St Wolstan’s by William Kirkpatrick (1896)

St Wolstan’s by William Kirkpatrick, A Paper delivered during the Excursion to Celbridge by Kildare Archaeological Society September 17 1896

St Wolstan's in 1782

St Wolstan’s in 1782

THE priory of St Wolstan’s was founded in the year 1202 (or, according to Ware, 1205) for canons of the order of St Victor, by Richard, first prior of the place, and Adam de Hereford, in memory of St Wolstan, Bishop of Worcester, then newly canonized by Pope Innocent III; and the first part of the building there was commonly called scala coeli, 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. There is a tradition that the church was connected with the monastery by an underground passage, but there is no trace of it to be seen.

In 1271 William de Mandesham, or Kavesham, seneschal to Fulk, Archbishop of Dublin, granted to the priory the lands of Tristildelane, now Gastledillon, with the appurtenances thereto belonging, in Franckalmoigne.

He increased the number of the canons, and obliged them to celebrate duly his and his wife’s anniversary, on which day they were to feed thirty poor men, or to give them in lien thereof one penny each, under the penalty of 100 shillings, to be paid to the Archbishop on every such failure, and a further penalty of 100 shillings to be expended on the cathedral church of St Patrick.

In 1310, when Stephen was prior, Nicholas Taaffe gave for ever to this priory the manor of Donacomper, which was valued at £3/6s/8d yearly. Having, however, been granted without licence, it was subsequently seized into the king’s hands, but was restored to the priory in 1380.

In 1314 the churches of Stacumney and Donaghmore were granted to the sole and separate use of the prior. The church of Killadonnan, now known as Killadoon, also at one time belonged to the priory.

In 1586 Henry VIU seized on the priory and all its belongings, which are set forth in the inquisition, and appear to have been very extensive. They included lands in Straffan, Irishtown, Kildrought, Donacomper, Stacumney, Donaghmore, Killadoon, Castledillon, Tipperstown, Loughlinstown, Coolfitch, Simmondstown, Ballymakelly, Ardres (or Ardrass), and Kilmacreddock, Ballykorkeran, Backbieston (or Backweston), Inchebarton, Coldreny, Lucan, &c.

Richard Weston was the last prior in 1586, 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 firing, and proper diet, both as to eating and drinking, all of which was valued at £4 annually; and that Gerald Aylmer and Thomas Luttrell, by and with the authority of the said Act, should reserve to themselves and their heirs, during the life of the said Richard, the annual sum of £4i out of the lands aforesaid for the use of the said Richard Weston.

The manor of Kildrought, now known as Castletown, which was separated from the priory by the River Liffey, was in the fourteenth century in the possession of the Geraldines, and we read that Maurice Earl of Kildare, who died in 1890, was a munificent benefactor to the priory of St Wolstan’s.

With the dissolution of the monastery, the connection of St Wolstan’s with the Alen family begins.

John Alen, who came from Coteshale, in Norfolk, went to practise at the Irish Bar, and became Master of the Rolls in 1534. He was appointed a clerk in Parliament from 1534 to 1586, with a salary of 2s. per day during the Parliamentary session.

By letters patent, on December 1, 1538, he had a grant of the site, circuit, and lands of the late monastery of St Wolstan’s, the manor of Donaghcumper, the manor of Kildronght, and other denominations of land in Co. of Kildare for ever, by the service of one knight’s fee, rent £10.

On the death of Sir John Barnewall, Lord Trimleston, in 1538, John Alen was appointed Keeper of the Seal, and in 1539 Lord Chancellor of Ireland. By letters patent of 32 & 33 Henry VIII, he was appointed, with others, justice of the peace for Co. Meath, from which it appears that the Lord Chancellor was not ex officio a magistrate (Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland. — O’Flanagan).

In 1539-40 a Royal Commission issued to him and others, appointing them to act as deputies to Thomas Cromwell, whom the King had constituted his Vicar-General and Vice-Regent in ecclesiastical matters; and in April of the same year they were entrusted with the suppression of the religious houses.

While Alen was Chancellor, a step towards legal education was taken, and the monastery of the Friar Preachers was turned into an Inn of Chancery ancillary to the Inns of Court in England.

He was deprived of the Great Seal through the new Viceroy, St Leger, who was appointed in 1541; but by a letter from the Lord Protector Somerset and the Lords of the Council in England, when King Edward ascended the throne, addressed to the Lord Deputy and Council in Ireland: “Master Alan” was to have the restoration of all his leases, offices, goods, and chattels, notwithstanding the surrender of his office of Chancellor, with liberty to convey his goods without search or seizure into England “also the constableship of Maynooth, with the arrear of the fee, and the rest of his offices, the farm of Kyle, and all his farms, leases, and things, notwithstanding his absence.”

