its decay; it is now an insignificant place.

Southward and eastward from the range of hills extending from Kilcullen to Athy lies a fertile tract watered by the rivers Greece and Leir, which fall into the Barrow at the southern extremity of the county.

The upper portion of the valley of the Greece is highly cultivated, and to a great extent in demesne lands.

On this river, near its source, is the neat and prosperous village of Ballytore, the principal inhabitants of which are Quakers.

Farther south are the villages of Timolin and Moone, the latter on the Greece, near Belan, a seal of the earl of Aldborough.

Belan House, at the time of its erection in the beginning of the eighteenth century, was considered the most splendid modern mansion in Ireland.

It is however a plain structure which would now rate among residences of the second class.

The great southern road from Dublin, passing through Ballytore and Timolin, leads to Castledermot, a tolerably well-built town on the river Leir, near the southern extremity of the county.

Prior to the arrival of the English, this was the seat of the O’Tooles, princes of Hy-Mail, a territory extending out of Wicklow into the southern parts of Kildare.

During the Anglo-Norman period it was a place of importance in the Pale: there still remain numerous ruins of its ecclesiastical and military buildings, including a round tower in good preservation.

The country is here open and under tillage, but bare of timber.

That part of the valley of the Liffey which is included within this county is formed by the western slope of the Dublin mountains on the one side, and by the subsidence of the tableland of Kildare on the other. Naas, the most considerable town in the county, is situated about two miles east from the river, in the centre of the plain included between it and the range of the Dublin mountains.

A branch of the Grand Canal is carried from Newbridge to Naas. and thence to Corbally Harbour, within 1 miles of Kilcullen Bridge.

On the great southern road from Dublin to Naas, about a mile north from the latter, is Johnstown, a remarkably neat village in the vicinity of Palmerstown, the residence of Lord Mayo.

The country in this neighbourhood is in a high state of cultivation, and much of it in demesne.

The western bank of the river particularly, from the point where it enters the county to Leixlip on the Dublin boundary, is almost wholly occupied by a succession of demesne-lands, including numerous residences of the best class.

Among these the most remarkable are Killadoon, the seat of the earl of Leitrim, Castletown, that of Colonel Conolly, and on the opposite side of the river, near the line of the Grand Canal, Lyons Castle, the residence of Lord Cloncurrv.

Celbridge, on the western bank of the Liffey, is a well-built town, and was, until recently, the seat of an extensive woollen manufacture.

It is now declining in consequence of the cessation of these works. Leixlip, at the point where the Liffey enters the county of Dublin, is a picturesque village, much visited by pleasure parties from the metropolis.

The banks of the Liffey are here steep and well wooded, and the river for a considerable distance runs in a series of rapids.

A ledge of rock, about ten feet in height, stretching across the channel, forms a pleasing waterfall, called the Salmon Leap, which is the chief object of attraction.

From Celbridge and Leixlip to Maynooth, situated three miles farther westward, the country is to a great extent in demesne.

Maynooth, on the Ryewater, a tributary of the Liffey. which runs into the river at Leixlip, was formerly the chief seat of the earls of Kildare, considerable remains of whose castle are still standing.

The town is neatly built, consisting of one main street, at the western end of which is the entrance to the Roman Catholic College, flanked by the ruins of the castle.

Near the other extremity of the main street is the entrance to Carton, the residence of the duke of Leinster.

This demesne is finely timbered: in the arrangement of the plantations regard has been had to the most pleasing combination of autumnal tints.

The house consists of a centre of grand proportions connected by colonnades with pavilions, and contains a good collection of pictures and other works of art.

The Royal Canal, crossing the Ryewater by an aqueduct a little above Leixlip, passes Maynooth, and so westward by Kilcock, a thriving market-town on the borders of Meath. Westward from Kilcock, the Royal Canal crosses the Black-water and Boyne rivers by aqueducts within this county.

The district traversed by this canal is, for the most part, open and arable, rising southward towards the Bog of Allen, the borders of which in one place approach within a mile of the line of navigation.

