18th and 19th century Celbridge Leixlip

Co. Kildare Archaeological Society Annual Excursion Meeting Part One

This article is transcribed from the Kildare Observer, 19 September 1896

Co. Kildare Archaeological Society

Annual Excursion Meeting

President – Lord Mayo

On last Thursday, the members of the Kildare Archaeological Society held their annual yearly excursion, when the tract of country selected embraced the districts of Celbridge, Leixlip and Lucan, part of he county which are rich with the remains of an antique order of architecture and civilisation, rude though it may have been which at an early period which distinguished our country and made her famous amongst the nations of Europe. Those traces of former grandeur, those seats in which learning was fostered, where the masters taught, where the friar prayed, and where the anchorite passed away his days in silence and devotion, are now almost completely swept away and are only traceable here and there by the presence of a tower, or an arch, or a pillar, which serve as marks to point out the extent of the original building and give us an idea, however faint, of men and days that belong to the far away past. Still are they rich with associations and in their melancholy desolation they speak as it were with tongues of fire and appeal to us here in the close of the 19th century to cast back our minds through the mists of years and think of them in their pristine days when they formed a sanctuary for the refugee and were the great magazines of thought and action, from whose windows burned  the bright light of education which illumined the dark cloud of ignorance that then encompassed the land. In those turbulent days when clan made war on clan, when unbridled passion and might rode roughshod over peacefulness and weakness, they formed a centre of counteracting influences to calm fierce spirits and protect the down-trodden from the free vengeance of the victor, for their portals proved, as tradition tells us, a safe haven for the defeated and here the hand of the abbot was more powerful than the sword of the soldier.

To pick up the links of their story and join them one by one into the chain of narrative is the object of this association and surely a more noble or national one it would be impossible to imagine. The names of the founders of those institutions are thus rescued  from obscurity and despite the fact that centuries have piled the oblivious years like funeral stones over them, their good intentions and their good acts are brought to light and one feels a sense of genuine admiration for men whose calmness of mind and whose broadness of idea enabled them to leave behind these monuments which even the crumbling hand of time has been unable to wholly efface. But we prefer to let the extracts, which we reproduce from the papers that were read, tell their story as they have been written by able men and with no little attention to the accuracy of fact the closeness of details.

Thursday morning broke in gloomy enough with a most unpleasant rainfall which, however, towards eleven o’clock cleared away and  the remainder of the day was fairly fine. Alighting at Hazlehatch Railway Station the entire party drove over some two miles of the Loughlinstown road to St. Wolstan’s, the seat of Major O’Kane, and after a walk of some half a mile reached the first point of the days proceedings at the ruins of the old Abbey. Prior to the reading of the paper dealing with the history of the Abbey, Mr G Mansfield, in a few well chosen sentences, expressed the regret which the members of the Association felt at the death of the Rev. D. Murphy, their vice-president and hon. editor, and a vote of condolence was unanimously voted to his relatives in their bereavement. After the reading of the paper by Mr Kirkpatrick, those present inspected  the ruins which consists of two gates and a tower from the latter of which a fine view of the park like scenery may be obtained stretching away in grove and lawn to the right, while to the left the Liffey deep and broad runs its course between banks overhung by a line of noble trees.

After visiting the Scholars’ Well and inspecting a most peculiar structure called the moss house, the frame of which is most rustic supporting a covering of beautiful moss, the party proceeded to Leixlip where a pause was made to view the famous salmon leap, and a most attractive sight it presented. It consists of five layers or ledges of rock placed at irregular intervals, the fourth being the most precipitous, over which the river water swollen by autumn rains into a boiling torrent, rushed with tremendous force until split almost into two halves by a serpentine line of boulders which runs to a small island in the centre of the stream. After some delay Leixlip Castle was next visited, and here great interest was manifested in the different apartments, particularly that known as the “King’s Room.” The castle itself commands a noble view. Away towards the north is a fine panoramic view of lawn and woodland, whilst the river “o’erhung by wild woods thickening green,” rolls outward towards the ocean.

The view from the lofty round tower is particularly fine, and though all was peace and friendliness there on last Thursday, many a fierce hand-to-hand struggle raged round its walls in the feudal days of yore. Leaning over its battlement on that calm autumn evening, the mind’s eye was irresistibly carried back along the avenue of time to the days when the English power was beginning to take root in Ireland, and this keep formed one of its strongholds, one of the bulwarks of the Pale for resisting the incursions of the native clansman. The principal actors in these scenes have long since passed away. The castle, denuded of its portcullis and drawbridge, has been transformed into a comfortable modern residence, and nothing remains of its heroes, it scares and changes but the voice of tradition, which still fondly loves to linger in the corridors of time.

Leaving the castle, the parish church was next visited. The principle tablets being pointed out to the visitors; one being erected to the memory of a member of the white family, and bears the date 1654, and also, strangely enough, two in connection with the Devonshire family. In the centre of the nave is a large flagstone, which tells us that it covers the remains of Dr Price, a former Archbishop of Cashel, who passed hence on the 17th July, 1753, at the ripe age of 74 years. After quitting the church, the party again remounted the cars, and a magnificent drive through Col Vesey’s domain, parallel with the river, brought it to the Lucan Spa Hotel, where luncheon was served; after partaking of which a start was made for Castletown house, the noble family seat of the Connollys, but at present in the occupation of the Lord Chief Justice. Here two interesting papers, dealing specifically with the building and the family, were read; after which his Lordship and her Ladyship kindly showed the visitors over the house.

Donacomper graveyard then claimed attention, and here a brightly written and attractive paper was read by Mr Kirkpatrick. This being finished the part repaired for tea to the residence of the author. Donacomper is an extremely interesting house, occupying a very pretty situation, and containing within its four walls many articles of great interest. On the walls of the drawing room are two splendid specimens of tapestry work, which are of great value. The guests were here most hospitably entertained by Mrs Kirkpatrick, who is a most charming hostess, after which the party dispersed after a most enjoyable day.

