Celbridge History by Charles Graham (1896)

Celbridge Excursion 1896: Some Notes on the Past History of Celbridge. Rev Charles I. Graham, BD, Church of Ireland Rector of Celbridge, September 17th 1896

Bower associated with Swift & Canessa

Bower associated with Swift & Canessa

NOT every village in Ireland can boast itself the scene of a famous historical romance. Yet Celbridge, some hundred and seventy years ago, was for a short period, the scene of a romance which will not be forgotten as long as the names of Swift and Vanessa live in the pages of history.

Romance and archaeology may not at first sight seem to be on the best of terms. The truth is that romance is a much greater thing than archaeology, and if archaeology can make the romances of the past stand out before us as living realities to-day, archaeology has deserved well even of those who can find in it nothing but the driest of dry bones.

The story of the love of Vanessa for Swift, more than a century and a-half ago, can be realised to the full by any who pay a visit to Vanessa’s Bower at The Abbey, Celbridge, and who have imagination enough when there to throw themselves into the history of the past.

But what is this story of Swift and Vanessa? Briefly it is this. Bartholomew Van Homrigh, a Dutch merchant who had been Commissary of Stores for King William III in the Irish Civil Wars, purchased forfeited estates to the value of £12,000 in Ireland. He became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1697. And at his death, about 1709, his widow (who was the daughter of Mr Stone, a Commissioner), with her two sons and two daughters settled in London.

There Swift became acquainted with them. At that time, the eldest daughter, Esther Van Homrigh was about twenty years of age. She was the Van-Essa of Swift’s romance. She and the Dean read and studied together in London, until the literary bond deepened into a stronger and more powerful one, and Esther Van Homrigh confessed her love for her master.

This confession was made just before Swift went to take possession of the Deanery of St Patrick’s in 1713. Swift indeed expressed surprise that Vanessa should have conceived such a passion. He writes: —

  • Vanessa, not in years a score
  • Dreams of a gown of forty-four.
  • Imaginary charms can find
  • In eyes with reading almost blind.”
  • And, again, he tells us that,
  • His conduct might have made him styled
  • A father, and the nymph his child.
  • That innocent delight he took
  • To see the virgin mind her hook,
  • Was but the master’s secret joy
  • In school to hear the finest boy.”
  • Cadenus and Vanessa,

But there must have been something more than this in the matter. For in Swift’s Letters to Miss Johnston (better known as Stella) — another of the Dean’s lady-loves, and another Esther — though frequently speaking of Mrs. Van Homrigh, and of his visits to her house in London he never mentions the name of Yanessa. Indeed he refers to her only twice in all these Letters, and then, quite coldly and indifferently, as ” Mrs. Yan Homrigh’s eldest daughter.”

This, to say the least of it, is suspicious. However, a year after the confession of her love for the Dean, her mother died, and her two brothers survived their mother but a short time. Esther and her sister Moll, or Molkin, then returned to Ireland to live on their property at Celbridge, the demesne now known as The Abbey, and at present the residence of Colonel Dease. The date of Vanessa’s residence at Celbridge is 1717.

But Swift who had Stella on his hands, and to whom, it has been said, he was secretly married in 1716, never visited Vanessa at Celbridge until the year 1720. So that the Celbridge part of the Swift and Vanessa romance is confined to three years, 1720-1723, for in the latter year Vanessa died.

Her death was indeed a tragedy. Tormented with doubts created by rumours which the had heard, she wrote to Stella to ask the nature of the friendship which existed between her and the Dean. Her letter was shown by Stella to Swift.

The Dean was so much irritated by the letter that, filled with rage, he rode from Dublin to the Abbey, and throwing down Vanessa’s letter to Stella on the table in her presence, he vanished from the room in a paroxysm of passion, and rode back at once to Dublin.

Within three weeks of this occurrence Vanessa had died of a broken heart, in the 37th year of her age. Such is the story of Swift and Vanessa.’ But how far can the laud-marks of this romance be now traced?

If any wish to read a full account of this romance they had better purchase Mrs. Wood’s Esther Van Homrigh. This book is a novel, not a contribution to archaeology, and some of its historical statements may not bear the scrutiny of an archaeological investigation. Nevertheless it gives a very fair picture of the times, and is quite worth reading.

