It has been about four years since I first visited what remains of Kildare Castle. With the wealth of heritage sites in the area such as the Cathedral and the numerous Abbey’s you would expect to find a rather large fortification, considering Kildare’s precarious position on the edge of the Pale during Norman times and its connection to the infamous Geraldine dynasty. But unfortunately that is not the case. All that remains of this castle is a single solitary tower. If you were passing through the town you could be forgiven for missing it entirely. Strangely the tower is located in a little car park to the rear of the Silken Thomas pub, which bears the nick-name of Thomas Fitzgerald 10th Earl of Kildare.
Thomas was a rather interesting character, as were many of the Geraldine’s, whom although of Norman descent, where well known for becoming as some say ‘more Irish, than the Irish’. This would obviously not sit well with the Crown and despite their immense power; the Geraldine’s would go on to clash with the crown on numerous occasions. Young Thomas, whom was then ‘Lord Offaly’, was most famous for his open rebellion against the crown. When his father, Gerald the 9th Earl of Kildare was summoned to London, he made Thomas the Deputy Governor of Ireland in his absence at the age of 21. Three months later after hearing that his father had been executed in the Tower of London, Thomas summoned his council at St. Marys Abbey in Dublin and escorted by 140 heavily armoured Gallowglass, stormed the abbey and publicly renounced his allegiance to King Henry VIII, Lord of Ireland by throwing down his Sword of State. It was from these Gallowglass with silk fringes on their helmets that Thomas got his nick-name. Eventually he was captured in 1536 he was captured by the new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Leonard Grey. And was brought back to London, were he was executed in July 1537 at the ripe old age of 24. The sad part of this story is that his father had not been executed but had died in the Tower of ill health. The Geraldine line should have ended here, but Silken’s half-brother Garret Oge became the 11th Earl at the age of 12 and was whisked away to safety in France. He did not return to Ireland until much later when it was safe to do so, and so the Geraldine line continued. Garrett was another interesting character, also known as the Wizard Earl, which I have written about before.
The Castle at Kildare was without a doubt one of the most important Norman Castles in Leinster, and would have been ranked along with those of Carlow, Ferns and Kilkenny. But the first fortification in Kildare was not so grand. After the arrival of the Normans on Irish shores in 1169AD and the subsequent invasion which followed, it became common practise to take over existing monastic settlements for both strategic and commercial reasons. Kildare was one such location and it is reputed that Richard De Clare whom now held the lordship of Leinster after Diarmuid Mac Murrough’s death, made Kildare town his main base of operation and home. The original Castle would have been nothing more than a simple Moat & Bailey, and was located on a mound to the southeast of the current Castle. Although no visable traces of the earlier fortification remain, it is commonly believed that it was incorporated into the defences of the later structure. The first mention of a castle in Kildare occurs around 1185AD. It is not until 1302 were in an Inquisition mentions that the Castle had been built on the lands of the Church of Kildare without the consent of the Bishop.
The remains of what we now see today, come from the Castle which was built by De Clare’s Son in Law, William Marshall. It is believed to have been a polygonal enclosure with four towers, surrounded by a curtain wall and maybe a motte which covered almost half a hectare. Whilst there are still some portions of what was once the town walls in existence, this single tower is all that remains of the Castle at Kildare. It appears to be in pretty good condition with modernesque windows installed and a door which is marked as an emergency exit, so I wonder is it in use by the Silken Thomas pup, restaurant or accommodation centre?
Between 1297 & 1299 it is said that certain repairs were carried out to the houses, towers and gates, with a new bake house, kitchen and well, being constructed. The Castle was so well built that in 1316AD when Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick and younger brother of Robert, King of Scotland, attacked Kildare, he was unable to break the defences, even after a three day siege.
By 1290Ad the Castle had passed on to the DeVescy family, where it prospered in relatively peaceful times. During this period, many religious houses were established in Kildare, with the construction of the new Cathedral on the site of Brigid’s Church of the Oak, the Franciscans and Carmelites both set up their respective Friaries and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene; complete with a hospital was in operation by 1307AD.
Then in 1316 after numerous altercations between William Vescy, Lord of Kildare, Lord Justice of Ireland and John Fitz Thomas (Fitzgerald), the King seized all Vescy lands in Kildare and granted them to John Fitzgerald along with the newly created title, Earl of Kildare. This was mainly in recognition of his services during the Bruce invasion of Ireland. And so began the long Geraldine association with Kildare. Kildare would go on to see much trouble especially during the Cogadh na Naoi mBliana (Nine Year War) 1594 to 1603 which led to the Flight of the Earls and the Cogadh na hAon Bhliana Déag (Eleven Year War/Confederate War) 1641-1653. But the Castle remained unscathed as the Geraldine’s had moved their seat of power to Maynooth.
Over the following centuries the castle slips into obscurity, with much of its fascinating history unknown. The last known Geraldine, Lord Edward Fitzgerald lived here in the 1790’s. If you have any additional information or stories relating to the castle in Kildare town or indeed and of the sites I visit, please get in touch, I would love to hear from you.