Visit Kildare in Ireland's Ancient East
Ireland’s Ancient East is a mystical place where legend meets history in a journey traversing the counties on the eastern side of the country. This is where earliest man made his settlements, in a place accessible by land bridges from Europe after the last Ice Age. Evidence of human population in County Kildare goes back to Neolithic times. Since then, this county has preserved much of the history, myths and stories of times gone by. To visit Kildare is to visit the past through the convenience of the present. There is much to see and do, with memories to be made.
KILDARE THROUGH THE CENTURIES
Evidence of human occupation in Kildare goes back to Neolithic times several thousand years ago. After the Neolithic period came the Bronze Age and Iron Age, with a people who left traces of their existence in the many recorded National Monuments which still remain.
Christianity arrived in Co. Kildare by the mid 400’s AD and from here, many churches were established. St Brigid founded a monastery in the 5th century, on the edge of the world famous Curragh Plains, where oak trees thrived. Her settlement grew and gave Kildare its Irish name Cill Dara, which means ‘Church of the Oaks’.
The Anglo-Normans arrived in Ireland in 1169 and by 1170, they controlled Kildare under their great leader Strongbow. Battles were fought with the native people, who were driven out of the area . As the Anglo Normans settled over the next couple of hundred years, they became known as the Hiberno-Normans and embraced the Irish culture rather a little too much! By the late 1400’s, the British Crown had lost control of all but the four counties of Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Meath, which became one area known as ‘The Pale’, fenced off from the surrounding countryside. Inside The Pale the British held full control and those pledging allegiance to the Crown could be safe.
Those who lived outside The Pale during this period of history were considered to be totally outside the boundaries, unacceptable and uncivilised. A ditch was built around The Pale and some of it remains intact in the grounds of Clongowes Wood College in Co. Kildare. The Pale gave rise to the famous saying ‘beyond the pale’ used by politicians, writers and movie makers. Ex-President Barack Obama used the phrase in a speech and it was quoted in the movie Apocolypse Now to describe the inexplicable actions of lead character Colonel Kurtz.
Kildare was declared a county in the late 1200’s but its current borders weren’t set till the 800’s. Today Kildare is a modern county which bears its history well. It’s also a convenient satellite town for commuters to Dublin and a market town with a thriving local population.
ANCIENT ARCHEOLOGY IN CO. KILDARE
If you’re into archeology, here’s a couple of things to watch out for in Kildare:
• From the Bronze Age, Broadleas Stone Circle is made up of large boulders which can be seen clearly from the R411 road from Ballymore Eustace to Hollywood. This circle contains 39 stones and measures roughly 100ft across. Trees growing around the perimeter are the ancient trees of Ireland – Ash, Holly and Whitethorn – given sacred significance by the Celts. Holly and Whitethorn in particular are linked to the magical fairy folk of Ireland, with deep superstitions still attached to them. Broadleas Stone Circle is on private land so it may not be possible to go onto it if there are livestock in the field. But it is easily visible from the road if you are in the area and well worth seeking out.
• Dún Ailinne is another place of great significance in Kildare and Irish history. Sitated on top of Cnoc Ailinne (Knockaulin) near the N78 road to Athy, this is a large ceremonial site with circular structure believed to be a Ringfort covering some 13 hectares, containing a timber structurewhere people and livestock would have resided in the spring and summer, according to local experts and archeologists. Dún Ailinne is referred to as an ancient ‘royal site’, believed to have been the place of inauguration for the Kings of Leinster.
WHAT TO SEE IN COUNTY KILDARE
• The Bog of Allen Nature Centre in Rathangan, Co. Kildare is run by the Irish Peatland Conservation Council. Peat is an important part of the natural geology of Ireland, formed over thousands of years by rotting natural debris. It’s possible to dig down into layers of peat in different areas and determine a history of what has taken place over hundreds of years, such is the preservation quality of the bog.
Many of Ireland’s boglands in the centre of the country have been destroyed for fuel provision, with almost 80% of natural peatlands now lost for all time. The Bog of Allen Nature Centre provides a learning centre where visitors can explore the wild boglands of Ireland, experience life in a 1960’s Irish cottage and learn about all aspects of the bogland and wildlife which inhabits the area. The entry fee of €5.00 per adult is a donation to the important work of IPCC in conserving Ireland’s natural bogs for years to come.
• The Irish National Stud in Tully, Co. Kildare is a place of legendary renown in the Irish thoroughbred horse industry. This, as it is often described, is the home of ‘equine royalty’. Visitors can get up close to see with magnificent stallions, mares with foals and adolescent horses strutting their stuff in the paddocks. In the grounds of the stud lies the Japanese Gardens where visitors can stroll the spiritual space and trace the journey of a soul from life to death.