Celrbidge from Alexander Taylor's Map of Kildare 1783The village of Celbridge was called in Swift’s day, Kildrohod or Kildrought. Kildrohod is said to mean “The Church of the Bridge” though where the church was, or the bridge which originally gave a name to the village, no one seems as yet to have discovered. The word Celbridge is clearly a hybrid one — Kill softened into Cel and Drohod translated as Bridge.

That there must have been a bridge over the Liffey here from pretty early times appears from the fact that in an Inquisition in the time of Henry VIII, quoted in Archdall’s Monasticon, mention is made of ” some pasture-ground at the foot of the Bridge of Kildrought”

The name Kildrought still exists as the ecclesiastical name of the parish, while in the village there is a Kildrought House, and the present Rectory, acquired by the parish in 1892, has been styled Kildrought Parsonage. So the past is not quite forgotten.

Swift refers to Kildrought in his letters to Vanessa. “Pray take care,” he writes, “of your health in this Irish air to which you are a stranger. Does not Dublin look very dirty to you, and the country very miserable? Is Kildrohod as beautiful as Windsor, and as agreeable to you as the prebend’s lodgings there? Is there any walk about you, as pleasant as the Avenue and Marlborough Lodge? ”

Again he writes to her: — “I have asked, and am assured there is not one beech in all your groves to carve a name on, nor purling stream, for love or money, except a great river which sometimes roars, but never murmurs, just like Governor Huff.” Governor Huff, it is needless to add, was one of Swift’s pet names for Vanessa.

Sir Walter Scott, in his life of Dean Swift, mentions that Vanessa always planted a laurel or two whenever the Dean was coming to visit her. No traces of these laurels survive at the Abbey, but there are yew-trees not far from the house which may have been cotemporaries of the Dean. At the Rectory at Newcastle-Lyons, three miles from Celbridge, an old yew-tree is shown under which it is said that Dean Swift many a time sat and talked.

But if we cannot trace the laurels which Vanessa planted at the Abbey, we can identify the bower in which he and Vanessa so often sat with their books, and their writing materials on a table in front of them. There it still remains, with the tiny island, and the little cascade, with its leafy roof, and the river that ” roars but never murmurs “; and you have only to stretch yourself on the mound above it, and close your eyes, and you can live in the days of this sad romance, and see it with the clearest of visions.

Celbridge foot (Abbey) bridge in 1910

Celbridge foot (Abbey) bridge in 1910

The old foot-bridge over which Swift and Vanessa had so often crossed, with its arched entrance and iron gate, still remains. In Colonel Dease’s house, there can still be seen the same book-room in which Vanessa read and wrote, and in an out-building there are still preserved some of the black and white tiles which formed the flooring of the hall of Vanessa’s house.

But where was Vanessa buried? That is a problem which antiquarians have not yet been able to solve. Shall it remain for the Kildare Archaeological Society to discover the resting-place of her remains? Having died at the Abbey, we would naturally look for her grave in the old graveyard in Tee-lane in Celbridge.

The old Kildrought church on Tea Lane

The old Kildrought church on Tea Lane

The word Tee in tee-lane, has, doubtless, no connexion with the beverage known as Tea. It is probably an old Celtic word. Miss Margaret Stokes identities it, I believe, with a Celtic word tech meaning church. Hence Tee-lane is Church Lane.

But no monument or inscription marks her grave, if she is buried there. The parish registers can supply no information. She died in 1723, and our registers only commence in 1777. Parochial documents older than these are said to have perished in the fire which destroyed the old church in Tee-Lane in the year of the great Irish Rebellion, 1798.



I have been in communication with relatives of Vanessa in England, and with Rev W Reynell BD of Dublin, whose sources of antiquarian information are most thorough and extensive, but no trace can be found of her place of burial. The registers of the city parishes in Dublin have been searched, but all in vain. It is strange that her burial-place should have so completely vanished out of sight. Dean Swift, when he found Vanessa’s affections centred so strongly on himself, tried to get her married to someone else, as the best way out of his difficulty. And two clergymen actually proposed for her hand. Dean Winter and Dr. Price. But she would have none of them.