Amongst those who took part in the excusion were: – Lady Mayo, Lord and Lady Drogheda; Most Rev Mgr Denis Gargan, President Maynooth College; Rev Dr O’Dea, Vice-President Maynooth College; Mr George Mansfield, D L; Mr M J Synnott, Major and Mrs Rynd, Mr J Loch C I, R I C, 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 C Molloy, Mr and Mrs Carroll, Mr and Mrs Davidson Houston, Mr A D Cooper, B L; Mr Grove White, Solicitor; Miss Margaret Stokes, Mr W Mooney, 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 Lord Chief Justice Sir Peter O’Brien Bart; the Rev L R Somers, Dunboyne; Charles Daly, Esq, Sub-Sheriff, Co. Kildare; Thos. E O’Kelly, M.D., Maynooth; Rev C I Graham, Celbridge; Earl of Drogheda, Countess of Drogheda, Geo. C A Colley, Esq., Dr Norman Bath; — Clarke, Esq., Athgoe Park; William Mooney, Esq. Leixlip Castle; W A Murphy, Osberstown House, Naas.

At St Wolstan’s, before reading the paper, Mr Mansfield said he had been asked, in absence of their president, Lord Mayo, to remind those present that that was to be the first meeting they held since the death of the Rev Father Murphy, who was their vice-president and hon. editor, and one of their first duties would be to pass a resolution of sympathy with his relatives in their sad bereavement. The late Rev gentleman was one of the foremost archaeologists in Ireland, and he had always evinced the greatest interest in their society. They owed a deep debt of gratitude to him, and he felt sure it would be hard to replace him.

The resolution was carried unanimously in silence.

In the course of his paper, Mr Kirkpatrick said 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 Richards, first Prior of the place, and Addin 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 Sala Coeli, or the Steps of Heaven. De Hereford granted to Richard, the first Prior, the lands on the river Liffey and the church of Donacomper, which had existed before the foundation of the monastery. In 1271, William, seneschal to Fulke, Archbishop of Dublin, granted to the Prior the lands of Castledillon, and increased the number of canons and obliged  them to celebrate his own and his wife’s anniversary, on which day they were to feed 30 poor persons or give them instead a penny each under penalty of 100 shillings. In 1310 when Stephen was Prior, Nicholas Taffe gave to this Priory the manor of Donacomper, which was valued at £8 6s 8d yearly, but having been granted without a license it was subsequently seized.




18th and 19th century Celbridge 20th Century Celbridge

Walks in County Kildare

This article is transcribed from the Kildare Observer 30 December 1916

Walks in County Kildare

Interesting History

Castle of Lyons.

The Hill of Lyons is an object of beauty attracting us by the strident verdancy of its graceful slopes descending to the plains. On its summit the design of its forestry suggests a battle. Advancing from opposite directions the woods abruptly halt, leaving a green space of no man’s land in between. In the 12th century Henry II possibly surveyed the hill, marked it as his own, and formed it into the first Royal manor. In a State paper we are told, in all Leinster, he kept for himself only the barony of Newcastle-Lyons, “and we cannot see that the King had in all Ireland any inheritance of the Crown, only the lordship of Newcastle.” The first Norman holder was Walleran de Wellesey, who was a travelling Justice of Ireland in 1261. Ten years later he held the New Castle of Lyons from the Crown, and was slain in 1303. He was succeeded in the 13th century by the Aylmer family, who held the property through five centuries; then it passed into the possession of the Lawless family.

Farm Hill.

Crossing Henry Bridge over the canal, the road leads up Lyons Hill. The first lodge on the left admits to the lands of Clonaghlis, an ancient parish in County Kildare. During the Ordnance Survey of 1837 inquiries were made locally, and the report was: — “Clonaghlis goes now in common by the modern name of Farm Hill. Clonoclis is not at all known as a parish name among the people, who do not even remember there was a church called by such a name.” The place is still known as Farm Hill and the Irish name is never applied. The parish church and cemetery have wholly passed into oblivion.

A Welsh Colony.

In the 12th century Conquest of Ireland the invaders were the4 Welsh, Normans and Flemings. Their chief settlements lay between Naas and Lyons, where a strong Welsh colony was established. The first Welsh holder of the lands of Clonaghlis was Peter of Carmarthen, who gave the church of Clonacles and all its appurtenances to the Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr, which was founded in Dublin in the presence of Archbishop Laurence O’Toole in the year 1177. The grant was ratified by the Bishops and Canons of Kildare, when the churches of Clonaghles, Ougterward and Castle Warden were also granted to the Abbey. An exchange of lands between Clonaghls and Oughterard is also recorded. Clonaghlis is mentioned in Inquisitions in the reigns of James and Charles.


A short distance from these lands, adjacent to one of the entrance gates of the Lyons demesne, and ancient cemetery was discovered called The Relick, perhaps a vestige of the old parish graveyard. A moat at the top of the hill probably gave the place its name. The total culmination of parish, church and cemetery is a curious occurrence, and the only explanation I might venture to make is that they were absorbed in the Norman parish of Newcastle Lyons. The hill on the opposite side of the road is known as Boston Hill.


The road on the right, higher up, leads all over the hill, a long delightful country walk, with fine views over the Kildare plains; but as an alternative we come back to the Canal and turn to the left along its banks. It is a long stretch of over two miles to Ponsonby Bridge, which bears date 1794. An old windmill stands in a flooded field, but its sails are missing. One does not expect to find a lovely chapel on the uninhabited banks of a canal. Yet one is to be seen in the hamlet of Ardclough, with a National School, erected in the year 1839, and a few houses. Further on is an old toll-gate near a thatched cottage. Crossing the bridge, we pass into Baronsrath, the country of the Fitzgeralds, Barons of Naas. The place, however, evidently got its name from Henry Baroun, who held lands in Barony. In 1318, William of London, who owed Walter Istelep £169 sterling, was obliged to give all the lands of Baronsrath in discharge of his debt. no trace of rath or castle is found in this old baronial property. A handsome modern house stands vacant.

Whitechurch: Two Holy Wells.