At the Horse Museum, you can see the skeleton of the world famous racehourse Arkle, among other fascinating exhibits. The Irish National Stud is the only stud farm open to the public and clearly communicates Ireland’s deep and intense love of horses, horseracing and other equine sports.
• Saint Brigid’s Cathedral and Round Tower in Kildare Town is set upon the site where the Saint is said to have founded her monastary in the 5th Century. Lots of religious artefacts, plus a fully intact 12th Century Round Tower soaring 33m into the sky, the second tallest Round Tower in Ireland. Constructed from Wicklow granite and limestone, this tower is open to visitors in summer. Great views from the top and some fantastic photo ops of the surrounding countryside and scenery.
• The Curragh Plains are some of the oldest recorded semi-natural grasslands in Europe, probably over two thousand years old. The area is a flat or slightly rolling plain of ground covering almost 5000 acres. Home to listed ancient national monuments and archeological sites, visited by university students of Ireland and the world. The area currently supports grazing for over 6000 breeding ewes each year. Laws governing livestock grazing on The Curragh Plains were first introduced in 1299, to prevent pigs grazing on the land. Over the years, these laws have been amended and appealed and now state who is entitled to use this as grazing land and how many animals can be grazed. The Curragh Plains are also used as a military training ground. This wide open space is well worth a visit and in some parts you can see for miles, the land is so flat.
• The Curragh Racecourse in County Kildare is perhaps one of the most famous racecourses in the world. As they team here say in their promotional material, this is where champions are made! If you happen to be in Kildare this month, August is a great time to go to the races at The Curragh. Dates for remaining race meetings include the 13th, 19th, 20th and 27th August, so don’t miss the chance to see why the Irish go mad for a flutter at The Curragh!
WHERE TO EAT IN COUNTY KILDARE
Kildare is known for its great food and warm hospitality. This is an area rich in agricultural background, so expect to eat some of that wonderful Curragh grazed lamb, good beef and free range pork. Good Food Ireland members in Kildare include:
Hartes of Kildare, Kildare Town
Hartes is a historic building right on the square in historic Kildare Town. Owned by brothers-in-law Paul Linihan and Ronan Kinsella, this old pub turned award winning restaurant has become a gourmet stop for great food. Lauded by critics and continually scooping awards. No wonder. Head Chef Barry Liscombe is committed to sourcing the best local and seasonal produce and bringing a taste of the area to each plate.
Hartes has a casual dining restaurant which is beautifully appointed to the side of the main entrance and looks out over the square, which showcases the cooking of the expert brigade of chefs here. Next door, you can prop up the cosy bar with a drink of choice while watching your fave sport on tv – everything from Irish rugby to GAA is covered and you can get something to nibble on from the menu while you watch. Don’t forget to sample the house craft beers brewed specially for Hartes, overseen by Ronan Kinsella who loves his craft beers! You’ll also find Irish craft spirits and cider. All in all, a an excellent spot to stop and take a breather during your explorations around Co. Kildare.
The Dew Drop Gastropub, Kill, Co. Kildare
The Dew Drop Gastro Pub, also owned by Paul Lenihan and Ronan Kinsella, is situated in the village of Kill in Co. Kildare. The same principles apply here as at Hartes, with a super menu governed by local produce crafted into proper pub grub at reasonable prices. Taste wonderful free range pork or sample the house speciality of Steak on the Hot Rock as part of the dinner main courses selection. The Waterford Blaa comes into its own in a Blaaguette filled with Jerk Chicken or local Rump Steak on the lunch menu. Great value lunch deals include a mug of soup, sandwich of the week and a Dew Drop Dime Bar with tea or coffee at a very humble €13.00. Can’t say fairer than that!
The Waterford Blaa comes into its own in a Blaaguette filled with Jerk Chicken or local Rump Steak on the lunch menu. Great value lunch deals include a mug of soup, sandwich of the week and a Dew Drop Dime Bar with tea or coffee at a very humble €13.00. Can’t say fairer than that!
L'Officina, Kildare Village, Co. Kildare
Shop till you drop at Kildare Retail Village then dine out on authentic Italian cooking made with fresh Irish produce at L’Officina, situated in the shopping village.One of the restaurants of the iconic husband and wife team Eileen Dunne and Stefano Crescenzi of Dunne & Crescenzi fame, the couple bring the same ethos and character to L’Officina’s canteen style dining room.
Its name means ‘workshop’ in Italian, designed to reflect deep routed Italian tradition and modern urban dining. An airy conservatory style space forms the platform for good pastas and authentic Italian specials. Wine is carefully sourced from Italy to match the menu, giving a complete Italian food experience at lunch or dinner during your shopping expedition. Open till 7pm Monday to Wednesday, 8pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday.