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Kilkea Castle 7 – Twilight (1822-1895)

In the 1830s, the 3rd Duke of Leinster began a lengthy restoration of his family’s ancient castle at Kilkea in County Kildare, giving it the shape that it has today. Kilkea duly became the principal residence of the Marquesses of Kildare. This era, which coincided with the Great Hunger, the Land Wars and the ever-louder call for Home Rule in Ireland, would end with the calamitous – and premature – deaths of the 5th Duke of Leinster and his beautiful wife, Hermione.


“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby



Augustus FitzGerald (1791-1874), 3rd Duke of Leinster


Augustus Frederick, 3rd Duke of Leinster, 1859.

Augustus FitzGerald was 13 years old when the death of his father elevated him in the peerage from Marquess of Kildare to 3rd Duke of Leinster. Born in Carton House in 1791, this godson of King George IV would remain duke until his death over 70 years later. His son Charles would have a long wait to succeed, reminiscent of his namesake’s wait to succeed the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Shortly after his return from a Grand Tour of Europe, Augustus was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, a post he held for a record-breaking 61 years. The lodge had its Masonic Hall on Molesworth Street, Dublin, close to the duke’s townhouse, Leinster House, which he sold to the Royal Dublin Society in 1815. Part of his reason for selling up was because he was something of a recluse, although the London courtesan Harriet Wilson alleged that he was a regular client.

In 1818, the duke married Lady Charlotte Augusta Stanhope (1793-1859), youngest daughter of the 3rd Earl of Harrington. As the patriot Richard Lalor Shiel observed, she had “the reputation of being a most affectionate mother and wife … although an Englishwoman, she prefers Ireland to her own country, and has never seduced her husband into absenteeism”. Two years before she married the duke, Lady Charlotte had been bridesmaid at the wedding of her namesake, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of George IV, but, alas, the princess died in childbirth in 1817. [1]

The duke and Duchess Charlotte had four children, namely Charles (4th Duke of Leinster), Gerald, Jane and Otho. Gerald and Otho would both become amateur composers while Lord Otho was also Liberal MP for Kildare (1865-74) and Comptroller of the Household under William Gladstone from 1868 until the government fell in 1874. (There is a photograph of Lord Otho here.)

The duke, who became leader of the Irish Whigs, was a Liberal by political temperament. He was closely involved with the establishment of national schools in Ireland, a system which forms the basis of primary education in the country to this day. He supported Catholic Emancipation and was, for a time, an ally of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. After the duke declared his support for emancipation in 1828, O’Connell stated: “It was glorious to find in the chair the hereditary descendant of a race of patriots and often martyrs to the cause of Ireland. It was a proud moment to find an Irish Fitzgerald presiding over a banquet consecrated to the principles of freedom.”

In 1849, the 3rd Duke and his wife hosted a visit to Carton from Queen Victoria, who described him in her diary as “one of the kindest and best of men”. The duke was also an active soul. According to his obituary in the Irish Farmer’s Gazette: 

“He was very fond of walking exercise, and few of his friends after taking a spin with him would care to repeat it. He could handle the felling axe with the skill of a backwoodsman, and many an aspiring pine, lofty ash, and tough oak tottered with mathematical accuracy to the desired line of fall from the nicely-balanced swing and unerring strokes of his Graces axe … His punctuality as regards payments was of a piece with that in respect of his correspondence and all other matters.” [2]

Portrait of Augustus FitzGerald (1791-1874), 3rd Duke of Leinster

He was president of the Royal Agricultural Society from 1841 until 1857. He was also for many years president of the both the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Horticultural Society. It was said that ‘to get a farm under the Duke was to prosper and be amply provided for life’. [3] This became more apparent after the Great Hunger, when the system of occupancy on the Leinster estates was restructured so that, as one commentator put it, ‘larger and more viable farms were created and new tenants brought in, men who understood farming, some from Ulster and Scotland’. [4] The Irish Farmer’s Gazette recalled that:

“… an industrious and improving tenant, willing to learn and anxious to progress, ever found in the Duke a true friend and a most encouraging landlord. Of such he was especially proud, and for such he had an open purse and a winning smile; but for one obstinately wedded to old, jog-trot ways and slow to be advised or adopt an improved system of agriculture, he had no countenance, and would turn hastily away … He spent large sums in building, draining, reclaiming, making roads, fencing and other improvements on his estate.”

Such improvements were all the more impressive for the fact that they were all carried out by manual labourers, mostly unskilled.

He died in 1874 at Carton, the house where he was born 83 years earlier.


‘A Thorough Repair’


A drawing of Kilkea Castle from the Dublin Penny Journal, 1834.

In October 1822, the 3rd Duke placed ‘the Manor of Kilkea’ with all its ‘appurtenances’ for sale, ‘by Public Cant, to the highest and fairest bidder’. [5] However, he appears to have changed his mind thereafter, perhaps reconsidering the castle with the growth of Charles, his firstborn son, who was born in 1819.

By the time Charles was a teenager, the duke had clearly determined to give him the space to establish his own court, as it were. To that end, Kilkea Castle once again became a major part of the FitzGerald story. The fact that the duke was also an amateur carpenter may have compelled him to take a deeper interest. In any case, in the autumn of 1837, he journeyed south ‘to superintend the improvements going forward at Kilkea Castle, under the direction of Mr Tough, and to lay out a new line of road between Kilkea and Castledermot’. [6]

At this time, Kilkea was still the somewhat rambling, crumbling pile it had been since the early 15th century, with its tower, central hall and gatehouse. [7] According to Lord Walter FitzGerald:

“The castle was in a half ruinous state – there was no trace of its former bawn, except the gateway into it … nor of the circumventing fosse, and the outhouses were thatched and had mud walls. The battlements on the castle were all thrown down except one row on the low portion at the south-east side; Mr Caulfield is said to have increased the ruinous state of the castle by pulling down portions in search of hidden treasure.”

The duke’s objective was to give the castle ‘a thorough repair, and the ground extensive improvement’, making it ‘a suitable residence’ for his heir, the Marquess of Kildare, who was due to ‘come of age’ in 1840.  [8] Oak trees were planted across what now became the demesne, while the duke also paid Mr Tough, his engineer, to build a number of labourers’ cottages in Kilkea.

However, a quarryman by name of Neall, who was to be given two shillings and three pence for the stones used, complained that the walls of the cottages were 19 inches thick, rather than 18, and demanded he be paid the difference. The case came before the Athy petty sessions, and another engineer was dispatched to check the precise measurements of the wall and the quantity of stone used. Ultimately, the magistrates decided Neall was over-egging his argument and the case was dismissed. Meanwhile, the Manor Mill – known as the Black Mill – was dismantled to provide more stone for the project.

It was during these renovations that builders found what appears to have been a private chapel over the entrance on the north side of the castle. The chapel’s beautiful carved oak roof had been covered over at an unknown time in the past. [9] The workmen also unearthed an underground passage leading towards the churchyard but blocked along the way. [10] Even more alluring was the discovery of a dozen antique-shaped glass bottles, containing ‘a treacle-like liquid’, in a built-up recess in a partition wall between ‘The Puckaun Room’ and ‘the present drawing-room (then the hall)’. As Lord Walter recounted, “the workmen at first were shy about tasting the liquor, but after one had taken ‘a sup’ with no ill effects, there was soon great competition for the remainder.” [11]

One wonders whether this mysterious drink inspired the eerie sighting by Mr Walsh, a workman who told this tale to the 4th Duke of Leinster:

“Many years ago, I was driving a nail into the wall of the castle, and as it sounded hollow, I made a hole there, and looking in I saw an old gentleman sitting on a chair, with a table and glass before him. He appeared to have been built into the wall. As soon as the air was admitted he fell to dust.” [12]


The Iron Horse

On the last day of 1844, the golden age of the railways commenced when the 3rd Duke of Leinster came to a field by Adamstown Castle, near Lucan, and dug the first sod of what would become the Great Southern and Western Railway line. According to an account published in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 6 January 1845:

‘The directors of the Dublin and Cashel Railway commenced operations Monday for the active prosecution of the works on this important and extended line of railway. The site fixed upon for digging the first sod was near Adamstown Castle, about seven mites from the metropolis, and his Grace the Duke of Leinster intimated his intention to be present on this very interesting occasion. The field in which operations were to be commenced presented animated appearance, for two gaily decorated tents were pitched an early hour, and groups of the peasantry watched with mingled interest and pleasure the arrival of the different persons who were to take a part in the business of the day. At two o’clock the ceremony breaking the ground took place, when the Duke of Leinster walked to the spot, accompanied Lady Jane Fitzgerald, the Marquis of Kildare, Lord O. Fitzgerald, Viscount Chabot, George Carr, Esq., Chairman of the Company, Sir John Macneill, the engineer, Col. T. White, &c. His Grace, amid the loud cheers of the assembled crowds, took off his coat, and, in his shirt sleeves, with the skill and good-will of an able workman, dug up six sods, which he threw into a wheelbarrow, and rolled off to some distance. The bonhomie which the Duke of Leinster displayed elicited the utmost enthusiasm; and a country fellow, turning to one of his companions, said with the utmost glee, that he would now die happy, as he had seen a duke working like any man.’
[See also Illustrated London News, 4 January 1845, p. 11.]


