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Kilkea Castle, Chapter 6: Hellfire (1668-1837) – The Dixon, Reynolds and Caulfield Years

Extract from Taylor & Skinner’s map of 1783.

During the late 17th century, Kilkea Castle in County Kildare was occupied by three well-to-do families before the FitzGeralds’ move to Carton, namely Brabazon, Jennings and Brown.

In the century thereafter, it became home to the Dixon family, who achieved fame with a successful publisher but declined under the dissolute Henry Dixon.

The tenure of the duplicitous Tom Reynolds did not run smoothly. Kilkea would be the scene of high drama during the 1798 Rebellion, with Lord Edward FitzGerald centre-stage.

Ultimately, it would find relative calm under the tenancy of the Caulfield family before the FitzGeralds resumed control of Kilkea once more.




“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy




The Tenancy of William Brabazon (1668-1675)


Killruddery House, Bray, County Wicklow, in the 19th century.

Aside from the 19th Earl of Kildare’s three-decade residency in the early 18th century, the FitzGerald families leased Kilkea Castle to a series of families from the death of Countess Elizabeth in 1666 through until the start of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837.

The first to move in was William Brabazon (1635-1685), son of the 2nd Earl of Meath. His Brabazon ancestors had prospered in Tudor Ireland and established themselves at Killruddery, County Wicklow, while his mother, Mary Chambre, was heiress to a timber fortune. (See Brabazon of Killruddery).

In 1668, William leased Kilkea Castle, along with 1200 acres. His rent bill was £160 for the first two years, £180 for the next two and £200 for the last four years. [1] His wife Elizabeth (née Lennard) was a sister of the gambling-addicted Earl of Sussex who was himself married to Charles II’s illegitimate daughter, Lady Ann FitzRoy.

In 1675, William narrowly survived a shipwreck in the Irish Sea, in which his father died, and he thus succeeded as 3rd Earl of Meath. He relinquished his lease on Kilkea and moved to Killruddery where he lured a French gardener, Monsieur Bonet, supposedly trained at Versailles, to work on the fabulous French Baroque gardens. William died in 1685, and was succeeded by his brother, Edward.


Jennings and Browne (1675-1706)


King William III by an unknown artist, oil on canvas, c. 1690. (National Portrait Gallery, London).

After William Brabazon left for Kilruddery, the lease on Kilkea Castle was taken up by Robert Jennings of Yorkshire and his wife, Florence. Robert appears to have had a lease on the hilly lands of Ballyhubbert and Ballyvass, near Kilkea, since 1670. He died in 1679 and was buried in Castledermot.

In 1680, Robert’s daughter Mary Jennings married John Browne, ancestor of the Browne-Clayton family of Browne’s Hill, County Carlow. John’s father Robert Browne had served in Colonel Henry Prittie’s regiment during the Civil War and settled in Carlow. In 1683, John and his brothers William and George took a lease on Kilkea Castle, with its ‘town’, mill and 900 acres for an annual rent of £135. They retained the lease for over two decades before the Dixon family took it on.

This was the era in which James II’s attempt to reassert Catholic supremacy across his kingdoms backfired so dramatically that a new order had been established by 1691. Absolute command was now held by the Protestant elite under the direction of King William III, aka William of Orange. [2] There would be no serious war in Ireland for over 100 years. An early sign of this new dawn came when Edward Stratford, a supporter of King William, erected the original Belan House, a few miles from Kilkea Castle, in the ruins of a FitzGerald house destroyed in 1641. Stratford’s son John would become the first Earl of Aldborough.


The Dixon Age Begins


During the long 18th century, at least four generations of the Dixon family lived at Kilkea Castle. They leased it, along with the ‘town and mill’, and about 350 acres from the Earls of Kildare or Dukes of Leinster, as the family head became in 1766. The Dixons descend from John Dixon, or Dickson, who is believed to be the man named in 1659 as a cornet in Colonel John Lilburne’s Regiment. [3] The regiment was named for ‘Freeborn John’ Lilburne, a Leveller and Quaker who opposed Cromwell’s regime.

The first named family member to lease Kilkea was Robert Dixon, MP for Kildare during the reign of Queen Anne. In 1706, he transferred the lease to Henry Dixon at a rent of £60 and four shillings a year for three years. [4] It is not clear if the Dixons were actually living in Kilkea Castle at this point. Robert FitzGerald became 19th Earl of Kildare in 1707 and is thought to have lived in the castle from then until his move to Carton House 34 years later.

That said, the Dixons were certainly living in the Kilkea neighbourhood during those decades. Henry Dixon served as High Sheriff of Kildare in 1738 and of the Queen’s County (Laois) in 1746. He died in 1747 and his wife Anne followed within a year. [5] When their eldest son Robert died aged nine, the boy was buried in Kilkea with a sweet epitaph:

‘Here lyeth the body
Of Robert Dixon; son
To Mr Henry Dixon;
Of Kilkea who was
Born the 7th of July 1702
& departe this life the
10th of September 1712.
My line was short ye Long is my rest
God called me hence because he thought it Best
Believe this truth, tht wht thou valuest most
And settst thy heart upon is soonest lost.’ [6]

With Robert gone, hopes now rested on Henry and Anne’s second son, Henry Dixon II (1703-1742). On 1 May 1729, he was married in St Michan’s parish, Dublin, to Alice Dennis, daughter of the Rev John Dennis, Rector of Cleenish, County Fermanagh. (See Dennis of Fortgranite.) Henry Dixon II was not yet 40 when he died in 1740, leaving a widow with two sons and five daughters. [7] As such, when old Henry Dixon I died in 1747, he was succeeded by his grandson, Henry Dixon III, a minor.


Francis Dickson the Publisher


Francis Dixon, publisher of the Dublin Intelligencer during the reign of Queen Anne, was buried at Kilkea in 1713.

Among those buried in the graveyard at Kilkea was Francis Dickson [sic], who is thought to have been Henry Dixon I’s brother or nephew. A well-known printer and bookseller in his day, Francis ran the Four Courts Coffee House in Winetavern Street, Dublin, from 1706-1707, and then the Union Coffee-House on Cork Hill, near Dublin Castle, from 1707 until his death in 1713.

Francis published the single-leaf Dublin Intelligence from 1702-1713 and also kept a number of international newspapers in his coffee shops, including the Paris and London Gazettes, the Leyden Gazette and Slip and the Flying Post. [8] Francis and his wife Elizabeth (née Moore Fooks) had ten children, of whom four survived. Soon after his death, Elizabeth married another printer by name of Gwynn Needham. [9]


Henry Dixon III and the Hellfire Club


A 1782 sketch of Kilkea Castle from the south-east by the Tipperary-born artist and antiquarian Austin Cooper. 

Many years later, Major-General Pringle, a relation, would describe Henry Dixon III as “a very worthy old officer”. However, as a young man, it seems the laird of Kilkea Castle lived ‘a wild and dissipated life’. [10] During the 1760s, he was a prominent member of ‘that scandalous institution known as the Hellfire Club’. The ‘Bucks’, as they were also known, had been founded by Lord Rosse, an eccentric nemesis of the 19th Earl of Kildare. (See here.) Their original hub was the Eagle Tavern on Cork Hill, near where Francis Dixon once had his coffee shop. They sometimes met in Montpelier, an abandoned hunting lodge in the Dublin Mountains.

Henry’s local Hellfire Club was at Grangemellon Castle, close to Kilkea, home to Jack St Leger, a noted duelling enthusiast. Fellow members included James McRoberts of Castleroe, Beauchamp Bagenal of Dunleckney and Robert Hartpole of Shrule Castle. The exact nature of what they got up to remains a source of much gossip down to the present day. Satanism and an ill-informed black magic undoubtedly played a role – you’d expect as much from a club called Hellfire – but, in truth, this was little more than a bunch of young, thrill-seeking Protestant rakes who drank, gamed, dined extravagantly and ‘wenched’, albeit with a certain 18th-century panache. They were the sons of landed gentry, merchants and minor aristocracy, with too much time on their hands and too much money to burn.

Jack St Leger died in 1769 and was buried within the FitzGerald vault at Kilkea. [11] The following year, Henry Dixon III married his first cousin, Mary Enery, with whom he had six children.[12]

Daniel Grose’s engraving of Kilkea Castle from 1792 shows the flight of steps that Henry Dixon III built on the south-east side of the castle. The steps are not shown on the small hand-sketch of Kilkea on Hogue’s map, drawn in 1760, so are presumed to have been built between 1760 and 1792. They led up to a doorway into the then hall, now the Drawing Room. The steps and doorway were removed in 1849 as ‘out of keeping with an old castle,’ at which time the orientation of the castle was flipped around so that the main entrance was on the other side.