A short walk up a pretty, wooded country road leads to the parish of Whitechurch. Two iron gates bar the way to the ancient cemetery, but they are easily crossed. There is a strong castle tower here, if we could see it naked, but it is heavily encumbered with dense masses of ivy. Its strong outer walls are stained with lichens. A well-preserved circular flight of stone steps leads up to the first storey, where we find a ground floor, but the overgrowth of ivy obscures every outline. Over the bronzed ivy leaves rise thousands of light green floral plumes, the stamens resembling tiny drumsticks. A great breach in the wall near the foundation gives a glimpse of a deep, gloomy dungeon, and makes us shudder when we think that human beings were confined here, perhaps in chained captivity. A large ruined chapel is attached to the tower, and here again we find a surfeit of vegetation. Outside and inside are crowded with the ready sprouts of ancient elder trees. Immense branches of purple berries hang pendant, from which birds extract the juice, which in olden times was brewed by frugal housewives into elderberry wine. There are two splayed windows, supported on the lintels, on each side of the ruined chapel. There is no chancel. The end window is large and some later masonry has been inserted. On the ivy-carpeted floor, among moss green stones, lies a large, square-holed font. Outside the ruins there are two holy wells, one called the Lady’s Well, the other nameless. Time has worn the older gravestones jagged and thin, and the inscriptions have long been erased. There are also one or two squat granite crosses. Some tall dark Irish yews add to the solemnity of the place.

Turnings House.

It is stated that these fortified ruins were once a Carmelite monastery, but there is no corroboration. In the year 1329 we find William of London granting the lands of Whitechurch to John Plunkett. Nearly two centuries later, in 1508, it belonged to Sir William Preston, second Viscount of Gormanstown. Then Jenice Preston, third Earl, leased the manor of Whitechurch on February 16, 1560 to Patrick Sarsfield, merchant of Dublin, and brother of Sir William Sarsfield of Lucan, who afterwards acquired the property. 

At the head of the road we keep to the left and cross the quaint old bridge over the Great Morrel river, which in the 18th century supplied the Grand Canal with water. In close proximity stands Turning House, a grey, modern three-storeyed mansion, covered with the glorious fiery red foliage of Virginia creeper. In its back wall there is a carved stone window with four curious figures of animals, resembling some of the signs of the Zodiac. These probably date from the 14th century. On another tablet is engraved: “Thomas Par, 1711.” In the year 1414 Thomas Brit granted to Christopher de Preston, Knight, the manor of Turmag.

A Ghostly legend.

We now pass on to Sallins road and keep to the right. A gate here is known as the Gallows Gate, and a stretch of land is called Crookawn. Further on the weatherworn great walls of Straffan estate come in sight, and we get a magnificent exhibition of the fading glories of autumn. The birches, with silver holes, are putting forth all their golden splendour in their final change of raiment this season. A high, wood-encased pump is the sole outstanding object. A few perches to the left reveals a row of small cottages, the only habitable part of Ladycastle.

Travelling by train to Straffan we find our way to the village. The road runs straight into Lower Turnings, but at a white gate we keep to the right through the townland of Ballyhaise, and reach the bridge over the Liffey. The wayside is full of rural charm. The white flower of the Yarrow and the faint blue of the Scabieus still linger. The hedges are bright with the yellow rosy berries of the dog-rose, and the clustered purple beads of the corymbs of the elder trees. The glory of autumn is freshly painted on the tinted foliage. Haws are scarce, but the thorn bushes are black and red with berries awaiting the pickers. Beside the bridge a high wall thickly covered with ivy suggests the ruins of the old medieval castle. Tall feathery pines, lichened in quaker grey, stand about it like ghostly sentinels. Investigation, however, proves it an old disused flour mill.

Straffan House

Glancing upstream, along a line of silvered willows, we get a view of Straffan House. It was built in the year 1832, and resembles a French chateau. Right in front of the house is a large island, called Inismore, around which the impetuous torrent of the Liffey sweeps, till it reaches a weir, over which the waters tumble in muddy froth.

The Bartons are said to have come over to Ireland from Lancashire with the army of Essex in Elizabethan days, but they did not acquire this property till the year 1831. Their predecessors were the Henrys. The Reverend Robert Henry was Presbyterian minister of Carrickfergus, who died in Dublin in the year 1633. His son Hugh was a successful banker who built up a huge fortune, and purchased the Straffan House estate in 1717. He married Anne, daughter of Joseph Leeson, sister of the first Earl of Miltown. A descendant was wedded to a daughter of the princely House of Leinster. The Henry family squandered their great wealth, and were obliged to sell their Straffan property and live abroad. An underground passage from the mansion to the stables may be described as a Henry folly. Passing down the road, the trees overhang the estate walls. The dark bronze of the oaks contrasts with the prevailing orange and rich, ruddy brown; while underfoot the fallen chestnuts pebble the ground with mahogany.

Churchyard Pathos

Further on we pass the parish church with tower and spire, built by the Bartons in 1837; then comes the village, with a neat row of cottages and gardens. Treasure trove was found in the end garden last year – 29 large French silver coins, the size of an English crown piece, dated the 16th century. Beyond lies the churchyard, “where the rude forefather of the hamlet sleep.” Christianity separated them in many ways during their lifetime, and in death their ashes are permanently divided. The Catholics are buried on one side, the Protestants on the other. A pathetic touch, strong enough to bring tears to our eyes, is found on one tombstone. “here lies Biggy Tommy, a mother’s son. Rest in Peace. Also two brothers.” It is the family grave of the Carey’s of Kilmainham. In another grave a woman has buried her three husbands. The village sculptor spells July with a G.

In the midst of the cemetery rises a picturesque “ivy-clad” castled tower with a ruined chapel attached. Little is recorded of these buildings. Straffan first appears as Trachstraph when it was granted by Strongbow to Maurice Fitzgerald. After the dissolution of the reign of Henry VIII we find that Richard Weston, last Prior of St. Wolstan’s, held property in Straffan. In the Inquisitions of James I and Charles I there are references to the parochial church of Straffan.

