ByRoute 11.1 Co. Kildare // Co. Laois (NW)

Maynooth (Co. Kildare / Northeast)

Maynooth’s Main Street. (Photo by infomatique)


Maynooth History


Maigh Nuad is thought to refer to either Nuada Neacht, maternal grandfather of the legendary Fionn mac Cumhail, or Mogh Nuadhat, a C2nd AD chieftain. Several early Christian settlements are known to have existed in the area.


Maurice FitzGerald was granted the manor by Strongbow, and c.1185 built a stone castle, rebuilt and enlarged by the 6th Earl of Kildare in 1426 to become the principal family seat. Strategically positioned on the edge of the Pale, Maynooth became a major centre of political and cultural influence under the 9th Earl, Gearoid Óg FitzGerald, who 1521 founded a college named in honour of the Virgin Mary.


His headstrong son and heir Silken Thomas rose up in rebellion against King Henry VIII in 1534. Crown forces bombarded Maynooth Castle with heavy artillery for 18 days until the garrison surrendered; everyone found on the premises was executed. Other Geraldine strongholds were given shorter shrift, and the by now 10th Earl mercilessly pursued and captured; he  was hanged, drawn and quartered along with five of his uncles at Tyburn Hill in London in 1537, and all the family estates were forfeited to the Crown.


The infant 11th Earl was smuggled abroad, and as an adult managed to recover his dynastic titles and lands from Queen Mary, but for many years the family maintained a relatively low profile until the 19th Earl, Robert FitzGerald, commissioned the great German architect Richard Cassel to build Ireland’s premiere stately home, Carton House, in 1739.


James FitzGerald, 20th Earl of Kildare, was made Duke of Leinster in 1766. His wife, Lady Emily (née Lennox, eldest of the Duke of Richmond’s four remarkable daughters), played an important role in the development of the house and estate; it was at this time that the layout of Maynooth was planned and its handsome Main Street built. The happy couple had 23 children, including Lord Edward FitzGerald, leader of the United Irishmen who planned the doomed 1798 Rebellion.


The disastrous uprising actually commenced locally, whenshots were fired and   mail coaches were seized at  Maynooth and Johnstown on May 23rd of that year. The following month saw 500 insurgents under William Aylmer attack and pillage property in the village.


In 1815 the 3rd Duke of Leinster sold his city home, Leinster House, to the Royal Dublin Society, and made Carton his principle residence, employing Richard Morrison to enlarge and re-model the mansion, scene of many magnificent parties throughout the C19th. Illustrious visitors included Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (1849). Maynooth prospered, partly due to its growing importance as the location of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland’s principal training centre for Roman Catholic priests.


Like all the large estates in Ireland, Carton was forced to sell much of its land to tenants under the Land Acts, mainly during the minority of the young 6th Duke, who was institutionalised with a brain tumour in Scotland, where he died unexpectedly in 1922. The family’s 750-year association with Maynooth came to an abrupt and sorry end when he was succeeded by his ne’er-do-well brother Edward, who had already sold his entire interest to a moneylender for £67, order to pay his gambling debts.

Maynooth Castle is now a National Monument; the surviving ruins, comprising the original tower and a gatehouse, have long signalled the entrance to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. (Photo by cyocum)

St Mary’s church (CoI), incorporated into the outer wall of the College, was originally a private chapel for the castle, and incorporates fragments of the medieval curtain wall. It was restored by the first Duke of Leinster; the C15th tower is a mausoleum for the thirds Duke and Duchess. The small organ (c.1820) is one of very few untouched Telford instruments remaining in the country.

“Maynooth College”


“Maynooth College” is the name commonly given to the double campus and facilities shared since 1997 by St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and the new National University of Ireland, Maynooth, created from the College’s faculties of Arts, Science, Celtic Studies and Philosophy and now offering degrees in areas such as Engineering and Social Sciences.


Founded by a 1795 Act of the Irish Parliament (35 Geo III, cap. 21), The Royal College of St Patrick was established “for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion“. William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, a strong supporter of Catholic Emancipation, donated the land, while the British Government paid the construction costs. The Roman Catholic bishops duly condemned the 1798 Rebellion, and also supported the 1800 Act of Union.