In 1787, Henry invited any cavalry officers in Carlow or Maryborough [Portlaoise] on ‘grass guard’ (i.e. downtime) to rent space at Kilkea where, he avowed, ‘a regiment of Cavalry may be accommodated’. He offered to personally “shew the grounds” to any interested quarter masters. [13]  While he added a new flight of steps to the castle’s exterior, the interior was evidently neglected on Henry’s watch, as per this account from the Anthologia Hibernica of 1794:

‘It is at present inhabited, though much out of repair and some of the best apartments in a state of ruin. The dining room was a spacious apartment, on the chimney piece of which are the family arms and the date of repair. Under this room is the kitchen arched and supported by pillars, and in which are four large ovens … The roofs of the castle are of Irish oak, as also the door of the only external entrance, which led into the kitchen cellars and stables under the castle, and from thence to the upper apartments by a flight of steps formed of blocks of oak. The present entrance on the east by a large flight of stone steps is modern and made by the present occupier.’ [14]

Henry resided at Kilkea Castle for at least half a century, but he would also be the last of his line to do so. He lived to see the Barrow Extension link the Grand Canal to  Athy and Maganey in 1791, which provided access to the cargo boats and passenger services that ran to Dublin (a 13-hour voyage from Athy) and Limerick, as well as the Shannon. However, he was now, as Tom Reynolds put it, “an old bed-ridden man whose death was daily expected”. When he finally died in 1797, he was buried against the inside gable of the church at Kilkea. [15]

With his death, the Dixon era ended although the family connection continued with the marriage of his son, Henry Dixon IV, a captain in the 55th Regiment, to Amy Greene, daughter of John Greene of Millbrook by Kilkea. The Dixons, who were married in Castledermot in 1805, later settled in Woolaston, Tasmania, and had five children. Their daughter, also Amy, was born at Millbrook in 1817. She was married in Tasmania in 1845 to James Edward Deakin who was, intriguingly, born at Kilkea Castle on 25 January 1818.


The St Leger Connection


Barry St Leger was one of General Burgoyne’s principal commanders during the American Revolutionary War. His father and elder brother were both buried in Kilkea.

The graveyard at Kilkea is the resting place of Jack St Leger, the Hellfire Club man, who died in 1769, and his father, Sir John St Leger, who died in 1743. The St Legers lived at Grangemellon Castle on the Kildare bank of the River Barrow, 5 kilometres west of Kilkea Castle.

Sir John, a younger brother of the 1st Viscount Doneraile, bought the castle in 1716. A barrister by profession, he was knighted by William III and went on to become a Baron of the Court of Exchequer (Ireland).

Jack’s brother Anthony established the St Leger Stakes, the oldest of Britain’s five Classic horse races. Another brother Barry was a British general who fought in the Saratoga campaign during the American Revolutionary War. There is no tombstone in Kilkea to clearly indicate where the St Legers lie. Grangemellon Castle was demolished in the late 18th century.

One headstone in the Kilkea graveyard caused Lord Walter FitzGerald much mirth. It read:

Erected by JOHN O’TOOLE, 1779, In memory of his posterity.


The Greenes of Millbrook


At the time of the 1798 Rebellion, the Castledermot Yeomanry was under the command of Captain John Greene (1751-1819), a progressive farmer and miller, who lived in Millbrook, across [is it?] the Griese from Kilkea Castle. His wife Mary Anne (1786-1847) was a Cooper of Cooper Hill, County Meath. [17] The Greenes descend from Captain Godfrey Greene, a ‘’49 officer’, who acquired Moorestown Castle, Co. Tipperary, and lands at Old Abbey, Co. Limerick, prior to his death at in Kilmenahan Castle in Co. Waterford in 1682. William Nassau Greene (1714-1781), Godfrey’s great-grandson, was a successful Carlow merchant and magistrate who leased a farm of about 100 acres at Kilkea from the FitzGeralds. In 1740, William built a residence, Kilkea Lodge, across the Griese from the castle. He died in 1781.

Kilkea Castle and its manor mill, as it looked in about 1830. Known as the Black Mill, the tall, imposing mill was hampered by silting of the river and ultimately dismantled after the Greene’s mill at Millbrook was constructed. The stone from the Black Mill was used on the castle extensions and renovations of 1849. [16]

In the 1770s, William Nassau Green also helped his younger son, John Greene, build his home at Millbrook, completed in 1776. It was named for the cornmills they erected alongside the riverside property. This replaced the earlier Black Mill, which was dismantled at this time. A millrace was dug out for the Millbrook mill.

Twenty years later, the old village of Kilkea comprised of just ‘two or three houses’, dominated by the ‘large flour manufacture’, erected by the Greenes, whose ‘extensive farm has contributed much to the improvement of the soil’.

Captain John Greene, who personally arrested Tom Reynolds in 1798, went on to become High Sheriff of County Kildare in 1801. [18] He was farming almost 2,000 acres by the time Aaron Atkinson visited him in the winter of 1814. At that stage, Millbrook was capable of manufacturing at least 10,000 barrels of wheat annually, plus a similar quantity of oats, all irrigated with the assistance of a canal the captain had cut through the lands from the trout-filled River Griese. Atkinson estimated that he was feeding about 220 cows and bullocks annually, as well as between 500 and 600 sheep. His cattle stall was the largest Atkinson had yet seen on his travels through Ireland. [19]

The mill continued to operate until the time of Thomas Greene (1843-1900), a poet and author, who became High Sheriff of Kildare in 1895. Millbrook remains within the Greene family.


William Fitzgerald (1749-1804), 2nd Duke of Leinster


A mezzotint portrait of William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, by Charles Turner after Sir Martin Archer Shee. (Courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Emilia Olivia, 2nd Duchess of Leinster (1759-1798), painted by James Nixon, circa 1785. (Courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Although the 2nd Duke of Leinster owned Kilkea Castle, he does not seem to have spent much of his adult life at the castle. His principal base was Carton House, near Maynooth, County Kildare, which he inherited on the death of his father, the 1st Duke, in 1773, as well as his titles and about 75,000 acres. Hand in hand with this came the responsibility of looking after his grandmother, his widowed mother (the Duchess Emily, who would outlive him, dying in 1814) and his 11 siblings.

Good-natured and affable, William was the 1st Duke’s second son but had become heir with the death of his older brother George in 1765. [20] The following year, he set off on a three-year-long Grand Tour of Europe, during which he kissed the pope’s toe in Rome (he assured his mother it smelled sweet) and espied a 13-year-old Marie Antoinette in Vienna. One of his companions was his first cousin Charles James Fox, who was to lead the Whig opposition in parliament during much of the coming decades. [21]

The 2nd Duke was also of a liberal political temperament, aligning himself with Henry Grattan and the Irish Patriot Party. When a thousand Dublin Volunteers assembled on College Green in 1779 to demonstrate their patriotism to Ireland, they did so under the duke’s command. Three years later, Grattan’s ‘Patriot Parliament’ in Dublin secured a high level of legislative and judicial independence from Westminster. This was in part achieved by the pressure of those volunteer units, established across the length and breadth of Ireland, ostensibly to counter the threat of a French invasion. Among these was the Kildare Militia, whose colours were still hung at Kilkea Castle in the 1890s. [22]

1782 was also the year in which the duke became involved in a remarkable plan to bring thousands of Swiss Protestant watchmakers to Ireland. He generously offered the refugees ‘a pure and perpetual donation’ of 2,000 acres on his Kildare estates, as well as the use of Leinster Lodge, ‘a mansion capable of lodging one hundred persons’, just north of Kilkea. However, the Swiss ultimately settled at what became known as ‘New Geneva’, near Passage East, County Waterford. [23]

A supporter of Catholic Emancipation during the 1790s, the duke helped set up the Catholic Seminary in Maynooth after the revolutionary government in France closed all the old Irish colleges. He was also a major investor in the Royal Canal Company, launched in 1790, and co-founded the Royal Irish Academy in 1785.