Lady Castle

A short distance down the Bohereen lane as it is called we arrive at a field with a mansion in the background. It was inhabited by a family named Whitelaw, and the house still bears the family name. The field has a circular raised rampart with a double circle of ditches. The circumference is considerable, and it must have been the site of a large military encampment. Ramparts and ditches are well preserved. It is stated that it was an ancient boundary of the Pale. The succeeding field has an old Irish rath.

Doubling back here we recross the bridge, and further on the fingerpost points the way to Sallins. This road brings us to Ladycastle. Some vestiges of the old estate existed in the early part of last century, but they have disappeared.

On March 23, 1227, there was a great assembly of lords and high officials to make provision for the mother of Baron David of Naas. The Baron granted to his mother the manor of Ladycastle and Tolachtyper, and all the appurtenances. David Fitzgerald was evidently a loving son for he stipulated that if the lands of Ladycastle did not produce sufficient revenue for his mother’s upkeep that it should be supplemented from other sources. In the 11th century Ladycastle was in the possession of the Wellesley family.

The Count of the Grail

The adjoining townlands are Upper and Lower Turnings. The chief motive of this paper is to put forward a notion of mind as to the significance and origin of the Turnings. I have long been convinced that Sir Perceval lived in Ireland and evidences in support of this belief have been frequently put forward by me in these articles. Arthurian romances show that his father came to Ireland, and that Sir Perceval was educated and trained for the Knighthood by Gorneman , an old Irish knight. In the first volume of “Perceval de Gallois on le conte du Graal,” a manuscript preserved in the Burgundian Library in Brussels, there is an account of a battle between Sir Perceval and the Knight of the Dragon at Turning Castle.

This romance has been brilliantly translated by Dr. Sebastian Evans, under the title of “The High History of the Holy Grail” – a book of exceptional fascination and interest. The romance is full of stories of bewildering magic and enchantment, which are purely imaginative and must be brushed aside before we reach the rock-bottom facts. The lady who owned the castle here was called the Queen of the Golden Circlet, and the romance tells us “she had for name Elysa, and a good life she led and right holy, and she died a virgin. Her body still lieth in the Kingdom of Ireland, where she is highly honoured.

My studies in the Perceval romances have led me to fix the date of his adventures as taking place in the last decades of the 12th century. These lands were given to Maurice Fitzgerald in 1171, including Trachstraph, or Tech Straffain – the house of Straffan. He died in 1176. His wife’s name was Alice or Alicia, and I assume she must be the Elysa of the romance. She, as in the case of the later widow of Baron David, was given the house of Straffan as her dower, and from her originated the name of Ladycastle, and also Ladychapel and Ladyhill in the same neighbourhood. The statement that she was a virgin is probably an assumption.

Now it is curious to find that the first reference to Turning castles are found in an old Irish manuscript of the 8th century, “The Voyage of Maeldun,” which Tennyson made the subject of one of his poems. Máeldun comes to an island around which runs a fiery rampart. “After that they sight another island, which was not large, and a fiery rampart was around it, and that rampart used to revolve round the island. There was an open door in the side of the rampart, and whenever that doorway came opposite to them they saw the whole island, and all that dwelt therein.” There are several references to Turning castle in the Arthurian romances.

Knight Of The Dragon

Now the field at Straffan, which I have described, appears to offer a solution of the mystery of this flame encircled field.  Fire was evidently used for defence purposes. These two great ditches were, perhaps, filled with wood and other inflammable matter, and when the enemy approached were set ablaze. The surging flames moving around in these vast circles may have created an illusion of a revolving island.

To return to the story, Perceval had his quarters in the island of elephants, which may be identified with the island in the Liffey, which is only a short distance from Ladycastle. This may be a corruption of an Irish name. We are reminded that, in Dublin, about two centuries ago, Mellifont Lane was corrupted into Elephant Lane. The Knight got his title from a great shield which he carried with a “dragon’s head in the midst that casteth out fire and flame in great plenty, so foul and hideous and horrible that all the field stank thereof.”  The lady of the castle prays Sir Perceval to go out and slay the Knight, “for the longer you tarry, the more lands will be desolate, and the more folk will be slain.” Sir Perceval advances to the attack, but the Knight of the Dragon ejected a jet of fire that burned his shaft up to his hand. Then we are told that “a further flame that issued from the Dragon’s head turned back again, as it had been blown of the wind, so that it might not come nigh Sir Perceval.” Then Perceval plunged his sword into the dragon’s mouth, which turned towards his lord, who was scorched and burned to dust.

There are things symbolic and mysterious in all this, which we will not attempt to interpret. The revolving turrets and the jets of flame and poisonous gasses are not unknown to us to-day in modern warfare. The greatest of the Arthurian romances were composed in France and Germany.

The best of all is the Parzifal of Wolfram von Eschenbach, the Bavarian of knightly family, who tells us in his immortal poem that he could not read or write. Probably the incident related told from the Norman side, is the story of some Irish chieftain who descended from the hills to drive out the new settlers, and recover the inheritance of his race.

18th and 19th century Celbridge Castletown People of Celbridge Sport


The following article is transcribed from the Kildare Observer, 24 May 1902.


On Monday Prince Henry of Prussia brought his visit to the Marquis and Marchioness of Ormonde at Kilkenny castle to a close. He left Kilkenny by the 11.30 a.m. train, and journeyed by mail to Hazelhatch.  He was accompanied by the Hon. Gerald Cadogan, A. D. C., and Captain Egidy, A. D. C.

