Kilkea (Co. Kildare / South)
Kilkea (Cill Cathaig) was the birthplace of the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton. The name in English is pronounced “Kilkay”
Kilkea Castle, now a hotel, was originally a motte and bailey built by Hugh de Lacy in 1181 for Sir Walter de Riddlesford, whose granddaughter married Maurice FitzGerald, 3rd Baron of Ophaly- The Manor of Kilkea remained in the FitzGerald family for over 700 years.
The medieval period saw frequent attacks by the O’Mores and O’Dempseys, famously defeated in 1414 by Crown forces under the command of Thomas Crawley, Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Justice of Ireland, who prayed in narby Castledermot while his army routed the rebels “with the loss of 100 of their men“.
The Wizard Earl
Kilkea Castle is particularly associated with Gerald FitxGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, who became the sole male representative and head of the Leinster Geraldines at the age of twelve in 1537 when the 10th Earl, his half brother “Silken Thomas“, was hanged drawn and quartered along with five uncles at Tyburn. Despite the best efforts of Lord Grey, the Geraldine League smuggled the child via Donegal to the continent to be educated under the auspices of King Francis I of France and Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, who ensured his safety from English agents.
He spent time with the Bishop of Verona and the Duke of Mantua, becoming fluent in Italian and experienced in the court culture of Renaissance Italy. He then spent three years studying in Rome under the guidance of his cousin Cardinal Reginald Pole, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. He joined the Knights Hospitaller in Malta and fought against the Turks in Tripoli. He returned to Kildare following the death of King Henry VIII, and was received in London to have his lands regranted to him by the young King Edward IV. He later attended the courts of both Queen Mary I, helping to suppress the 1554 Wyatt Rebellion, and Queen Elizabeth I, who restored his titles in 1569.
His interest in alchemy provoked gossip among his neighbours around Kilkea Castle; he was reputed to posses magic powers, and came to be known as the “Wizard Earl”. Although briefly incarcerated with his son in the Tower of London in 1583, he died peacefully at home in 1585. Historians dispute his role in Irish political affairs, with some regarding him as a shadowy or even sinister figure.
In folklore, the Wizard Earl is said to be not dead but enchanted, and to return to his castle every seventh year mounted on a silver-shod white charger.
The widow of the 14th Earl of Kildare, the Dowager Countess Elizabeth (née Nugent), leased the castle to the Jesuits In 1634, and they remained until 1646, when the order entertained Cardinal Rinuccini, Papal Nuncio to the Confederation of Kilkenny. The castle was captured by Cromwellian forces under Colonel Hewson in 1650.
In the early C18th the 19th Earl of Kildare decided to make Carton House the family seat and Kilkea Castle was leased to a succession of tenants, including Thomas Reynolds, a Dublin silk merchant who joined the United Irishmen through Lord Edward Fitzgerald, only to become an informer. The castle was sacked by military during the 1798 Rebellion. It was restored and extended in 1849; parts of the older section are said to be haunted.
Lord Walter FitzGerald (1858-1923), a leading antiquarian and principal moving spirit of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, lived in the castle until his death. His portly ghost, reportedly identical in appearance to Mr. Pickwick, is said to ride about the local byways, his trusty steed a bicycle rather than a white charger.
Kilkea Castle was the home of Gerald FitzGerald, Marquess of Kildare, after WWII, until he moved to Oxfordshire to work in the aviation industry. The castle was sold by his reprobate father, the 8th Duke of Leinster / 27th Earl of Kildare, in the early 1960s.
Kilkea Castle Hotel & Golf Resort, marketed as “Ireland’s pereeminent [sic] castle hotel“, with luxurious bedrooms, “medieval style gardens“, leisure / spa facilities and an expensive restaurant, fell victim to the Recession in late 2009.
The castle features some interesting medieval carvings, notably one of the FitzGerald heraldic chained monkey on the bracket supporting the chimney of the haunted wing and, oddly positioned high on the wall of the former Guard Room, a depiction of two ithyphallic monsters with a woman, believed to be an Evil Eye prophylactic along the same lines as a Sheela-na-Gig.
A prehistoric tumulus grave and a Christian burial ground stand on either side of the castle.
The old church of Kilkea houses the altar tomb where young William Fitzgerald was buried in 1623.
Plaque outside village. (Photo – Sarah777)
Kilkea lies roughly midway between Castledermot on ByRoute 6 and Athy on ByRoute 8.
Grange Mellon / Grangemellon House was the seat of Col. St Leger, a flamboyant C18th “buck” whose castellated gatelodge, fishponds and bowling green were the talk of beau High Society. He was a notorious member of the Hell Fire Club, and for many years after his death was said to tour the district by night in a flaming black carriage driven by a headless coachman and pulled by headless horses.
Levitstown (Co. Kildare / South)
Levitstown (formerly Lyvetiston) was the scene of a famous early C16th skirmish between followers of the Butlers of Ormond and the FitzGeralds of Kildare, which ended with 17 dead.
The River Barrow was diverted long this stretch c.1790 to create the Barrow Navigation Line, roughly parallel to the southern spur of the Grand Canal.
Levitstown House (1796) is an unusually large and characterful farmhouse, very well maintained, with mature landscaped grounds.
Levitstown Mill, a gaunt landmark between the Grand Canal and the Barrow Line, operated from c.1820 until it was destroyed by fire in 1942. It retains its cut granite quay, lock gates and waterwheel.
The nearby bridge spanning the Barrow Line is a rare example of a guillotine bridge, with a metal frame within which the platform is lifted vertically. It probably dates from c.1905.
Levitstown is south of Athy on ByRoute 8.
Maganey / Mageney and Jerusalem are small County Kildare communities north of Carlow Town.