The Great Hunger


Digging for Potatoes in the Great Hunger.

In 1845, the first year of the Great Hunger, there was a partial crop failure and about a third of all potatoes in Ireland were destroyed by the blight. The following years would be the darkest in Irish history. The statistics are difficult to comprehend. A million people are said to have died of disease and malnutrition over the next five or six years. Almost as many emigrated during the same timeframe.

In 1847 alone, some 400,000 men, women and children are believed to have died, while nearly 250,000 emigrated, primarily to Britain and North America. [13] Typhus, or famine fever, was the main killer, followed by malnutrition diseases like dysentery and scurvy, as well as cholera. The situation was exacerbated by the huge numbers of wretched souls evicted from their mud cabins and forced to wander the friendless countryside, unwashed, starving and riddled with lice and dirt.

The FitzGerald family have traditionally been hailed for their good work during the famine – with special praise reserved for ‘the good, old duke of Leinster, the most liberal and generous of landlords’, who sought to limit food exports and boost relief for the destitute during this appalling time. [14]  He was one of the Lord Justices during this period, as well as president of the Royal Agricultural Improvement Society of Ireland.


George Lalor (c. 1840-1849)


Peter Caulfield appears to have left Kilkea Castle between 1840 and 1843 when it became home to George Lalor (sometimes Lawlor, or Lawler), described as ‘a respectable tenant farmer of the Duke of Leinster’s’. [15]

In 1843, Mr Lalor was among ‘the clergy, gentry, freeholders, burgesses, and other inhabitants of Leinster’ who signed a petition in The Nation newspaper that called for a ‘repeal demonstration’ in the Rath of Mullaghmast, just north of Kilkea. [16]  Taking place on 1 October 1843, this was to be the last of the famous monster meetings called by Daniel O’Connell with a view to repealing the Act of Union, a forerunner of the campaign for Irish Home Rule.

Mr Lalor faced other challenges closer to home. In 1848, a newspaper observed that he ‘suffered occasionally from the importunities of tourists to see the old Feudal Castle, and whose servants, we hear, had amusingly mistaken the Marquis of Kildare himself for one of that busy tribe during a late visit’. [17]


A Victorian Remodelling, 1849


A view of Kilkea Castle from immediately after the restoration, showing the Front Elevation with the Gatehouse on the left, the drawing room window on the second floor of the adjoining structure, the central keep with the entrance arch, and the windows to the 1180 Restaurant on the second floor of the part to the right of the keep. .

Charles FitzGerald, Marquess of Kildare, heir apparent to the 3rd Duke of Leinster, was married in October 1847 to Lady Caroline Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Sutherland. The couple now set their sights on giving Kilkea Castle a massive refurbishment before making it their family home. The prospect was perhaps further stimulated by the opening of the Great Southern and Western Railway stations in nearby Maganey and Athy in 1846.

The press was much excited by the return of the marquess to, as one contemporary put it, ‘the baronial halls of his ancestors’. In December 1848, the Leinster Express reported:

“We understand that Kilkea Castle, between Athy and Castledermot, is to be fitted up in a splendid manner by the Marquis and Marchioness of Kildare, who intend to fix their future residence amidst its ancestral halls. This announcement gives gladness to the hearts of many; for the noble marquis, following the example of his noble father, his Grace the Duke of Leinster, will stimulate other proprietors by his example to become ‘resident’ landlords, and to devote the principal portion of their time to the amelioration of the distress and wretchedness of their happy country.” [18]

There is a story that the refurbishment followed a fire in 1849, but any such event seems to have eluded contemporary newspapers.

Given the bloody feud between the houses of FitzGerald and Butler in the medieval period, it is especially notable that the architect who oversaw the conversion of Kilkea into a Victorian mansion was William Deane Butler (1794-1857) of St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. A founder member of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) in 1839, Butler’s best-known works include St Mary’s (Catholic) Cathedral in Kilkenny, the Catholic churches in Roscrea and Emo, the Sligo Lunatic Asylum (now the Clayton Hotel) and the railway stations in Malahide (County Dublin), Bagenalstown (County Carlow) and Amiens Street (now Connolly Station), Dublin. At the time of his commission from Lord Kildare, he was architect to the Commercial Buildings Company of Dublin.

Butler’s drawings for Kilkea from June and July 1849 survive and show what a massive project it was. [19] Coming at the height of the Great Hunger, it would have provided much needed employment for many – stonemasons, labourers, quarrymen, carpenters, carters and such like.

Charles Fitzgerald, 4th Duke of Leinster, by Frederick Sargent.

From an external perspective, the principal impact of Butler’s remodelling was the addition of a new top storey above the former Great Hall, which required the removal of a stone vault and the 15th-century battlements. Admired for their ‘romantic silhouette’, new battlements were then extended to cover the whole edifice, with the chimneystack of the hall, stepped out at the base, rising high above. Existing windows were enlarged and either raised or lowered to give a more symmetrical appearance, with a row of four large four-light Gothic windows. At the east of the Great Hall, Butler converted a slender round tower with slit windows into a backstairs. The portcullis entrance to the castle was altered while there were also slight changes to the rubble façade.

It may be that the castle interior had still not recovered from the trashing it received in 1798. In any event, the interior was substantially altered and, ‘after a large expenditure it was made habitable’. [20] The Great Hall was converted into a dining room on the lower level with bedrooms above. Most of Butler’s work inside the castle involved bringing in more light but he was not averse to adjusting access routes for aesthetic effect. For instance, he doubled the size of the present entrance hall by breaking into the east wall, adding a new dog-leg staircase in a narrow space to the west. A room above the entrance, which had served as a kitchen, was converted into an armoury, which Butler intended to vault, although this never came to be.

Meanwhile, most of the first floor was removed in order to make the old entrance hall into a double-height gallery, with a balcony running north and east. On the first floor, the music room, as Tom Reynolds called it, was refurbished by Butler with new chamfered ceiling beams, deep panelled window embrasures and medieval-style corbels inscribed with the FitzGerald coat of arms and war cry ‘Crom-a-boo’. Many of the rooms, doors and windows on the second floor were also created at this time, or subsequently, although the corridor may follow the line of an earlier, medieval passageway.

West View of Kilkea Castle, 1864.

On the tall four-storey West Tower, Butler replaced an irregular series of Georgian sash windows with three ‘primly regular’ medieval bays (trefoil-headed and mullioned), each one decreasing in scale as the floors rise. The slender tower to the right was added by Butler; the mostly square tower to its left was an original privy tower. [The latter tower is notable for ‘corbelling picturesquely into a cylinder for the final third’.] The spiral staircase which runs up the South-East Tower is likely an 1849 addition, as were the granite stairs and various windows.

The kitchen yard and stable yard, with its gable-fronted ranges, were created by Butler at this time and were constructed in the Neo-Tudor style. These had rooms for servants and haylofts on the first floor, as well as mullioned windows, quarry glass and tall diagonal chimneys. The original Guards Tower and gateway were felled to make way for the present-day Guards Tower, complete with a new granite staircase. [21]

In 1854, the FitzGeralds built a new bridge over the Griese on the public road above Kikea, where there had been a ford. [22] It is thought they also altered the course of the river at this time.

The Marquess of Kildare and his family moved to Kilkea Castle in the early 1850s, marking the first time the FitzGeralds had been in residence since the exodus of the 19th Earl of Kildare over a century earlier. The castle would be the Kildares’ home for the next quarter of a century when, after Charles finally succeeded as 4th Duke of Leinster, they moved to Carton House.

Five of their 15 children were born in Kilkea Castle – Lady Alice in 1853, Lord Walter in 1858, Lord Charles in 1859, Lord George in 1862 and Lady Nesta in 1865. [23] With the birth of Lady Nesta, Saunders’s Newsletter remarked:

“We are glad to perceive that the Marchioness of Kildare gave birth to a daughter a few days ago at Kilkea Castle, County Kildare. The amiable lady is greatly beloved in the neighbourhood for her benevolence and courtesy to all classes of society.” [24]

The children arose every morning at 7:30am to prepare for their coming school days and to read scripture before breakfast. Their daily educational routine continued whenever they visited their grandparents at Carton House.

Music and dancing were an important part of life for the family and servants alike throughout this time. Lord Maurice (1852-1901), the second son, was generally the first to have music class, a 15-minute session from 8:30am, followed by his older brother Gerald, the future 5th Duke, at 8:45. In 1884, the Prince of Wales (afterwards Edward VII), president of the Royal College of Music, nominated the 4th Duke as his vice-president. [25]

The Kildares, as they were known, were great hosts. In August 1855, they hosted the Duke and Duchess of Leinster for the Carlow Cattle Show. [26] In April 1857, they hosted the Earl of Carlisle and his family – cousins of Caroline – at a time when the earl was Queen Victoria’s Viceroy of Ireland. [27] The Carlisles stayed at Kilkea again in March 1860.