The Grand Canal, which crosses the Liffey by an aqueduct near Naas, and runs nearly parallel to the Royal Canal across this county, is carried through the above-mentioned bogs at a distance of about ten miles farther south.

The tract which it traverses comprises about 40,000 statute acres of peat-moss, in some places 40 feet deep, reposing on limestone gravel, which rises in low cultivable ridges between the principal fields of morass.

The Island of Allen is an elevated tract of this kind, surrounded by bog, between the summit level of the canal and the town of Kildare.

The summit level is supplied by two lateral branches, one of which, 5 miles in length, extends to Milltown, near Kildare in the south ; and the other, 3¾ miles in length, is carried through the bogs of Cushlea to the Blackwood Reservoir on the north.

A subsidence of 20 feet in the substance of the bog has been caused in some places by the opening of these extensive drains, and great tracts have been made available for purposes of turbary which were before inaccessible.

Large quantities of peat are now cut all along the line, for sale in Dublin.

The huts of the turf-cutters are excavated from the banks of the morass and covered with sods, and are the only habitations through successive tracts of several miles.

The decayed village of Prosperous is situated near the eastern extremity of this dreary tract.

An attempt was made to establish the cotton manufacture here in the latter end of the last century, and much money was expended on buildings; but the enterprise entirely failed.

The north-western part of the county, extending from the Bog of Allen to The Boyne, is open and chiefly in pasture. The towns here are Carberry and Johnston’s Bridge.

The great southern and western mail-coach roads pass through Kildare: the former by Naas, where it divides, one branch going by Kilcullen Bridge to Carlow, and another by Newbridge to Maryborough; and the latter by the Meath boundary through Kilcock to Athlone.

The remainder of the county is well provided with roads made and kept in repair by grand jury presentments.

The climate, from the quantity of boggy surface exposed, is more moist than that of the neighbouring counties on the north and south.

In the central district the air is pure and keen: and milder and more salubrious in the valleys of the Liffey and Greece.

Geology.— The clay-slate, which flanks the granite axis of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, occupies about one-fourth part of the surface of Kildare.

It extends from the extremity of the Rathcoole group in the county of Dublin across the valley of the Liffey, whence it runs in a south-west direction towards Athy, forming the Kilcullen group, and occupies the entire valley of the Greece, with the exception of its lower extremity, where the verge of the limestone plain is interposed between it and the line of the Barrow.

The granite tract of Carlow extends into the south-eastern extremity of Kildare as far as Castle Dermot, where the clay-slate passes into mica-slate along the eastern portion of their line of junction.

The remainder of the county is occupied with the floetz limestone of the great central plain, broken only by the group of Dunmurry and the Hill of Allen.

The Hill of Allen is composed of a mass of granular compact greenstone and greenstone porphyry protruded through the floetz limestone.

Large crystals of hornblende and feldspar occur throughout the greenstone.

Red Hill, Dunmurry Hill, and the western foot of Grange Hill consist of alternating beds of fine-grained grauwacke, grauwacke slate, and clay-slate, with a general dip of 60 degrees towards the south-east, but in some places vertical.

A small patch of red sandstone conglomerate occurs on the northern declivity of Red Hill.

These strata, which have been quarried for millstones, range east and west, and dip 17 degrees north.

Between Dunmurry Hill and Grange Hill, which consists of trap, the floetz limestone is interposed, and again between Grange Hill and the Hill of Allen.

At the northern extremity of the Hill of Allen is a slight eminence called the Leap of Allen, composed of red sandstone conglomerate, which is quarried for millstones.

Indications of copper have been observed on Dunmurry Hill, but hitherto there have not been any mining operations actually carried on within this county.

Soil and Agriculture.—The soil is generally a rich loam, resting on limestone or clay-slate.

Calcareous gravel, which is found through the greater part of the county, was profusely used as a manure during the last century : but from its exhausting effects on the soil it has been generally discontinued.

The opening of the Grand and Royal canals has given facilities for obtaining manure of the best description from Dublin, by means of which the lands of the central and western districts are now in much better heart than they were at the beginning of the present century.

The chief tract of pasture-land in this county is the Curragh, which is used as a sheep-walk.

