From Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland (1900)

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Description of County Kildare | Maynooth College | Franciscan Friary, Castledermot | Round Tower, Castledermot | Kildare Map

NAME.—The town of Kildare took its name from a little church or cell built by St. Brigid, in the end of the 5th century, under a great oak tree. This church, which was the germ round which grew up a great religious establishment that flourished for many ages afterward, was called Cill-dara, the church of the oak; and the old oak tree stood there for several hundred years after the time of St. Brigid; and in memory of her it was held in great veneration. The town gave name to the county.

SIZE AND POPULATION.—Greatest length from north to south, 42 miles; greatest breadth from east to west, along the northern frontier, 26 miles; area, 654 square miles; population, 75,804.

SURFACE: HILLS.—Kildare is the levelest county in Ireland. There are some hills over 1,000 feet high in the east margin, which are the mere outskirts of the Wicklow Mountains. To the northwest of Kildare town a low range of heights called the Red Hills, or the Dunmurry Hills, runs from southwest to northeast; the highest, which lies 3 miles northwest of Kildare, has an altitude of only 769 feet; and a little range may be said to be terminated by the round-topped Hill of Allen (676), which is the most remarkable, and which is rendered conspicuous by a tall pillar on its summit. This hill gives name to the Bog of Allen. Dun Aillinne, or Knockaulin (600), a round hill near Old Kilcullen, in the southeast of the county, is more remarkable for its antiquities than for its elevation. A considerable area of the flat part of the county in the west and northwest is occupied by portions of the Bog of Allen. Near the town of Kildare is the Curragh, the finest racing ground in the empire; 6 miles long by 2 miles broad, and containing 4,858 acres. It is a gently undulating plain, covered with a fine velvety elastic sward, perpetually green. From the most remote period of Irish history the Curragh has been used as a racecourse, and its importance in old times, may be inferred from the numerous raths or forts and other ancient earthworks scattered over its surface.

RIVERS.—The Boyne rises in Trinity Well, at Carbury Hill, in the northwest of the county; flows first through this county, next forms for 3 ½ miles the boundary with Kings County, and then with Meath for 7 ½ miles, after which it enters this last county. The Liffey, coming from Wicklow, enters Kildare near Ballymore Eustace, and just on the boundary tumbles over a series of rock ledges, forming the fine cascade of Pollaphuca; it sweeps in a curve with many windings through Kildare, and enters the county Dublin at Leixlip. Less than half a mile above Leixlip it falls over another ledge of rock, and forms the beautiful waterfall of the Salmon Leap. In the west, the Barrow first touches Kildare near Monasterevin, where it forms the boundary with Queens County for a mile; next crosses a corner of Kildare at Monasterevin for 2 miles; then again runs on the boundary with Queens County for 7 ½ miles; next runs through Kildare for 6 miles, and lastly forms the boundary again with Queens County for 7 ½ miles, when it finally leaves Kildare.

Nearly all the other streams of the county are tributaries to the Boyne, the Liffey, and the Barrow. On the north, the Bye Water flows eastward partly on the boundary with Meath and partly through Kildare, and joins the Liffey at Leixlip. The Lyreen runs to the northeast, and passing by Maynooth, joins the Rye Water a mile below the town. The Blackwater, for the most part a boggy and sluggish stream, rises in Kildare, and flowing to the northwest by Johnstown, forms for about 6 miles the boundary between Kildare and Meath, after which it enters Meath to join the Boyne. The Garr in the northwest joins the Boyne near Ballyboggan Bridge. The Cushaling, the Crabtree River, and the Black River, all unite on the western boundary of the county and form the Figile, which flows first through Kings County, then crossing an angle of Kildare, it forms the boundary between Kildare and Queens County, till it joins the Barrow beside Monasterevin. The Slate River, rising near Prosperous, flows westward by Rathangan, then forms the boundary between Kildare and Kings County for about a mile, when it enters Kings County to join the Figile. The Cushina, coming from Kings County, and flowing eastward, forms three miles of the boundary between Kildare and Kings County, and joins the Figile just where the latter enters Kildare. The Finnery comes from the west and joins the Barrow 4 miles above Athy. The Greese rises near Dunlavin in Wicklow, and flowing southwest across the southern angle of Kildare, joins the Barrow near the southern extremity of the county. The Lerr, running parallel with the Greese, flows into the Barrow at the southern boundary.

