The next port of call on my recent blitz was the striking ruin of Donadea Castle. I had been meaning to visit for some time now and since I was in the area, I really didn’t need an excuse. I’m still not quite sure why it’s called a castle, as the current structure appears to be more of a great Mansion house than a castle, but then again it more than likely takes its name from an earlier fortification on the site. It can be found in Donadea Forest Park which is now owned by Coillte the company who runs the state forests. A word of warning, on arrival you are met by an automated barrier and to gain entry will set you back €5. It’s a hefty price to pay just to park your car, but I had my heart set on checking out the ruins after the earlier disaster at the Hill of Allen so on I went. On a nice day Donadea would be perfect for a family day out, with plenty of nature walks and picnic areas. Unfortunately I had only researched the ruins prior to my visit and was not aware of some of the other attractions until I was leaving. So not doubt I will make a return trip during the summer with the entire family and make a day of it. I won’t go into too much detail here but there is also a medieval church & graveyard on the grounds, and we shall keep that story for another day.
The Normans were the first to settle in Donadea and erect a fortification. This would have been the first of many Castles to be built on the site throughout the middle ages. The earliest mention of an owner dates back to 1312AD when a Sir Walter FitzHenry held the lands at Donadea. Now this is where dates get tricky but some time before 1356 John De Bermingham was in control until his son was accused of Treason. John had become Earl of Louth after defeating Edward Bruce. However his service to the crown did not stop Richard II from confiscating the lands and granting them to the Earl of Ormond. Besides the Fitzgerald family, the De Bermingham’s were one of the most powerful Norman families in Ireland. Previously I have visited many De Bermingham strongholds which are mostly scattered in and around the Kildare/Offaly borders. Carbury Castle and Teampall Do-Ath , Grange Castle, Mac Feorais Castle, Priory of De Laude Dei and Carrick Church are all in County Kildare, whilst Blundell Castle, Kinnefad Castle, Monasteroris Medieval Church & Graveyard and Monasteroris Friary & Castro Petre are in County Offaly.
In 1597 Donadea passed on to the Aylmer’s of Lyon and Donadea would stay in the family until the death in 1935 of the last Aylmer descendant, Caroline Maria Aylmer, who left the estate to the Church of Ireland. In the 1950’s Donadea and its surrounding lands were passed on to the State where the castle remained unoccupied and lost its roof in the late 50’s. In 1981 the minister for Fisheries and Forestry, Paddy Power T.D. for Kildare opened Donadea Demesne to the public.
The original Castle Tower was constructed by Gerald Aylmer over many years finally reaching completion in 1624. The original Tower was built by Sir Gerald Aylmer in 1624. Gerald Aylmer had been knighted in 1605 and became a Baronet in 1621. The castle suffered severe damaged during the 1641 rebellion, as a result of Andrew Aylmer’s support of the rebels. Even though Andrew was related to the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Ormond he received no quarter. The Earl sent troops to seize Donadea and had in burnt to the ground. It was then rebuilt by Andrew’s sister Ellen Aylmer whom had tried to defend the castle. In 1773, the castle underwent more changes rebuilt and again in 1827 by the architect Sir Richard Morrison who remodelled the entire front of the house and incorporated the original Tower into the structure.
Today the roofless castle lies in utter ruin; I can only imagine how stunning it might have looked in its heyday. I scoured around for a while looking for a way to get into the castle to explore further, but it has been well and truly secured. So I had to settle with just the view on three sides of the castle. The front enterance is barred up but it does afford a partial glimpse into the interior which is clearly over-run and dilapidated. It’s a crying shame that nothing has been done to restore Donadea to its former glory, especially seen as Coillte are raking in a serious amount of cash from parking. That said I’m looking forward to returning to find the Medieval Church that I missed out on this time around.