In September 1859, the Kildares held a ‘Harvest Home’ festival for several hundred workmen who sat down in a barn full of tables that were ‘literally groaning with the weight of viands – sirloins of beef and shoulders of mutton’. Much toasting and cheering followed before the workmen were ‘joined by their sweethearts and wives, and jigs, hornpipes, and reels became the order of the night … Dancing was kept up with vigour and vivacity until the dawn surprised the merry-makers, still footing it with nimble glee. Three cheers were given for the master whose gentle reign was in the hearts of his people.’ [28]

By 1861, the parish of Kilkea had 344 inhabitants, a number that grew by just 12 over the next 10 years. However, there were considerably more people in the locality, as the Kildares discovered in March 1863 when they marked the wedding of the 21-year-old Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and 18-year-old Alexandra of Denmark by holding a festival at Kilkea Castle. ‘No less than two thousand people’ showed up, including ‘his lordship’s tenantry, their friends, and the neighbours generally’. The entertainments commenced with a ploughing match, with 24 entries, won by Mr Cope of Castledermot. The marquess was apparently so delighted by the match that he vowed to make it an annual event. [29]

After the ploughing, guests were invited to clamber up ‘a soaped pole, having a leg of mutton at the summit’.

‘Many an adventurous youth – aye, and many, too, whom the dawn of manhood had long since diverted of youth’s vigour, if not of youth’s eager spirit – allured the tempting and substantial prize, essayed to climb the pole, but, alas, in vain.’

Then followed a series of horse races and foot races, as well as ‘a brilliant display of fireworks’. The festivities continued at the ‘spacious school-house’ on the Kilkea demesne, where pipers got the dancing in motion and, as the Carlow Post observed, the party kept going “until the dawn of morning, when all departed for their homes, highly delighted with the entertainment that had been so liberally and kindly provided for them by the noble Marquis and Marchioness of Kildare”. [30]

Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, married the Marquis of Lorne (later the Duke of Argyll) in 1871. The following year, Kildare was awash with rumours that the couple were on their way to Kilkea Castle to celebrate the coming of age of ‘the youthful Lord Offaly’ (Gerald), an event marked with numerous visitations to the castle from ‘deputations’ of tenants, friends and neighbours. [31]  In Castledermot, there was ‘great rejoicing at night, the houses were gaily decorated and lit up with Chinese lanterns’. [32] Behind the décor, such rituals were, as Terry Dooley observed, a subtle reminder to the young man of his ‘duties and responsibilities – social, religious, economic and political – as a landlord’.


Blasts from the Past


Replica of an urn found on Ballon Hill.

While men were at work on a gravel-pit on Mullachreelan in January 1861, they found a Bronze Age burial urn in a part of it known locally as ‘Bullock’s Hill’. Two years later, labourers reportedly found an ancient bronze church bell in a field near Castledermot. [33]Acquired by the FitzGeralds, it was last seen in Kilkea Castle in 1906.

In 1868, Mick Byrne of Castledermot was dispatched to the cow-pasture at Kilkea Castle, close to where the old public road to Moone once ran. He was instructed to dig out the stump of a large elm tree that had fallen in a big wind. As he did so, he came upon an ancient bronze skillet, or cooking pot, entangled in its roots. Mick handed in the pot but denied there was anything in it except ‘bones and rubbish’. Shortly afterwards, the FitzGeralds learned that Mick had emigrated to America with his wife and large family, leading them to deduce that there had been something rather more valuable in the skillet. [34]

At least ten items of ancient metalwork from the duke’s collection at Kilkea went to the National Museum after a sale of contents from the house in 1945.


The Village of Kilkea in the 1860s


The church in Kilkea was designed by JJ McCarthy.

The Marquess of Kildare (later the 4th Duke) was a man of ‘earnest Christian sensibility’ who sought to improve life for his tenants across the Kildare estates generally and in the model village of Kilkea specifically. In 1862, he put a call out for designs for a new village school-house and teacher’s residence; tenders were to be sent to Francis A Trench, Esq, of Newlands, Tallaght, County Dublin. [35]

In 1865, he commissioned a new Gothic church in Kilkea by the village gates into the castle. The modest ducal chapel was designed by JJ McCarthy, who may also have constructed the school buildings. McCarthy was one of the foremost Catholic church architects of the Victorian era. Indeed, this was his only work for the Church of Ireland.

In a charming garden alongside the church, he also designed a new Tudor Revival rectory for the village. [36] The church was further beautified in 1926 with the addition of a stained-glass window by Alfred Ernest Child commemorating the FitzGeralds and depicting Saints Kayda (Caoidhe), Patrick (Padraig) and Lawrence O’Toole (Lorcan O Tuathail). In 1969, the FitzGeralds passed the church into the care of the Greene family.

The FitzGeralds were also patrons of the new west front of Castledermot church, constructed by McCurdy and Mitchell in the 1880s. [37]


John S Hobson (1868-1942) – The Signalman from Kilkea


A searchlight signal made by Union Switch & Signal.

An Indian rupee coin from 1918, minted on the watch of JJ Bourke of Kilkea.

Kilkea was the birthplace in 1868 of John S Hobson, who became a senior figure in the Pennsylvania-based Union Switch & Signal Company, a leading supplier of railway signalling equipment, systems and services. Trained as an engineer and locomotive machinist, he was also president and chairman of the Massey Concrete Products Corporation. [38]


The Assay Master from Kilkea


John Joseph Bourke (1865-1933) was born at Kilkea on 1 April 1865, the son of Michael Bourke. Having obtained a Master of Arts in Experimental Physics, he received a commission as surgeon lieutenant in the Indian Military Service. From 1898 until 1909, he was acting chemical adviser to the Government of Bombay. In 1900, he served in China with the forces sent to quell the Boxer Rebellion. He returned to India afterwards and became Deputy Assay Master at the Bombay Mint and then Assay Master at the Calcutta Mint from 1911 to 1919. [39]


Saluting the Gardener


View of Kilkea Castle and its pergola, from the parterre, taken by William Lawrence, circa 1900.

With the restoration and remodelling of the castle in the early Victorian period, the FitzGeralds did not neglect the garden and wider demesne, sowing numerous trees and plants throughout. [40] The terraces and French-style parterres of the walled garden were here before 1849. The pergola in the Rose Garden was probably installed in the 1880s, near to the box hedging that was planted in the early part of this century around where the rent-table formerly stood.

From 1854 until 1862, the general superintendent of Kilkea was James Alexander, a man who had worked with the Duke of Leinster since the early 1840s. [41] When he moved to the gardens at Nurney Castle, he seems to have been replaced by a Mr Wall.

By 1865, he had been succeeded by John Douglas, who served as both land steward and head gardener. In May 1867, the Leinster Express applauded the ‘fastidious’ Mr Douglas ‘whose fertile brain’ had planned the ‘beautiful’ grounds and gardens at Kilkea with such ‘consummate skill’. [42]

“Mr Douglas … has added considerably to botanical and various branches of literature, while, as an agriculturist, he has also proved himself successful, a striking proof of which is had on this very Mullaghreelan hill. It was but recently Mr Douglas determined to turn this rocky eminence to some useful purpose, and accordingly its numerous acres were taken in hand; so that what formerly was almost barren of every kind of vegetation is now planted with shrubberies or yielding sweet herbage, and bearing excellent root crops.
A carriage drive of over a mile in length has actually been made around the mountain by Mr Douglas; as the path descends beautifully newly laid down trees are along each side in great luxuriance. As the sides of the valley approach each other more closely, the rush of the swollen river is heard below, and here and there its waters are seen rushing rapidly along. The termination of the path’s gentle decline brings you into the centre of the woodland scenery.
Horticulture is, I believe, Mr Douglas’s forte; and well may he pride himself upon his taste and skill in this respect. The gardens are laid out with great ability, and are just now blooming in the choicest spring exotics, whose odour fills the air with delicious perfume.
In a couple of weeks, I learned, all those beds will be stripped of their treasures, to be replaced by the more gorgeous summer plants. A short space from the gardens is a splendid ‘rockery’, beautifully situated in the wood where the most favorite [sic] ferns, Alpine plants, &c., may be seen in abundance.
Not the least important feature in a nobleman’s establishment is the number of dependants who receive employment in farming operation. Ever anxious for the comfort of his people, the Marquis of Kildare has not only given Mr Douglas full liberty with respect to hiring every cotter who needs work, but it is his expressed command to give employment, in winter especially, of some kind or other to man, woman, or youth, who requires it.
Thus, a considerable portion of land is devoted to agriculture; a four-course system being the one in force; and ‘the farm’ cultivated under Mr Douglas’s supervision would gladden the heart of the most enthusiastic farmer.
|The cows, bullocks, sheep, and horses would be creditable on a first-class model farm; while their sheds and the range of offices are built on the newest and most approved principles. I noticed an excellent hay shed put up by Mr Douglas, 180 feet in length, raised on metal pillars, substantially slated, and capable of containing over 100 tons of hay.
Conspicuous amongst the Marquis of Kildare’s boons to his numerous dependants are the ‘model cottages’ which his lordship has had built for his labourers. Outwardly they are neatly but substantially erected, while the interior accommodation consists of kitchen, three sleeping apartments and a pantry; and all have entrances in front and rere [sic]. Attached to each is a set of out-offices, consisting of piggery, closet, fowl-house, &c., with a very nice plot of ground for raising potatoes, vegetables, &c.
Appreciating these benefactors as they deserve, it is hardly necessary to observe that the cottiers preserve their dwellings scrupulously clean, the effect of which is plainly visible in the healthy, robust and cheerful appearance of parents and children.
We should not forget to notice that by Lord Kildare’s express commands every entrance to his demesne and pleasure grounds is thrown open every day to the public – rich and poor alike.
There is one thing which I especially remarked in walking through the woods and fields, and that is the total absence of every description of weed, against which Mr Douglas has waged a most successful warfare, bringing his theories into every day practice.”