At Hazelhatch a Viceregal carriage, which had come down from Dublin early in the day, was in waiting, and Prince Henry on alighting was received by Colonel Sir Gerald Dease and Captain Walter Lindsay.  His Royal Highness and party then drove with Sir Gerald Dease to the latter gentleman’s handsome residence, Celbridge Abbey, and were entertained at luncheon.  After luncheon Prince Henry drove with his host and the Hon Gerald Cadogan across to the grounds of the County Kildare Polo Club in Castletown Demesne.  Here there was a considerable gathering in anticipation of a polo match between a team, for which Prince Henry was to play.  On the grounds of the polo club His Royal Highness was received by Colonel de Robeck, M. F. H., Captain Hall, secretary of the club, and several other members.  Shortly afterwards Her Excellency the Countess Cadogan, accompanied by the Countess of Rossmore, Mrs. Greet, and Miss Farquharson, arrived on the polo ground, having driven from the Viceregal Lodge in open carriages.  Greetings having been exchanged with Prince Henry, the latter joined the Viceregal team and engaged in a very interesting and spiritedly-contested game of polo.  The day was splendidly fine, and the magnificent demesne of Castletown looked exceptionally well.

Later in the afternoon the distinguished visitors were entertained at afternoon tea in Castletown House.

At the conclusion of the polo game Prince Henry drove back to the Viceregal Lodge, in company with the Countess Cadogan and party.

The Polo Match

The going was in the finest condition, the recent rain having a good effect on it. The ground is one of the finest in the Three Kingdoms, both from the extent and surroundings, and the rich woodland of Castletown demesne looked to the best advantage.  The day was splendidly fine, but a strong west wind made it somewhat inconvenient to the onlookers, of whom there was a large gathering of the gentry of the locality and surrounding districts.  Amongst those present were:- Sir Gerald Dease, Colonel Clements, and party; Colonel H. Gore Lindsay, Lady Kathleen Lindsay, Miss Kathleen Lindsay, Mrs. and Miss McNeill, Ballinstown; Miss Johnston, Roselawn; Miss Ponsonby, Ryeville; Mr. and Mrs. Howard, Mr. and Mrs. H. McNeill, Mr. Leycester Penrhyn, Mr. J. Whiteside Dane, Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher, Capt. and Mrs. Steeds, Mr. William, Mrs. and Miss McNeill, Miss Perry, Mr. R. and Miss Maunsell, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Rowley, Col. and Miss Parsons, Mr. Metcalf, Rev. Canon and Mrs. Graham, Misses Bellaney, Mr., Mrs. and Misses Hamilton, Major Hamilton, Capt. Keogh, Col. de Robeck, M. F. H.; Capt. Hall, Mrs. Hall, Mrs. de Burgh, Miss Zoe de Burgh, Miss Lindsay Fitzpatrick, Lady Olivia Fitzpatrick, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. H. F. Hardy, Mr. and Mrs. Cramer-Roberts, Mr. Maunsell, D.I., Mr. Crane C. I., R.I.C.; Madame Leonie, Miss Broe, Miss C. Broe, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, Mr. Cloonan, the Misses Fennell, etc.

Soon after 4 o’clock the teams lined out as follows:-

Viceregal Team:- Mr. Nash, Prince Henry, Captain Hall, Captain Walter Lindsay (back).


County Kildare:- Mr. Howard, Mr. E. Bellaney, Mr. Leycester Penrhyn, Col. de Robeck, (back).


The Viceregal team opened by getting possession, and had a short advantage, which was nullified by Mr. Howard aided by Colonel de Robeck.  The Kildares then got away to the Viceregal territory, but Prince Henry and Captain Lindsay relieved the pressure in front of the posts, knocking aside.  A lengthened scrimmage followed, and the Kildare team pressed hard, but were not driven off, and the first score went up to their credit.  The visitors again led the way, Captain Hall and Captain Lindsay being most prominent.  The Prince got an opening and made a good effort, but just missed sending through.  On the hit out the Kildares led with a fine gallop down to their antagonists’ quarters and after some light hitting on both sides the second goal was recorded for the home side.  The first bell went soon after.  Resuming on neutral ground, Kildare went away with a rush, and Mr. Penrhyn put on the next goal.  The home team played splendidly now.  Colonel de Robeck got away, but fast riding by the Prince pulled him up close on the lines, and hard riding down the field soon put the home side defending.  Colonel de Robeck, with a fine back stroke, gave relief for a moment, but the Viceregal team could not be got away, and after a fine drive by Prince Henry Captain Lindsay converted.  There was now a general interchange of play on both sides.  A run was made to the Kildare quarters, but some loose hitting brought play away, and the home team put on their fourth goal just at half-time.  The Viceregal now showed in the ascendant, Captain Lindsay doing effective hitting, but broke his stick at the critical point, when the press was relieved and play brought to the opposite quarter.  The onslaught was relieved, and the Viceregal team soon had their opponents defending, but a few good hits brought play to mid-field.  Here a fine rush was made by Kildare, but Prince Henry beat the attack off.  The Viceregal team now attacked, and had the ball over their antagonists’ line three times in succession.  From the hit out relief came, but they renewed the attack and put up the second goal to their credit just as the third interval arrived.  Resuming, the visitors led off, and were on the Kildare line, and Captain Lindsay made a fine rush, but not having a backer, the side lost a good opening.  The attack was continued from the near side quarter, Prince Henry making a good pass, which was taken by Captain Hall and the third goal recorded.  The visitors again led off, and hard playing on both sides followed.  Prince Henry hit a fine back-hander, and Captain Lindsay put up the next goal, and in less than a minute from changing over they put up the fifth goal, leaving the score equal.  Soon after the Viceregal side got away and scored their sixth goal.  They seemed now to have their own way, overriding the Kildares.  The ball was sent twice over the line close by the posts, and it was hard luck the visitors did not score again.  Mr. Nash had a lot to do in keeping off Colonel de Robeck.  The local team were held a long time defending, but they could not ward off the attack, and the seventh goal was scored.  The game soon afterwards ended with the visitors having the better of the argument in their opponents’ lines.


Viceregal………………7 goals

Co. Kildare…………….5 goals

Prince Henry rode ponies placed at his service by Captain Steeds.  He played remarkably well in the latter part of the match, showing great dash and strong driving powers.