One of these clergymen, Dr. Price, is intimately connected with Celbridge history: for he lived in the house opposite The Abbey, now known as Oakly Park, and at present the residence of Captain Mark Maunsell. His father, Samuel Price, was made Vicar of Straffan, and Prebendary of Kildare in 1672, and resigned the parish of Celbridge in 1705, when his son Arthur Price succeeded him.



Arthur Price was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and his first ecclesiastical appointment was the curacy of St Werburgh’s, Dublin. His first promotion was to the Vicarage of Celbridge, and then ecclesiastical greatness was literally “thrust upon him.” He was made Vicar of Feighcullen, and Ballybraine; Prebendary of Donadea; Rector of Louth, in Co. Armagh, and of Clonfeacle, in Kildare; Archdeacon and Canon of Kildare; Dean of Ferns, and in 1724 (the year after Vanessa’s death), he was appointed Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh.

Indeed, there might have been played upon Price, the joke which Sydney Smith says was once played on a rich Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, who held no less than eight benefices and dignities at the same time. One day the Canon asked a friend of his to order dinner for him at Hungerford. His friend went to the hotel, and there ordered eight separate dinners. One was for the Canon of Christ Church, another for the Rector of Staverton, another for the Vicar of this, another for the Prebendary of that, so that when the Canon of Christ Church arrived at Hungerford, he found eight separate dinners ready for him, and had to pay the bill accordingly.

But Price’s ecclesiastical greatness did not stop short at the Bishopric of Clonfert. In 1730 he was translated to the Bishopric of Ferns; and in 1734 he was translated from that to the Bishopric of Meath; and remaining there ten years, in 1744 he was translated to the Archbishopric of Cashel. In 1746 he was made Vicc-Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, and you can see his portrait on the walls of the Dining Hall of that University. He died on July 17th, 1752, at Celbridge, and was buried in Leixlip on July 20th. A monumental slab recording his burial is placed in the floor of the nave of Leixlip Church.

Oakley Park

Oakley Park

Archbishop Price probably built the house now known as Oakly Park, about the same time that Castletown House was built, that is, in the year 1725, and tradition states that the two houses had a common architect. When promoted to the Bishopric of Meath he seems to have lived at Oakly Park, and from thence to have superintended the building of an episcopal residence for the Diocese of Meath at Ardbraccan, pursuant to the designs of his predecessor in the see, Bishop Evans. He did not complete Ardbraccan House, for before it was finished he was translated to the Archbishopric of Cashel. On which event the author of some MS notes to an edition of Ware’s Antiquities in the Library of Trinity College, makes the following sarcastic remark: — “It had been much to be wished that he had never quitted Meath, and then the house at Ardbraccan would have been completed, and the noble and venerable Cathedral of Cashel would have escaped his destructive hand.” the reference in the latter sentence is to the fact that, when Archbishop of Cashel, he procured an Act of Council to remove the Cathedral from the Rock of Cashel into the town, uniting the same with St John’s Parish. “By which means,” adds the writer I have just quoted, “that noble and venerable pile has gone to ruins.”

However, no man is without his redeeming feature. Price did not forget the first parish of which he was vicar. In 1734, when Bishop of Meath, he presented to Celbridge Parish a very substantial set of Vessels for Holy Communion. They are the ones now in use, they are inscribed with his name, and the date of the gift; and seem to be very little the worse of the wear and tear of 162 years.

Some years ago a dispute arose as to whether the Bishop of Meath should be termed “Most Rev”, as being the bishop of the see next in dignity to the two archbishoprics, or “His Rev” as an ordinary bishop. On the Celbridge Communion Vessels the inscription is “Most Rev” In a Paper recently read before the Royal Irish Academy, Canon Olden has called attention to the fact that two of the patens, presented by Archbishop Price, are made to tit as chalice covers when reversed. {The Paten of Gourdon illustrated from the Book of Armagh, by Rev T Olden, Feb. 1896).

Dr Price was succeeded as Vicar of Celbridge by George Marlay, who afterwards became Bishop of Dromore. He lived at the Abbey, and for a considerable time in its history, it bore the name of Marlay Abbey, after himself and his family. It seems as if Archbishop Price held Oakly Park in his own possession until his death, for he died at Celbridge, and his successor in the Vicarage in 1724 lived not at Oakly Park, but at The Abbey.