Kilkea Demesne & Farm – The Irish Times, 19 November 1867


John Douglas, the head gardener and steward at Kilkea Castle, was also editor of The Gardeners’ Record, a fortnightly supplement to the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, which was launched in 1869.

Since [Kilkea Castle’s] occupation by the present noble occupier, large outlays have been incurred in the embellishment of the place, the erection of offices, the formation of pleasure grounds, terraces, gardens and plantations.

The demesne and farm cover an extent of 185 acres, out of which less than one half has been devoted to husbandry, owing to the low-lying nature of some of the land, and its being very subject to inundations from the overflow of the river Greece [sic]. Much ingenuity has been displayed in its draining and arterial embankments. The approach from the public road is really picturesque in the extreme. A beautiful avenue planted on both sides with gigantic conical spruce trees, all of which are uniformly feathered to the very ground, together with the circuitous route, and being diversified by the water scenery, combined to give the entrance drive a very pleasing effect.

Directly in front of the entrance gate are to be seen numerous modern dwellings recently erected by his lordship. These consist of a beautiful glebe residence of the resident clergyman, church labourers’ cottages, school-houses, lodges, &c. The cottages are admirably designed, and substantially built. They provide distinct sleeping apartments for the two sexes of the family, besides a kitchen, pantry, fowl house, turf house, privy, and piggery, all of which have been built at a cost of about £80. A very neat enclosure of land is attached to each dwelling, which is intended to give employment to the spare hours of the family, and, indeed, judging from the neatness with which they are kept, it is manifest that the occupiers understand the cultivation of vegetables, particularly potatoes.

Kilkea National School opened in 1863.

The National Schoolhouses have been built and cared [for] at the sole expense of Lady Kildare, who, we were informed, has been most zealous for the education, cleanliness, and comfort of the children. Her ladyship also has provided an excellent residence for the mistress, whose taste for domestic purposes must have had an effect in promoting habits of order and cleanliness amongst the pupils.

The cropping of the farm is carried out on the four-course system, and from the neatness with which the arable portion is managed, and the command of manure, together with all the modern appliances in the way of machines for its effective cultivation, it is not to be wondered at that the crops are of more than average fruitfulness.

In barley, oats, and turnips, the maximum amount of produce per acre has been fully realized, whilst as regards the hay crop, and the mode in which it has been saved and housed, both its quantity and quality are very superior indeed.
The primary object of the steward who acts also in the capacity of gardener, seems to be directed towards the most economical system, compatible with a judicious outlay. There is nothing abstruse, new-fangled, or unintelligible attempted. System is the rule, and it is rigidly adhered to. The ploughing of the lea and stubble land is in active progress, and as regards the farmer, the operation is so executed by a process of skinning, by which the greatest possible quantity of ‘plant food’ is kept on the surface.

In the ploughing of the stubble, the process is different, and a fine bold deep furrow is effected. The yoking for effecting so essential an operation as ploughing, are of the most superior type. Nowhere could finer horses, or such matchless and expensive harness and general fittings be seen.
The roads leading from the farmyard to the various portions of the demesne are kept in such order, that the bringing home of the produce, and the cartage of manures are greatly facilitated. To every field there is an excellent entrance in the way of granite piers, and iron gates.

On the elevated portion of the out farm is situated the great hill commonly known as Mullochreelan [sic], which evidently was at one time the result of volcanic action or an artificial fortress for warlike engagements. Its summit is so high that it commands an uninterrupted view of the five adjoining counties and is itself of circular origin. The beautiful circuitous walks and drives rising from its base to its summit give on the ascent to the top an opportunity of seeing vast extents of tableland on each and every side. Surrounding its position on the western side there are numbers of labourers’ cottages neatly built and cleanly kept.  The place is evidently looked after with great care, but this is what may be expected from the fact of its being so much resorted to by country parties from the surrounding towns.

The stock on the demesne farm are not exactly thoroughbred, but they border on it very closely. As regards the dairy and store cattle they are a very useful class of animals, showing a good deal of good breeding in the short-horn direction. Serviceable animals for the dairy and shambles ought to be the primary object of all who farm with a view to profit, and this is fully exemplified in the type of cattle kept in Kilkea. The fleecy flocks, which form the strong feature in the stock department, are chiefly crosses of the Border Leicester ram with the native ewe. They are extremely prolific sheep, and when fattened turn out very profitably in mutton.
The stall-feeding department is looked upon in a two-fold capacity – first, the supply of beef for home and market supply and the manufacture of manure. The stalls for this purpose are admirably arranged both as regards ventilation and the husbanding of the liquid and solid droppings from the cattle.

Not only is the cow-house a model in its way, but the various other offices, from barn to granary, workshops, piggery, coach and cart-houses, harness-rooms, dairy, fowl-house, store-rooms, &c., structures of perfection in their way; and the prevailing arrangements, such as to save time, labour, and trouble in the depending accommodation of one upon the other.

The hay barn, which is a most indispensable adjunct to a farmery, is 150 feet long by 19 in width, supported by metal pillars and slated overhead. It is rendered thoroughly firm by means of horizontal bars, which are screwed tighter with nuts. In the piggery we observed some very superior specimens of the pure York and Berkshire breeds, and most singular, a litter of pure Berks, from both dam and sire, are as white as an Oxford pig. This circumstance is rather unintelligible to Mr Douglas, the steward, who drew our attention to the fact.

As regards the permanent improvements on the outer farm, they are extensive, and thoroughly practical. A large staff of labourers is constantly kept, and in the severe weather, when labourers are thrown out of employment in the adjoining holding, Lord Kildare invariable [sic] gives instructions to his manager to take in every idle hand who wishes to work. The solicitude which his lordship and Lady Kildare display for the comfort of the poor people during the winter months is a subject of the warmest theme amongst the many to whom their munificence has been known, and which has been cherished with gratitude and veneration by the many who have been benefited by their unostentatious catering to the daily wants of the poor and needy.” [44]


The Land Wars


The Irish Land League: Mr Boyton Burning the Duke of Leinster’s Leases on a ‘’98 Pike’ in the Market-Place of Kildare. Illustrated London News, 8 January 1881.

In 1876, the Leinster estates amounted to 67,000 acres with a valuation of £47,000. By 1883, that had risen to 73,000 acres, valued at £56,000. The FitzGeralds had generally been on side with the people of Ireland, supporting Catholic Emancipation, advocating Liberal policies and taking care of their hundreds of tenants. While the 3rd Duke had spent between £5,000 and £6,000 on improvements to his holdings, the 4th Duke spent £75,000 between 1874 and 1881 on buildings, arterial drainage and other works. [45]

However, things became complicated during the Land Wars which came in the wake of the 1879 harvest, the worst since the Great Hunger. 1879 was also the coldest and wettest year since records began in 1766. It rained for 125 days in the six months between March and September, or two out of three days. Small farmers were dealt the hardest blow by the dire weather and the severe economic crisis that followed. The potato crop was ravaged by blight and whatever turf they were able to gather from the bogs had no chance to dry.

By the close of 1879, the peasantry had been stirred into action, aghast at reports of widespread evictions of small tenant farmers who owed perhaps two or three years of rent. The Irish National Land League was formed in October 1879 ‘to put an end to rack-renting, eviction and landlord oppression’. Inevitably attention turned to the duke’s 67,000 acres in Counties Kildare and Meath. The Leinster Estate had agreed to reduce rents for its tenant farmers but, to cover the costs, it had controversially laid off 200 labourers. With more lay-offs likely, this was seen as a deliberate attempt to pit the labourers against the tenant farmers and did not go down well. Things reached a head on 27 December 1880 when Michael Boyton, a prominent Land Leaguer, publicly burned the Duke of Leinster’s leases in Kildare’s Market Square. [46] The documents were symbolically stuck onto the end of a rusty pike from the 1798 Rebellion before being thrust into the flames of a bonfire. The Illustrated London News published an image of the burning.


