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Kilkea Castle (1) The Time Before the Normans

In centuries past, the old road to Castledermot ran from the back gate, or golf club entrance, at Kilkea Castle past the forested fortress of Mullaghreelan. Now on a private farm, the road featured a turntable, or layby, where two horse-drawn traps could pass one another, as well as a seat set into a granite wall.

Charting the emergence of the landscape around Kilkea Castle in County Kildare from the end of the last Ice Age through the establishment of ringforts at Mullaghreelan and Mullaghmast, as well as St Caoide’s church, through to the eve of the Cambro-Norman conquest in the 1170s.




About 12,000 years ago, a rise in temperature freed up the lands of Northern Europe after an Ice Age that had lasted nearly 100,000 years. The rising sea levels created the island of Ireland as a separate entity to Britain and the rest of Western Europe, a landscape replete with new grasslands and fledgling forests. The limestone plains and rich, rolling pastures around Kilkea are the legacy of this age, created when thick glacial and glaciofluvial deposits, in the form of plains of sands and gravels, were deposited by glacial meltwater on a broad stretch running from the Curragh to Castledermot.

The limestone at Kilkea is part of a huge bedrock aquifer of the dark Ballysteen formation, a rock of preserved fossils and shale dating back to the Carboniferous period of circa 330 million years ago. Directly south of the Kilkea estate, the 170-metre height of Mullaghreelan supported one of Ireland’s ancient forests.

Today, the south of County Kildare, where Kilkea Castle is situated, is a landscape of golden barley fields, verdant pastures and natural waterways like the ‘goodly’ River Barrow and its tributary, the River Griese, a mile of which flows through the Kilkea Castle demesne. [1] The fast-flowing Griese rises in the townland of Tober, near Dunlavin, County Wicklow, and runs south-west through Ballitore and Moone towards Kilkea, forming part of the border between Counties Wicklow and Kildare. Having crossed beneath the M9 motorway, it flows into Kilkea, weaving through the golf course and past the castle, before passing under the Dublin–Waterford railway line at Newtownpilsworth / Dunmanoge. It finally drains into the Barrow in the Jerusalem townland at Painestown, downstream of Maganey Lock, and just north of Carlow Town. The waters then push south to Waterford Harbour and the Celtic Sea. Its last stretch near Painestown forms part of the border between Counties Carlow and Kildare. The river is well stocked with wild brown trout, as well as stone loach, Atlantic salmon, European eel, three-spined stickleback and European river lamprey.

Along the banks of the Barrow, not far from Kilkea, the discovery of multiple antlers recalls the giant Irish deer, or indigenous elk, that once roamed these lands. The species was annihilated at the end of the Ice Age when the birth of forests completely transformed Ireland’s tundra landscape. With antlers capable of spanning twice the width of a modern car, the adult deer simply could not fit through all the newly formed trees. And so, like the victims of a Greek curse, they became easy prey to hunters or scampered onto the riverside marshes and sank ingloriously into the gluttonous bog. The horns of elk and red deer found in the valleys of the Lerr and Griese were on display at Kilkea Castle in the Victorian Age. [2]


The First Settlers


Lord Walter FitzGerald’s remarkable collection of antiquities at Kilkea Castle included a three-legged cooking pot (known as a skillet), a burial urn from Mullaghreelan Hill and the Celtic Bronze Brooch, depicted above, with spirals still on it. [4] The brooch was found in the bed of the Griese while sinking the foundations of the ‘Kildare bridge’ near the castle in 1854. The illustration by Gerald Wakeman was published in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society.

Drone photography suggests that the archaeological landscape around Kilkea Castle is infinitely more complex than our history books relate. Lord Walter FitzGerald (1858-1923), who lived in the castle, identified numerous ancient monuments in the area, including ringforts, wells and burial grounds, that had been levelled by farmers’ ploughs during or before his time. [3]

Lord Walter was keenly aware of how active the locality was in prehistoric times. Ireland’s largest dolmen is a 5,000-year-old burial chamber at Browne’s Hill, just 15 kilometres south of Kilkea. We know little of the people who lived here in then, although a tribe called the Hy Loscan are said to have dwelled at a ford on the Griese near Belan, known as Ath Biothlin, which later became the site of a well dedicated to St Patrick.