1798 was a horrible year for the duke. Lord Edward, his favourite brother, died of wounds received during the United Irishmen’s rebellion. Just weeks later, he lost his beloved duchess, Ameillia, the only daughter of George Usher-St George, 1st Lord St George, and mother of their nine children.  [24]

The 2nd Duke had provided finance to Lord Edward during the insurrection of 1798. He continued to support Irish interests until his premature death, aged 55, in 1804. In 1800, for instance, when the British government sought to create a Union between the British and Irish Parliaments, the duke was among the most vocal critics of the proposal. He was unable to compete with the government’s ability to win over opponents – a tactic that involved the creation of 48 new peerages and an expenditure of over a million pounds on buying up pocket boroughs. In terms of his own compensation, the duke received £15,000 for the loss of his borough influence in Kildare, £13,000 for the loss of Athy and another £1,200 for Enniskillen. [25]


Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763-1798) and the 1798 Rebellion


Pamela FitzGerald, Lord Edward’s wife, was believed to be the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Orléans. Baptised as Stéphanie Caroline Anne Syms, she married Lord Edward in 1792. They had three children before his death in 1798.

An oil portrait of the ill-fated Lord Edward from the circle of Hugh Douglas Hamilton. This hung upon the walls of the Library at Kilkea Castle in the 1890s. (Private Collection).

The most famous of the Duke of Leinster’s children was his fifth son, Lord Edward FitzGerald. [26] A romantic Byronesque figure in Irish revolutionary history, he served in a regiment commanded by his uncle, the Duke of Richmond, during the American War of Independence. Wounded and reported missing at the battle of Eutaw Springs in 1781, he was rescued by Tony Small, an escaped slave, who heaved him up from the muddy battlefield and carried him to safety. [27] It was nearly five months before the Leinsters heard their son was still alive.

Many years later, Lord Edward’s sister Sophia would recall: “How truly he was loved by everyone of his family. He was the acknowledged favourite of our hearts. Whenever he came among us, it was universal delight.”

In 1783, Lord Edward embarked upon a political career ‘to make the improvements that many outside parliament were demanding’. [28] Backed by his brother, the 2nd Duke, he was elected Member of Parliament for Athy, a seat he held until 1790 when it was taken up by his brother Lord Henry FitzGerald, later Baron de Ros.[29] During this time, Lord Edward lived periodically at Kilkea Castle, helping his friend Tom Reynolds get a lease on the castle.

Lord Edward was dismissed from the army for attending a banquet at which a toast was proposed for the abolition of all hereditary titles. When he read Thomas Paine’s 1791 work ‘The Rights of Man’, he was impressed by its argument that popular revolution is permissible when a government fails to safeguard the natural rights of its people.

In 1792, Lord Edward was married at Tournai in present-day Belgium. Pamela, his bride, was born in Newfoundland, and was believed to be the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Orléans. The FitzGeralds would have a son, Edward, and two daughters, Pam and Lucy. While Lord Edward had already brought Tony Small into his service, Tony’s wife, Julie, became nursemaid to ‘Little Pam’.

By the mid-1790s, Lord Edward was utterly attuned to the democratic ideals of the United Irishmen, a radical but liberal alliance of Protestants, Presbyterians and Catholics determined to remove English control of Irish affairs. In 1796, he became colonel of its’ forces in the Barony of Kilkea and Moone, a position Tom Reynolds would later take over.

When the rebellion broke out in 1798, Lord Edward became the most wanted man in Ireland, with a £1,000 price on his head. He would be among the tens of thousands who died during the rebellion. His death was, to an extent, brought about by Tom Reynolds.


Tom Reynolds (1771-1836)


Thomas Reynolds by Henry Brocas, 1798.

With the death of Henry Dixon in 1797, the Dixon lease came to an end and the duke sought a new tenant. Lord Edward FitzGerald, the duke’s dashing younger brother, successfully proposed a wealthy 26-year-old Catholic silk merchant by name of Thomas Reynolds.

Born in Dublin, Tom – as he was known – was the son of Andrew Reynolds, a wealthy poplin manufacturer, and his wife, Rose, a distant cousin of the FitzGerald family. The Reynolds were also related to the Nugent and Lacy families, as well as Thomas Dunn of Leinster Lodge and Patrick Dunn of Dollardstown, both close to Kilkea Castle. [30]

Reynolds spent his early childhood with his FitzGerald grandparents at Kilmead, about 12 kilometres north of Kilkea Castle, on the Athy road to Kilcullen. He then went to a Protestant school in London where he stayed with the portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, who is said to have been his cousin. As a teenager, he also studied at the Jesuit seminary in Liège, in modern-day Belgium.

Andrew Reynolds’s woollen fortune was already under threat from the emergence of cotton when he made an ill-starred investment in an iron smelting venture at Arigna, County Leitrim. By the time Andrew died in 1788, aged 44, the business was in serious trouble. His son Tom was not the solution. Described as ‘a thoughtless, inexperienced lad’ who mixed with ‘dissipated idlers’, Tom opted to live the life of a gentleman, staying with well-to-do relations and spending the last of his inheritance. In 1789, he travelled to Paris where he witnessed the storming of the Bastille that ignited the French Revolution.

Theobald Wolfe Tone, the co-founder of the United Irishmen, was Tom Reynolds’s brother-in-law.

In 1794, Tom Reynolds was married on Grafton Street, Dublin, to Harriet Witherington. It was a two-part ceremony, the first officiated by a Protestant minister, the second by a Catholic priest. Harriet was the daughter of William Witherington, a Dublin-based woollen draper and wine merchant, and his wife Catherine (née Fanning). Colonel Henry Witherington, her brother, would become one of Reynolds’s lifelong enemies. Remarkably, Harriet’s older sister Martha was married to Theobald Wolfe Tone, thus making Reynolds a brother-in-law of the famous United Irishmen leader.

When Tom’s mother assigned him half her remaining fortune, as well as a life-interest in an estate in Jamaica, he used these assets to take on Kilkea Castle, with 350 acres. The Duke of Leinster apparently promised him the reversion ‘for three lives, for ever, at an easy rent’. Reynolds’s son later described the estate at Kilkea:

“It was the finest land in the whole county, and delightfully situated, having the river Greece [sic] bounding it on one side, a fine turnpike road on the other, and the park-like demesne of Belem [Belan], the seat of the Earl of Aldborough, adjoining. The avenue up to Belem Castle belonged to Kilkea, and was rented at a yearly take from the holder of Kilkea. There was also a strip of land, of seventy acres, running along the farside of the turnpike road, which served for cottage lands, and other such matters, so that all within the demesne of Kilkea remained undisturbed.’ [31]

That said, a report from 1794 stated that the land at Kilkea was so exhausted by overgrazing and bad management that not even lime could restore it. However, there was hope of using ‘manure composed of vegetable and animal exuviae’ to regenerate the soil, described as ‘light’ and dry, lying on a bed of chalky, silicious gravel soil. [32]

Under the terms of his lease with the duke, Reynolds paid him £1,000, plus a further £2,500 to Mr Shannon, ‘the Duke’s builder’, to give the castle an overhaul in the form of new roofing, flooring and ceilings. The tall, lancet-shaped windows on the south-east side of the castle were also probably commissioned by Reynolds. They do not appear on Grose’s engraving of 1792 but are apparent on the sketches of 1849.

As part of the refurbishment, Reynolds had the Wizard Earl’s limestone chimneypiece removed from the Great Hall, replacing it with ‘a handsome Italian one in white and yellow marble’. Owing to a goat’s head in the middle of the new Italian fireplace, the hall became known as the ‘Puckaun Room’. On either side of it, Reynolds inserted the two side-stones of the original chimneypiece, while the middle stone was set into one of the gate piers at the Maganey entrance lodge. After the removal of Reynolds’s fireplace to Carton in 1850, the 4th Duke of Leinster had the three original stones reset in a Cork marble chimneypiece and returned to their original site. The ‘goats head’ fireplace is now to be found in the Morrison Dining Room at Carton.

Reynolds created ‘twelve beds for visitors, exclusive of those used by the family’, and expended a further £300 on ‘ornamental repairs and decorations’. According to his son, he lived at Kilkea in a style ‘such as became a gentleman, of what, in those days, was an ample fortune, and of the first connexions in the country’. He kept seven servants fully employed, with five horses in his stable, and was constantly entertaining ‘the neighbouring gentry’. Under the terms of his lease, he was entitled to ten per cent of all rent from the 350 acres. He was also due to regain the lease on the Manor Mill, with two or three acres of millpond, which was then on a seven-year lease to the Greene family. In addition, he claimed the right to cut turf from ‘the great bog’ at Monavoollagh, just west of Kilkea. [33]

Reynolds’s renovations were complete by Christmas 1797 when he moved his young family into the castle. His furniture was brought south by the Grand Canal and the new Barrow Extension from Dublin to Athy, and then carried to the castle on wagons. The family’s residence at Kilkea Castle would last little more than a year


The Informer


It was Reynolds’s fate to become inextricably tangled up with the United Irishmen. Lord Edward FitzGerald, his friend, and Wolfe Tone, his brother-in-law, were the society’s two most celebrated leaders. Reynolds himself joined the organisation in Dublin in early 1797, being sworn in at the home of Oliver Bond, another prominent leader. By the end of 1797, Reynolds had succeeded Lord Edward as colonel of the United Irishmen in the barony of Kilkea and Moone, giving him command of ten companies. He was also appointed treasurer for the barony, which covered an area of 1500 Irish acres. As such, he attended several United Irishmen meetings in places such as Athy, just north of Kilkea, where he became a well-known face in the months before the 1798 Rebellion.