There are rich fattening lands in the baronies of Carberry, Clane, and North and South Salt, which occupy the north-western and north-eastern portions of the county.

An improved system of agriculture has been introduced by the resident proprietors, and is practised to some extent by the smaller farmers. Oxen are in general use both for draught and the plough.

The character of the stock has been much bettered of late years by the introduction of the best English breeds of sheep and black cattle.

The late and present duke of Leinster have been mainly instrumental in promoting these improvements.

The grain raised in Kildare is generally of prime quality: the quantity sold at the different market-towns in the years 1833 and 1835 appears from the following table:—

Wheat (barrels)

Oats (barrels)

Barley (barrels)

Bere (barrels)































































There is no return from Kilcullen. which is also a considerable market for grain.

Besides the grain disposed of in market, large quantities are sold by sample at the different mills and corn-stores within the county, or sent by the canals to Dublin.

The milling trade is extensively carried on.

The only other manufactures carried on within the county are, a manufacture of cotton, on an extensive scale, lately commenced at Inchyguire, near Ballytore, and a small manufacture of woollens still continued at Celbridge.

The condition of the working-classes is somewhat better than in most of the neighbouring counties. The average rate of wages for agricultural labourers is 10 pence per day, for about 110 working days in the year.

The appearance of the peasantry is generally decent: and they use the English language universally.

Civil Divisions.—Kildare is divided into the baronies of Carberry on the north-west; Ikeathy and Oughterany on the north, containing the town of Kilcock, population (in 1821) 1,730; Salt North on the north-east, containing the towns of Maynooth (pop. 2,053); Celbridge (pop. 1,647), and Leixlip (pop. 1,159); Salt South; Naas North on the east, containing the town of Naas (pop. 3,808) and the villages of Sallms (pop. 419) and Johnstown (pop. 101); Naas South; Kilcullen, also on the east, containing the town of Kilcullen Bridge (pop. 699}: Narragh and Rheban East, containing the town of Ballytore (pop. 933); Narragh and Rheban West, containing the town of Athy (pop. 4,494); Kilkea and Moone on the south, containing the town of Castledermot (pop. 1,835), and the village of Moone (pop. 244): Ophaly East, containing the town of Kildare [pop. 1,753); Ophaly West, containing the towns of Monasterevan (pop. 1,441) and Rathangan (pop 1,165); Clane in the northern centre, containing the towns of Clane (pop. 1,216) and Prosperous (pop. 1,038); and Connell in the southern centre, containing the town of Newbridge (pop. 377) and the village of Robertstown (pop. 281}.

Athy is incorporated by charter of 11 James I. The governing body consists of sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses.

The sovereign holds a court having jurisdiction to the amount of 40 shillings Irish.

The revenue of the corporation is £154 per annum. Naas is incorporated by charter of 11 Elizabeth and 7 James I ; but no court has existed here for several years.

The corporation of Kildare, created by charter of Henry VIII, is now extinct; so also is that of Harristown, incorporated by charter of 33 Charles II.

Prior to the Union Kildare was represented in the Irish Parliament by ten members; two for the county, and two members for each of the above corporate towns.

It is now represented in the Imperial Parliament by two county members only.

In 1836 the county constituency was 1,382.

The assizes are held alternately at Naas and Athy, in each of which there is a county court-house and gaol.

The general quarter-sessions are held at Athy, Maynooth, Kildare, and Naas.

The constabulary force in the year 1835 consisted of one resident magistrate, 4 chief constables, 40 constables. 205 sub-constables, and 3 horse.

The cost of maintaining this force for the year was £9,079, 18 shillings, 10 pence, of which £4,695, 9 shillings, 7 pence was chargeable against the county.

The total number of criminals committed to Naas gaol in 1836 was 399, of whom 328 were males and 71 females.

Of these 72 males and 5 females could read and write, 92 males and 19 females could read only, 155 males and 44 females could neither read nor write, and of 9 males and 3 females the instruction could not be ascertained.

The total number of offenders committed to Athy gaol in the same year was 328, of whom 184 were males and 54 were females.