For thirty-three years after his death, we cannot say what tenant may have occupied the house. But in 1785 there came to live at Oakly Park, or Celbridge Hall as it was then called, a family the memory of whose deeds sheds a glory on the village of Celbridge. In that year Colonel and Lady Sarah Napier took up their residence at Celbridge Hall, and all their sons were born there except Sir Charles.

Sarah Lennox Napier

Sarah Lennox Napier

In the Baptismal Register there are entries made of the baptism of five of his children. Lady Sarah Napier before her marriage was Lady Sarah Lennox, seventh daughter of the second Duke of Richmond (who was grandson of Charles II), by Sarah, eldest daughter of Lord Cadogan. Lady Sarah Napier, who was a celebrated beauty, and to whom King George III had offered his hand and heart, had three sisters— one Caroline, married to the first Lord Holland, and mother of Charles James Fox; another, Emily, married to the Duke of Leinster, and mother of Lord Edward Fitz Gerald; while a third, Louisa, was married to Colonel Conolly of Castletown.

When the Napiers lived at Celbridge Hall, the house soon became known in the neighbourhood by the name of the “Eagle’s Nest” It was so called either because of the hooked noses possessed by the Napier boys, or because of their high spirits (Punch once represented a meeting between the Duke of Wellington and one of the Napiers, in which the greeting consisted of a fraternal rubbing of noses).

George Napier

George Napier

In the Life of Sir William Napier, many a tale is told of the Celbridge of that day. It seems that Charles and William Napier went to a school in the village, known by the name of the Academy, under the mastership of a man named Bagnal. At this Academy the boys were all Roman Catholics. A Protestant Boarding School existed in St Wolstan’s at that time, and on one occasion Charles Napier, when a little boy, having marched a band of volunteers whom he had organised and drilled, past St Wolstan’s, an attack was made on them by the boys of that Institution. Serious consequences were only prevented by Charles Napier riding on his little Arab pony between the belligerents, and calling off his youthful troops.

Kildrought House

Kildrought House

There is some dispute about the house in which this Academy was held. I was led to believe that it was in Kildrought House, next the Court House. But the Rev M. Hogan, a former Roman Catholic curate in Celbridge, informs me that it is also said to have been held in a house in the village which has a date over it, or in a house lower down in the village which stands in a place known as the Brewery Yard. Father Hogan, who has very kindly placed his notes at my disposal for the purpose of this Paper, states that in a book entitled “A Short View of the History of the Christian Church from its first Establishment to the Present Century,” by Rev Joseph Reeve, published in 1809, he found a list of subscribers to the book many of whom gave as their address Celbridge Academy.

The days of the rebellion of 1798 were sad days for Celbridge. Wounded men were constantly being brought into the village, and the village itself was twice ordered to be burnt by the Government, and only waved through the intervention of Colonel Napier. Celbridge Hall was itself attacked, and on the knocker of Oakly Park hall door can still be seen the mark of the blow of a sledge hammer wielded by some of those who were trying to break in the door.

Close to Oakly Park, in an enclosed graveyard, stand the ruins of the old church burnt in the year 1798.

Conolly mausoleum

Conolly mausoleum

Part of these ruins have been roofed in to make burial-places for the Maunsell and Conolly families. In the Conolly vault is to be found a large and handsome marble monument of the Right Hon William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and his wife. It represents the Speaker reclining in his robes, and his wife bending over him. There is on it a long Latin inscription, stating that it was erected to his memory by Catherine Conyngham his wife. And in front of it is a beautiful piece of iron grill-work. An effort was made some years ago to have it removed from its present position, and placed in the parish church. But nothing came of it.

I have reason to believe that the present owner of Castletown is anxious that this statue of his ancestor — so influential, so patriotic, and so good an Irishman — should be removed into some position where it could be seen by the public, and saved from its present condition of obscurity and neglect. Certainly this would be an object which patriotic Irishmen of all creeds might well unite to effect.

I have not been able to ascertain whether the old church in Tee-Lane was ever dedicated in the name of any saint, or what was the date of its erection. There is a pump in the village near the Mills, with a stone trough underneath, on one side of which there is an inscription which reads as follows: — “Ancient — Thobar Mochua— Ornamented to St Mochua in 1783.”

