ByRoute 11.1 Co. Kildare // Co. Laois (NW)
These pages describe ByRoute 11 between Lucan on the outskirts of DUBLIN and Cadamstown (Co. Offaly)
Leixlip (Co. Kildare / Northeast)
Leixlip (Léim an Bhradáin) (pop. 15,000), situated at the junction of the River Liffey and the Rye Water (formerly the Abhain Rí / Owenree / King’s River), once the border between the ancient kingdoms of Leinster and Brega, was within living memory a quaint rural community, but has been engulfed by the suburbs of Ireland’s sprawling capital and transformed into a modern high-tech industrial hub, dominated by Intel and Hewlett Packard.
The English and Irish toponyms both derive from the Norse Lax Hlaup, which means “leap of the salmon”, a reference to the Salmon Leap, a spectacular series of cascades on the River Liffey, popular as a daytrip destination for many years until it was flooded by the lake created by a hydroelectric scheme inaugurated in 1945. (Photo – www.kildare.ie)
Leixlip Castle & St Mary’s church
Leixlip Castle was built on a rock at the river confluence by Adam de Hereford c.1172, and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in Ireland. (Photo by Staples)
Prince John, nicknamed “Lackland” until made Lord of Ireland by his father King Henry II of England, used it as a hunting base on his first visit to his new domain in 1185.
In 1316 an army led by the King of Scotland, Robert Bruce, and his brother Edward, Earl of Carrick, besieged the castle for four days in vain, but inflicted considerable damage on the medieval settlement.
Granted by King Henry VII to Gearoid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, in 1485, the castle and lands were forfeited to the Crown in 1534 upon Silken Thomas’ rebellion, and in 1569 passed into the possession of Sir Nicholas Whyte, whose descendants sold the property in 1734 to the Conolly family of nearby Castletown House. They remodelled the building considerably and leased it to a succession of prominent tenants, including Archbishop Stone (1750s), Viceroy Lord Townshend (1770s), Lord Waterpark and Baron de Robeck before selling the estate in 1914 to Lord Decies, who introduced some Tudoresque elements. The castle was the residence of the first French ambassador to the Irish Free State, and since 1958 has belonged to the Hon. Desmond Guinness.
The Castle’s romantic riverside Boat House (c.1740) has been left high and dry by the removal of a weir.
St Mary’s church (CoI) was founded at around the same time as the castle, to which it was linked by an underground passage. It may occupy the site of an earlier church, as the parish of Leixlip was created at a the 1111 Synod of Rathbrasil. (Photo – www.kildare.ie)
The Norman church, used as a stable by the Bruces’ army during their abortive castle siege in 1316, was destroyed by fire, with the exception of the strong tower. St. Mary’s was rebuilt in 1675 as a parish church for the Protestant community.
The tower contains a chamber with a large fireplace, originally the priest’s home, and since 1720 has housed a splendid birdcage clock, the oldest of its kind in Ireland, still functioning well with the original crude stone weights.
Near the organ is a memorial tablet to Sir Nicholas Whyte (d.1654). In the chancel is buried Deborah (d.1697) sister of Narcissus Marsh, Archbishop of Dublin, who founded the library that bears his name. The nave of the church contains the grave of Dr Arthur Price, Archbishop of Cashel (d.1752) who bequeathed £100 each to Richard Guinness and his son Arthur to start a brewery.
Leixlip Bridge & Toll House date from c.1734; travellers had to pay a halfpenny to cross the River Liffey.
The Wonderful Barn was erected in 1743, probably as a folly to provide relief work for locals after the exceptionally hard winter of the previous year. It marked the eastern vista of the then vast estate of Castletown House in Celbridge, and gave the name Barn Hall to the immediate townland. There are two smaller versions nearby. (Photo by Dueyfinster)
The Leixlip gate / Barnhall entrance of the Castletown Demesne is guarded by a Gothic lodge resembling a cottage ornée, inspired by the designs of English landscape gardener Batty Langley.
Arthur Guinness produced ales locally before 1759, when he founded St James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin and brewed the first pints of Guinness. (250 years later, there are rumours that the owners are considering relocating production back to Leixlip in order to free up the valuable land occupied by the city centre complex).
The Salmon Leap Inn, a landmark pub, was established in the late C18th to cater for excursionists.
Louisa Bridge was built in 1794 and named in honour of the extraordinary Lady Louisa Conolly of Castletown House. (Janet Colgan painting - www.kildare.ie)
The church of Our Lady of the Nativity (RC), built entirely by local volunteers in 1833 to replace an C18th chapel (now used as a Scout centre), contains some fine stained glass windows from the Harry Clarke Studio, installed in 1925.
Leixlip has two Roman Catholic parishes. People from St Mary’s are known as “Farenders”, while those from Confey are known as “Hillers”.
Confey was the location of the eponymous Battle c. 917 AD, at which the Norse king Sigtrygg Caech of Dublin defeated the king of Leinster . Earthworks near the Church and the Castle suggests a medieval settlement on the site.
The old church of St Columba is known to have been in existence in the late C12th, and may even pre-date the Norman invasion. It was originally a single-cell building; the chancel was probably added in the C13th. Adam De Hereford granted the tithes and revenues of Confey to St Thomas` Abbey, Dublin, and recommended a local man, Gillacondi Maclothar, for the post of rector. The church was still in use in the C17th: a contemporary account stated that it was “in good repairacon”; the curate “hath fower pownds per annum” and “all the parishioners are recusants“.
Confey Castle, of which only three walls of one tower remain, is thought to have belonged to the Eustace family in the late middle ages. There is some evidence that an army was stationed here in the C13th, and it is said to have been strongly garrisoned at the beginning of the Williamite War. Lewis (1837) described a massive five-storey structure with turrets at the north and west angles, and noted that the local population was 165.