Of these 65 males and 6 females could read and write, 58 males and 5 females could read only, 57 males and 41 females could neither read nor write, and of 4 males and 2 females the instruction could not be ascertained.

The district lunatic asylum for Kildare is at Carlow.

There is a county infirmary at Kildare, and fever hospitals at Celbridge, Naas, and Kilcullen; dispensaries are established in all the towns and chief villages.

There are extensive cavalry barracks at Newbridge, and infantry barracks at Naas and Athy.

Population Table





Families chiefly employed in:



Trade, Manufacture, Handicraft









































History and Antiquities.—In the ancient division of Ireland the south-eastern portion of Kildare was included in the territory of Hy-Mail, of which O’Toole was prince; the south-western portion formed part of O’Connor’s territory of Hy-Failge; the western division belonged to Hy-Ceallan, and a small portion of the north to the kingdom of Meath; with the exception of which last part the whole was included in the kingdom of Leinster.

Leinster coming to Earl Strongbow by his marriage with Eva the daughter of Dermot MacMurrogh, was inherited by William Marshal, earl Pembroke, who married Isabel, only daughter and heir of Strongbow.

He had issue five daughters, among whom the principality of Leinster was divided, A.D 1247.

In this partition the county of Kildare was allotted to Sibilla, the fourth daughter, who married William earl Ferrers and Darby.

Agnes, the eldest daughter of this marriage, was wife of William de Vescy, lord of Kildare and Rathangan, jure uxoris, and lord justice of Ireland.

A dispute having arisen between him and Henry FitzThomas FitzGerald, lord of Ophaly, in A.D. 1293, it was awarded to be settled by single combat; but Vescy, having fled into France to avoid the duel, was attainted of treason, and his estates bestowed on his antagonist.

In 1296 Kildare, which up to this time had been under the jurisdiction of the sheriff of Dublin, was erected into a separate county.

The Fitzgerald family, having subsequently adopted the pernicious system of Irish exactions, and usurped on the authority of the crown by trying all pleas before their own seneschals, to the exclusion of the king’s sheriff, excited the hostility of the English government.

Gerald earl of Kildare, being summoned to England to answer various charges of this nature to which he had exposed himself in his capacity of lord justice, left his son Lord Thomas Fitzgerald, a rash youth of twenty, his deputy.

A report shortly after reached Ireland that the earl had been put to death, which so incensed Lord Thomas that he threw up his office of deputy, A.D. 1534, and entered into open rebellion, in which he was joined by the five brothers of the earl.

Fitzgerald had at this time in his possession the six principal castles of Maynooth, Rathangan, Portlester, Athy, Leix in the present Queen’s County, and Catlow.

Maynooth and Rathangan being taken in 1534, he and his uncles submitted in the ensuing year.

They were sent to England, and executed at Tyburn, Feb. 3, 1537. The earl had already died a prisoner in the tower of London.

A younger brother of Lord Thomas, called Gerald, escaped during these disasters to the Continent where he distinguished himself in the service of the Knights of Malta, and afterwards became master of the horse to the Grand-Duke of Tuscany.

In 1552 he was reconciled to the English government, and restored to his possessions.

This county was the theatre of various military operations during the wars which succeeded the rebellion of 1641.

Of these the most important was the battle of Kilrush, fought 15th April, 1642, between the royalists under the earl of Ormond, and the Roman Catholic army under Lord Mountgarret, which latter party suffered a signal defeat.

The number engaged on both sides amounted to about 15,000 men.

The Kildare family were active in bringing about the Restoration, and espoused the Protestant cause in the subsequent wars of the Revolution of 1688.

The forfeitures within this county attending on the latter event comprised 44,281 acres, valued al that time at £205,175, 0 shillings, 6 pence.

The principal persons attainted were of the families of Eustace, Tyrrell, Lawless, and Trant.

Several sanguinary engagements took place between the king’s troops and the insurgents in this county in 1798.

At Old Kilcullen the rebels had a temporary advantage, but were finally defeated here, as in various other parts of the county.

Numerous earthen works, partly military and partly sepulchral, remain in this county.

