Kilteel (Co. Kildare / East)
Kilteel (Cill tSile – “church of Sile / Shelagh / Sheila”) (pop. 560), overlooked by Cupidtown Hill (Co. Dublin), is proud of being the highest village in the (notably flat) County of Kildare, at a dizzying 800ft above sea level, and commands great vistas across the central plains of Ireland.
Kilteel Castle was founded in the early C13th by Maurice Fitzgerald, 2nd Baron of Ophaly, as a Preceptory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem, upon the site of an earlier monastic settlement.
In the C16th the lease was given to Thomas Alen and his wife. In 1669 Kilteel was acquired by Col. Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyreconnell, who then sold the castle to Sir William Fownes of Kilkenny. It remained in his family until 1838 when it was sold to the Kennedys of Johnstown-Kennedy.
The atmospheric remains date from the C15th and include a Tower House, another projecting tower with a spiral stairs and a gateway with two further rooms.
Kilteel was the site of an early monastery about which very little is known, called something like Cill ceile Chriost (”Church of the Servant of Christ”), which may well be the true origin of the village’s name, rather than an exceptionally obscure holy woman (“Sile /Shelagh /Sheila” are usually taken to be variations of Cecilia; the Roman martyr of that name is the patron saint of musicians)
Kilteel’s medieval church contains a partially re-erected C12th Romanesque chancel arch, unusual for Ireland in featuring sculpted figures – Adam and Eve, a man with drinking horn, two people embracing, an acrobat, David with the head of Goliath, Samson and the Lion, two bearded faces, an abbot with a crosier and other figures. Nearby is a granite cross.
The Foxes’ Covert, an annual starting point for local hunts, is a small enclosed forest containing a wonderful variety of unusual flora and fauna, and one of the last remaining groups of ancient dwarf oak trees in Ireland, subject to a Government Preservation Order.
St. Laurence O’Toole chapel (RC), erected in 1935, is an attractive and interesting building for its time. (Photog by Fr. Kevin Lyon)
The Kilteel Inn, a pleasant local hostelry, boasts that it is the highest pub in Co. Kildare, so beware of vertigo.
Kilteel is close to Kill on ByRoute 5.
Rathmore & Eadestown (Co. Kildare / East)
Rathmore (Ráth mór) (pop. 1050), long a rural district, has become increasingly suburbanised in recent years.
Rathmore is named for a great ráth / Ringfort immediately north of the church. In 1894 a landslip caused by heavy rain disclosed a sepulchral chamber, lined, roofed and floored with slabs of green limestone, containing a skeleton lying with the feet to the east. Later excavations unearthed several more human skeletons buried within a circle of undressed limestone.
In 1229 the lands of Rathmore were granted to Maurice FitzGerald, Lord of Ophaly; one of the witnesses to the deed of assignment was Stephen de Segrave.
The FitzGerald’s Rathmore Castle, long an important outpost of the Pale, no longer survives, and little information is available even as to its site. In 1286 Gerald FitzMaurice Óg Fitzgerald, 4thBaron Ophaly, died at Rathmore of wounds received in battle, and was buried at Kildare. In 1356 King Edward III reproved Maurice Fitzgerald, 4thEarl of Kildare, for neglecting his manor of Rathmore, and ordered him to repair thither forthwith, accompanied by five esquires, twelve hobillers (horsemen), forty bowmen, and a suitable number of foot soldiers, fully armed and accoutred, to take the necessary steps for resisting the incursions of the O’Byrnes and their allies.
In 1538 John Kelway, Constable of Rathmore Castle, hanged two Wicklowmen he found eating meat within his jurisdiction, and was killed in revenge by Tirlagh O’Toole and his men.
On 17th September 1580 Rathmore was burnt by a body of Wicklowmen, led by a brother of Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne of Glenmalure. They were returning early in the morning towards the mountains “with a number of cattle taken as spoil when a small body of cavalry commanded by Sir Henry Harrington overtook and charged them, killing several, at a ford, not named, but probably on the Liffey above Blessington. The survivors, rallying, made a desperate defence, killing an English officer and the standard-bearer, but were ultimately overcome, and all but two of them slain. Some fifty altogether fell in this encounter, a son and two brothers of Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne among them“.
Segrave’s Castle, a short distance beyond the church, comprises the remains of a fortified medieval dwelling, with massive walls and a vaulted lower chamber; several portions evidently date from different periods.
Rathmore is the location of the Gaffney family’s Kildare International Equestrian Centre.
Eadestown (Baile na hEide) is a rural community probably best known for its cemetery. Prominent families such as the Fitzgeralds, Eustaces, Allens, Suttons and Delahydes have all had close connections with the area.
The Tickell Monument is a quaint red cast iron fountain with lion-head spouts, erected in 1899 to the memory of one Captain Tickell by his County Kildare tenants. The fountain provides for drinking at three levels: the cup and the lion-spouts for humans, the circular stone trough for horses and, at the corners of the base, quarter-circle dishes for dogs.
