Video History of Celbridge by Tony Doohan

History of Celbridge by Tony Doohan, narrated by Fr Pat Egan and illustrated by members of Celbridge camera club,

The town of Celbridge as we know it today can be traced back to the start of the 1700s. The building of a new manor house, named the Abbey, marked the start of this new development.

However the origin of this hamlet dates back to ancient Ireland and the Slí Mhór

one of the country’s five principal roads which forded the river Liffey

just below where the mill stands today.

in early Christian times, saint Mochua of Clondalkin baptised the local people in an existing Celtic pagan well near the ford.

He established a church nearby, and thus this village became known as Cill Droichid or Kildrought, the church of the bridge.

In 1202 Thomas de Hereford, the Norman knight, established his castle at Castletown and built a corn and a tuck mill for his tenants close to the bridge

He also founded St Wolston’s monastery, to give shelter to travellers, and to serve as a hospital.

And so the community of Kildrought began to develop and the small tenant farmers built simple mud houses along the route from the mill to the castle.

The defeat of King James by King William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 led to the disposal of the lands of the Dongan family.

Theyd been the primary landlords of the area since 1588 when they had purchased the lands from the FitzGeralds, earls of Kildare

The victorious Williamites who settled the lands set about building stone houses which gave Celbridge its distinctive Georgian character.

One of the first of these settlers was Bartholomew Von Homrigh, a Dutch merchant who was purchaser of provisions for king William’s army.

He leased the manner of Kildrought and built a new house on the site which is now Celbridge Abbey.

After Bartholomew’s death in 1703, his family left for London. There, at Windsor, Jonathan Swift became acquainted with the family. The eldest daughter, Esther, who was 23 at the time, became a student of Swift. They read and studied together and their literary bond deepened into something more powerful.

Due to their mutual circle of friends in both London and Celbridge it was extremely difficult to keep their relationship a secret. So, in order to be discreet, he referred to her as Vanessa. In 1713 Swift was offered a post as dean of St Patrick’s cathedral and to his surprise, on the eve of his departure for Dublin, Vanessa confessed her love for her mentor.

However, Swift had already established a relationship with an Esther Johnson. Over the years, she had become his confidante and the mistress of all his secrets and he gave her the pet name Stella.

On his return to Ireland it is reputed that Swift and Stella were secretly married in 1717. Following the death of her mother, Vanessa returned to Celbridge in anticipation of many a visit from the Dean. Vanessa prepared walks along the river in the grounds of the abbey, where they could walk and study together. The romantic spot overlooking the weir was chosen to be their special bower.

After some time she hears rumours about Stella and writes to her to enquire about her relationship with the Dean. Stella informs Swift, who straightway rides to Celbridge in a furious rage. He flings the letter on the table without exchanging a word and leaves.

Vanessa died three weeks later of a broken heart and is buried in Saint Andrews church in Dublin.

in 1709, speaker William Conolly, an influential and wealthy settler, bought the Castletown estates. He granted new leases on his lands with the condition that the existing mud cabins were to be replaced by stone houses with gable ends and two chimneys.

One of his agents, George Finey, built a fine house on the main street. One of the three tablets set in the front face of the building confirms that it was during this period that the old Irish name of Kildrought had changed to Celbridge.

The oldest building on main street, Kildrought house, was built around 1719, by Robert Bailey a Dublin upholsterer. Bailey introduced tapestry weaving to Ireland and two of his tapestries are in the Irish House of Lords, now the Bank of Ireland in College Green.

in 1724 the Reverend Arthur Price, vicar of Celbridge and chaplain to Conolly, was granted some of the most valuable lands of Kildrought. He built a house near the abbey now known as Oakley park. These lands included Carberry’s brewery, where the Village Inn and the Mucky Duck now stand . He installed Richard Guinness as the tenant there and the plaque on the wall claims it has the birthplace of his son Arthur Guinness. By the age of 30 Arthur had established his own small brewery locally and by 1759 he’d progressed to Saint James’s gate. The Guinness family continued to live on main street in Celbridge until 1766.

Arthur Guinness is buried in the family plot in nearby Oughterard cemetery.

At this time there were many malt houses and malt kilns in Celbridge. Indeed, table beer, was the preferred daily beverage of the locals. But whiskey was also regularly consumed by the gallon. Records from Castletown house show that in February 1769 the payment for local labourers for collecting ice to fill the ice house was eight gallons of whiskey for twelve men for three days, averaging one and a half pints per man per day.

Tea was introduced into Celbridge by mill workers brought over from England to the newly established woollen mill in 1805. A row of cottages was built to house them along the lane to Saint Mochua’s church. They disposed of their tea leaves on the roadside and such was the quantity of tea consumed that it became known as Tay lane.

After Vanessa’s death in 1723, Thomas Marley purchased the Abbey estate and built the current house. His daughter married James Grattan and their son Henry became a renowned 18th century Irish politician. He dedicated his political life to making the Irish parliament independent by the repeal of the act that allowed Westminster to make laws binding on Ireland. He lived at Celbridge Abbey between 1777 and 1780 and wrote afterwards “along the banks of the river, amid the groves and bowers of Swift and Vanessa I grew convinced that I was right.”

in 1782 Henry stood up in the independent Irish parliament and declared “Ireland is now a nation.” Grattan is buried in Westminster but his family are interred in Tay Lane graveyard. Members of the Grattan family continued to live in the abbey well into the latter half of the 1800s, and in 1852 Henry Grattan’s granddaughter Henrietta married a catholic British MP Charles Langdale. He supported the building of Saint Patrick’s catholic church in 1859, acting as chairman of the fundraising committee and donating all the limestone for the building.

The Dease family took up residence at the abbey in 1869. Gerald Dease was the governor of the Bank of Ireland and chairman of the board of guardians of Celbridge workhouse in recognition of his services to the parish and its poor. He is buried in a prominent position in front of the local catholic church marked by a Celtic cross. In 1957 the abbey and grounds were acquired by the brothers of St John of God.

A children’s playground now sits in the grounds adjoining riverside walks once enjoyed by Swift and Vanessa, and the nearby mill has been converted into a community centre

The abbey and the mill evoked major events in Irish history which echoes all around them reflecting the lives of those who live there from the earliest times to the present day.