In 1798, Reynolds ordered several young trees at Kilkea to be cut down, and employed smiths and carpenters to fashion them into pikes and pike handles. By night he arranged for the local United Irishmen to drill in the fields surrounding the castle. [34] Local people were quite certain that Kilkea Castle was now ‘a depot of arms for the approaching insurrection’. His son would later claim that his motives for joining the United Irishmen were simply to help secure Catholic emancipation and the reform of parliament; and that he was appalled to learn of a plan to seize power by assassinating some 80 members of the political elite, including several of his own relations. In any case, Reynolds spilled the beans to William Cope, an agent at Dublin Castle, who had been granted a whopping £100,000 by the state to solicit information about any such plans. Reynolds’s son would also maintain that his father’s intention was to ‘so neutralize the plans of the United Irishmen as to stop them, without compromising their personal safety, and at once save his country, his friends, and his own honour’. [35]

On 12 March 1798, Tom Reynolds was due to attend a meeting of the Leinster Directory of the United Irishmen at Oliver Bond’s house in Dublin. He sent a letter in advance claiming his wife was so unwell that he could not possibly attend. Meanwhile, acting on Reynolds’s information, the authorities burst into the meeting and arrested 14 attendees. Lord Edward managed to escape but this mass arrest was a devastating blow to the revolution and, arguably, its death knell.

As rumours of treachery began to circulate, Reynolds insisted on his innocence, reasoning that no friend of Lord Edward could do such a thing, especially given that he was renting his castle and farm from Lord Edward’s brother. [36] His pretence served him no favours when Crown forces arrived at the castle on April 20. Thomas Reynolds junior recalled the destruction of Kilkea in dramatic detail:

An officer of the 9th (Light) Dragoons, later Lancers, at the time of the Peninsular War.

“Towards the end of April, it was reported that Lord Edward was concealed at Kilkea, that my father was a chief leader among the United Irishmen, and that the castle was being made a depot for arms and ammunition, that the fortifications were being repaired, and that it was to be the head-quarters of the Rebels in Kildare when the expected insurrection should take place; a clock, too, which he had placed in one of the towers was magnified into an enormous bell, on which the alarm was to be sounded to call the country to arms.’

Under these impressions Colonel Campbell, who commanded the Athy district under Sir Ralph Abercrombie, whose head-quarters were at Kildare, sent a troop of the 9th Dragoons and a company of the Cork Militia, the whole amounting to 200 men and 80 horses, exclusive of servants and followers, to live at Kilkea at free quarters.

On the 20th of April, my father, being about to depart for Dublin, invited his relatives and friends to a farewell dinner, when about 11 o’clock Captain Erskine of the 9th Dragoons, accompanied by Cornet Witherington [i.e. Tom Reynolds’s brother-in-law Henry Witherington] of the same regiment, and Captain Neal, of the Cork Militia, as well as three dragoons, with pistols and drawn swords, entered the great hall, where my father met them and demanded their business. [37]

Erskine said he had come to take possession of the castle and to place him under arrest. My father asked to see his authority. He pointed to the officers who accompanied him, and said if that was not sufficient, he might look on the road at the rest of his troop, then advancing followed by a strong body of infantry.

The remainder of his forces soon after arrived at Kilkea, completely surrounding the castle; and having placed two dragoons to guard my father, Captain Erskine with the other officers and eight or ten men proceeded to the vaults which were of great extent, as was frequently the case in these ancient feudal castles, containing not only cellars of all kinds, but stabling for forty horses, many of which were constructed in the great kitchen and its appurtenances. The soldiers never condescended to ask for the key of any door, all were forced open; they remained in these vaults till past three o’clock, astonished that they could not find anything improper.

They preserved the wine and malt liquor, but they beat in the heads of some casks of spirits, and let the liquor run about the floor, which they said was done to prevent the men from getting drunk during their stay.

The cook had fled, but they pursued and brought her back, forcing her to continue preparing the dinner which my father had ordered for his friends and of which they took possession. Captain Erskine placed himself at the head of the table, and insolently offered my father a seat at the side, as it he was a mere guest. My father then retired to his bedroom, which was first minutely examined, and a sentinel placed outside the door. When it became known to Colonel Campbell that Cornet Witherington had been sent to Kilkea, he was immediately replaced by Cornet Love of the same regiment, a man notorious for his violent and brutal conduct.

After dinner a general search began all through the castle to discover Lord Edward and the supposed great depot of arms and ammunition. My father assured Erskine on his honour that Lord Edward was not in the castle, that he did not know where he was, nor were there any arms except his fowling piece, one case of duelling and one case of large pocket pistols which he used as holster pistols in his capacity of yeoman, and about two pounds of powder, the whole of which were in the breakfast parlour.

Notwithstanding these assurances, they tore up the flooring from three complete stories of the castle, the whole of which had recently been laid down at great expense. They tore down the old oak wainscotting, not a vestige of which was left standing. They next broke the walls in various places, and tore off the paper and canvas of such as were not wainscotted. They broke up the stairs, and in a few hours they rendered the interior of the castle a mere ruin, preserving only my father’s bed-room, which, however, underwent a very severe investigation, having the walls, cupboards, ceiling, and floor pierced in many places.

They also preserved their own sitting-room, which they found necessary for their personal comfort; yet in that room was the only concealment that had been made in the castle, being the closet which my father had walled up, and which if found did not contain anything but money, some papers, and the old family plate. After the Rebellion, my father’s cousin, Thomas Dunne, who had aided him in closing it, opened it and transmitted the valuables it contained to him in Dublin.

Captain Erskine, without ceremony, took possession of everything in and about the castle. There were twelve beds for visitors, exclusive of those used by the family, some of whom were now absent; these the officers and non-commissioned officers occupied, while straw was laid down for the men. Forty horses were placed in the vaults, the others were stabled in the out-houses. The contents of the haggard, granary, and barn, as well as the sheep, pigs, cattle, and poultry, were all seized for the use of these marauders; even the milch cows and labouring oxen were killed for their food, which was distributed in the most profuse and wasteful manner.

Michael Byrne, my father’s steward, proved his delivery of cattle, sheep, and threshed corn, to the value of £530 str., independent of corn in the straw; and also independent of hay, pigs, poultry, flour, dried and salted provisions, liquors, groceries, and wine, none of which articles were at all included in the receipts taken by Byrne.

The wine was every morning and evening brought in buckets to the lawn in front of the castle, and a pint was there measured out to every soldier, attendant, and follower of this party. Beer was drunk ad libitum. The families, friends, and acquaintances of the officers and men came daily from Athy to see the castle as a party of pleasure, when everyone was feasted at my father’s expense.

If they did not find all they wished for at the castle, they sent out foraging parties through all the neighbourhood, seizing all they pleased. As there was not a sufficiency of oats for their horses, they mixed it with wheat, which was threshed, and when no more threshed grain remained, they placed the wheat in the sheaf before their horses, by which means full as much grain was lost in the litter as was eaten.

They dug up all the frames in the garden, they hacked and carved dates and names on the mahogany dining-tables, broke up all the furniture, and from mere wantonness, smashed every pier of glass in the castle; they cut out the strings, split the sounding-boards of the pianofortes; a pedal harp, which was then a rare instrument, and which cost one hundred guineas, was a particular object of their wrath, as the harp was the symbol of Ireland, and the harp without the crown was the impression on Napper Tandy’s United Volunteer buttons; this as well as some other musical instruments totally disappeared.

They cut the oil paintings out of their frames and used them as targets to fire at,
or cut them to pieces with their sabres; some of these paintings were of great value, having been a present from Sir Joshua Reynolds to my grandfather, who, proud of this gift, had been at some expense in procuring a few others by good masters, to make up a little collection, the whole of which was destroyed.

