Edenderry (Co. Offaly / East)
Edenderry (Éadan Doire – “Brow of the Oak”) (pop. 7000) is the second largest town in County Offaly, and forms part of DUBLIN’s commuter belt. It is a friendly place, with several good pubs and eateries.
Edenderry’s main street, oddly named JKL, is said to be one of the longest in Ireland. (Photo – James Allan)
Edenderry derives its toponym from a great oak woods that once grew in this area, characterised by a number of low hills overlooking the Bog of Allen and beside the upper reaches of the River Boyne.
Ballykilleen Hill is the site of the remnants of an ancient triple ráth / Ringfort, believed to have been used by the C5th Ua bhFáilí chieftain Ros Fhailge.
The early Norman settlers in this area were frequently harassed by the local O’Connor clansmen, who would mount lightning raids and then melt into the surrounding woods and bogs.
Drumcooley Hill was the location of a motte & bailey erected as a lookout post by Robert de Bermingham; the mound is now scenically surrounded by trees.
Monasteroris (Mainistir Fheorais) was a Franciscan friary founded by Sir John Bermingham / MacFeoris in 1325, allegedly to quell his conscience for the massacre of O’Connor Fahy chieftains at nearby Carrickoris Castle ten years earlier by his father Sir Peter / Piers’ de Bermingham, who had built the neighbouring castle in 1290. Recorded in old documents as Castro Petre, this stronghold came to be known by both this name and that of the monastery, as did the parish attached to the church built around the same time.
Sir John Bermingham, commander of the English troops at the decisive 1318 Battle of Faughart defeat of the Scottish army led by Edward Bruce, who he had had torn to pieces, was created Earl of Louth in 1319 by a grateful monarch, the incompetent King Edward II, and was Justiciar of Ireland until 1324. He was in league with the King’s Welsh favourites, the Despensers, and seized Irish land from their powerful enemy, Roger de Mortimer, Earl of March, lover of the treacherous French-born Queen Isabella.
Mortimer forced the King’s abdication (and allegedly ordered his subsequent assassination) in 1327, assuming virtual control of England for the next three years. The first and last Earl of Louth was murdered with as many as 200 of his retainers at a court sitting near Ardee in 1329 by an angry mob of Anglo-Irish locals, whose leaders received leniency from Mortimer’s government. His brother William was declared a felon, and the territory was later granted to Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 4th Earl of Kildare.
The castle and land fell under effective O’Connor control for the next two centuries. Although Murrough O’Connor was forced to make submission to King Richard II in 1394, he defeated Crown forces at Geashill in 1406 and followed this up by raids into the Pale which saw him abduct the High Sheriff for ransom in 1411 and win a battle at Lucan in 1416. In 1439 Cahir O’Connor abducted the viceroy for ransom and in 1466 Con O’Connor defeated the Earl of Desmond in battle and held him prisoner in Castle Carbury. However, infighting among the O’Connors culminated in the murder of Cahir O’Connor at the hands of his own people in 1511.
In 1521 the castle at Monasteroris was besieged for many weeks and eventually fell to King Henry VIII’s new Lord Deputy, the Earl of Surrey. A cannon ball used in the attack can be seen in Edenderry Library.
In addition to the overgrown ruins of the friary and the old parish church of Castro Petre (still in use by the Anglican community until 1777), a dovecote on a motte remains.
A modern cross commemorates Fr Mogue Kearns and Anthony Perry, leaders of the 1798 Rebellion in County Wexford, who were hanged at Edenderry on 13th July of that year.
In 1548 the future Duke of Wellington‘s ancestor Walter Colley was made Surveyor General of Ireland, and his work facilitated the 1556 shiring of King’s County (now County Offaly) and Queen’s County (now County Laois) and the first official Irish Plantation of settlers from England, Scotland and Wales, with some lands re-granted to those O’Connors who swore oaths of loyalty to the Crown. In 1562 Henry Colley was granted local estates by Queen Elizabeth I, and Edenderry became known as Cooleystown / Coolestown, which was also the name given to the barony.
In 1599 during the Nine Years War, rebel troops under Hugh O’Neill and ‘Red Hugh’ O’Donnell marched through the area. George Colley commented at this time in a letter to the Queen that “the Irish are almost at the door of the castle“. This stronghold, probably originally built by the Berminghams, later came to be known as Blundell Castle. It was sacked during the Williamite War, by Jacobite troops under the command of Lieut-Col. O’Connor in 1691, and has been a ruin since then.
Sir William Colley’s daughter Sarah Colley married Sir George Blundell, 2nd Bart; their sons, including Francis, 3rd Bart and MP for King’s County, were sensationally acquitted by Royal intervention of the 1675 murder of the young Thomas Preston, 3rd Viscount of Tara, and Montague, 4th Bart, was created Viscount Blundell in 1720. The family name lives on in local toponyms such as Blundell’s Hill etc.