Many antiquities were kept at Kilkea Castle in the 19th century, and recorded by Lord Walter. Some, like the brooch opposite, were drawn by Gerald Wakeman for the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society. Among the finds were:

  1. Flint arrowhead dug up in Kilkea churchyard in 1871.
  2. Portion of a stone celt, or battle-axe, found on the hill of Mullaghreelan in 1854.
  3. Sepulchral vase found buried in sand on top of Mullaghreelan, two feet (0.6mbelow the surface, and covering a heap of calcined bones, 1861.
  4. Small ring-brooch found in the bed of the Griese while sinking the foundations of the ‘Kildare bridge’ near the castle in 1854.
  5. Bronze sword found in the bed of the Griese, below the weir at Kilkea bridge, in 1846.
  6. Bronze celt found in the Griese at Kilkea in 1846, measuring six inches long and four inches broad at the cutting edge.
  7. Bronze pin found near the pagan burial-moat at Kilkea in 1854.




Stained glass window depicting St Laurence O’Toole in Kilkea Church.

Kilkea Castle’s location is clearly visible to anyone driving southbound on the M9 from Naas to Carlow. As the motorway approaches the diminutive River Griese, the large, forested hill of Mullaghreelan emerges to the south-west. The hill, which is just a couple of fields south of the castle, is today covered in Norway spruce, Scots pine, Douglas fir, ash and beech. In times past, six counties were visible from its summit. Within the contours of the Coillte forest are the remnants of a once magnificent rath (ringfort).

Mullaghreelan translates as ‘the hill of Reelan’, although the name is variously spelled in the annals as Roírenn, Roeirann, Raeilinn and Rairenn. [6] A fort here was apparently burnt down in the year 82AD by Túathal Techtmar, High King of Ireland, in vengeance upon his son-in-law Eochaid Ainchenn, King of Leinster. Eochaid had deceived the High King that one of his daughters was dead in order to wed her sister, and ‘in consequence, both Princesses died of a broken heart’. Eochaid’s forts at Mullaghmast, Naas and Allen were also destroyed at this time. [7]

A century later, the will of Cathair Mór, who ruled as High King for three years, included the following bequest:

“Ten carved rings to the king of Raeilinn,
And six royal steeds I reckon,
Six metals in the same way,
Six bondmen to that hero.” [8]

By the eighth century, Mullaghreelan was home to the Uí Muiredaig sept, a branch of the Uí Dúnlainge, from which dynasty sprang fourteen kings of Leinster. Some of those kings are thought to have been inaugurated on its summit. [9] They ruled over a district of southern Kildare that the Normans would refer to as ‘Omurethy’, a word derived from Uí Muiredaig. [10] The principal family within the sept were the Ua Tuathail (O’Toole), supposedly named after Tuathal Mac Augaire, King of Leinster, who died in 958.

Saint Laurence O’Toole (Lorcán Ua Tuathail) was reputedly born at Mullaghreelan in 1128. Caption: St Laurence O’Toole. Born in 1132, he lived at Mullaghreelan until the age of four when sent by his father, Maurice, to live with a chieftain at Kildare called Donat or Dermot. [5] Laurence became Archbishop of Dublin in 1160. He retained the office until his death at Eu in Normandy in 1280, at about the time the first castle at Kilkea was constructed. He was canonised in 1225. He is depicted on the stained-glass window of Kilkea Church.

Also said to have been born at Mullaghreelan was Saint Laurence O’Toole’s his half-sister Mór, the wife of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster. Dermot and Mór’s daughter Aoife married Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, the Cambro-Norman warrior known to posterity as Strongbow.

The O’Tooles were to be displaced from Mullaghreelan by Sir Walter de Ridelesford, one of Strongbow’s chainmail-clad allies, after which they established a new power base in the Glen of Imaal in the Wicklow mountains. De Ridelesford then built his stronghold at Kilkea, half a mile north-west of the Mullaghreelan rath.