The 5th Duke of Leinster and Lady Hermione Duncombe


Hermione, Duchess of Leinster, in 1890, photographed by W. & D. Downey.

Gerald FitzGerald (1851-93), 5th Duke of Leinster, was born in Dublin and spent his childhood at Kilkea where he was known as Lord Offaly (pronounced Oph-fay-lee) for the first 23 years of his life. In 1874, his father succeeded to the Duchy of Leinster and moved to Carton. Gerald, who was educated at Eton, now became Marquess of Kildare and moved to Kilkea. The castle also seems to have remained the base for his younger siblings. In 1880, for instance, Lord Maurice chose the castle as a honeymoon destination for his bride, Lady Adelaide Forbes, eldest daughter of the Earl of Granard. [47]

In 1884, Gerald also found a bride. Short, square, deadly serious and more inclined towards stamp-collecting and books than the whirl of society, he would be thrust into the spotlight when he married Lady Hermione Duncombe, regarded as one of the most beautiful women in Western Europe.

Born in 1864, Lady Hermione had enjoyed a happy childhood. Her forebears were bankers who built a stately pile in north Yorkshire – Duncombe Park – and her father was created Earl of Feversham in 1868. All four of Lord Feversham’s daughters were considered beauties but it was Hermione who caused the greatest splash when she appeared as a 17-year-old debutante in London in 1881, with her long brown hair spilling over her shoulders, peering at the world through her soft brown eyes.

“So lovely a face is rarely seen,” marvelled the Penny IllustratedDaisy Fingall, later to become one of her closest Irish friends, recalled her as ‘divinely tall’ with a “wonderful long neck, and a skin so delicate and transparent that … you could almost see the passage of the wine through her throat.” Winston Churchill also declared her the most beautiful woman he ever met.

Hermione’s first season as a debutante was followed closely by the Victorian press who eagerly reported on her every step at race meetings, dances and other society events.

Not surprisingly Britain’s aristocratic elite were soon queuing up to seduce the poor girl. Perhaps she might have fallen in love with one of them, but Cupid was not consulted. It seems almost certain that her father orchestrated an arranged marriage for her with the Marquess of Kildare. Hermione clearly feared the worst. A month before she left Duncombe Park to marry Lord Kildare, the 19-year-old penned a short lament:

‘Home I must leave thee, the sweet days here are numbered,
I turn and look upon you with regretful eyes.
Fate beckons to me with her unrelenting fingers,
Hope and lost love have no answer for my sighs.’

Their wedding in Knightsbridge, London, was the society bash of 1884, not least for the Anglo-Irish elite lucky enough to score an invitation. Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and a friend of Hermione, was the principal guest. In Ireland, the occasion was marked with ‘an elegant dejeuner’ for 400 schoolchildren on the lawns of Carton, with bonfires and banners strewn through nearby Maynooth.

In October 1884, Hermione’s mother, the Countess of Feversham, visited Kilkea with her sister, Lady Ellen Duncombe. [48] Perhaps they discussed the inventory the FitzGeralds were by then making of all ‘the Pictures, Plate, Antiquities, &c.’ they held at Kilkea Castle, as well as Carton and their Dublin (13, Dominick Street) and London (6, Carlton House Terrace) townhouses. The inventory would be published in 1885.

Hermione and Gerald – or Gerry, as she called him – would spend their first three years together at Kilkea Castle, where he had spent his childhood. Hermione was not thrilled by the prospect, penning a short verse:

‘Kilkea Castle and Lord Kildare are more than any woman can bear.’

Everything changed on 10 February 1887 with the death of the 4th Duke of Leinster. Gerald, now the 5th Duke, relocated to Carton with Hermione, where they retained at least 100 servants and estate employees, 44 of whom worked within the great Palladian mansion.  On his departure from Kilkea, Gerald instructed Warren Wright, the Castledermot auctioneer, to hold an auction on 7 April of ‘100 Lots of very superior Timber, Ash, Elm and Oak, suitable for general Carpenter Work, Coopering, Fencing, Posts &c.’ [49]

The new duke would soon part with a lot more than timber. His inheritance included £290,000 of encumbrances, much of which were portions allotted to his many younger siblings. To pay such an amount, he sold 19,200 acres – about quarter of his estate – under the 1885 Land Act, raising £246,400. [50] He did, however, manage to buy one of the earliest steam engines, which put the Leinster estate at the forefront of a sort of Indian Summer of the Industrial Revolution in Ireland. Purchased in 1889, his six-horsepower traction engine was manufactured by Henry Marshall & Sons at the Britannia Iron Works, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

Meanwhile, the Duchess Caroline, Gerald’s widowed mother, moved south to Kilkea Castle but she herself was dead just three months later. [51] Until the 8th Duke moved to the castle over 60 years later, Kilkea would be a home for any ‘spare’ FitzGerald brothers or sisters awaiting, or avoiding, marriage. [52]

As for the new duke and his wife, all was well – for a while. The couple attended races at Punchestown, the Horse Show in Dublin and other such events. Gerald was interested in art, philately, horticulture and local history. In 1872, while living at Kilkea Castle, he had been elected a life member of the Royal Horticultural Society. When the County Kildare Archaeological Society was founded in 1891, he became its first president. He was also a governor and guardian of the National Gallery of Ireland. For her part, Hermione became a benefactor of numerous institutions including Alexandra College, a Church of Ireland Girls’ School in Dublin that was set up to educate girls to university standard.

She appears to have suffered severe post-natal depression, particularly after the death of their first child, a baby girl, but again following the birth of her two sons, Maurice and Desmond.  Perhaps she had always been prone to depression, but her black spells certainly increased from 1890 and she would frequently write to her closest friend Evelyn, Viscountess de Vesci, of Abbeyleix, describing in one instance how she was assailed by ‘the legions of black dogs’. She adored her sons and was a dutiful mother although, like most aristocratic Victorian parents, she saw relatively little of them.

Meanwhile, the FitzGerald estates were in a downward spiral, not least supporting Gerald’s nine siblings. His father had already been compelled to sell a quarter of the estate. Although a Liberal in politics, he voted against the second reading of Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill and became president of the Irish Unionist Alliance. The decline of the Established (Protestant) Church was also bothering the duke, who was a member of the General Synod for the dioceses of Kildare and Glendalough.

Preoccupied with the turmoil of church and state, and the burden of his inheritance, the duke became increasingly aloof at home. Worse, he smothered all of Hermione’s opportunities to flourish as an independent woman. He virtually forbade her from painting. He refused to give her a room of her own. She confided to a sister that he ‘humiliated’ her in front of the servants, countermanding her orders. “And fault is found with me for anything and everything I do and say.”

In another letter, she wrote how his ‘petty tyranny’ extended to the bedroom where he insisted on sleeping alongside her “for fear of what the servants may think!” if they did not. As she observed, “the servants only have to listen at the door to be aware that recrimination continues late into the night and begins early in the morning”.

With her creative spirit crushed, she resorted to letter writing. Rarely can a friend have received a letter from Hermione anticipating a fun read. Feeling ever more ‘wretched’, Hermione was plunging into deep depression and Carton had become ‘this black dog haunted place’.

Her friendship with Evelyn became so intimate that she was subsequently compelled to write an apology letter for what would seem to have been an unrequited pass at the Viscountess.

In the end she found love, or certainly lust, with Evelyn’s brother Hugo Charteris, a handsome, gambling-addicted cad who had seduced many an upstanding woman before Hermione. Charteris belonged to a group of pseudo-intellectual aristocrats known as the Souls whose principal Irish base was the de Vesci’s home at Abbeyleix. The Souls’ liberal banter would ultimately pave the way for a relaxation of strict Victorian traditions in favour of the rather more fun-loving Edwardian lifestyle. Hand in hand with this was a penchant for extra-marital affairs, which the members of the Souls conducted with rigorous frequency.

The upshot was that when Hermione gave birth to a third son Edward, who would one day succeed as 7th Duke of Leinster, high society strongly suspected Charteris was the father. [53] Such gossip was greatly amplified when Hermione eloped to live with him. However, when their affair petered out, she returned to live with Gerald at Carton and young Edward was ever after raised as a FitzGerald.

Hermione’s beauty still caused huge excitement wherever she went. In Dublin, men would pursue her down Dawson Street simply ‘for the delight of seeing her move’. However, her private life was to take another calamitous turn in the winter of 1893 when, just weeks after her return, Gerald died at the age of 42. [54] He had apparently contracted typhoid after eating oysters that had been contaminated when cooked in a copper kettle. [55]

He devised all his unsettled estates to his firstborn son, Maurice, who now became the 6th Duke, while administration of the family estates passed to a trust. However, Kilkea Castle came with a proviso that it was ‘subject to the occupation … by the late Duke’s sisters Lady Eva, Lady Mabel and Lady Nesta FitzGerald, whilst unmarried, and to a charge on the estate in their favour of £500 a year.’ [56]

Disconsolate at the loss of Gerald, Hermione moved to Surrey and took up painting and sculpture, the arts her late husband had denied her. However, her self-confidence was shattered and her letters suggest she was now utterly haunted by her past.