Queen Mary appears to have held him in much esteem, and in 1568 addressed a letter to the Lord Deputy and Chancellor, referring to him in the following terms:—

“Having licensed our trusty servant, Sir John Allen, late Chancellor of that our realm, to repair thither and demire or return at his pleasure, and considering the trusty functions which he had for a great time there, both under our father and brother, and his long experience and travail in public affairs, we judge him worthy of such trust, as he is meet always to remain one of the Privy Council, and in respect of his infirmities and age, we mind not that he should be compelled to go to any hosting or journies but when he conveniently may.”

He was of the same family as John Alen, Archbishop of Dublin, who assisted Henry YIII in the suppression of the religious houses, and who, when flying from Thomas FitzGerald, then in rebellion against King Henry, took boat from Dublin, but was driven on shore near Clontarf, sought shelter in Artane, where he was discovered, dragged from his bed, and murdered.

St Wolstan's

St Wolstan’s

When St Wolstan’s passed to the Alens, it became known as Alen’s Court. Sir John Alen died between 1688-91 without issue, being succeeded by his brother Thomas Alen of Kilkeele (or Kilteel), clerk of the Hanaper. They were followed by a long line of Alens, who intermarried with (among others) the families of Lord Gormanston, Lord Dunsany, the Luttrells, the Sarsfields, &c.

The last of the Alens connected with St Wolstan’s spent a good deal of his time in France, where he was called the Count de St Wolstan. He was an officer in the regiment of Berwick, and fought with the Irish Brigade in the battle of Fontenoy in 1746.

In consequence of the active part he had taken with the French in their wars with the English, both in Europe and India, he lost all rights to his Irish possessions, and they were sold in 1752 by the Court of Exchequer to Dr. Robert Clayton, Bishop of Glogher, who bequeathed them to his niece, Anne, wife of Dr. Thomas Bernard, Bishop of Killaloe. Father Hogan states that the house of St Wolstan’s was built from the ruins of the abbey, after the design of Mr Joshua Allen, who was no relation of the St Wolstan Alens, but was well known for his skill in architecture, and planned the unfinished house at Jigginstown for the Earl of Strafford.

During the rebellion, and for about the drat twenty years of this century, St Wolstan’s was a school kept by Mr John Coyne, and it was purchased by the grandfather of the present owner in 1822. Donacomper was purchased in the same way by my grandfather, William Kirkpatrick, in 1815, prior to which he had lived there for some few years.

The remains of St Wolstan’s priory consist of two gateways, a tower, and two fragments, and there are steps by which the tower and gateways can be ascended.

By the river below the weir is a well called the ” Scholar’s Well,” and near it are what are said to be the longest stone, the largest bone, and the deepest hole (in the Liffey) in all Ireland. Close by is a monument to Bobert Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, and his wife. It consists of an urn on a granite pedestal, which bears the following inscriptions: —

On the front: —


Roberti Clayton

Clogherensis Episcopi


Catherine Donnellan

Conjugis optimie.”

On the back:

Susrum Corde

On one side:

Renaacenteir (i renascentur)

Quae jam cecidere


Qure nunc sunt.”

On the other side: —

as dying


we live

May 1st, 1756

St Wolstan’s was used as a summer residence by the Marquis of Buckiugbam, wbo was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from December 16th, 1787, to January 5th, 1790, having previously, as Earl Temple, held the same office in 1782; and he built the garden wall at St Wolstan’s, which is a remarkably fine one, and was built with flues for the purpose of heating it.

Just below the demesne of St Wolstan’s the Liffey is spanned by a bridge, consisting of three irregular arches, called Newbridge, and which was built in 1308 by John le Decer, Mayor of Dublin.

There was a proposal in the early part of this century to pull down this bridge, as being too narrow, and to build another; but it was strongly resisted by Mr Richard Cane, Major Cane’s grandfather, who offered to build another bridge lower down at his own expense, if he was allowed to divert the road and enclose the old bridge in his demesne: but though the Grand Jury would not consent to this, the matter dropped.


The materials on which this Paper is based are chiefly drawn from the ” Monasticum Hibernicum,” Ware’s “Antiquities of Ireland” (published 1706), O’Flanagan’s Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland, and an interesting Paper by the Rev MF Hogan, formerly Roman Catholic Curate of Celbridge, published in The Ecclesiastical Record for March, 1892.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s