Of the first class, the most remarkable are the rath of Knockawley, the ancient palace of Allen, about a mile west from Old Kilcullen; the moat of Mullamast, the ancient Carmon, near Ballytore, and Rath-Ardscull near Athy.

There are numerous sepulchral mounds on the Curragh; and here in the time of Giraldus Cambrensis was a stone monument similar to Stonehenge. Pillar stones of large dimensions are still standing at Mullamast, Kilgowan, Forenaghts, Punch’s Town and Harristown.

There are round towers at Kildare, Taghadoe, Kilcullen, Castledermot, and Oughterard.

Among the ruins of the numerous religious houses of this county, the most remarkable are those of the cathedral church at Kildare, the Franciscan abbeys at Castledermot and Clane, Great Connell Abbey on the bank of the Liffey near Newbridge, and the remains of several religious establishments in Naas.

At Castledermot, Moone, and Old Kilcullen are stone crosses ornamented with curious sculptures.

The castles of Athy, Maynooth, Kilkea, Rheban, Castledermot, Kilberry, Woodstock, Castle Carberry. Ballyteague, Clane, Lackagh, Donadea, Kildare, Leixlip, Timolin, Corifig, and Morristown Neenagh are still standing.

The castles of Kilkea, Donadea, and Leixlip are still inhabited.

This county is partly in the diocese of Dublin, but chiefly in that of Kildare, which, in point of education, rank respectively 19th and 8th among the 32 dioceses of Ireland.

It contains the two principal Roman Catholic Educational Establishments in Ireland, at Maynooth and Clongoweswood. The Royal College of St. Patrick, Maynooth, was founded pursuant to an act of the Irish parliament passed in 1795.

The object of the institution is to provide a home-education for the Irish priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, who were formerly obliged to resort to the Continental colleges.

It was first opened for the reception of fifty students, in October, 1795.

A lay-college was shortly after attached; but this was discontinued in 1817.

The buildings now accommodate 450 students. Of this number 250 are free students, who are selected by the bishops of the several dioceses at yearly provincial examinations; and pay eight guineas at entrance, which is their only expense.

The remainder are either pensioners who pay twenty-one guineas per annum and four guineas entrance, or half pensioners who pay only half the annual sum.

The establishment is supported by these payments, by private bequests, and by a parliamentary grant of £8,928 per annum.

The college is governed by a president, vice-president, dean, and procurator, or bursar: there are professors of the sacred scriptures, of dogmatic theology, of moral theology, of natural and experimental philosophy, of logic, of belles lettres. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, English elocution, and of the Irish and French languages.

The students rise at half-past five o’clock, and retire to rest at half-past nine in the evening.

The period of study is usually five years, of which two are devoted to humanity, logic, and mathematics, and three to divinity, but the course is sometimes shortened by the omission of mathematics.

The building consists of a plain centre with extensive returning wings. The cost of its erection, before some late additions had been commenced, was about £32,000.

There are fifty-four acres of land attached, which are laid out as a park for the recreation of the students.

The lay-school at Clongowes, near Clane, was opened as a seminary for the sons of the Roman Catholic nobility and gentry in 1814.

It is conducted by Jesuits, of whom there are forty-five resident in the institution.

The building is a spacious quadrangle flanked by round towers, and has an imposing appearance.

There is a museum, library, and theatre for lectures in natural and experimental philosophy.

The institution is governed by a president, dean, and procurator, or bursar.

There are six professors of various branches of the classics, a professor of mathematics, and a professor of natural philosophy.

The course of education is more extended in classics than in the sciences.

The county expenses are defrayed by grand jury presentment. The amount levied in the year 1835 was £19,554, 18 shillings, 9 pence, of which £1,221, 7 shillings, 10 pence for public roads, was charged to the county at large; £6,051, 12 shillings, 5 pence for public roads, was charged to the several baronies; £5,206, 7 shillings, 8 pence was for the public establishments of the county; £4,713, 15 shillings, 10 pence for police, and £2,304, 14 shillings, 11 pence in repayment of loans advanced by government.