They broke down the sluices of the River Greese [sic], which ran through the place, and so let the water inundate about 70 acres of meadow land, ruining it for that season, and by thus letting off the water they emptied the great pond which supplied the Manor Mill, to the great distress of all the neighbourhood. [38] The pretence for this act was to lower the bed of the river and empty the mill-pond that they might see if pikes or other weapons were concealed there.

The wives and servants of the officers, as well as the soldiers, wives and followers, kept up a constant petty pillage, carrying off linen, blankets, quilts, books, china and everything that was portable beyond the precincts of my father’s bedroom, where as yet all was preserved by his living entirely in it …

My father’s steward, William Byrne, was flogged and tortured to make him point out the supposed depot of arms. Lieutenant Love [who had relieved Cornet Witherington], of the 9th Dragoons, son of the quarter-master of the same regiment, being a tall man, tied his silk sash round Byrne’s neck and hung him over his shoulders, while another officer flogged him until he became insensible; similar acts acquired for Love the name of ‘the Walking Gallows’. [39]

The troops quitted Kilkea on the 29th, but it was shortly afterwards again occupied by troops, and converted into a regular garrison. It was attacked by the insurgents during the Rebellion, but they could not make any impression on it. The soldiers’ wives, a few of the neighbouring petty gentry, and farmers’ families, claimed protection, and were allowed to remove into the castle with their families, and reside there during the troubles. [See Father Laurence Dunne, below.]

The castle was occupied by about 400 persons during two months. All that had escaped the first visit of the troops was now destroyed, burned as fuel, or carried away.
After the troubles had entirely ceased, an agent was sent from Dublin to collect whatever remained on the lands and in the castle, and to sell the whole by auction.

The Earl of Aldborough was then at his seat at Belan, which adjoined Kilkea; he attended the sale in the hope of purchasing some of the paintings, but none remained; as a magistrate he certified the fact of the sale, &c, and after all the expenses were paid my father received for the residue of the entire property the sum of £27 Irish currency; though in a return of his losses sent in to the Secretary of State, under an act for indemnifying suffering Loyalists, the sum amounted to £12,760, which even then would not have been sufficient to replace all that had been destroyed.

… Such was the reward my father received from the Irish government for the information he gave them through Mr Cope, information which enabled them to preserve the country from total ruin, massacre, and destruction.” [40]

The Battle of New Ross, 1798.

Regarding the secret closet in the sitting room wall at Kilkea, Reynolds junior elsewhere stated that his father had placed ‘3,500 guineas in gold, and other valuables’ into it, as well as ‘his family plate [silver] to the value of about £1,000.’ Quite how the United Irishman treasurer acquired 3,500 guineas is unclear.’ [41]

Reynolds himself was arrested outside Castledermot post office on 8 May 1798 by a yeomanry unit commanded by his neighbour, John Greene, the miller, whose house had been attacked by rebels. He was lodged in Athy gaol until he reluctantly revealed his role as an informer. He was then brought before the Irish privy council and presented, rather awkwardly, as a hero. He was rewarded for his information – an immediate payment of £5,000, plus a pension of £1,000 a year for life, although it was still not enough to make Kilkea Castle habitable again. Reynolds estimated the damage caused to the castle by ‘the residence of the troops’ at £12,760. He put in an unsuccessful claim for that princely sum under the act of compensation. [42] On the other hand, he was also given the Freedom of the City of Dublin and gifted an 18-carat gold medal by the Master Wardens and Brethren of the Guild of Merchants of Dublin on 15 October 1798 for ‘the truly honorable and important services that he had rendered to his country’ in alerting Dublin Castle to the United Irishmen’s plan for revolution.

Lord Edward was captured and fatally shot in Dublin on 23 May 1798. The poet Thomas Moore would later put out a story that Reynolds had betrayed his friend too, but Reynolds had nothing to do with Lord Edward’s arrest. Indeed, Reynolds’s son maintains that his father lent Lord Edward and his wife 100 guineas, as well as arms, to help them out while they were on the run – a loan, added Reynolds junior, that was never repaid.

Captain Erskine, whose forces had ransacked Tom Reynolds’s newly renovated castle with ‘the utmost insolence’, was killed at the battle of Old Kilcullen, near the Curragh, on 24 May, the day after Lord Edward was shot. Lord Walter FitzGerald described his end thus:

“As he lay half stunned on the ground, an old woman who was searching the dead came across him, and recognising him, in revenge for some former act of cruelty, put an end to him by repeated thrusts of his own sword”.

The summer of 1798 would be a nightmare for almost everyone in Leinster with pitch-caps, flogging and indiscriminate murder on both sides. The terror was especially apparent in Ballitore, just north of Kilkea, which was initially occupied by Crown forces and then sacked and burnt to the ground by 3,000 insurgents who entered the village in the last week of May 1798. In her journal, the Quaker diarist Mary Leadbeater (née Shackleton) recorded the awful scenes she witnessed:

“Doctor Johnson appealed to them …  He was alone and unarmed, and I believe had never raised his hand to injure anyone. The dragoons hacked him with their swords … So many swords and bayonets, and at length a musket, could not be long in taking the life of an unarmed man … we saw the youthful form of the murdered Richard Yeates … his bosom all bloody. For many days after I thought my food tasted of blood, and at night I was frequently awakened by my feelings of horror …”

In the wake of the rising, Tom Reynolds was vilified across Ireland, especially after he stood as the principal Crown witness in the trials of several leading United Irishmen. A marked man, he narrowly avoided being murdered twice in the Kilkea vicinity, once while he was sowing oats in a field called Ballylian on the high road from Kilkea to Naas. The Duke of Leinster refused to renew his lease on Kilkea Castle.

And yet the British were also unwilling to accept Reynolds as one of their own. Having initially moved to England, it took him 12 years to gain sufficient acceptance by the establishment to be appointed British postmaster-general in Lisbon. From 1817 to 1820, he was British Consul to Iceland and Copenhagen. He later settled in Paris, where he became an evangelical protestant, and died in 1835.

Two years later, his son, also Thomas, published a two-volume defence of his father, which included much detail about the improvements carried out at Kilkea during the short but action-packed Reynolds tenancy. [43] The true depth of Reynolds’ treachery in 1798 remains a source of keen debate among scholars of the era. Lord Walter FitzGerald, who later lived at Kilkea, believed he “richly deserved the detestable reputation of an ‘Informer’ … the only good word that can be said of Reynolds is that he had no hand in the betrayal of Lord Edward”.


The Venerable Laurence Dunne (1798-1883) – The Pope’s Chamberlain


Bust of the Rev. Laurence Dunne in Castledermot.

When Crown forces came in search for Lord Edward FitzGerald in 1798, one of the places they targeted was Dollardstown House, home to Patrick Dunne and his heavily pregnant wife Anne (née FitzGerald). On sighting the Redcoats, Anne is said to have fled out the farmhouse window and crossed the fields towards Kilkea Castle, which was then home to her cousin, Tom Reynolds.

By some accounts she had her baby mid-flight but a memorial to her son in Castledermot maintains that he was born ‘in Kilkea Castle’. Moreover, the memorial states that the boy was born in December 1798, six months after Lord Edward’s death, but never let the truth spoil a good story. With so much turbulence in 1798, Mrs Dunne may well have opted to have her baby in relative safety at Kilkea.

The boy, christened Laurence after the local hero, St Laurence O’Toole, studied for the priesthood in Carlow and was ordained in 1821. On 25 November 1829, he succeeded Father Lennon to become parish priest of Castledermot and Timolin, a position he held for over 50 years. His appointment came just seven months after Daniel O’Connell so historically secured ‘emancipation’ for Roman Catholics.

In 1855, Laurence Dunne became Canon of Kilmactalway, near Baldonnel, in south County Dublin. When Cardinal Wiseman, Britain’s most senior Catholic, came to Ireland three years later, he visited Canon Dunne’s home in Castledermot. The canon’s address to the cardinal referenced the local link to St Laurence O’Toole and told how “the Pope’s Nuncio, the celebrated Rinuccini more than 200 years ago was entertained for some days at Kilkea Castle, within view of the spot where your Eminence is now seated”. [44]

In 1862, Canon Dunne was made Archdeacon of Dublin. A decade later, he read an address at Kilkea Castle to mark the coming of age of the then Marquess of Kildare. By 1879, he was Vicar General. In 1882, a year before his death, he was appointed Chamberlain to Pope Leo XIII, an old friend of Cardinal Wiseman.

The Venerable Laurence Dunne died in Castledermot on 15 November 1883.