18th and 19th century Celbridge Early Years Napier Family

A Description of Celbridge 1785: the Napiers, Mr. Bagnal’s School, Molly Dunne, and life as a young officer

A Description of Celbridge 1785: the Napiers, Mr. Bagnal’s School, Molly Dunne, and life as a young officer


Extract taken from Sir Charles Napier, by Colonel Sir William F. Butler (Macmillan & Co, London: 1890)

Lieutenant General Sir William Francis Butler GCB, PC (31 October 1838 – 7 June 1910), from Ballyslatteen, Golden, County Tipperary. He was one of the great 19th century adventure officers. Image: Lieutenant Colonel W. F. Butler. C.B. Taken in 1883 as Queen’s A.D.C. From William Butler an autobiography (London, 1911), p. 250.
The Home at Celbridge
Oakleigh House, Celbridge, County Kildare


TEN miles west of Dublin, on the north bank of the Liffey, stands a village of a single street,”* called Celbridge. In times so remote that their record only survives in a name, some Christian hermit built here himself a cell for house, church, and tomb; a human settlement took root around the spot; deer -tracks widened into pathways; pathways broadened into roads; and at last a ‘bridge spanned the neighbouring stream. The church and the bridge, two prominent land-marks on the road of civilisation, jointly named the place, and Kildrohid or “the church by the bridge” became hence- forth a local habitation and a name, twelve hundred years later to be anglicised into Celbridge. To this village of Celbridge in the year 1785 came a family which had already made some stir in the world, and was destined to make more.


Colonel the Hon. George Napier and his wife Lady Sarah Lennox were two remarkable personages. The one a tall and majestic soldier, probably the finest specimen of military manhood then in the service of King George the Third; the other a lady of such beauty, wit, and grace that her fascination had induced the same King George to offer her all his heart and half his throne. Fate and politics marred this proposed romantic royal union, and the lovely Lady Sarah, after a most unhappy first marriage, became in 1777 the wife of Colonel George Napier, and in the following dozen years the mother of a large family, in whose veins ran the blood of a list of knights and kings and nobles sufficient to fill a peerage all to itself; for on one side the pedigree went back to the best of the old Scottish cavaliers to Montrose, and the Napiers of Merchiston, and the Scotts of Thirlestane; and on the other it touched Bourbon, Stuart, and Medici, and half a dozen other famous sources. It would have been strange if from such parents and with such stock the nest which was built in Celbridge in 1785 did not send forth far- flying birds.


The house in which the Napiers took up their resi-dence in this year stood a short distance from the* western end of the village. It was a solid, square build-ing of blue-gray limestone, three-storied and basemented, with many tall narrow windows in front and rear, and a hall door that looked north and was approached by arched steps spanning a wide stone area surround-ing the basement; green level fields, with fences upon Avhich grew trees and large bushes, spread around the house to north and west, and over the tops of oak and beeches to the south a long line of blue hills lay upon the horizon. Looking south towards these hills the eye saw first a terrace and garden, then a roadway partly screened by trees, and beyond the road the grounds of Marley Abbey sloping to the Liffey, holding within them still the flower-beds and laurel hedges amid which Vanessa spent the last sorrow -clouded years of her life. But to the boys up in the third-story nursery, looking out in the winter evenings to snowy Kippure or purple Sleve-rhue, the loves and wrongs of poor Vanessa mattered little. What did matter to them, however and mattered so much that through a thousand scenes of future death and danger they never forgot it was, that there stood a certain old larch tree in the corner of the pleasure-ground where the peacocks fluttered up to roost as the sun went down beyond the westmost Wicklow hill-top, and that there was a thick clump of Portugal laurels and old hollies where stares, or starlings as they call them in England, came in flocks at nightfall, and sundry other trees and clumps in which blackbirds with very yellow winter beaks flew in the dusk, sounding the weirdest and wildest cries, and cocked their fan-spread tails when they lighted on the sward where the holly and arbutus berries lay so thick.


Colonel George Napier by Walker & Cockerell aquatint photogravure, late 19th century. D31909; Portrait – National Portrait Gallery, London.
Lady Sarah Napier (née Lennox, formerly Bunbury) by Walker & Cockerell aquatint photogravure, late 19th century. D31910 National Portraits Gallery, London.
Colonel George Napier

When Colonel Napier settled at Celbridge he was still in his prime, a man formed both in mind and body to conquer and direct in camp, court, or council; and yet, for all that, a failure as the world counts its prizes and blanks in the lottery of life. He had recently returned from the American War, where he had served with distinction. He had filled important offices abroad and at home, and by right of intellect and connection might look forward almost with certainty to high military command, but he had one fatal bar against success in the career of arms, as that noble profession was practised in the reign of George the Third and for a good many years after he was in political opinion intensely liberal and intensely outspoken. The phrase “political opinion ” is perhaps misleading. Colonel Napier’s liberalism was neither a party cry nor a prejudice. It sprang from a profound love of justice, an equally fixed hatred of oppression, and a wide -reaching sympathy with human suffering that knew no distinction of caste or creed. The selection of Celbridge as the Napiers’ family residence at this period was chiefly decided by the proximity of the village to the homes of Lady Sarah’s two sisters the Duchess of Leinster at Carton, and Lady Louisa Conolly at Castletown indeed only the length of the village street separated the beautiful park of Castletown from the Napiers’ home, and Castletown woods and waters were as free to the children’s boyish sports and rambles as its saloons were open to them later on when the quick-running years of boyhood carried them into larger life. Whatever was beautiful and brilliant in Irish society and there was much of both then met in the Castletown drawing-rooms. They were to outward seeming pleasant years, those seventeen hundred and eighties and early nineties in Ireland. The society that met at Castletown formed a brilliant circle of orators, soldiers, wits, and statesmen, many of whose names still shine brightly through the intervening century. Grattan, Curran, Flood, Charlemont, the Ponsonbys, Parnell, the Matthews, and younger but not less interesting spirits were in the group too; the ill-fated Lord Edward Fitzgerald (first cousin to the Napier boys); young Robert Stewart, still an advanced Liberal, not yet seeing that his road to fortune lay behind instead of before him; and there was another frequent guest at Castletown a raw-boned, youthful ensign, generally disliked, much in debt to his Dublin tailor, but nevertheless regarded by Colonel Napier, at least, as a young man of promise, who, if fate gave him opportunity, would some day win fame as a soldier one Ensign Wellesley, or, as he then wrote his name, Arthur Wesley.