Legends of Mullaghmast: Maistu and Gris


The Mullaghmast Stone, decorated by a sixth-century AD carver, may have been the coronation stone for the Uí Muiredaig kings of Leinster.

Aside from Mullaghreelan, the most dominant height in the area is Mullaghmast, or Maistiu’s Hill, about five kilometres north of Kilkea Castle as the crow flies. [11] In the legends of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Maistiu was the embroiderer to Aengus, harper to the gods. Maistiu’s father, Aengus mac Umor, is said to have built the incredible hill fort of Dun Aengus on the Aran Islands off Galway Bay. Alas, Maistiu fell foul of the evil fairy Gris who ‘looked on the bright lady [and] perverted her mind month by month’, depriving her ‘of modesty and of might’ until she died. In vengeance, Maistiu’s husband, Dáire Derg, hurled his ‘unerring battle-spear’ at Gris: the fairy was instantly killed and turned into a river, the Griese.

The hill at Mullaghmast is crowned with an especially large ringfort that was once a royal residence, probably connected to the Uí Muiredaig kings. [12] A four-sided limestone pillar found locally was decorated by a carver in the sixth century AD with motifs such as spirals, trumpet curves and triskeles. It has been suggested that this was the Uí Muiredaigs’ coronation stone on which incoming kings sharpened their swords. [13] The limestone boulder is now held at the National Museum in Dublin.

Six barrow graves run down the south side of Mullaghmast Hill, but it is thought there were once many more relics of those times.

Kilkea Castle is clearly visible from the rath, which is also one of the places where Gerald FitzGerald, the ‘Wizard Earl’ of Kildare, reputedly spends his ghostly eternity. In 1577, Mullaghmast was the scene of a heinous massacre orchestrated by the authorities in Dublin Castle. See Chapter 5.


The Holy Wells of Tubberara and Tubbershawn


The Tubbershawn well at Kilkea is likely to have been dedicated to the cult of St John the Baptist. Photo: Elaine Barker.

Humans have always sought the curative qualities of water. Folklore extols sacred rivers for bestowing life, wisdom and beauty on the warriors and queens of old. Wells and other springs of pure water were likewise deemed to bubble up from the Otherworld. They were often dedicated to pagan deities like Bríd, or Brighid, the Celtic goddess of inspiration, healing and smithcraft, or Annu (Danu), a goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

The sick and the wounded were brought to these hallowed springs where their afflicted bodies and gammy eyes were rubbed with rag-cloths soaked in the holy water. The rag was then tied to a nearby tree, the concept being that the malady would now politely exit the body and resettle in the cloth.

The Kilkea demesne was home to not one but two ancient wells, or holy wells, as they would become known in the Christian era. The Tubberara well, which has now vanished, was located close to the river and a short distance above the original motte. The nearby Tubbershawn, also known as the Bohernash Well, can still be seen at the back of the fourth green of the golf course and is distinguished by the masonry arch above it. [14]


St Caoide


Stained glass window depicting St Caoide in Kilkea Church.

The ruined medieval church at Kilkea is thought to have been built on the site of St Caoide’s monastery. Photo: Elaine Barker.

In the early fifth century AD, the Christian faith began to take root in Ireland. Its spread is attributed to St Patrick, whose legacy is found across the Kilkea region from a well he reputedly blessed at Belan, just east of the castle, to the hill at Knockpatrick, near Graney.

Christianity flourished across the region after St Patrick baptised the king of Leinster at Rathvilly. [15] Among Patrick’s disciples was St Caoide, pronounced Kay-dah, for whom Kilkea was named. Its Irish name, Cill Caoide, translates as Caoide’s Church.

Legend holds that Caoide was a great-grandson of a High King of Ireland, and that he was originally based in St Fiach’s monastery across the River Barrow in Sleaty[16]

Caoide, whose feast day is venerated on 12 December, is credited with building the first monastery at Kilkea. While there is no evidence of where this stood, the site of the present-day ruined medieval church and graveyard was sensibly located within a loop of the Griese, close to the two holy wells (or tubbers).