TOWNS.—Athy (4,181), in the south of the county, on the Barrow, a good business town, connected with Waterford by the Barrow and Suir, and with Dublin by the grand canal. Higher up on the Barrow is Monasterevin (1,044), beside which is the fine demesne of Moore Abbey. Rathangan (683), 6 miles nearly due north of Monasterevin, stands on the Slate River. Toward the middle of the county are Kildare, Newbridge, and Naas. Kildare (1,174) was in old times one of Ireland's great religious centers, which is still evidenced by its round tower and fine church ruins standing conspicuously on a ridge partly occupied by the town. Newbridge (3,372) is on the Liffey, a neat town with large military barracks. Naas (3,808) is the assize town, and has much retail trade.

In the northeast of the county are Celbridge (988) and Leixlip (741), both on the Liffey, the latter just on the boundary of the county, in a lovely situation near the waterfall that has given name to the town (Leixlip is a Danish word meaning salmon-leap). Near the north margin of the county, west of Leixlip, is the neat town of Maynooth (1,278), now remarkable as containing the college for the education of the Roman Catholic priesthood. It contains the ruins of the castle of the Fitzgeralds, earls of Kildare, the ancestors of the Duke of Leinster, whose fine demesne of Carton lies beside the town. West of Maynooth is Kilcock (721).

In the southern end of the county is Castledermot (675), on the river Lerr, in which there was in old days an important religious establishment, and which now contains a round tower, several crosses, and some beautiful abbey ruins. Kilcullen, or Kilcullen Bridge (783), is prettily situated on the Liffey near the southeast margin of the county; a mile and a half south of which is Old Kilcullen, containing the ruins of a round tower, of a monastery, and of some old crosses, the remains of an important ecclesiastical foundation. Ballymore Eustace (629) stands in a very pretty situation on the Liffey, two miles below Pollaphuca waterfall.

ANCIENT DIVISIONS AND DESIGNATIONS.—The northeast part of the county, viz., the baronies of Salt, Ikeathy and Oughteranny, Clane, and part of those of Naas and Connell, formed the ancient Hy Faelan. Up to the end of the 12th century it was the territory of the O'Byrnes, who, however, were about that time driven out, and took refuge in the mountain districts of Wicklow, where they afterward became powerful.

The southern half of the county, from the Hill of Allen southward (excluding the two baronies of Offaly), was the old territory of Hy Murray, which had Hy Faelan on the northeast, Offaly on the northwest, and Leix (see Queens County) on the west. This was the original home of the O'Tooles, who, like the O'Byrnes, were driven out by the Anglo-Normans about the end of the 12th century, and settled in Wicklow, in the district lying round the Glen of Imaile, near Ballinglass.

The two baronies of East and West Offaly form a portion of the ancient sub-kingdom of Offaly, which also included a portion of Kings and Queens counties. That part of Kildare through which the Liffey flows was formerly called Lifè or Moy Lifè, the river dividing it into East Lifè and West Lifè. From this plain the present name was given to the Liffey, whose old name was Rurthach.

In this county there were anciently three royal residences. The kings of Leinster lived at Naas till the 10th century, and the great high mound beside the town is the remnant of the old palace. Another palace of the Leinster kings (namely, Dun-Aillinne) was on the hill of Knockaulin, near Kilcullen, and the great old circular fortification of the palace still surrounds the summit of the hill. Perhaps the most noted of the three was the Hill of Allen, anciently called Alma, 5 miles north of Kildare, on which was the residence of Finn the son of Cumal, one of the most celebrated of all the ancient Irish heroes. The hill is now rendered very conspicuous by a tall pillar on its summit, in the erection of which the vestiges of Finn's old palace fort were nearly obliterated. There are very remarkable forts also at Ardscull, 3 miles northeast of Athy, and at Mullamast, 2 ½ miles east of Ardscull, anciently called Maistean; these great forts are the remains of the residences of kings or chiefs.

Description of County Kildare | Maynooth College | Franciscan Friary, Castledermot | Round Tower, Castledermot | Kildare Map

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