On his death in 1756, Lord Blundell left Edenderry in the hands of his three daughters, one of whom, Mary, was married to William Trumbull, namesake son of the famous British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and Governor of the Hudson Bay Company, whose family seat was Easthampton Park in Berkshire.
Their granddaughter Mary, Baroness Sandys of Ombersley, inherited the Edenderry property, and in 1786 married the 1st Marquess of Downshire’s eldest son Arthur Hill, known by the courtesy title of Lord Kilwarlin; he succeeded his father in 1793, but lost political influence due to his opposition to the 1800 Act of Union, and died in debt at the age of 48 in 1801.
The Downshire family greatly influenced the development of Edenderry, taking advantage of the construction of the Grand Canal across their land to ensure that a spur (1804) reached the town centre; the Blundell aqueduct that carries the waterway over the Rathangan Road was constructed in 1793, four years before the Canal itself.
Arthur Blundell Trumbull Sandys Hill, 3rd Marquess of Downshire, came of age in 1809. Although his mother received two thirds of the rent from the Edenderry estate until her death in 1836, he paid off his father’s debts, had the mud walled cabins of the town’s main street replaced with slated stone houses (overseen by land agents John and James Brownrigg, who designed the attractive Blundell House in 1813), and was also responsible for the handsome Cormarket / Courthouse (1826).
The “new” church of Castropetre (CoI), erected in 1778, is approached by the avenue known as Church Walk, where a statue commemorates the 3rd Marquess, whose parents had donated the Great Bell (damaged by a fall from the church tower in 1817, recast and rehung in 1828).
Another major contribution to Edenderry’s growth was made by the local Quaker community, who settled at nearby Ballmoraine in 1672 and moved to the town in 1707. By 1715 they had establishes a thriving woollen cloth industry, which at its zenith employed over 1000 people.
The Society of Friends’ Meetinghouse on Fr Kearne’s St has been in use since 1806, when it replaced an earlier edifice.
The Alesbury family, originally from Bristol, owned several factories over the years in Edenderry. They constructed and gave their name to the first car made in Ireland, exhibited at the 1907 Dublin Motor Show.
St Marys church (RC), built in 1913, contains a baptismal font from the old parish church of Castro Petre, dated 1290.
For several decades in the mid-C20th, Edenderry was an important centre for Bord-na-Mona‘s turf industry.
Edenderry Library has an interesting collection of historical artefacts, including a curious Sheela-na-Gig found at nearby Clonbulloge.
Edenderry Railway Station, now a bus depot, was the terminus of a single line that linked the town to Enfield.
A pleasant stroll along the canalside towpath leads to the picturesque Downshire Bridge (1802), the only Grand Canal span designed solely for horses and pedestrians.
The last barge left Edenderry in 1963, around the same time as the closure of the local railway, symbolically ending over a century and a half of prosperity for the town.
Ballybrittan Castle is a rare Irish example of a residence in continuous use for well over five hundred years, with many extensions, renewals and reconstructions over the centuries. (Photo – MKV Architects)
The original C15th O’Connor Tower House was granted c.1558 to Sir Henry Warren, who as Queen Elizabeth I’s emissary to the O’Neills and O’Donnells in 1594, detained hostages in Ballybrittan to bind the Ulster Princes to the peace. His second wife, Alicia, daughter of Adam Loftus, Archbishop of Armagh and Dublin, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, is buried in the nearby medieval churchyard. The property was subsequently owned by the Preston, Barnewall (Barons Trimlestown) and Elliot families.
The complex of truncated medieval stronghold, comfortable country house with Georgian and Victorian features, farm buildings and adjacent ruins is very attractive.
The main interior, carefully restored, features a barrel vaulted ground floor with wattle and daub centring, mural staircases, Tudor window mouldings and attractive early C18th joinery.
Toberdaly / Tubberdaly Castle & House was home to the Nesbitt family until their combined medieval stronghold and late Georgian residence was torched by vandals in April 1923. The extensive complex includes walled gardens, a forge and an interesting late C18th gothic octagon / bellcote. A C17th edifice has been restored as a private home, commanding splendid views over the demesne and surrounding countryside.
Toberdaly Bridge on the Grand Canal is said to be a good place to spot otters.
Rhode (Ród) is a village on an “island” of high ground surrounded by part of the Bog of Allen. An ESB peat-burning power plant built in the early 50s was a highly visible landmark until shut down and demolished in 2004. Despite this closure, the village has undergone rapid expansion due to a major influx of DUBLIN commuters. Rhode has three sociable pubs.
Rhode is linked by the R400 to Walsh Island on ByRoute 11 and Rochfortbridge (Co. Westmeath) on ByRoute 13.