Early Years

When the Napier coach drove into Celbridge with the newly-arriving family in 1785, there was in it a very small boy, Charles by name, the eldest son of the hand-some colonel and his beautiful wife a small, delicate-looking child, who had been born at the Richmond residence in Whitehall just three years earlier. Two other children younger than Charles made up, with the due complement of nurses and boxes, an imposing cavalcade, and for days after the arrival baggage and books these last not the least important items in the family future continued to trundle through the village.


Twelve years go by; 1797 has come. Long ago what an age in childhood seem these few flying years! little Charles has made himself at home in a circle ever widening around the Celbridge nest. He has a fishing- rod, and the river east and west has been explored each year a longer distance. He has a pony, and the mountains to the south have given up their wonders to himself and his four-footed friend. And finally, grandest step of all in the boy’s ladder, he has a gun, and the wood-pigeons of Castletown and the rabbits out in big fences to the west know him as one more enemy added to the long list of their foes.


And how about the more generally recognised factors of boy-training school and schoolmaster 1 Well, in these matters we get a curious picture of army-training in that good old time when George the Third was King. At the age of twelve little Charlie Napier had been nominated to a pair of colours in His Majesty’s Thirty-Third Regiment of Foot. War had broken out with France. Mr. Pitt was borrowing some fifty millions every year, and commissions in Horse, Foot, and Dragoons, in Hessian and Hanoverian Corps, in Scotch Fencibles and Irish Yeomanry and English Militia, were plentiful as black- berries in the Celbridge fields. But though Charles had on many occasions shown himself a little lad of big heart and steady courage in sundry encounters with fish, flesh, and fowl, he was still too young to fight a Frenchman; and besides, it was even then a canon of war that before you are fit to kill an enemy in the field you must be able to write a nice letter to him, and perchance to talk to him in his own language, and to draw little lines and tracings of the various emplacements and scarps and counter-scarps by which you propose to knock his cities about his ears, and otherwise blow him and his off the face of the earth.


Mr. Bagnel’s School

So, instead of proceeding with the Duke of York’s army to Flanders, Charles was sent to Mr. Bagnel’s school in Celbridge village. A very humble and unpretending scholastic institution was Mr. Bagnel’s academy, not much further removed from the hedge-school of the time than the single street of Celbridge was distant from the green hedges around it; and of a very mixed description were the numerous boys who gathered there to receive from Mr. Bagnel’s mind, and frequently also from his hand, the instruction mental and physical which he deemed essential for their future guidance. The boys were chiefly the sons of Dublin merchants or local better-class farmers, and were, with the exception of the Napiers, all Roman Catholics. That Charles and his brothers George and William should soon become the leaders of the school, and the child-champions of its youthful democracy, was not to be wondered at. They represented to the other boys the three most taking and entrancing things of boy life genius, courage, and strength. All three boys were plucky as eagles, but Charles was captain by reason of his superior intelligence ; George was lieutenant on account of reckless daring; William was ensign because of immense strength; and all were beloved because they, the grandsons of a duke, were ever ready to uphold with the weapons of boyhood the rights and freedom of their Catholic comrades against the over-bearing usurpations and tyrannies of a large neighbouring seminary, where the more favoured sons of Protestant ascendancy were being booked and birched.


At ten o’clock every morning the Napier boys pro-ceeded up the village to school, and at three they came down the single street for home. Great was the com- motion when this hour of breaking-up arrived; it was the event of the day for the villagers, and no wonder, for then a strange sight was often to be seen. There were pigs in Celbridge in these days, tall gaunt animals with wide flapping ears that hung over their eyes, and long legs that could gallop over the ground; and it is said that, mounted on the backs of those lean and agile hogs, the Napier boys were wont to career homeward with scholars and pig-owners following in wild pursuit.


“What a terrible training!” I think I hear some worthy parent or pedagogue exclaim, reading this deplorable incident. And yet it is not all so clear this matter of boy-training. Would not the guiding lights of Eton and Harrow and Rugby stand aghast at such companionship, such a scene as this hog race down the village  “Still, somehow or other, when I walk round Trafalgar Square or down Waterloo Place, I seem to miss these great centres of training in the statues of Nelson, Havelock, Franklin, Clyde, Gordon, Lawrence, Napier; and I see beyond the bronze or the marble the boy -hero at his village school one at Foyle, another at Taunton, a third at Celbridge, a fourth at St. Ives, a fifth at Swanscombe until I come to think it is not quite so certain that we know all about the matter. So too, when my mind turns to the subject of military teaching, and I compare the course of school training Charles and William Napier received at the hands of Mr. Bagnel with our modern system of competitive cramming, I am forced to the conclusion that both these brilliant soldiers would have been ignominiously “plucked ” for entrance to Sandhurst or Woolwich; nor does the outside and casual training which these boys underwent show with less disadvantage beside our modern system. How a professor of military history, for instance, would have scorned the tuition in the practice of war conveyed to Ensign Charles Napier by old Molly Dunne as she sat in her cottage porch of a summer evening telling the listen- ing boys about her battles and sieges. She was the Celbridge carpenter’s great -grandmother, and of pro- digious age. She could tell her listeners how she had seen the last real lord of Celbridge ride forth to fight for his king, their own great-great-great-granduncle, at the Boyne, just one hundred years earlier, and how she had seen his body brought back to be laid in the old graveyard of Kildrohid, close to their own gateway. That was a long look back, but Molly’s memory went further off still, for she could tell of wilder times of war and havoc; of how as a little child she had heard people speak of the red days at Drogheda and Wexford, when Cromwell imagined that he had found a final method of dealing with the Irish question. This wonderful old woman, who had seen more of actual war than had many of the generals by whose military knowledge and experience Mr. Pitt just at this moment fondly hoped he was going to stop the French Revolution, was said to be about one hundred and thirty years of age.


