The prosperity and location of the town made it an attractive place for plunderers and power-hungry magnates and it became an important site during the early years of the Norman invasion of Ireland. Once the Normans arrived in the frontier town of Kildare, it being on the edge of their territory, they quickly set about building defences and this developed into the Castle of Kildare. The first fortification was probably built by Strongbow, Richard de Clare,
Earl of Pembroke (died 1176 A.D.), who established his power-base at Kildare in 1172 and who is famously remembered in Kildare in the name CLARE-GATE STREET (there is another suggestion, that the term refers to the Irish word Cléirigh – Sráid na Cléirigh, or road of the clerics). The stone Castle is credited to his successor, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke.
The bungalow next door remains occupied, now called The Silken Rooms but the castle was last occupied in 1996 (at least the ground floor of it). Today the last remaining tower is referred to as ‘The Castle’ and is owned by Joe and Marie Flanagan, proprietors of the Silken Thomas and Lord Edward Guest House.
The small, red-bricked building on the south side of Dublin Street was the old post office. It closed in March/April 2007 but has been renovated as a youth space known as ‘The Hive’ and ‘In Sync’ Kildare Town Youth Project.
In 1798 the post office was listed in Market Square, close to the site of the modern Leinster Arms public house, but by 1838 it was located on Claregate Street, one door up from the Police Station on the corner of Claregate Street and Bangup Lane. By 1872 the Telegraph Office had moved to Dublin Street South, possibly around 1853 when the Police Barracks was built. Eircom still maintain a function and presence in the outer buildings and yard.
The impressive two-storey building next door testifies to the importance of the position in those days; it was the Postmaster’s House. Everything in those days revolved around communication and transport and the post office was the local hub. In a world without radio, phones or internet the mail coaches transported mail and people throughout the country. Indeed the signal for the beginning of the 1798 Rebellion was the stoppage of the mail coaches which would alert other rebels along the route that the rising had taken place and would also take control of the communications network in the countryside. It had been converted to apartments for a time but now provides guest accommodation for the Silken Thomas.
This beautiful ivy covered two storey house is situated as you cross the street from the Market Square northwards towards the laneway to the site of the Norman Castle. Today it is an end of terrace house but was most likely originally detached.
It was built in the Georgian style, sometime before the first Ordnance Survey map of 1837, on the site of an earlier house. Rocque’s 1757 Map shows a dwelling house, garden, stable etc. in possession of Francis Browne, while Sherrard’s 1798 Map shows the site was leased by Patrick White from Richard Hethrington. At that stage it contained a dwelling house, back house and yard; the stable mentioned earlier was probably leased to Lord Edward FitzGerald.
Around the time of Griffith’s Valuation of 1853 the property was in the hands of the Cleary family, business people who owned The Leinster Arms Hotel. It was later leased in September 1922 from the Duke of Leinster by the Burke family who famously set up the Tote system in Ireland. It was offered for sale in 1952 and again in May 1963, eventually being privately
sold some days later. In modern times it was home to the Conlan Family who started the Chilling Company in the 1940’s, until recently acquired by the Flanagan family as guest accommodation for the Silken Thomas.
One of the most colourful characters associated with the Fitzgerald dynasty was Thomas Fitzgerald 10th Earl of Kildare. He was the son of Garrett Óg FitzGerald, Lord Deputy of Ireland. Thomas heard his father had been put to death in London and led an unsuccessful rebellion against the King. He and his five uncles were executed 1537. He is remembered as ‘Silken Thomas’, because of the silken plumes worn by his followers.
His half-brother, Gerald, was smuggled to safety on the continent but was eventually restored to his lands and titles as. 11th Earl of Kildare, the ‘Wizard Earl’, because of his interest in alchemy.
There is a superb view of the sole remaining Tower from Kildare Castle, at the entrance to the Silken Thomas car park.
Lord Edward FitzGerald, the military leader of the United Irishmen who lived for a time with his beautiful French wife, Lady Pamela, at Kildare Town, there is a bronze bust of the famed United Irishman on the Market square.
Lord Thomas Fitzgerald or “Silken Thomas”, as he was known in history because of his richness in clothes and the silken banners carried by his standard bearers, was “a hot impetuous brave, daring and chivalrous youth”. He was the son of Garret Og Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, of the Anglo-Normal Geraldines.
The Geraldine family was comprised of two great branches. One branch was ruled by the Earl of Desmond, the other by the Earl of Kildare, who was paramount and held the office of Lord Deputy. Being rich and powerful, Kildare enemies at court who were constantly plotting his overthrow and on many occasions he had to go to England to make his defence against these charges. He was usually able to vindicate his actions and remained on good terms with Henry VII. Wolsey, however, was suspicious of Kildare and especially at this time when Henry was revolting against Pope and bringing his politico-religious revolution which threw the whole English Realm into confusion. Loyalties to Henry were being questioned and bloody execution ensued.
Once again and for the last time Kildare was summoned to London and imprisoned in Tower. The charges against him was that he was slow in arresting his kinsman Desmond, who Wolsey claimed had sent letters to Francis the first of France and Charles the Fifth, King of Spain, asking these sovereigns to invade Ireland. While Kildare was imprisoned, Silken Thomas, who was barely twenty-one, acted as Lord deputy for his father.
Rumours of starting changes and executions were brought to Ireland by each mail. Then forged letters arrived, describing in detail how Kildare had been beheaded in the Tower of London. Broken hearted and convinced that his father was dead, Silken Thomas sought vengeance. He gathered his guards, retainers and his grief stricken kinsmen about him and marched on Mary’s Abbey. In the Council Chamber there he threw down his sword of office, declaring “I am no longer Henry Tudors deputy, I am his foe”.
No sooner had Silken Thomas started his rebellion against Henry than the truth emerged: his father had not been beheaded. The forged letters were just another plot to ruin the great Geraldine Family. But there was no turning back for Silken Thomas now. he set siege to Dublin, and Alan the Archbishop, and archenemy of the Geraldines fled the city by boat, which has been driven ashore on Clontarf, from where the archbishop sought refuge in the village of Artane.
Silken Thomas, together with his uncles and an armed party reached Artane. They dragged the archbishop from his bed, despite his pleas for his life the elder Geraldines who were savage men barbarously murdered Alan as he knelt at their feet. The murder of the archbishop ended any hope of success, which the rebellion might have had. They were all excommunicated. Kildare died in 1534 in his dungeon in London Tower, a heart broken man. on the 3rd of January 1537, Silken Thomas, along with his five uncles, was beheaded at Tyburn.
Epilogue The mass execution of Silken Thomas and his five uncles did not bring about the end of Geraldine Dynasty as Henry was advised it would. There was a child aged twelve, the sole survivor oof the Geraldine House – “whose life was sought with avidity equal to Herod’s”. Protected by loyal friends and relatives, he was safely landed in France four years later. From this child, Gerald, the Geraldine line was preserved and branched out.
“In stately strength and princely power”