Less than a year after Gerald’s death, Hermione was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Narrowly side-stepping a surgeon’s proposal to inject creosote into her blood stream as a cure, she travelled through the warm climates of Europe with her mother and a sister before fetching up at Menton, near Monte Carlo, on the French-Italian border. When her condition worsened, her mother summoned Charteris and, for a while, his presence did boost her morale.

But her tuberculosis was terminal. Unable to see her children, lest they become infected, she spent her last days in Menton, drifting ever deeper out of consciousness until her death aged 30 on 20 March 1895. Her body was dispatched to Ireland, where she was buried alongside her late husband in the family cemetery at Carton. Her sons did not attend the funeral, but all three sent wreaths. Maurice, who had just turned eight, and Lord Desmond, were apparently stricken with scarlatina at this time, so their aunt, Lady Eva, had brought the boys to Kilkea Castle ‘for a change of air’. [57]



[1] Richard Lalor Sheil, ‘Sketches of the Irish Bar’ (Belford, Clarke & Company, 1882), Volumes 1-2, p. 348-349.

[2] He was also on good terms with Louis-Philippe, King of the French from 1830 to 1848, who sent him a tapestry of stags bathing at a pool in 1845. The tapestry was still at Carton when Kay O’Higgins wrote her piece for The Tatler in September 1937.

[3] Irish Farmer’s Gazette, 17 October 1874.

[4] P. N. N. Synnott, ‘Kilkea Castle, Castledermot, County Kildare, Republic of Ireland’ (Mount Offaly Press, 1973), p. 24-25.

[5] Saunders’s News-Letter, 4 November 1822, p. 3.

[6] Leinster Express, 11 November 1837. He was accompanied by his second son, Lord Gerald FitzGerald (1821–1886), and a nephew, Mr FitzGerald. Mr Tough may have been R. Tough, architect and builder, of Richmond, of Dublin, who was active in the 1830s but insolvent by June 1839. There was also a William Tough, builder, of Broadstone, Dublin, who is listed in the directories from 1844 or earlier.

[7] As Andrew Tierney observed, ‘drawings made prior to the Victorian remodelling show a delightfully decayed and rambling edifice comprising a tower, hall and gatehouse.’

[8] Leinster Express, 11 November 1837. He was accompanied by his second son, Lord Gerald FitzGerald (1821–1886), and a nephew, Mr FitzGerald.

[9] ‘The Caulfield family, resident in 1839, brought the duke’s attention to a private chapel – possibly the room over the entrance – with a carved oak roof that had been covered over. Lord Walter, writing in 1896, reckoned that this had been on the N side of the castle.’ [Tierney] Peter Caulfield was in Kilkea Castle when Samuel Lewis was writing his ‘Topographical Dictionary,’ published in 1837.

[10] Lord Walter observed: ‘There are the usual traditions of underground passages, common to most castles, attached to this one; one is said to lead to the moat, and another to the churchyard. I have spoken to a gentleman who told me that in Mr. Caulfield’s time he actually went a considerable way down the latter, till stopped by an obstruction.’

[11] Lord Walter FitzGerald, Kilkea Castle, Journal of the Archaeological Society of the County Kildare and Surrounding Districts, Vol II, 1896-1899, p. 25.

[12] Lord Walter FitzGerald, Kilkea Castle, Journal of the Archaeological Society of the County Kildare and Surrounding Districts, Vol II, 1896-1899, p. 32.

[13] Christine Kinealy, ‘Food exports from Ireland, 1846–47’, History Ireland, vol. 5, issue 1 (spring, 1997), p. 32–6.

[14] James MacCaulay, ‘Ireland in 1872: A Tour of Observation. With Remarks on Irish Public Questions’ (H. S. King & Company, 1873), p. 279. However, the duke’s record in the Dictionary of Irish Biography suggests there were also land clearances in the Athy area at this time.

[15] Peter Caulfield and George Lalor aka Lawlor aka Lawler are mentioned on the 1840 Valuation for Kilkea.

[16] Dublin Weekly Nation, 23 September 1843, p. 2. Kilkea is spelled as ‘Kilkee’ in this instance. George’s surname is variously given as Lalor, Lawlor and Lawler. I suspect he was a kinsman of Patrick “Patt” Lalor (1781–1856) who became the first Catholic elected to the House of Commons in 1832, representing Queen’s County, and who was a loyal supporter of the Repeal Association and Daniel O’Connell. Patt was also the father of the revolutionary politicians James Fintan Lalor, Peter Lalor and Richard Lalor.

[17] The Pilot, 22 December 1848, p. 1.

[18] The Pilot, 12 December 1848.

[19] Andrew Tierney identified Butler as the architect. Jeremy Williams had previously suggested Frederick Darley, who was engaged by the duke to build the Church of Ireland and the model schools in nearby Athy. Whoever it was, Jeremy did not approve of the work! In “A Companion Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921,” he wrote: ‘An anonymous artist recorded three views of the castle before and three views afterwards, and they show how much of the essential character of a medieval castle is destroyed by even the most sympathetic Victorian restoration. The worst loss was the great hall, rebuilt as a dining room on the lower level with bedrooms above. The defensive fenestration of the original is replaced by regular rows of trefoil-headed windows. The Irish battlements confined to the great hall were extended throughout, not for their ability to repel invaders, but for their romantic silhouette. In the interior, the spiral staircase and the principal rooms are all rebuilt. The formal gardens with their parterres and trellises record the FitzGerald family’s obsession with France.’

[20] ‘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.

[21] The present-day Guardroomo on the ground floor and attached gateway resemble one which existed previously at this location but O’Driscoll reckons the original building was felled in 1849 and that the present structure was reconstructed during the restoration. The granite staircase by the Guardsroom was inserted in the 1849 restoration.

[22] ‘Notes on the Pictures, Plate, Antiquities, &c., at Carton, Kilkea Castle, 13, Dominick Street, Dublin, and 6, Carlton House Terrace, London’ (Dublin: University Press, 885)

[23] ‘Births – On Friday, the 22nd instant, at Kilkea Castle, the Marchioness of Kildare, of a son,’ Saunders’s News-Letter, 25 January 1858; ‘Births – August 20, at Kilkea Castle, the Marchioness of Kildare, of a son,’ Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current, 26 August 1859. As to the birthplace and dates of the other children: Geraldine (London, 1849), Mabel (Dublin, 1850), Gerald (Dublin, 1851), Maurice (London, 1852), Eva (Stratford House, London, 1855), Mabel (Maretimo, 1855), Frederick (Maretimo, 1857), Henry (Carton, 1863), Margaret (Dublin, 1867) and Robert (Carton, 1868).  Eva and Mabel were both born in 1855, making them what we call Irish twins!

[24] Saunders’s Newsletter, 12 April 1865, p. 2.

[25] Dr Karol Mullaney-Dignam, ‘Aspects of Irish aristocratic life: the FitzGeralds and Carton House’ (Dublin: UCD Press, 2014).

[26] Freemans Journal, 18 July 1855.

[27] ‘The Marquis of Kildare entertained a distinguished party at Kilkea Castle during the last week, amongst whom were the Lord Lieutenant and suite, Mr and Lady Fanny Howard, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, the Count and Countess Jeannae, &.’ Kings County Chronicle, 22 April 1857.

[28] Leinster Express, quoted by the London Evening Standard, 20 September 1859, p. 3.

[29] Kings County Chronicle, 11 March 1863, p. 2.

[30] Carlow Post, 14 March 1863, p. 3.

[31] THE COMING OF AGE OF LORD OFFALY. (From our Reporters.) Athy, Friday Night.

On this day Lord Offaly, the eldest son of the Marquis and Marchioness of Kildare, and grandson of his Grace the Duke of Leinster, attained his majority. Throughout the vast estates of the noble house of the Geraldines the numerous tenantry of all ranks, sects, and parties united in the moot cordial manner to give due expression to the joy which they felt at the grandson of “Ireland’s only Duke” arriving at the age of manhood.

For some weeks past committees were appointed in various parts of this county for the purpose of organising plans for carrying out the wishes of the tenantry, to do all honour to the young nobleman, to his worthy parents, and to his venerable and beloved grandfather, as, perhaps, there never existed a noble family held in higher esteem, or regarded with more affection, than that of the great historic house of the Geraldines, so intimately and patriotically associated with the history of Ireland. In the vast territory where they still rule, over the length and breadth of the land are to be found innumerable monuments of their former greatness, in the ruined castles which they raised up for the defence of their rights, and as great strongholds to resist the incursions of the invader.

Amongst these ancient structures there was not one more famous than the fine old baronial castle of Kilkea, the residence of the Marquis of Kildare, and the place where several addresses were presented this day to the youthful Lord Offaly. The castle, which is a fine specimen of feudal architecture, is situated in the midst of a beautifully wooded country, and is in a good state of preservation. Numerous additions, quite in keeping with the style of the structure, have been made to it, and the restorations to correct the wear and tear of time have been most judiciously executed. The pleasure grounds have been laid out with much taste, and the interior furniture and decorations harmonise in style with the most perfect of the old baronial castles to be found in the kingdom.