Castledermot and the Desert Fathers


Every St Patrick’s Day in March, a mass is celebrated on top of the hill at Knockpatrick, where ‘St Patrick’s footprints’ can be seen. The farmland is accessible by a path from the road / farmhouse immediately to the east of it. [Google map]. Photo: Sharon Greene.

One of the two high crosses at Castledermot. Photo: Elaine Barker.

Castledermot, six kilometres south of Kilkea Castle, was an immensely important centre of Christianity for over 700 years. Its location is thought to have been on, or close, to the Bealach Múna, or Way to Munster, the ancient road that led to the kingdom of Munster. In about 812, an anchorite named Dermot, or Diarmada, founded the monastic school of Díseart Diarmada on the site. [17]

Said to have been a grandson of Aed Róin, a king of Ulster, Dermot was a supporter of the Céle Dé (‘clients of God’), a reform movement that opposed the growing materialism of the church at this time. The word ‘díseart’ derives from the Latin word ‘desertum’, meaning ‘desert’, and refers to the Desert Fathers, St Anthony the Great and St Paul of Thebes. Legend holds that these pioneers of ascetic Christian monasticism, both Egyptian, were dying in the desert when a raven brought them bread. The two saints were depicted as a pair of long-robed figures on one of the panels on the North Cross in Castledermot. Another panel on the same cross seems to show the Temptation of St Anthony.

Supported by the Uí Dúnlaing of Mullaghreelan, the school was booming by the ninth century when Snerdgus, its abbot, taught Cormac mac Cuilennáin, the future king of Munster. Cormac was hailed by his contemporaries as ‘a scholar in Irish and in Latin, the wholly pious and pure chief bishop, miraculous in chastity and in prayer.’ [18] His works are said to have included the Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary) and the now-lost Psalter of Cashel. Sadly, Cormac was cajoled into a disastrous war that culminated in the battle of Ballaghmoon in 908, fought on the plains just south of the River Lerr, about nine kilometres south of Kilkea Castle. The saintly Cormac was among the dead, his neck broken when he too fell from his horse. A recumbent slab at St James’s Church is said to be his grave. [19]

Castledermot continued to evolve in the 10th century with the addition of two fine granite high crosses, even if such ornamented works flew in the face of Diarmada’s ascetic beliefs. The 20-metre-tall round tower at St James was probably built in the 11th or 12th century and is one of only two such round towers with a ground-floor doorway, the other being on Scattery Island, County Clare. [20]


Vikings Ahoy!


The Viking hogback grave in Castledermot. (Photo: Sharon Greene).

The Vikings made several incursions into the Kilkea neighbourhood during the same era that they were establishing such important ports as Dublin, Wexford and Waterford.

Castledermot was raided in 841 and again in 867. The graveyard beside St James’s Church holds the only known hogsback Viking grave in Ireland, a rough and ready granite monument. [21]




[1] The Griese gives it name to ‘Capella de Gris’ (Gris Chapel), while folklore maintains that Killeen Cormac, about 15km upriver from Kilkea, was the burial ground of a Munster king. Sharon Greene states that there is no firm evidence to support the theory that Killeen Cormac was a pagan burial mound.

[2] ‘Notes on the Pictures, Plate, Antiquities, &c., at Carton, Kilkea Castle, 13, Dominick Street, Dublin, and 6, Carlton House Terrace’ (London, 1885), p. 47.

[3] Much of the archaeological landscape was destroyed by farmers. Aerial surveys of the crop marks in the area have revealed a landscape that does not appear on the first edition 6-inch Ordnance Survey maps (1830s-1840s), the first unofficial archaeological survey of Ireland. For instance, a plough-levelled site at Kilkea was depicted as simple earthworks on the first Ordnance Survey maps but drone photography has revealed that Kilkea was ‘a much more complex, multi-period structure.’ Much of what had been there was evidently destroyed by tillage farming on these fertile, arable lands in the decades before the Great Famine Perhaps this destruction is what led Lord Walter to become so engaged with the subject. G.F. Barrett wrote about this in ‘Kildare History & Society’, p. 74-76.