The church of St Charles Borromeo (RC) and the Junior School of San Carlo are dedicated to the Patron of the clergy.
There are two commuter railway stations, Leixlip (Confey), opened in 1990, and Leixlip (Louisa Bridge), established in 1848 and upgraded in 2001, both on the Dublin – Sligo line, although InterCity services stop at neither. The railway tracks here parallel the Royal Canal.
The Royal Canal and the railway are carried across the Rye Water valley by an immense 100ft-high earthwork aqueduct, built over six years at vast expense; it is still the largest and most impressive structure of its kind in Ireland. Construction of this stretch of the canal was necessitated by the Duke of Leinster’s insistence that the new waterway should serve his Carton estate in Maynooth.
Leixlip Spa, discovered in 1793 by workmen excavating the Royal Canal, is a hot mineral spring that, although never more than minimally developed as a resort, was a popular excursionist amenity for many years. An attempt to landscape the watering holes (literally) as a small park has fallen foul of vandalism.
St Catherine’s Park
St Catherine’s Park, a 33-acre public riverside amenity, was formerly part of the demesne of the St Catherine’s estate.
St Catherine’s Priory was founded in 1219 for the Augustinian Order of St Victor, and taken over in 1323 by St.Thomas’s Abbey, Dublin. After King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monastaries the property changed hands frequently.
A reportedly ugly mansion, leased at various times by the Earl of Lansborough and the La Touche family, was destroyed by fire in the mid-C18th.
The park, traversed by the Black Avenue, retains atmospherically ruined gates and parts of the old boundary walls, a crenellated farmyard built with stones from the Priory, a small church (probably attached to the mansion), a grotto and a Holy Well.
A Georgian residence designed by the great Francis Johnson in 1798 and occupied by a succession of British Army generals is now the Liffey Valley House Hotel, a popular wedding venue with 20 acres of landscaped grounds, including a beautiful walled garden. (Photo – www.kildare.ie)
The Leixlip area is well supplied with hotels, notably Leixlip House on Captain’s Hill, an elegant Georgian edifice built as a private residence in 1772, now a popular wedding venue, and Beckett’s, formerly Cooldrinagh House, the riverside home of Samuel Beckett’s maternal grandfather, Samuel Roe. The Courtyard Hotel on Main St, opened in 2005, incorporates parts of Arthur Guinness’s first brewery.
St Wolstan’s Abbey
St Wolstan’s Abbey, now merely the name of a couple of modern housing developments in the area, was a poweful Augustinian monastery, mill and castle founded in 1202 by Adam de Hereford and named for Saint Wulfstan, the newly canonised C11th Bishop of Worcester (a Benedictine!). The abbey complex itself occupied almost 20 acres, and controlled extensive lands in Counties Kildare and Dublin.
John Alen, Master of the Rolls, and his namesake cousin, the Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor killed in Silken Thomas‘s 1534 uprising, took anticipatory advantage of King Henry VIII‘s Dissolution of the Monasteries to acquire the property, which was occupied under a Royal Warrant of 1538 by Lord Chancellor John Men of Norfolk, succeeded by his brother, Thomas Men, Clerk of the Hanaper, and thus known for a time as Men’s Court, but remained in Alen family ownership for over two centuries.
Sir Patrick Alen, an adherent of King James II and major-general in the Jacobite army, had a total of 42 children with two wives; despite being a Roman Catholic, he managed to retain his family estate under the Treaty of Limerick.
His fifth son, Sir Luke Alen, aka le Comte de St Wolstan, entered the service of France in 1735 as an officer of the Irish Brigade, served as lieutenant in Dillon’s regiment, which he quitted for Lally‘s after the Battle of Fontenoy, and afterwards became Adjutant-General of the French army in India. He was entrusted with the storming of Fort Sacramalous, was himself the first to enter it, and was subsequently promoted to be Commander-in-Chief in India during the siege of Pondicherry, after the fall of which he returned to France with his regiment. For taking so active a part with the French against the English, his Kildare estate was forfeited to the Crown in 1752.
St Wolstan’s was a Viceregal summer residence for the Marquess of Buckingham in the late 1780s and then a boy’s school (sold 1809); a new mansion was home to the Cane family for a century.
The estate was occupied from 1957 to 1999 by a Holy Faith girl’s school, now relocated nearby.
Donaghcomper Church (c.1150) stands in ruins in an old graveyard; several members of the Alen family are buried in the church vault.
Donaghcomper, a Tudor revival house built c.1835 for William Kirkpatrick, was the family home of Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, a top UK diplomat in pre-WWII Berlin, who interviewed Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess on his apparently deranged solo peace mission to Scotland in May 1941, and remained a hardline British Empire loyalist until his death in 1964.
The New Bridge across the River Liffey, erected in 1308 by the Provost of Dublin, John Le Decer, consisted of four irregular arches; it withstood the heavy floods of 1794 that carried away nearly all the other structures spanning the river, but was replaced in 1949 by the current three-arched bridge in order to facilitate the hydro-electric scheme.
Weston Aerodrome was founded in 1931 by Darby Kennedy, who from the early 1950s operated a number of DeHavilland Dragons and Dragon Rapides aircraft commercially from the flying field. Weston has been owned since 2001 by Jim Mansfield and is primarily used for flight training, executive flights and private general aviation, as well as being home to the Aero Club of Ireland. The main terminal was completed in 2007,along with the control tower, hangar, customs and emigration offices, classrooms for ground-schools and simulator training. Weston is Class C airspace.
The annual Leixlip Festival is held every June Bank Holiday weekend.