Castledermot 1758-1837


The Franciscan friary in Castledermot, attributed to Gabriel Beranger (ca. 1729-1817), after an original by Jonathan Fisher (fl. 1763-1809).

While the FitzGeralds opted to make Carton House their principal seat from 1741 onwards, they did not neglect their duty to Castledermot. In 1758, the Duke of Leinster (as he would become) commissioned an estate map of the town by John Rocque, a noted surveyor and cartographer, who also surveyed the Manor of Kilkea.

The duke then planted the avenue of lime trees (incongruously called Laurel Walk), which runs from St James’s to the priest’s house. [45] Most parts of the town walls that had survived the Confederate Wars in the 1640s were also removed, although small stretches can still be seen at Carlow Gate, the Library Garden, St James’s Church and the Franciscan Abbey. By 1779, the town’s ancient friary was being used as a handball court for a game called ‘fives’.

The town went into decline in the 19th century, with the closure of the charter school. By 1837, the weekly market had long since ceased while, as Samuel Lewis noted, the town “presents a striking contrast of venerable towers and stately ruins intermingled with humble cabins and houses generally of the poorest character”.


Dan Caulfield


Honest Jack Lawless was a son-in-law of Dan Caulfield of Kilkea Castle.

In the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion, the lease of Kilkea Castle and its estate was taken up by Daniel Caulfield who had also been involved with the United Irishmen. The Caulfields would live in the castle for the next forty or so years.

The Caulfield family were Catholic farmers who held extensive lands along the River Barrow to the west of Kilkea, primarily in the townlands of Grangemellon and Levitstown. Prior to the rebellion, Dan Caulfield, as he was known, had lived on a farm at Levitstown. [46] In 1796, he was appointed First Lieutenant in the Kilkea and Moone Cavalry, with the Duke of Leinster as his captain. The cavalry seems to have been part of the Castledermot Yeomanry. According to Richard Musgrave’s memoirs, all but five of the 50-strong Castledermot Yeomanry were deemed to have sided with the rebels in 1798, including Dan Caulfield. Thomas Reynolds junior went so far as to state that Caulfield was a joint-colonel of the Kilkea and Moone insurgents alongside his father. [47]

In May 1798, Dan Caulfield was arrested by Colonel Campbell’s Dragoons, alongside Tom Reynolds’s uncle, Colonel Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine, and cousins, Patrick and Thomas Dunne. Dan was then brought to Dublin Castle where, after a short examination by the Privy Council, he was charged with high treason. [48] ‘Committed by government’, he was imprisoned in Smithfield, Dublin, and faced transportation to Australia. [49] At this point, the Rev Edward Hunt of Jerpoint, near Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, wrote a letter on Dan’s behalf, describing him as a farmer with ‘a wife and large family’ and requesting that he be ‘liberated as he is innocent of the charge’. Remarkably, the authorities listened as Dan Caulfield was set free and duly took on the lease of Kilkea Castle.

In early 1803, Dan’s second daughter Helen was married at Levitstown to ‘Honest Jack’ Lawless (1778-1837) of Warrenmount, County Dublin. [50] Descended from a family of brewers, Jack had also been a United Irishman, which precluded him from admission to the bar. A leading figure within the Catholic Association, he was publisher of the newspaper, The Irishman. [51] In 1814, he collaborated with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelly to write A Compendium of the History of Ireland from the Earliest Period to the Reign of George I.

The Caulfields continued to farm at Kilkea. While these lands had long been part of the breadbasket of Dublin, their value was on the wane by 1807 when the Dublin Society published Thomas James Rawson’s ‘Statistical Survey of County Kildare’. Rawson acknowledged Kilkea’s ‘flat, fine arable soil’ but stated that the farmlands of County Kildare were generally ‘much exhausted, as from its vicinity to Dublin, it has been for centuries the county from which the capital has principally drawn its supplies of grain’.

On 23 June 1809, the parish priest of Kilkea got wind that ‘many of his congregation [were] listening attentively to two itinerant Methodists, who were preaching at Castledermot’, at which ‘he repaired to the place with a horsewhip, and dispersed them’. [52] One wonders what Dan Caulfield made of such antics; that same year, he was listed as one of seven Roman Catholics serving on the Grand Jury of County Kildare, and described as possessing ‘a good tenant interest under the Duke of Leinster’. He continued to be one of the county’s most prominent Catholics, fully backing Daniel O’Connell’s campaign to repeal the Penal Laws. [53]

Dan was responsible for various ‘alterations and repairs’ at Kilkea Castle, including the addition of two multi-paned Gothic sashes in place of the old hall window in the West Tower. [54]



Three Accounts of Kilkea Castle, 1814-1826


In 1814, the travel writer Aaron Atkinson visited Kilkea and remarked:

“The ancient seat of the old earls of Kildare [is] one of the most deserving objects of attention in this neighbourhood. It stands on a gentle elevation over a plain which is beautified by the waters of the Griese, over which there is a neat bridge with five arches within one furlong of the castle; and between this bridge and the castle, Mr Green, a gentleman … has formed the river into a bason [sic] or reservoir, which with his corn mill on the distant bank, the ornamental plantations around the castle, and part of the Wicklow mountains, which are seen from the lawn, render the scene at Kilkea … an object highly interesting on the ground of antiquity, and considered as a rural scene upon the whole picturesque.

The castle is composed of five tiers of apartments – one of which is under ground. It is rented, in conjunction with 300 acres of demesne lands, from the house of Leinster, by a family of the name of Caulfield, whose proper attention to the preservation and improvement of the castle and its appendages, reflects great honor on that family. In proof of the respect with which the various tenants have treated that ancient structure, I would notice particularly, the beauty and value of several marble chimney-pieces, which they have introduced into the sitting apartments of the castle, and which, in connection with the light and commodious appearance of the rooms, and the general good order of the offices and demesne, render the place suitable, at this moment, for the reception of a family of fortune.

A considerable sum has been lately expended on the erection of offices. The windows of the chambers and sitting-rooms of the castle, have been all modernized, and are now adequately illuminated. The hall, which is on the second floor, is suitable to the grandeur and antiquity of the place, and the approach to this hall, is by a spacious and rather elegant flight of stone steps, which constitute an appendage of no small beauty to the building.

At the period of my visit in the spring of 1814, the castle-garden, a plot neatly enclosed at the west end of the edifice, was then dressed and ready for sowing. The view from the second and third floors, over this garden and the lake and mill we have noticed, to a part of the Queen’s County mountains, was upon the whole, the most picturesque prospect from the castle; although that from the lawn to some mountains of the Wicklow chain, was, from the proximity of those mountains to the place (though less variegated) rather more prominent and sublime.

From the exterior beauty and order of this place, and from the state of the apartments, so much more light and commodious than is generally to be met with in ancient buildings. In a word, from that interesting union of antiquity and modern improvement, which characterizes it, I could not suppress a sentiment of astonishment, that a seat which had been the ancient residence of the Leinster family, should have been wholly abandoned by the offspring of that noble house, and handed over to the best bidder, to be occupied like a common farmhouse with the lands which surround it.” [55]

Kilkea Castle was certainly in better shape than the once-mighty fortress of Carlow Castle, which an eccentric English doctor had all but destroyed with an early form of dynamite in 1814. Three years later, the Quaker diarist Mary Leadbeater described Kilkea Castle as follows:

“It is a noble pile, and in good preservation. If the windows and chimney-piece in the principal room were not so modern, and the massy balustrades of the great stairs had been left the original colour of oak, and not disguised with white paint, it would have an effect more appropriate to the dignity of the building. There are a great number of rooms … The ancient kitchen, with its seven ovens, is in the lower part of the building, from which the ascent to the chief rooms is by stairs of solid oak. The entrance into this part is by a great door, studded with huge iron nails, and here are dark and dreary apartments, the whole recalling the idea of the feudal times.” [56]

A third description was offered by James Norris Brewer’s The Beauties of Ireland in 1826:

“Kilkea Castle, a large and fine, but irregular pile of castellated building, is distant from Castledermott one mile and a half … Considerable and repairs have taken place at subsequent periods; most recent of which were effected by the late Daniel Caulfield, of Levitstown, Esq, who obtained a lease of these premises from the Duke of Leinster. The interior presents in many parts curious examples of antient [sic] arrangement: and from several of the windows are obtained fine views, embracing, among other objects, the demesne of Lord Aldborough, the banks of the river Greece, and the mountains of the Queen’s County. The staircase is composed of massy oak … Near the castle is a large conical mount, in recent years covered with trees.’ [57]


The End of the Caulfield Era


The Caulfields were supporters of Daniel O’Connell. This is a bust of O’Connell in Copeland porcelain after J.E. Jones.