Just north of Kilkea, the townland of Nicholastown was home to a small circular rath by name of Rahdroo stood by the roadside between Birtown [Burtown] cross-roads and Malone’s cross-roads (in the Kilkea direction). It holds a graveyard, 3 miles from Kilkea, on sharp turn. Is the church called St Nicholas? The rath was seemingly demolished by its then tenant John Butler of St John’s, one of the last sovereigns of Athy.

The present border follows the course of the Griese River and was redrawn in 1836. In that year Uppercross was taken out of county Dublin and distributed between counties Wicklow and Kildare under 6 and 7 William IV, c.84, s.51. The name of the river is variously spelled ‘Greese’, ‘Griese’ and ‘Greece’. On Nevill’s 1760 map it appears as ‘Greeces’.

[4] The Celtic Bronze Brooch was found near Castledermot in 1860; its coils of spiral bands were still visible when discovered.

‘The Burial Urn was unearthed in January, 1861, on that portion of Mullachreelan Hill, locally known as “Bullock’s Hill.” At that time a gravel-pit was being worked on it by a man named Tom Bryan, employed under a mason of the name of Michael O’Shaughnessy, of Garryholden, near Moone.  While Bryan was shovelling out some sand, a portion of the gravel-pit slid down in front of him, exposing to view the side of a burial urn. Being fearful of disturbing a crock he thought belonged to the “good-people,” or fairies, Bryan went off to consult with O’Shaughnessy.  Together they returned to the spot, and brought the urn to the surface, but unfortunately broke it in doing so. To their disappointment they found it contained no treasure, but, resting on a flag-stone, it covered a heap of human, burnt bones. These bones, when first removed, sparkled at their ends like diamonds; and Bryan was convinced that, if he had only known the proper incantation to recite, it would have caused the bones to again become the precious metal he expected to find under the urn. The urn was about 2 feet under the surface of the ground, and there was nothing overground to indicate its presence below. It stands a little over 13 inches in height, is 39 inches in external circumference, and 12 inches wide across the top. One rather curious circumstance in connection with the locality it was found in was related to me in 1889 by an old man named Patrick Travers, of Ballynamona, near Belan. He said that he remembered, when a gossoon,  twice dreaming that at the very spot where the urn was afterwards found a crock of gold was hid; this he related to a friend, who told him he should not have mentioned it until he had had a third dream to the like effect ; and, as  he did not  dream  about it  a third  time,  he  never  went to dig the place.’

[5] ‘As the Saint’s father and this chieftain appear not to have been on friendly terms previously, it may have been that the birth of this child was taken as an opportunity for reconciliation; probably also, in compliment to Donat and to accommodate him, the ceremony was fixed to take place at Kildare.’

[6] ‘Mullagh’ means hill, but ‘reelan’ is harder to define, being spelled at least 24 different ways since it was first recorded in the seventh century poem. Mullach Raoireann has been translated as ‘Raoirin’s top or summit’The two most colourful are that it is named for a king of Connacht who was killed in battle and buried here, or for the poet-daughter of a king of Leinster who lived here deep in the mystical past. …

In any event, it was recorded in the annals as one of the palaces of the kings of Leinster.

[7] Ordnance Survey, MSS. III. 224. Quoted by 4th Duke of Leinster, ‘Residences and castles of the duke of Leinster and of his ancestors (Privately published: Dublin,1878), p. 39.

[8] Lebor na Cert, or the Book of Rights, p. 211.

[9] Did I see Mullaghreelan referenced as Tuaim Raoireann? The Uí Dúnlainge dynasty came to power when they annihilated their arch-rivals, the Uí Cheinnselaig, at the Battle of the Groans near Carbury, County Kildare, in 738. They were to maintain a vice-like grip over the kingship of Leinster for the next three centuries, although there was much in-fighting as the throne rotated between three septs within the dynasty itself. One of these septs was the Uí Fáeláin, purported ancestors of the O’Byrnes, who ruled from their stronghold at Naas, or Nás na Ríogh, ‘the place of kings’, and provided nine monarchs for Leinster.