The Best Schoolmaster

But Charles Napier and his brothers had the benefit of one outside teacher, the value of whose teaching to them it would not be easy to exaggerate; out of doors and indoors, on the river and the mountain, their father was their best school-master. From him Charles Napier learned a thousand lessons of truth and justice, of honour in arms, of simplicity in life, of steady purpose, of hatred for pomp and show and empty-headed pride, of pity for the poor, of sympathy with the oppressed, of fearless independence of character, which those who care to follow us through these pages will find growing in profusion along the pathway of his life, plants none of which ever withered from the moment they were planted in these youthful days, but many of which were only to blossom into full luxuriance in the autumn of existence. When full fifty years have passed by, we shall find the lessons sown along the Liffey, and amid the Wicklow hills, bearing their rich harvest in distant scenes by the shores of mighty Eastern rivers and under the shadows of Himalayan mountains. It has been said that the house at Celbridge held large store of books, and it may be that in the library a copy of old Massinger was to be found, wherein, if the boys were not allowed promiscuously to read, they had read to them that wonderful picture of the real soldier which the dramatist drew so uselessly for the Cavaliers of his time, so terribly useful for their Roundhead enemies.


If e’er my son

Follow the war, tell him it is a school

Where all the principles tending to honour

Are taught, if truly follow’d ; but for such

As repair thither as a place in which

They do presume they may with license practise

Their lusts and riots, they shall never merit

The noble name of soldiers. To dare boldly

In a fair cause, and for their country’s safety

To run upon the cannon’s mouth undaunted ;

To obey their leaders, and shun mutinies ;

To bear with patience the winter’s cold

And summer’s scorching heat, and not to faint,

When plenty of provision fails, with hunger,

Are the essential parts make up a soldier

Not swearing, dice, or drinking.

Sir Charles James Napier by Richard James Lane, after Comte Hippolyte Caïs de Pierlas
lithograph, 1849 (1843). D22260, National Portraits Gallery, London.
Ensign Charles Napier

At last the time came for Charles to quit home and go out by himself into the world. He had been an officer on that wonderful institution called the Irish Establishment since he was twelve years old, and now he must join the army; so, in the last year of the century, he takes his first flight on the Limerick coach, and arriving in that old city is installed as extra aide-de-camp to the general officer there commanding. He remains at Limerick for a year, where the usual subaltern officer’s drill is duly passed through. He is very often in love; he rides, shoots, breaks his leg jumping a ditch, and altogether feels quite sure that he has thoroughly mastered the military art. Still among these inevitable incidents of a young soldier’s existence we get a glimpse of the nature of the future man coming out clear and distinct. He and his brother George are out shooting; a snipe gets up, Charles fires and the bird drops, but a deep wide ditch intervenes, and in springing across this obstacle the boy falls and breaks his leg. It is a very bad fracture, and the bone is sticking out above the boot. His gun (a gift from his father) has fallen one way, he is lying another. First he draws himself near enough to recover the weapon, then he crawls on to where the snipe is lying, and then when his brother George has come up and is looking deadly pale at the protruding bone, the fallen sportsman cries cheerily out, “Yes, George, I’ve broken my leg, but I’ve got the snipe.” They carry him home on a door, and for two months he is laid up with this shattered leg; but at eighteen a broken heart or leg is soon set right, and early in 1800 we find him impatient to be off to wider scenes of soldiering. He has been run very low by this accident, and his general fearful for his aide- de-camp’s life has written to Colonel Napier, advising leave of absence and rest for the boy. Charles hears of this letter shortly after, and is highly indignant at his general’s action. “I am sure,” he writes to his father, “you will never consent to do anything of the sort” (to apply to the Commander-in-Chief for leave of absence), “which you must think, and which you may be certain I think, would be disgraceful and unbecoming the character of a British soldier. The general would not have done such a thing for himself, and could not have considered much when he proposed it for me.” Just fifty years later we shall see the war-worn old veteran taking leave of the officers of India in words of advice and farewell couched in the same lofty spirit of military duty which is expressed in this boy’s letter. And now the scene changes.


Early in 1801 Charles Napier mounts his little Irish cob and rides away from Limerick to begin the career which was to be carried through such stirring and varied scenes. He rode in a single day from Limerick to Celbridge, more than one hundred miles, on the same horse. We know nothing of that long day’s ride, save the bare fact of its accomplishment; but it requires no effort of imagination to picture this ardent, impetuous boy pushing forward mile by mile, intent upon proving by the distance he would cover that despite what generals might write or doctors might say, he was fit for any fatigue or duty; and as the Irish hill-tops rose before him in fresh horizons we can fancy the horseman’s mind cast far ahead of the most remote distance, fixed upon some scene of European or Egyptian battle, where the great deeds of war then startling all men by their splendid novelty were being enacted before a wondering world. For only a few months prior to the date of this long ride a great battle had been fought at Marengo in Italy, and the air was still ringing with its echoes; then had come the news of Hohenlinden, that terrible midnight struggle in the snow of the Black Forest. Never had the world witnessed such desperate valour; never had such marches been made, such daring combinations conceived, such colossal results achieved. A new world seemed to be opening before the soldier; and France, victorious for a second time over the vast forces of the European coalition, appeared to have given birth to conquerors before whose genius all bygone glory grew pale and doubtful.


And already, amid the constellation of command which the seven years’ aggression of Europe against France had called forth from the great Revolution, one name shone with surpassing lustre. Beyond the Alps, amid scenes whose names seemed to concentrate and combine the traditions of Roman dominion with the most desperate struggles of medieval history, there had arisen a leader in the first flush of youthful manhood, before whom courage had been unavailing, discipline had become a reed, numbers had been brought to ruin, combination had been scattered, the strength of fortress had been pulled down, until the great empire whose name had been accepted as the symbol of military power in Europe, and whose history went back through one thousand years of martial glory, lay prostrate and vanquished at his feet.