In accordance with previous arrangements the several deputations from the many districts in which the Leinster estates are situated, arrived at Kilkea shortly after one o’clock, and were received by the Marquis and Marchioness of Kildare in the drawing room, which is an exquisite specimen of the type to which it belongs. Besides the Marquis and Marchioness there were present their numerous children … … The gentlemen constituting the several deputations were most hospitably entertained at lunch by the Marquis and Marchioness of Kildare. … The people throughout the county far and wide are beside themselves with joy, at the grandson of the good old Duke and the son of the not less amiable Marquis coming of age.’
Freeman’s Journal, 17 August 1872, p. 2.

As for the Lorne’s visit, the Cork Constitution of 23 July 1872 reported:

‘Rumoured Irish visit of the Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne.— The Leinster Express states that it is rumoured that is the intention of the Marquis of Lorne, accompanied by the Princess Louise, to pay a visit shortly to Kilkea Castle, the seat of the Marquis of Kildare. It is also said that the visitors will, during their sojourn at Kilkea Castle, attend the public examination of the pupils of the Athy Model.’

[32] Terry Dooley, The Decline and Fall of the Dukes of Leinster, p. 12.

[33] The concept is that the finders sold it to a pedlar, who sold it to Mr Glennon in Dublin. He sold it to Robert Day of Cork and in 1889, it was bought by the FitzGeralds. However, Cormac Bourke’s article, ‘An early medieval hand-bell from County Fermanagh misattributed to County Kildare’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 77 (2022), 45-9, casts doubt on the veracity of the 1863 claim. He suggests the bell was actually the one exhibited at Castle Caldwell in the 1830s, and that it was a handbell belonging to St Ninnidh (Nainnid) of Inishmacsaint in Lower Lough Erne, County Feermanagh.

[34] ‘The Bronze skillet was discovered in a strange way in February, 1868. During that month a big wind blew down a large elm in the cow-pasture at Kilkea Castle, where formerly the public road to Moone ran. A poor man named Mick Byrne, the father of a large family then living in Castledermot, was employed to dig up the elm stump by the roots. One day shortly after, he came up to the castle carrying the bronze skillet, which he said he had found under the old elm, whose roots had grown completely round it. He was rewarded with a guinea, and was asked what it had contained. He replied that a stone flag covered its mouth, but there was nothing in it but bones and rubbish. However, not long after, he went up to Dublin for a few days, returned to Castledermot, and then emigrated to America with his wife and children. There is not a man, woman, or child in the district but wish that they were the finders of the bronze pot. Though Mick Byrne never told a soul what really was in the skillet, yet it is certain that it held something worth hiding. The pot weighs 21 lb., and stands 10 inches in height ; judging by the shape and material, it is between two and three hundred years old. As in those days there were no banks, when “troubles” broke out, valuables were buried for safety; and in this case the owner was probably killed, and so the secret died with him.’

[35] ‘Proposals are being received for the erection of a school-house and teacher’s residence near Kilkea Castle, the Duke of Leinster’s estate.’ (The Dublin Builder, 1 May 1862, p. 16). Freemans Journal, 26 April 1862.

‘NATIONAL SCHOOL. 1863, for the 3rd Duke of Leinster. Presumably also by McCarthy. Picturesque cottage style, bargeboards. Random rubble with hammer-dressed and chamfred trimmings in limestone. Sadly lacking its original windows.’ (Tierney)

[36] In 1880, the Rev. Henry James Sibthorp was appointed the duke’s chaplain: he later became curate of St. Edmund’s Northampton and vicar of Eye.  A later chaplain was Rev. J. L. Jesson who was succeeded in 1900 by the Rev Francis Boyd Johnston.

‘The Rev Francis Boyd Johnston, BA., Curate of Clonenagh, Diocese of Leighlin, has been appointed by the trustees of the Duke of Leinster to the Chaplaincy of Kilkea, in the Diocese of Glendalough, vacated by the Rev. J. L. Jesson, who has been appointed to the Parish of Rathdangan.’ Wicklow News-Letter and County Advertiser, 17 November 1900, p. 4.

‘KILKEA PARISH CHURCH (C of I). 1865 by J.J McCarthy. This pretty estate church is the architect’s only work for the Church of Ireland – privately commissioned for the 3rd Duke of Leinster, at the gates to his castle and demesne. In sympathy with the improving duke’s earnest Christian sensibility. Early Dec, of loosely coursed rubble with grey Portland stone trim. Muscular two-stage tower with spire, the entrance on its N side, with stepped angle buttresses. Louvred belfry stage (the hoodmoulds with foliated stops); ashlar splay-footed spire with diminishing lucarnes. Paired lancets along the four-bay nave, with plate-tracery quatrefoils. E window of graduated lancets, within a relieving arch that continues down to the ground – clearly designed to be a chancel arch should a chancel have been added. NE vestry with tall stepped chimneystack.
Fine interior with kingpost roof with curved braces of dark-stained timber, rising from corbels. The curve of the braces is echoed in a giant arch framing the W door. Charming ladder-like stairs to the belfry. Minton-style TILING up the central aisle. Simple Gothic FURNISHINGS.- STAINED GLASS.
Weakly coloured three-light E window, 1926, by Alfred Ernest Child; SS Caoidhe, Padraig and Lorcan O Tuathail.
PARSONAGE. In a pretty garden bordering the churchyard. Tudor Revival of 1865, also by J. J. McCarthy. Skilfully compact asymmetrical T-plan design, with hammer-dressed trimmings in crisp grey-blue limestone with droved margins. Projecting gabled end bay with ground-floor canted bay, porch in the angle, and half-dormer windows with kneelered gables. Five bays, the sash windows alternately narrow and wide. Three tall stacks straddle the roof ridge. Windows all neatly chamfered. Toothed quoins. Good interior with quirky cornices. At the rear is a lean to with dairy and scullery and an opposing range with laundry, coachhouse and stable.’

Jeremy Williams adds: ‘J.J. McCarthy was an unexpected choice … McCarthy himself never publicized his appointment, and if the drawings had not survived, there would be no evidence that he was the architect. His church is reserved and sober, with no outward evidence that this is a ducal chapel. Entry gained by Puginian key under western tower to a simple cell with whitewashed walls in contrast to the grey limestone tracery of the windows. Open roof braced with timber Gothic arches. Triple lancet over altar, later filled with stained glass by Child commemorating the FitzGeralds. In contrast to the devastated demesne of the castle, the wooded grounds are well cared for, as is the church, quietly used for services by both denominations … Having completed the church, McCarthy was asked to design the rectory in 1865. Restrained Victorian, with minimal use of Gothic detail, now a comfortable private house.’

[37] ‘Castledermot Parish.—On Tuesday last the Marquis of Kildare, DL, in presence of the Rector, Rev C W Ganly; the senior churchwarden, W Johnson, Esq, JP; and others, laid the foundation scene and set the first principal stone of the arch in the new west front of the ancient church of Castledermot. The plan, when carried out as designed by Messrs McCurdy and Mitchell, architects, of Leinster-street, will have a very pleasing effect, and will bring this part of the church into keeping with the other parts of this ancient Anglo-Norman structure.’ Dublin Daily Express, 11 June 1880.

[38] ‘John S. Hobson, western manager of The Union Switch & Signal Co. Swissvale, Pa., with headquarters at Chicago, and formerly president of the Massey Concrete Products Corporation, died on July 13 at Banning. Cal, after a long illness. Mr. Hobson was born at Kilkea, Ireland, on March 15, 1868, and was educated at the Institute of Technology and City and Guilds of London. He entered railway service in in 1884 as an engineer apprentice with the Great Southern & Western Railway, Ireland, later coming to the United States. From 1889 to 1902 he served successively as a locomotive machinist, draftsman and signal inspector on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and in the latter year went with the Union Switch & Signal Company as an electrical construction foreman at Chicago. In 1896 Mr. Hobson became assistant signal engineer of the Michigan Central and, a year later, went with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe as signal engineer. In 1901 he returned to Union Switch & Signal as assistant engineer, later being advanced successively to assistant general manager, general sales manager and general manager. In 1916 Mr. Hobson was appointed western manager, with headquarters at Chicago, which position he held until his death. In 1919 Mr. Hobson also became president and a director of Massey Concrete Products Company, serving in that capacity until 1938, when he became chairman of the board, retiring from the latter position in 1940. Railway Age, Volume 113 (July 25, 1942), p. 155.

