1896 Celbridge Historical Excursion (report in Kildare Observer)

Walter Fitzgerald

Walter Fitzgerald

1896 Excursion to Celbridge by County Kildare Archaeological Society September 17th 1896 (reported in Kildare Observer of Sept 26)

On Thursday in last week the members of the Co Kildare Archaeological Society held their annual excursion. Hazelhatch Station was the rendezvous and this place was reached about ten o’clock by the members, travelling both by the upward and downward trains.

Here they were met by Lord Walter Fitzgerald, with several members of the family, and a number of friends, including Sir Peter and Lady O’Brien. The day turned out particularly favourable, for the excursion, and the visit to the various places fixed upon for the occasion was most enjoyable from every point of view.

From Hazelhatch a journey was made by car to st Wolstan’s, a distance of about two miles, and here, by permission of the owner, Major Claude Cane, the visitors were allowed to inspect the abbey ruins. When the building had been examined a meeting, officially convened by the society, was held beneath the remaining arch of the main portion of the abbey.

St Wolstan's

St Wolstan’s

Here Mr Mansfield, of Morristown, made references to the loss which the association had sustained by the death of their vice-president, the Rev Denis Murphy SJ. On Mr Mansfield’s motion a resolution of sympathy with the relatives of Father Murphy was unanimously adopted.

A paper descriptive of St Wolstan’s was read by Mr William Kirkpatrick, who apologised for the absence of Major Cane. The party then crossed the river by the bridge built in 1308 by John Decer, Mayor of Dublin. Close to the main road there is the “Wonderful barn, a curious cone shaped tower 73 feet high, with an external circular staircase, built by the Conolly family in 1743. Nearly all the members paid a visit to this structure.

Wonderful Barn

Wonderful Barn

The other places to which the party went included Leixlip Castle and the Salmon Leap, Leixlip Church, Lucan Demesne, Castletown House (the residence of Sir Peter and Lady O’Brien), Donacomper &c.

The showers which fell during the day interfered to some extent with the enjoyment of the part but notwithstanding the unfavourable slate of the weather the meeting proved a great success. The society shows a steadily increasing membership, and with the advent of each annual reunion the number of candidates seeking admission greatly increases.

This year’s excursion marked one of the highest attendances with which this body has ever been favoured and, judging by the list of new recruits who were initiated yesterday at the conclusion of the luncheon, which took place in the Spa Hotel, the gathering of next year will still surpass that of the present one, both in repeat of the numbers and in the interest attaching to the proceedings.

Amongst those who joined in the excursion were: –

Lord Mayo, Lord and Lady Drogheda, Most Rev Monsignor Denis Gargan, President Maynooth College; the Right Rev Dr O’Dea, Vice-President Maynooth College; Mr George Mansfield; Mr WJ Synnott, Major and Mrs Rynd, Mr J Lock, Mrs and Dr Woolcombe, Mr Supple RIC; Mr L Dunne JP; Rev P O’Leary, Maynooth College; Mr and Mrs Green, Mr and Mrs Sweetman, Mr Commissioner Molloy, Mr and Mrs Carroll, Mr and Mrs Davidson-Houston, Mr CD Cooper, Mr Grove White Solicitor, Leixlip Castle; Lady Henry Fitzgerald, Lady Eva Fitzgerald, Lady Mabel Fitzgerald, Lord Frederick Fitzgerald, Lord George Fitzgerald, Lord Henry Fitzgerald, Lord Walter Fitzgerald, Lord Desmond Fitzgerald and the Duke of Leinster.

The following were elected members: –

The Rev TR Somers, Dunboyne; Mr Charles Daly, Sub-Sheriff County Kildare; the Lord Chief Justice Thomas ET O’Kelly MD Maynooth; the Very Rev Thomas O’Dea, Vice-President Maynooth College; the Right Rev Mgr Gargan, President Maynooth College; Rev CT Graham, Celbridge, the Earl of Drogheda, the countess of Drogheda, Mr GPA Colley, Dr Norman, Bath; Mr Clarke, Athgoe Park; Mr William Mooney, Leixlip Castle; and Mr William A Murphy of Naas.