The Uí Fáeláin’s glory days entered their twilight in 908 AD, following the Battle of Balleaghmoon, which was fought along the banks of the River Lerr, about 9km south of Kilkea. In this ferocious encounter, Cerball mac Muirecáin, the last of the Uí Fáeláin kings of Leinster, united with the High King of Ireland to destroy the army of Cormac mac Cuilennáin, the saintly king of Munster. King Cormac was killed in the battle and reputedly buried in Castledermot, where he had been educated by Snerdgus, Abbot of Díseart Díarmada [Castledermot] in calmer times. However, the victory proved short-lived for King Cerball. He was escorting a group of high-ranking prisoners through the ecclesiastical city of Kildare after the battle when a spark from a blacksmith’s forge caused his horse to shy; the king was flung upon his own lance and subsequently died from his wounds.  He was buried at Cill Corban near Kill, as were eight previous kings before him.

King Cerball’s death paved the way for the emergence of the Uí Muiredaig sept, which provided fourteen kings. They were headquartered in the hillfort at Mullaghmast, 11km north of Kilkea Castle, but it is thought some of the Uí Muiredaig kings were inaugurated the rath (ringfort) on the summit of Mullaghreelan, a mile south-east of Kilkea Castle. ‘Mullagh’ means hill, but ‘reelan’ is harder to define, being spelled at least 24 different ways since it was first recorded in the seventh century poem. The two most colourful are that it is named for a king of Connacht who was killed in battle and buried here, or for the poet-daughter of a king of Leinster who lived here deep in the mystical path. On any event, it was recorded in the annals as one of the palaces of the kings of Leinster. By the time John O’Donovan surveyed the area in 1837, the hilltop rath was ‘nearly destroyed’, but he also noted two more raths in the same townland.

[10] Ormurethy is also spelled as ‘Omorthy’ and ‘Omurthy’.

[11] 3km south of Castledermot is Knocknacree, apparently meaning ‘Hill of the Branch / Tree’ although that sounds like a cop-out on the translation front. I see ‘craiobh’ means ‘extremity’ which sounds more interesting. Or it might mean some form of prize, like a laurel or garland or badge of honour. Surely it was not a branch but was there a notable tree here!? There is a rath on top of the hill, which is assuredly relevant.

Incidentally, driving north from Mullaghmast, I believe the hill to the north-west capped with a row of distinguished trees is Kilgowan, the scene of much activity in terms of enclosures, a standings stone and barrow ditches. I must work out where the Moat of Ardscull on the road between Athy and Kilcullen is as I assume that is also a high point.

[12] ‘On the summit of Mullaghmast is the site of a fortress frequently burned and captured. In 83 Toole, King of Ireland, destroyed the fortresses and palaces of Naas, Knockawlin, Mullachreelan, Mullaghmast and others. In the eighth century two great Leinster tribes were at war, and in 727 a pitched battle was fought here. From this to the sixteenth century Mullaghmast must have witnessed troublous times. The introduction of stone castles, piles, and fortified houses after 1170 superseded raths, though they continued to be made use of in Elizabeth’s time.’ [Kildare History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County Editors: William Nolan and Thomas McGrath, Geography Publications]

‘Around the time of Christ, Mullaghmast was the final encampment of the Munstermen, who had overrun Ossory and Laois. They were then driven back to the River Barrow by Cú Chorb, the King of Leinster, who routed them at Ath Troisten, now Athy … At the base of Mullaghmast, according to Hogan, is a glen known as Glenn Treicim (‘the glen of the flocks’). This is most likely the glen running east of Mullaghmast from the high cross at Moone, along the River Griese … the glen has strong associations with the forge of Goibniu, the smith god, one of the trí dee dana, the three gods of artistic skill who, as pagan beliefs grew dimmer, became subsumed into the Tuatha Dé Danann, a people from the mythic past with neither a hold on history nor place, and thus both vague and powerful at the same time.
At the south-east end of Glenn Treicim is the village of Moone (Maoin, ‘a gift’), which is a possible location of one of the five famous trees, or bile, of Ireland around which tribal gatherings took place. This tree was known as the Eó Mugna (the yew of Mugna) and got its name from Mugna, a district of which Ballaghmoon represents a remnant, and Ballaghmoon may also lay claim to the tree.’ Others say the Eó Mugna was an oak.’
After the Battle of Clontarf 1014 AD, the returning armies stopped at Mullaghmast, and the chief of the Dál gCais, Donnchadh, son of Brian Boru, ordered that the wounded be tended in the ring fort there (Ráth Maistean), which involved the use of bog cotton and moss for the wounds.’
Daragh Smyth, ‘Earthing the Myths: The Myths, Legends and Early History of Ireland’ (Merrion Press, 2020), see here.