A scholarship fund was instituted in 1808 with a controversial bequest from John Butler, 12th Baron Dunboyne, a Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork who had converted to Protestantism in order to marry and guarantee the succession to his hereditary title, but died without issue in 1800.


The opening of nearby Clongowes Wood College by the Jesuits in 1814 removed lay education from the remit of St Patrick’s, which thereafter only trained priests. A century later St Patrick’s was awarding degrees in Canon Law, Theology and Philosophy as The Pontifical University of Ireland (the only private university in the country), and also offering degrees in arts and science from the National University of Ireland.


St Patrick’s College (Photo by infomatique)


Long known as the “National Seminary for Ireland”, the College was the intellectual powerhouse of the Irish Roman Catholic Church, wielding immense influence on Irish affairs both before and after 1921. (It is currently the only functioning seminary in the country, with a total of 65 students). Readmitted in 1966, lay students outnumbered religious by 1977. The College was divided into the two current entities by the Universities Act 1997.


The St Patrick’s / South Campus mainly comprises Georgian edifices, some antedating the foundation of the College, while others are in the later neo-Gothic revival style. The “New Range” was designed by AW Pugin in 1850; the spectacular College Chapel, completed by JJ McCarthy in 1894, hosts regular choir services. The College’s Museum has several interesting exhibits.


College Chapel interior (Photo by cortu)


The modern North Campus comprises various faculties centred around the 2004 John Hume Building, named for Maynooth’s most illustrious graduate, and also has student accommodation facilities, playing fields etc.


Famous visitors have included King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1903 and Pope John Paul II in 1979.

The Royal Canal was rerouted from its original plan at the insistence of the Duke of Leinster, who wished to have access to the waterway from Maynooth. Dukes’ Harbour, on the north side of the canal, is now used mostly for leisure purposes.

Maynooth railway station is situated on the south side of the Royal Canal, opposite Dukes’ Harbour.The town is the terminus of most Iarnród Éireann Western Commuter trains, and an interchange point for InterCity services between Dublin and Sligo (single track from Maynooth).

St Mary’s church (RC), consecrated in 1840, is notable for its Gothic altar and reredos carved from Austrian oak, imported from Munich c.1880. 

Carton House & Demesne


Carton House, undoubtedly one of Ireland’s most impressive Palladian mansions, was still home to the FitzGerald family in 1923, when a local unit of Republican vandals arrived with the intention of torching it, but were dissuaded when shown a large painting of Lord Edward FitzGerald and informed that they would be burning the house of a revered Irish patriot.


Carton House (Photo by Michael Nowlan)


Carton was acquired from Sir Harry Mallaby Deeley in 1949 by Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, whose guests at the estate included film stars such as Grace Kelly and Peter Sellers, and whose Manx-based son sold the property to its present owners in 1977.


Carton now belongs to the Mallaghan family. Their restoration of the mansion has been sensitive, with much attention given to details such as the beautiful plasterwork by the Lafranchini brothers, and for the most part they have furnished it with original / appropriate pieces and paintings. Of particular note are the magnificent Gold Hall, chapel, dining room and Chinese room. They have also recreated the formal gardens, and restored Lady Emily’s famous Shell Cottage to its original eccentric glory.


Despite public urging, the State declined to purchase Carton, and it is now run as a luxury hotel, golf resort & spa. The estate contains two golf courses (mercifully invisible from the house), and is occasionally used as a venue for other sports competitions and festivals.

One of Maynooth’s celebrities was Domhnall Ua Buachalla / Dan Buckley, a minor Fianna Fail politician who became the third and last Governor General (“Seanascal”) of the Irish Free State from 1932 to 1936. On Eamonn de Valera’s instructions he declined to take up residence in the Viceregal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, and kept such a low profile as to be virtually invisible. According to The Cynics Guide to Irish History, when de Valera decided on the abolition of the office he telephoned Ua Buachalla and simply said “You’re abolished“, to which the ex-Governor, perhaps misinterpreting the Taoiseach due to failing hearing, replied, “You’re an even bigger one.” His family hardware store, founded in 1853, gave its name to the adjoining Buckley’s Lane; although the shop finally closed in 2005 and the building was demolished, its splendid frontage, featuring 60º sloping windows and bearing the full Irish language spelling of the surname, has been preserved.

Maynooth is the address of the thoroughbred horse racing and breeding operation, Moyglare Stud Farm.

Maynooth is


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