Welcome to my ‘5 Things Friday’ blog, where this week I’m taking a look at some interesting facts about Co. Kildare. As well as its association with thoroughbreds (it’s nicknamed the ‘short grass county’ because the horses eat it all!), Kildare has lots of interesting things to see and do and some pretty amazing folks have been born there. Below are some of my favourite facts about the county.
Population of Co. Kildare: 210,312 (2011 Census)
Area: 1,695 Sq. Km (654 Sq. mi)
Co. Kildare a very pretty county of rolling hills and pastures, meandering rivers, dense forests and stunning bog lands (almost 14% of Kildare’s land area). It is the eighth largest of Leinster’s twelve counties, but the second largest in population, indicative of its growth in recent years as several multinational companies located their European Headquarters in the county. Intel, Hewlett Packard and Pfizer have their European bases here, and it boasts the Irish Army’s largest military base at the Curragh. I’ve learned many interesting facts about the county in my research for Ireland Planner and I list some of my favourite ones below. I hope you enjoy reading them.
The ancient parish church and graveyard of Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, just outside the village of Clane, is the burial place of Theobald Wolfe Tone. Wolfe Tone was one of the leaders of the 1798 Rebellion and is generally regarded as the father of Irish Republicanism. He was buried in Bodenstown upon his death on 19th November 1798, 8 days after attempting suicide by using a penknife to open an artery in his neck to avoid death by hanging for his part in the Rebellion. It is a very interesting site historically, with Wolfe Tone’s grave itself visible and several flagstones including quotes from Padraig Pearse and Wolfe Tone himself. His reads ‘Our independence must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not support us, they must fall. We can support ourselves by the aid of that numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property’.
Daniel Donnelly was a famed Irish boxer born in Dublin in 1788. He grew up in an Ireland characterised by colonial oppression and stirring patriotism, fuelled by the 1798 rebellion. Donnelly was Ireland’s first national sporting hero, who epitomised the fighting Irish spirit and the will of the underdog to succeed in the face of insurmountable odds. He trained near Kilcullen in Co. Kildare and fought his first fight at the Curragh in 1814 to a 20,000-strong crowd. He was victorious over the much-vaunted Tom Hall and his reputation was set. His second, and most famous fight, also took place at the Curragh in November 1815 at a place now called Donnelly’s Hollow. He boxed against, and beat, renowned English boxer George Cooper in an epic 11-round match. In the minds of the nation, Donnelly represented the national struggle and his victory a championing of the Irish against the Crown. Legendary stories abound from the match, not least that Donnelly was down and out in the second round until receiving a kiss from the sister of his manager, who whispered in his ear that she had bet her brothers entire estate on his win! He recovered and won, breaking the mighty Cooper’s jaw in the process.
Donnelly retired undefeated and even received a knighthood from George VI. He died young at 32 and was buried in Kilmainham, Dublin. As a macabre addendum to Donnelly’s life, his body was later stolen by medical students and his right arm severed and used by an eminent surgeon to study its muscle structure. Having changed hands several times, it sat on display at the Hideout Pub in Kilcullen for many years but is now in private ownership of the Byrne family who owned the pub!
Donnelly’s Hollow in the Curragh, the scene of his famous victory, is marked with an obelisk erected in 1838 on the spot where he walked after the match to celebrate his win and his footprints mark the way. So visitors here can literally walk in the great Donnelly’s footsteps.
The next time you sup a pint of the ‘black stuff’ remember that the founder of the mighty drink was born in Co. Kildare. Arthur Guinness was born in 1725 near Celbridge in the county. His godfather was Arthur Price, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel. When he died in 2752, he left 27 year old Arthur £100 in his will. A princely sum at the time, Guinness used the money to invest and leased a brewery near Leixlip. He brewed ale for 5 years here, no doubt cultivating and honing the brewing skills and ale that would shortly become legendary. He moved to the famed St. James’ Gate brewery in 1759, signing a 9,000 year lease on 31st December of that year and the rest is history, as they say! Interestingly, Guinness had a total of 21 children, 10 of which survived until adulthood, with his wife Olivia Whitmore. So it wasn’t a case of all work and no play for Arthur! He died in Dublin but was buried in 1803 in his mother’s family plot in Oughterard, Co. Kildare.
Co. Kildare has more stud farms than any other county in Ireland and its association with the breeding of thoroughbred racehorses is renowned the world over. The most famous of these is probably the Irish National Stud. Established in 1945, it is a world-class facility, breeding thoroughbreds that become household names and kings of the turf. But more interestingly (to me at least!) it is also a place for retired champions to live out there happy and pampered retirements. I saw Moscow Flyer, Kicking King, Beef or Salmon, Rite of Passage and Hardy Eustace in their Living Legends paddock, basking in the sun. It was lovely to see such wonderful animals being taken care of after the glory of their racing days had ended. The greatest steeplechaser of all time, Arkle, also ‘reposes’ at the stud. His skeleton is on display and holds pride of place in the museum on site. Apparently, like so many Irishmen, he was partial to a pint of Guinness. Arthur would be proud.
Kilkea Castle was built in 1180 near Castledermot and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Ireland. It is particularly associated with the 11th Earl of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald (I know, what were his parents thinking!!). He lived from 1525 – 1585 and was also known as the ‘Wizard Earl’. He was the sole male heir of the Kildare Fitzgerald dynasty at the age of 12 when his half-brother ‘Silken Thomas’ and five of his uncles were executed. He went into exile for many years where he was educated on the continent before returning to Ireland as Earl of Kildare and Baron of Offaly. He had a keen interested in alchemy, the practice of which at the castle had many locals whispering that he had magical powers, and earned him the nickname the ‘Wizard Earl’. Unfortunately, his return to Kilkea angered many and he was accused of treason many times and imprisoned in the Tower of London twice, both times being pardoned by Queen Elizabeth 1. He died in London in semi-captivity in 1585 but local legend has it that his ghost still returns to Kilkea Castle every seven years, mounted on a silver-shod white charger. Kilkea Castle is currently boasts an 18-hole golf course and the castle is available for private hire.
So there you have it for another edition ‘5 Things Friday’. A few of my favourite ‘interesting things’ about gorgeous Co. Kildare. As ever, there are many more, but I’ll save those for another date. Please feel free to comment and please share the blog with your friends.
Happy Irish travels,