[13] Such a ritual is reminiscent of the Arthurian tradition that ‘”whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone … is rightwise king born of all England.’

[14] ‘In the castle demesne are two wells bearing Irish names. One is by the riverside a short distance above the moat; it is called “Tubberara,” possibly meaning the well of the Hath. The other is not far from it, and is now covered over with an arch of masonry; it is known as “Tubbershawn,” and also as “the Bohernash Well,” from an ancient road of that name which formerly passed beside it. This latter well was in old times considered a holy well, and is said to have been dedicated to St. John.’

‘In 1863 some labourers dug up in a field near Castledermot a very interesting relic of the past – namely, an old Irish ecclesiastical bell of bronze. It is of the usual oblong shape, with some attempt at ornamentation in the casting; it is 6 ¾ inches high, and measures at the base 4 ½ inches by 3 inches. The finders sold it to a pedlar, who re-sold it to a Mr Glennon in Dublin; from him it was purchased by Mr Robert Day of Cork, and, finally and happily, it came in 1889, into the possession of the Leinster family, and is preserved in Kilkea Castle.’

[15] Not everyone welcomed the patron saint. At Moone, 7km north-east of Kilkea, the community are said to have refused him entry, for which he declared that no man from Moone would ever become a bishop or a king. His prediction still holds firm but Moone is nonetheless home to one of Ireland’s finest high crosses. That said, Sharon Greene says Moone is an early monastic settlement and that no such village existed in Patrick’s time.

St Patrick is associating with places such as Moone, Narraghmore, Kilcullen, Belan, Glasshealy, Knockpatrick, Castledermot and Marraghmore. Other early Christians associated with the area are Saints Abbán and Gobnait of the Dál Chormaic.

[16] St Kay’s great-grandfather is named by Lord Walter FitzGerald as Caelbuidh who was ‘for fifteen years king of Ulster, and for one year, AD 357, King of Ireland. He was one of the seven disciples whom St. Patrick left with St. Fiach at Sleaty, which is situated on the Barrow in the Queen’s County, about seven miles to the south of Kilkea. The chief scene of St. Kays mission was at Inishbeg in the Wexford Haven, but he was also the founder as well as the patron of the church of Donadea in the Barony of Ikeathy, in the north of Co. Kildare, the old form of the name was “Domhnach Caoide”, meaning St. Kay’s Church; his death took place soon after the 5th century.’ Lord Walter FitzGerald, ‘Kilkea Castle), 194, p. 4.

See also ‘Some account of the ruinous ecclesiastical edifices, forts, castles etc., with notes of modern events connected with the Queen’s County and County Kildare’ (M. C. Carey, Maryborough, 1901), p. 171-173.

‘It has been suggested that the name Kilkea is a corruption of Cill Caoide (Ronan 1941, 49) or alternatively Cell Cai (Hogan 1910, 179). Either of these origins would suggest that it was the site of an early ecclesiastical settlement. However very little is known about pre- Norman settlement in this region. A handful of prehistoric finds have been recorded in the vicinity and a large bivalate ringfort is sited near the demesne.’ (O’Driscoll).

[17] Diarmait is described in his obituary in the Annals of Ulster for 825 as ‘anchorite and teacher of religion for all Ireland’.

[18] Joan N. Radner (ed. & trans.), Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (Dublin 1978), FA 423.

[19] If you visit and enter Castledermot, you will see a deep visual of Cormac’s grave. This shows part of the cross worn away, which Sharon Greene tells me is because of hundreds of years of pilgrims rubbing that part of the cross!

[20] The best time to see the high crosses is in the afternoon when the sunshine lights them up.

[21] This may connect Castledermot to the Norse Viking communities of Yorkshire and Cumberland. Perhaps a monarch with Viking roots or Viking education?