(General Eustace F Tickell played a significant role in the Allied victory in WWII as Director of Works and Engineer-in-Chief for the 21st Army Group in Northwestern Europe, and contributed interesting articles about the history of the Eustace family to the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society).
Eadestown church (RC), built in 1835, caters for the Diocese of Dublin’s smallest parish, unique for having two racecourses (Naas and Punchedstown) but no shop and only one pub.
Rathmore and Eadestown are not far from Johnstown, Furness House and Punchestown on ByRoute 5.
Ballymore Eustace (Co. Kildare / East)
Ballymore Eustace (Baile Mór na nIústasach) (pop. 1000) is situated in a vale surrounded by hilly ground beside the River Liffey, spanned by a relatively rare seven-arch bridge. Long a quiet little place, it is now a rapidly expanding but nonetheless attractive DUBLIN dormitory community with several good pubs and places to eat.
The Ballymore Inn on Main St. is very highly recommended by people who know about good food.
Ballymore Eustace History
Ballymore, as it is still called locally, was part of the Manor of the Archbishop of Dublin, and thus one of three detached portions of the barony of Uppercross in the metropolitan County, not merged into County Kildare until 1836.
Being on the border of the Pale, Ballymore was defended by an important Norman castle against the hostile O’Toole and the O’Byrne clans. It is recorded that Ballymore was raided in 1524 and again in 1572 when the Gaels burned “all except Mr. Le Strange’s house and castle“; 20 years later the town was described as having a thatched castle. There is now no trace of any castle, though the site is believed to have been on Garrison Hill.
In 1171 King Henry II granted part of what was to become the County of Kildare to the Le Poers; the junior FitzEustace branch of the family held land near Naas and became so identified with the area over the next two centuries that the triangle containing Ballymore, Naas, and Old Kilcullen came to be called Criche Eustace or Cry-Eustace. In 1373 Thomas FitzOliver FitzEustace was appointed Constable of Ballymore Castle, and later members of the family held the titles Baron of Portlester, Lord Kilcullen and Viscount Baltinglass.
Sir James Eustace (1530 – 1585), 3rd Viscount Baltinglass, educated in Rome and at Gray’s Inn, London, supported the claim of Mary, Queen of Scots, against Queen Elizabeth I, and strongly opposed the Protestant Reformation. He and his kinsmen joined their traditional enemy Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne and other members of the Gaelic septs of Wicklow in defeating Lord Grey’s English army at the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580. Following the collapse of the Desmond Rebellion, the Eustaces fought on in the hills for over a year, but were finally defeated. The viscount and his two surviving brothers escaped abroad; he died childless in Spain in 1585. Their lands were forfeit to the Crown, but other branches of the family continued to be poweful in the area.
There is a Eustace monument – part of a C17th cross decorated with the family Arms, the name of Lord Portlester, who died in the late C15th, and the arms of the town of Naas – in the ruined medieval church of St James at nearby Coghlanstown.
The 1798 Rebellion saw around 500 insurgents attack the town at 1 am on 24th May, hoping to take the garrison by surprise. Although there were only about 50 members of the 9thDragoons and Antrim Militia billeted locally that night, they routed the rebels, killing over 100.
In the C19th, the town’s largest source of employment was a cotton mill owned by the Gallagher family, the ruins of which still stand by the river at a spot known as the “pike hole”. This mill employed almost 700 people, and Weavers’ Row, the terrace of single-storey houses running down the hill from the Roman Catholic church, was built to accommodate them.
St. John’s church (CoI) was built in 1820 at the cost of £900 to replace the nearby old church, burned along with several houses in the glorious events of 1798. The elegant edifice has a belfry and ogee headed windows, and features an ancient font, a piscina niche, a high pulpit built out from the wall and an effigy of a FitzEustace knight, removed from Old Kilcullen in the C19th. In the churchyard there are two unusual monolithic granite High Crosses. One, about 6ft high, is damaged, but the other about 11ft high, is intact though leaning dangerously, and bears an inscription dated 1689, probably a later addition.
The Broadleas Stone Circle, comprising 39 boulders on a gentle slope, is a rather endearing prehistoric site in a field regularly occupied by a large unfriendly bull. Like the more famous Athgreany Stone Circle southwest of Hollywood, it is sometimes referred to as the Piper Stones. Could the name have any connection with Broadleas near Stonehenge in Wiltshire?
Some of the battle scenes in Mel Gibson’s meretricious film Braveheart (1995) were filmed around Ballymore Eustace. Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004) was partly shot nearby, on the largest film set ever built in Ireland, a 1km-long replica of a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England, which took a crew of 300 construction workers four and a half months to build.
Ballymore Eustace is close to both Blessington and Hollywood (Co. Wicklow) on ByRoute 4.