Lieut.-Col. Bourke was born at Kilkea, County Kildare, on 1st April, 1865, the son of Michael Burke of Kilkea. Nothing is at present known of his boyhood life, but it has been ascertained that in October, 1883 (as Mr. Bourke), he passed the First University Examination of the Royal Examination of Ireland, and in September 1884, the Second University Examination. In both these examinations, he took honours in Experimental Physics.
He graduated B.A. in 1885 and obtained the degree of Master of Arts in 1886. He then proceeded to study medicine at the same University, taking in October, 1891, the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery and Bachelor of Obstetrics.
For the last-named degree he studied also at The Coombe.
In 1890-1801 he was awarded a Final Exhibition in the Medical School of the Catholic University of Ireland. On 30 January, 1893, he received a commission as Surgeon Lieutenant in the Indian Military Service. After a period of general medical service, whilst engaged in 1897 on plague service at Itarsi, he was invited to join the Chemical Department as probationer and was directed to proceed to Madras. From May, 1898, to October, 1909, he was acting Chemical Adviser to the Government of Bombay, now holding the rank of Captain.
In 1899, on the return from sick leave of the officer for whom he was acting, he applied for permission to proceed to Europe for two years on special leave, to study the developments in chemistry which had arisen in recent years. The Surgeon-General in endorsing his application paid tribute to his efficiency and ability. The request was, however, not granted. Nevertheless he devoted his furlough to study at the Royal College of Science. In 1900 he served in China with the forces which were sent to quell the Boxer rebellion.
On his return to India, in 1901, he was appointed Probationary Assay Master, and in April 1902, he became Deputy Assay Master at the Bombay Mint, an appointment he held when he joined the Faraday Society at its foundation in 1903. In 1904, jointly with Colonel Milne, he wrote a paper on the sampling of coins, of which a few copies are still available.
There are also in existence several copies of a paper (probably printed in 1903 or 1904) written jointly with Mr W G Nicholls, Superintendent of the Coinage Department, entitled “On the Amount of Kinetic Energy transformed at the moment of impact in a Screw-Coinage Press.”
Later, in 1905, he was transferred to Calcutta for a year, returning to Bombay in July, 1906. In July, 1911, he became Assay Master at the Calcutta Mint.
S. W. Marlow, ‘Obituary to Lieutenant Colonel John Joseph Bourke,’ Transactions of the Faraday Society, Volume 30, 1934, X005-X007

[40] Mícheál Ó Dubhshláine, p, 15.

[41] Carlow Post – Saturday 17 May 1862, p. 4.

[42] Quoted by the Carlow Post, 25 May 1867, p. 2. Mr Douglas was the subject of M. C. Knowles work,  “The Douglas Collection in the Herbarium of the National Museum.” The Irish Naturalist, vol. 14, no. 1, 1905, pp. 11–13.

It was not all happy days though: the Dublin Daily Express of 21 December 1867, p. 3,  reported on the grisly murder of William Dunne of Ballyadams near Kilkea Castle.

[43] The Zoologist: A Popular Miscellany of Natural History, March 1868, Volume 26, p. 1133.

[44] The Irish Times – Tuesday 19 November 1867, p. 3.

[45] The Field, Saturday 14 May 1881, p. 20.

[46] Illustrated London News, 8 January 1881, p. 5-6; Carlow Nationalist, 19 September 1903, p. 4.

[47] FASHIONABLE MARRIAGES: The marriage of Lord Maurice Fitzgerald, second son of the Duke of Leinster, and Lady Adelaide Forbes, eldest daughter of the Earl Granard, K.F., was solemnised on Tuesday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Newtown Forbes, by the Rev. James O’Reilly, P.P., assisted by the Rev. M. Comfrey. The bride, who was given away by her father, was attended by Lady Sophia and Lady Eva Forbes, her sisters; Lady Eva and Lady Mabel Fitzgerald, sisters the bridegroom; the Hon. Mary Petre, and Miss Angela, cousin of the bride. The bride’s dress was of white satin, trimmed with Brussels lace and garlands orange-blossom, myrtle, and shamrock, and over wreath of the same flowers veil of Brussels lace. Her jewels were a diamond tiara, the gift of the bridegroom; a diamond necklet and earrings, the gift of her father; and emerald and diamond pendant, the joint gift of the Duke and Duchess Leinster. The bridesmaids’ dresses were of pink silk, trimmed and draped with cream-coloured lace, and bouquets rose, shamrock, and thistle. Their lockets, given by the bridegroom, were of crystal surrounded by pearls, with the monogram “A. M. F.” in turquoises and pearls. The Hon. Henry Denison, R.H.A., was best man. The Earl and Countess of Granard entertained the wedding party at breakfast Castle Forbes, during which the band of the Westmeath Rifles performed a selection of music. Lord Maurice and his bride left by special train for Kilkea Castle, the seat of the Duke of Leinster, for their honeymoon. Illustrated London News – Saturday 17 April 1880

[48] The Countess of Feversham and Lady Ellen Duncombe have arrived at Kilkea Castle on a visit to the Marquis and Marchioness of Kildare. Northern Echo – Wednesday 22 October 1884

[49] The Nationalist and Leinster Times, 2 April 1887.

[50] Patrick J Cosgrove, ’The sale of the Leinster estate under the Wyndham Land Act’, 1903. Journal of the Kildare Archaeological Society, 2008-9, Volume XX, Part I, p. 9.

[51] DEATH OF THE DOWAGER DUCHESS OF LEINSTER. We regret to announce the death of Caroline, Duchess of Leinster, which occurred at Kilkea Castle, county Kildare, on Friday afternoon. She had been suffering from indisposition since the death of the Duke of Leinster in February last, but her family were quite unprepared for the lamentable event. The Duchess was the third daughter of George Granville, second Duke of Sutherland, by the Lady Harriet Elizabeth Howard, third daughter of George, sixth Earl of Carlisle, and was born in April, 1827. She married, in October, 1847, the late Duke of Leinster, then Marquis of Kildare, by whom she had a large family. The Duchess was the last surviving of the daughters of the late Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, and sister of the late Duchess of Westminster, Lady Blantyre, and the Duchess of Argyll. Morning Post – Monday 16 May 1887

[52] Colette Jordan’s collection included an accounts ledger for the late Frank O’Brien’s shop on Emily Square, Athy, that show an active trade with the Marquess of Kildare in 1883 and 1884 for such items as tea, port, sugar and mustard. Lady FitzGerald [?] also ordered 96 bottles of Allsopp’s Pale Ale in late 1887, as well as arrowroot and lemons in January 1888.

[53] Hugo Richard Charteris (1857-1937) was styled Lord Elcho from 1883 to 1914 when he became the 11th Earl of Wemyss and 7th Earl of March. The family of the Duke of Leinster insist Edward was a FitzGerald although the elderly Mrs Hamilton of Hamwood once brilliantly remarked that ‘the blood was diluted centuries before’ Lord Edward’s birth!

[54] He died at Carton on 1 December 1893. See his obituary in Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Volume 1, p. 155.

[55] Michael Estorick, Heirs and Graces: The Claim to the Dukedom of Leinster (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1981).

[56] ‘By his will dated October 21st, 1887, the Duke of Leinster, who died on the 1st of December, leaving personal estate valued at £123,124, including £13,224 in England, appointed as executors Major Lord Frederick FitzGerald, of Pankhurst, Isle of Wight, and Mr Charles Robert Hamilton, of Homewood [Hamwood], Dunboyne, Meath. He bequeathed to his wife. Hermione, Duchess of Leinster, daughter of the first Earl of Feversham, £1,000, and, until the marriage of his son, a diamond tiara, riviere, bracelets and other jewellery not included among the heirlooms. The testator made provision for keeping up Carton, as that will be the duty of the trustees of the settled estates. He appointed the Duchess of Leinster and Lord F. FitzGerald guardians of the son during his minority, and he devises to his said son the unsettled estates of Athy St. John’s Woodstock, Castle Mitchell, Castle M’Dermott, and Kilkea Castle, but subject to the occupation of Kilkea Castle by the late Duke’s sisters Lady Eva, Lady Mabel and Lady Nesta FitzGerald, whilst unmarried, and to a charge on the estate in their favour of £500 a year. The Duke appointed his son, now sixth Duke of Leinster, residuary devisee and legatee.’ Brighton Gazette, 8 February 1894.

‘Gerald FitzGerald, P.C., fifth Duke of Leinster, died on December I at Carton, near Maynooth, of typhoid fever. He was a captain in the Kildare Militia, 1874-5, an Irish Privy Councillor, and Lord Lieutenant of County Kildare. He succeeded his father in 1887, having married, in 1884, Lady Hermione Duncombe, daughter of the first Earl of Feversham, and is succeeded by his son Maurice, Marquess of Kildare, who was born in 1887. The late Duke was a Liberal in politics, but voted against the second reading of Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill. He was of a very retiring disposition, and did not mingle in politics except upon very important occasions. He was a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ire land, and of the Committee of the Royal Dublin Society, and also a Trustee of the National Library of Ireland, and President of the Royal Horticultural Society. His kindness and geniality won him the respect and friendship of all his neighbours, and he always maintained the most cordial relations with his tenantry. He was the Premier Duke, Marquess, and Earl in the Peerage of Ireland.’

[57] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 27 March 1895, p. 2. According to the Freemans Journal and the Evening Herald, Lord Edward was also at Kilkea Castle with his brothers.