Dan Caulfield was dead by 1826 when James Norris Brewer referred to him as ‘the late’. When his son Peter Henry Caulfield ‘of Kilkea Castle’ married Margaret Mary Hoey of Dominick Street, Dublin, in 1824, the service was officiated by the Most Rev. Dr Murray, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. [58] Peter also chaired numerous meetings for the abolition of the hated tithes during the 1830s. His brother James Caulfield (1800-1873), likewise chaired a meeting of Daniel O’Connell’s General Association of Ireland at the Corn Exchange on 23 May 1837. [59]

From 1835 until 1839, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was Constantine Phipps, the Marquess of Normanby, a supporter of Catholic Emancipation who was popular in Ireland. In April 1839, shortly after he was replaced by Baron Fortescue (later Viscount Ebrington and 2nd Earl Fortescue) there was a ‘densely crowded’ gathering of ‘gentry, comfortable farmers, and orderly peasantry’ amid the ruins of Castledermot’s Franciscan friary. Peter Caulfield, one of the keynote speakers, read out an ‘excellent petition’ to the assemblage, calling upon the House of Commons ‘to uphold such measures for the good of Ireland as would secure a continuance of the same impartial administration of the laws’ as was enjoyed under the late revered Chief Governor.’ [60]

It is not clear whether the Caulfields still lived at the castle at this time, but the duke may have had other tenants. At the start of June 1837, a 54-year-old Royal Navy officer by name of Robert Byron died at his home in Greenwich, London. Newspapers reporting on his death described Lieutenant Byron as ‘formerly of Kilkea Castle’. [61] A few weeks later, William IV died, and 18-year-old Princess Victoria ascended the throne as the first queen in over 120 years. Her reign would bring a new age to Kilkea: the castle was to be wholly refurbished to ensure it was an appropriate abode for a nobleman such as Charles FitzGerald, Marquess of Kildare.




[1] As of the 1890s, this original lease was preserved in the manuscript collection at Carton. p. 171-173 of 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).

[2] I have read that William was actually in Castledermot on 14 August 1690 when he learned that his fleet had been defeated by the French at Beachy Head, but those dates don’t add up.

[3] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 30 July 1659’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 7, 1651-1660 (London, 1802), p. 744British History Online.

[4] Henry B Swanzy, ‘Dixon of Kilkea,’ JCKAS, 9, 5, (1920), p. 392-4.

In 1703, the Irish House of Commons heard a petition from Sir Kildare Dixon Burrowes, John Allen, Robert Dixon, Francis Spring, Alexander Gradon (all MPs) and ‘other inhabitants of the County of Kildare complaining, that the inhabitants of the said County have been under great oppressions and grievances by the exorbitant power of Maurice [another MP], John and Francis Annesley, Esqrs, Justices of the Peace’. Shortly before this, the burgesses and freemen of Naas also complained about the activities of the Annesleys. The allegations against Maurice and Francis were found not to be proved, but John was found to have illegally extorted money under cover of warrants and fees and was removed as sheriff.

In 1709, Henry Dixon was listed alongside Colonel Robert Witherell of Dame Street, Dublin, as one of two contacts for anyone interested in renting the house and 300 acres at Gilltown, near Kilcullen, the property of the lately deceased Sir Kildare ‘Burroughs’ [aka Dixon Burrows], as recorded by the Dublin Intelligence of 29 November 1709: ‘The house of Gilltown near Kilcullen bridge in the county of Kildaire, wherein Sir Kildare Burroughs, Bart, deceased lately dwelt, with good out-houses and some farm houses and between three and 400 acres of choice land is to be let for three years from the 25th of March next. Also in the Queens County … other good houses and enclosures… The household goods and stock at Gilltown [to] be sold… For which Colonel Witherell, Dame Street Dublin and Mr Henry Dixon of Kilkea in the county of Kildare may be treated with.’

[5] Mrs Dixon, ‘widow of the late Henry Dixon’ of Kilkea, died in 1741. The Monthly Chronologer, 1748, p. 158.

[6] Allen Foster, ‘Dead Funny – The Little Book of Irish Grave Humour: Curious Irish Gravestone Inscriptions’ (Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 2010) via here.

‘The Dixon family, according to the Castledermot parish register, now kept in the Record Office, Four Courts, Dublin, were all buried in the Kilkea churchyard, though only a single headstone, lying flat, in the east end of the chancel, dated 1712, marks the grave of one member of this family.’ (Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society and Surrounding Districts, Volume 2, 1899, p. 20).

[7] Alice Dixon died in July 1761.

[8] Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire, ‘Coffee Culture in Dublin: A Brief History’ (Technological University Dublin, 2012-05-150 via here. Other papers he kept were the Paris and Hague Lettres à la Main, Daily Courant, Post-man, Flying Post, Post-script and Manuscripts.

[9] Mary Pollard, ‘A Dictionary of Members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800’ (Bibliographical Society, 2000), p. 152-154. In his will, Francis Dixon / Dickson named his widow and his uncle Henry Dickson [sic] of Kilkea, gent, as his executors He also mentions his mother Rachel, his three sons [Richard, Alexander, Francis] and daughter Frances, all underage. Richard would also become a publisher, as per here. The Intelligence was published by the Dickson / Dixon family until 1720, when the rights were sold to James Carson who converted it to quarto size. The Dixons later founded a newspaper of the same name. Elizabeth died in 1755, aged 80. Gwynn Needham later became a customs officer in the port of Dublin.

[10] David Ryan, ‘Blasphemers and Blackguards: The Irish Hellfire Clubs’ (Irish Academic Press, 2012).

[11] An entry in the Castledermot Parish Register states that on 20 March 1769, John St. Leger, Esq., was buried in the Kilkea vault. See here for more on St Leger. See a detailed history of Grangemellon Castle in the Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser, 24 March 1934, here.

[12] Henry Dixon III and Mary Enery were married at St Mary’s, Dublin, in 1770. She was a daughter of the Rev. William Enery, D.D., Rector of Killeshandra, County Cavan. The Rev. William Enery was the second son of John Enery, of Bawnboy, Co. Cavan, High Sheriff, Co. Fermanagh (1727) and Co. Cavan (1738), by Frances, sister of George Nixon, of Nixon Hall, Co. Fermanagh, High Sheriff Co. Fermanagh (1743). Mary’s mother was Dorothy Dennis, daughter of the Rev. John Dennis, Rector of Cleenish, County Fermanagh.

[13] Saunders’s News-Letter, 24 March 1787. The invitation was published in Saunders’s News-Letter and addressed to ‘Officers of the Cavalry’ in ‘the Cantonments of Carlow or Maryborough.’

[14] Kilkea Castle, Anthologia Hibernica: Or Monthly Collections of Science, Belles-lettres, and History, Volume 4 (R. E. Mercier, and Company, October 1794), p. 241-242.

[15] Mícheál Ó Dubhshláine, ‘Are You Going Home Now?: Memories of Old Kilkea,’ p. 12.

[16] This sketch accompanied Lord Walter FitzGerald’s article on Kilkea Castle in the Journal of the Archaeological Society of the County Kildare and Surrounding Districts, Vol II, 1896-1899, p. 24.

[17] The Greenes were involved in a complicated court case in 1869, as per here.

[18] Saunders’s News-Letter, 6 March 1781.

[19] Atkinson, A., ‘The Irish Tourist: In a Series of Picturesque Views, Traveling Incidents, and Observations Statistical, Political and Moral on the Character and Aspect of the Irish Nation’ (1815), p. 364. See also the excellent account of Mr Greene’s works in Thomas James Rawson’s Statistical Survey of County Kildare (1807), here.

[20] Born on 15 January 1747, George, Lord Ophaly, has George II and the Duke of Richmond as his godfathers. He died on 26 September 1765. William Robert, the 2nd Duke of Leinster, was born on 2 March 1748 and had as godparents William, Earl of Inchiquin, Viscount Hillsborough and Sarah, Duchess of Richmond.

[21] It was at a dinner in the Duke of Leinster’s Dublin townhouse that Buck Whaley made the wager that led to his extraordinary adventure to Jerusalem in 1788.