Could the dedication have been in the name of St Mochua? There are five Mochua’s mentioned in Irish hagiologies. The Mochua whose name is preserved in this inscription was doubtless the Mochua known as the first Abbot of Clondalkin, by some called “a holy bishop and confessor.”

Mochua’s Irish name was Cronán. He probably lived about the eighth century, and was descended from Cathair Mor, monarch of Erin. Evidently Mochua must have been an ecclesiastic of repute, as Clondalkin as a place of ecclesiastical importance. The fact of its possessing a round tower 84 feet high, and an antiphonary of its own, which is preserved in the Library of Trinity College, would be sufficient to show this.

The following appeared in Notes & Queries 1897, Kildare Archaeological Journal:

Tee or Tea Lane in Celbridge? —

There is a doubt expressed as to whether the lane leading to the old (Kildrought) churchyard is “Tee-lane.” or ”Tea-lane.” The following extract, from a letter written by Mrs. Thorold from Donacomper, sets the matter at rest.

“The right name is Tea-lane,” she writes, “and the origin of it is that when Mr Shaw was starting the mill, his partner, an Englishman named Haughton, brought over a lot of English mill hands, for whom he built a row of superior cottages still called “English-row.”

The backs of these cottages came near to “Tea-lane,” then called “Church-lane,” and the Irish inhabitants of the latter were so astonished at the quantity of Tea that the well-to-do English drank (as evidenced by the amount of tea leaves thrown out at the back of English-row) that the lane soon became known as Tea-lane, or “Tay-lane” as they call it. The peasantry always correctly pronounce a word spelt with a double e or an -ie, but a single e or an “ea” and “ei” they pronounce “ay.” This is, I believe, the same in the Celtic language.

I have always heard it so called, and the explanation of the name has just been confirmed by Mrs. Barker, of Ardrass House, near Straffan, who is old enough to remember my great-grandfather (the Very Rev Thomas Trench, Dean of Kildare, who died in 1834). Our old coachman, who came to my grandfather, and has been here for 64 years, remembers it too, and says Tea was a luxury unknown to the Irish then; he remembers being sent by his mother to buy one ounce of tea, the price of which was then 6d.”

The following appeared in Notes & Queries 1897, Kildare Archaeological Journal:

St Mo-chua of Celbridge.— On page 205, vol. ii, of the Journal, the Rev C Graham suggests that a St Mo-chua of Clondalkin, County Dublin, was the saint to whom the original church of Kildrought was dedicated (and Father Shearman, in his ” Loca Patriciana,” expresses the same opinion); this idea is, I think, proved from the following two sources: —

FirSt— There is the stone trough, dated 1783, bearing this saint’s name, at the pump in the street beside Celbridge MiU. It possibly stands over the very Tober Mo-chua or St Mo-chua’s Well, which was used by the saint for baptizing his converts, and which the growth of the town has encroached upon.

Second.— There is an entry in a County Kildare Chancery Inquisition, which was taken at Kilcock on the 22nd of October, 1604, which, when translated, states that: — “There is one messuage (or farmstead) with a close, and two cottages with their closes, and eighteen acres of land in the townland of Kildrought called “St Magho his land,” which were granted in mortmain to the church of Kildrought without licence from the Crown, and for that reason they are now in the king’s hands.”

In the seventh century two famous saints named Mo-chua died: —

FirSt— One was the patron saint of Timahoe, in the Queen’s County (Tech Mo-chua, i.e., St Mo-chua*s house or church), whose festival was held on the 24th of December. He died in the year 657. Lonan was his father, and Tineacht ny Loichin his mother.

Second.— The other St Mo-chua was of Clondalkin (i.e., Dolcan’s meadow), in the County Dublin; another name for him was Cronan. His festival was on the 6th of August. His father’s name was Lughaidh, and his mother’s Cainer of Clondasallagh.

To this latter St Mo-chua the foundation of the Kildrought church, now known as the Tea-lane Churchyard, is attributed. He is also probably the patron saint of the County Kildare Timahoe, which lies twelve English miles as the crow flies due west of Celbridge. Father O’Hanlon, in the eighth volume of his “Lives of the Irish Saints,” under the 6th of August, gives all that is known of St Mo-chua of Celbridge and Clondalkin.

Walter FitzGerald

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