St Wolstan's in 1782

St Wolstan’s in 1782

At St Wolstan’s a paper was read by Mr William T Kirkpatrick. He said the priory of st Wolstan’s was founded in the year 1202 for Canons of the Order of st Victor, by Richard, the first prior of the place, and Adam de Hereford, in memory of st Wolstan, Bishop of Worcester, then newly canonised by Pope Innocent III. The first part of the building was commonly called sculi cocli, the steps of heaven. De Hereford granted to Richard, the first prior, the lands on the River Liffey, and the church of Donacomper, which existed before the foundation of the monastery, and there is a tradition that the church was connected with the monastery by an underground passage. In 1536 Henry VII seized on the Priory and all its belongings, which included lands in Straffan, Kildrought, Donamore, Castledillon, Loughlinstown, Lucan &c. Richard Weston was the last prior in 1536, and by an Act of that year it was provided that he should have and enjoy in the Priory for his life “a decent chamber with a chimney, with wood and other necessaries for his hiring and proper diet, both as to eating and drinking,” all of which was valued at £3 annually, and that Gerald Aylmer and Thomas Luttrell, by and with the authority of the said Act, would reserve to themselves and their heirs during the life of the said Richard the annual sum of £4 out of the lands for the use of Richard Weston.

With the dissolution of the monastery the connection of st Wolstan’s with the Allen family began, and John Allen, who came from Norfolk, went to practise at the Irish bar, and became Master of the Rolls in 1534, and was appointed Keeper of the seal, and in 1538 he was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

The last of the Allens connected with st Wolstan’s spent a good deal of his time in France, where he was called the Count of st Wolstan’s, and fought with the Irish brigade at Fontenoy in 1745, and in consequence of the active part he had taken with the French in their war with the English, both in Europe and India, he lost all rights to his Irish possessions, which were sold in 1752 by the Court of the Exchequer to Robert Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, who bequeathed them to his niece, Anne, wife of Dr Thomas Bernard, Bishop of Killaloe.

The Rev Father Hogan had said that the house of St Wolstan’s was built from the ruins of the abbey. st Wolstan’s subsequently became the property of Major Cane’s grandfather. Donacomper was purchased in the same way by Mr Kirkpatrick’s grandfather.

The remains of St Wolstan’s Priory consisted of two gateways, a tower, and two fragments of walls, and there were steps by which the tower and gateway could be ascended. By the river below the weir was a well called the scholar’s well, and near it are what was said to be the longest stone, the largest bone, and the deepest hole. Close by was a monument to Robert Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, and his wife.

On arriving at Leixlip the party entered the beautiful demesne, and by the permission of the present occupant, Mr William Mooney JP, who had taken a great interest in the archaeological treasures of the district, proceeded to Leixlip Castle and walked to the famous Salmon leap.

Celbridge Liffey view_00266This is a natural waterfall that gives their title to two baronies of Salt (that is Saltus Salmonis), and also the present Danish name to the town of Leixlip (that is Lax Llaup, or Salmon Leap). Lord Edward Fitzgerald read notes with reference to Leixlip castle, taken from a work on the subject by the Very Rev Canon O’Rourke, a former parish priest of Maynooth.

In 1169 the town was included in the original grant made by Strongbow to Adam Fitz-Hereford, and there was a well-founded tradition that John, son of Henry II, who was made king of Ireland when12 years old, occasionally resided in Leixlip Castle. One of the chief rooms there is now known as the King’s Room.

In 1740-41 the Right Hon William Conolly, nephew and heir to the Right Hon William Conolly of Castletown, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, occupied Leixlip Castle, which had formerly been purchased by his uncle.

He could not live at Castletown, as it had been left to his aunt, the Speaker’s widow, for her lifetime. It was that lady who built the obelisk adjoining to give employment during the famine of 1740. The castle was the favourite residence of several of the Viceroys, one of whom, Lord Townsend, usually spent the summer there.

The party then crossed Leixlip bridge, and passed through the demesne of Capt Colthurst Vesey, and lunched at the Spa Hotel.

After luncheon the members proceeded by another road via the New Bridge to Castletown House, which Sir Peter and Lady O’Brien had invited the society to inspect. Lord Walter Fitzgerald gave a brief history of the place, and the party subsequently drove to Donacomper, through the town of Celbridge, and by the burial ground of Donacomper, which contains the remains of the old church and Alen mortuary.

The members returned to town by the evening train.

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