[22] ‘In the hall of Kilkea Castle are hung the old colours of the Kildare Militia. The king’s colours are a Union Jack in the centre of which is embroidered an ornamental shield or frame above which is a crown while a wreath of shamrocks thistles and roses surrounds them in the middle of the shield is inscribed


The regimental colours are a broad red St George’s Cross on a black ground with a Union Jack in the upper corner near the staff. In the middle of the cross is a like design as is on the king’s colours also embroidered in colours in this case the frame or shield is inscribed KILDARE MILITIA IV with a shamrock.’ See p. 43.

[23]  Butler, Hubert (1 December 1947). “New Geneva in Waterford”, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. 77 (2): 150–155. JSTOR 25510623.

[24] See the statue of Lord St George here.

[25] George Edward Cokayne, ‘Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, Or Dormant’ (G. Bell & sons, 1893), Vol. 5, p. 57.

[26] Born in London on 15 October 1763, he had two uncles, Lord George Lennox and Sir Charles Bunbury as his godfathers, along with Caroline, Lady Fludyer, as godmother.

[27] It transpires the famous painting of Tony Small is not actually Tony Small …

[28] Stella Tillyard, Citizen Lord: The Life of Edward FitzGerald, Irish Revolutionary (0New YORK: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999), p. 45.

[29] Ibid, p. 45. Lord Henry FitzGerald, later Baron de Ros, succeeded his older brother, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, as MP for Athy in 1790. In 1784, he rescued the balloonist Richard Maguire, a Trinity student whose balloon came down in the Irish Sea. His brother, the 2nd Duke, was a patron of the balloonist Richard Crosbie.

[30] Ibid, p. 34.

[31] Reynolds, p. 80.

[32] ‘In the neighbourhood, on the Greece, is a large flour manufacture belonging to John Green Esq who in occupying an extensive farm has contributed much to the improvement of the soil, which in this district is light, on a bed of calcarious [sic] and silicious gravel to a depth, which drains it of moisture; and many parts being for several ages under agriculture and badly managed, the alkaline salts are so much exhausted that lime has no effect on it. Nothing therefore can restore it but manure composed of vegetable and animal exuviae with proper management at a considerable expence.’ [Kilkea Castle, Anthologia Hibernica: Or Monthly Collections of Science, Belles-lettres, and History, Volume 4 (R. E. Mercier, and Company, October 1794). P. 241-242.]

[33] Monavollagh is spelled as Monavillia on the key to the 1822 map in JCKAS, 1896-1899, page 32. Lord Walter referred to it in 1899 here.

[34] Patrick O’Kelly, ‘General History of the Rebellion of 1798’ (Dublin: J. Downes, 1842), p. 26. O’Kelly, who was himself a United Irishman, leased two large farms from the Duke of Leinster at Kilcoo and Coolroe. He later became a historian.

[35] Thomas Reynolds, ‘The Life of Thomas Reynolds,’ p. 204.

[36] Matt Kenna of Birtown [sic, Buretown] was described as ‘one of the most zealous among those who had devoted their time and efforts to all the intentions of Lord Edward.’ (O’Kelly, 1842, p. 24). It was Kenna who introduced Tom Reynolds of Kilkea to the Athy area as a United Irishman.   After the rumours began to circulate, rightly, that Reynolds had betrayed the cause, leading to the arrest of fourteen leading United Irishmen at Oliver Bond’s house in Dublin, Kenna called to see him and demanded an explanation. Reynolds persuaded him of his innocence.

[37] The hall had become the drawing room by 1878, according to the 4th Duke of Leinster in ‘Residences and Castles of the Duke of Leinster,’ p. 53.

[38] The mill-pond was at the lower end of the garden, , according to the 4th Duke of Leinster in ‘Residences and Castles of the Duke of Leinster,’ p. 53..

[39] According to some accounts the man who choked the Kilkea steward was not Cornet Love but Edward Lambert Hepenstall, a notoriously vicious militia lieutenant dubbed ‘the walking gallows.’ See here.

[40] Fitzpatrick, William John, ‘The Sham Squire, and the Informers of 1798’ (Donahoe: Harvard University, 1866), especially the appendix entitled ‘Reynolds the Informer and Mr William Cope,’ an address by Sir William H Cope in vindication of his late grandfather, p. 327-347. In this abbreviated account of the events, Reynolds seemingly wrote:

‘They remained there nine or ten days, and on their departure my father’s steward produced vouchers for cattle, corn, hay, and straw, furnished to them to the amount of six hundred and thirty pounds. In addition to this, the officers lived at my father’s table, keeping him a close prisoner to his room; they and their friends drank his wine, and each soldier had one pint of wine served out to him daily from the well-stocked cellars.

The troops destroyed the whole of the furniture; they plundered a valuable library, and converted a small but very valuable collection of pictures into targets for ball and sabre practice; and, under pretence of searching for Lord Edward Fitzgerald, they tore up the flooring, and pannelling, and broke down the ceilings, converting the castle into a mere wreck.

They also flogged and tortured my father’s servants. Cornet Love, who was a remarkably tall and powerful man, suspended the steward over his shoulder, with his sash, until life was nearly extinct, to compel him to confess where Lord Edward was concealed. The troops remained while there was anything to consume or to destroy; they then withdrew.
Such was the reward my father received from the Irish government for the information he gave them through Mr. Cope, information which enabled them to preserve the country from total ruin, massacre, and destruction.’

[41] The Athenaeum, 22 December 1838, No. 582, p. 905-908.

[42] Dublin University Magazine (William Curry Junior & Company, February 1839), Volume 13, p. 189-206.

[43] C. J. Woods, ‘Thomas Reynolds,’ Dictionary of Irish Biography 2009); Thomas Reynolds, ‘The Life of Thomas Reynolds, formerly of Kilkea Castle in the County of Kildare,’ two volumes (London: Henry Hooper, 1839).

[44] Carlow Post, 18 September 1858.

[45] A further incongruity is that the rectory is to the right of the priest’s house.

[46] He may have been a son of the Daniel Caulfield of Levitstown who married Miss Sweetman of Ballenkeel, County Wexford, in 1773. (Saunders’s News-Letter, 27 August 1773.) Or perhaps that was the one and the same Daniel. The Sweetmans were also involved in 1798.

[47] Liam Chambers, ‘Rebellion in Kildare, 1790-1803’ (Four Courts Press, 1998).

[48] Evening Mail (London), 14 May 1798, p. 4.

[49] Richard Musgrave, ‘Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland’ (1801) p. 263. See also ‘Record 20764 from ‘Ireland-Australia transportation database’ here.

[50] Saunders’s News-Letter, 4 February 1803, p. 1.

[51] Helen died in 1842. For more on the Lawless family, see here.

[52] Edward Wakefield, ‘An Account of Ireland, Statistical and Political,’ Volume 2, p. 612.

[53] See for instance Saunders’s News-Letter, 7 September 1811, p. 2.

[54] Dublin Penny Journal, 16 August 1834, p. 52.

[55] Atkinson, A., ‘The Irish Tourist: In a Series of Picturesque Views, Traveling Incidents, and Observations Statistical, Political and Moral on the Character and Aspect of the Irish Nation’ (1815), p. 362-363. For more on Aaron Atkinson, see here.

[56] ‘The Leadbeater Papers – The Annals of Ballitore’ (London, Bell and Daldy, 1862), Vol. 1, p. 365.

[57] James Brewer’s The Beauties of Ireland: Being Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Biographical, of Each County (Sherwood, Jones, & Company, 1826), Volume 2, p. 41-42.

[58] They were married on 6 October 1824. Westmeath Journal, 21 October 1824, p. 2. Margaret Mary Caulfield, Peter’s wife, died at her residence in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) on 28 May 1871. (Carlow Post, 3 June 1871.) One of the Caulfields [Peter, perhaps?] was a trustee of the Catholic parish of St Michael’s in Athy in the 1830s.

[59] Freeman’s Journal, 24 May 1837, p. 3. James Henry Caulfield died aged 73 on 6 November 1873, at Upper Leeson-street, Dublin. (Carlow Post, 8 November 1873.)

[60] Freeman’s Journal, 18 April 1839.

[61] ‘Died – At his residence, Trafalgar-cottage, Greenwich, R. Byron, Esq., Lieut. R.N., formerly of Kilkea Castle, Castle Dermot, in his 54th year.’ (Hampshire Advertiser, 3 June 1837. The Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service of 3 June 1837 incorrectly have his surname as ‘Dijon.’ Trafalgar Cottage appears to have been a sort of retirement home for naval people. Or else it was just a dangerous place to live as on 10 November 1838, the Morning Advertiser reported: ‘Deaths – On the 5th inst. at his residence, Trafalgar Cottage, Greenwich, Mr. B. Carter, Jun,. in the 32nd year of his age.’