CASTLE-DERMOT, a post-town and parish

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

CASTLE-DERMOT, a post-town and parish (formerly a market-town), in the barony of KILKEA and MOONE, county of KILDARE, and province of LEINSTER, 7 ¼ miles (S. E. by E.) from Athy, and 34 (S. W. by S.) from Dublin; containing 3634 inhabitants, of which number, 1385 are in the town. This place, called anciently Diseart-Diarmuda, and afterwards Tristle-Dermot, appears to have derived its origin from an abbey founded here for Canons Regular, about the year 500, by St. Diermit, which was plundered by the Danes in 843, and again in 1040. Cormac Mac-Culinan, the celebrated Archbishop of Cashel and King of Munster, was educated in this abbey under the abbot Snedgus, and at his death, in 907 or 908, was interred here. It was the chief residence of the O'Tooles, and on the English invasion was, with other territories of that sept, given to Walter de Riddlesford, who here erected a castle and founded a priory for Crouched Friars, which, with its possessions, was granted at the dissolution to Sir Henry Harrington, Knt. In 1264 a conference was held in the town, and was attended by Richard de Rupella, lord chief justice, to deliberate on the sanguinary feuds between the Geraldines and the De Burghs, when the governor and several other persons of distinction were seized by Maurice Fitzgerald and his party, and carried prisoners to the castle of Ley.

In 1302 a Franciscan monastery was founded here by Thomas Lord Offaly, which, in 1316, was plundered by the Scots under Edward Bruce, who also destroyed the town, but were soon afterwards defeated by Lord Edmond Butler, in a battle fought in the immediate vicinity. In the reign of Henry IV. a parliament was held here to deliberate upon the best means of repressing the Ulster insurgents and expelling the Scottish invaders; and in 1499 another parliament was held in the town, and some curious sumptuary laws were passed. During the time of a fair, in 1532, the town was attacked by the insurgents under the Earl of Kildare; and it appears to have been finally ruined in the war which broke out in 1641. It was taken for Cromwell by Cols. Hewson and Reynolds, in 1650, since which time its extensive ecclesiastical buildings have been in ruins, and its former prosperity has never revived. In the disturbances of 1798, it was attacked by a party of the Kildare and Wicklow insurgents, on their march to assault the town of Carlow; but the assailants were vigorously repulsed by a body of regular infantry, and pursued in their retreat by the yeomanry.

The town is situated on the small river Lyrr, or Lane, and on the road from Dublin, by Carlow, to Cork, in the centre of an extensive plain, scarcely relieved by a single tree, and presents a striking contrast of venerable towers and stately ruins intermingled with humble cabins and houses generally of the poorest character. Large masses of detached rock are scattered on the banks and in the channel of the river, obstructing the current of an otherwise peaceful stream, and every thing around wears an appearance of continued decay. There is neither trade nor manufacture; the place is wholly dependent upon agriculture, and on the traffic resulting from its situation on a public thoroughfare, several coaches to and from Dublin passing daily through the town. The market has been long discontinued; but fairs are still held on Feb. 24th, Tuesday after Easter, May 24th, Aug. 4th and 5th, Sept. 29th, and Dec. 19th, chiefly for horses, cattle, and sheep, but also for general merchandize; the chief horse fair is in August. A constabulary force is stationed here; and petty sessions are held every alternate Wednesday.

The parish comprises 8735 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, and valued at £6207 per annum: the soil is good, and the system of agriculture improving. There is no bog; the nearest place from which turf can be obtained is 13 miles distant. Coal is brought from Carlow or Athy, where is the nearest communication by canal; large quantities of grey granite are quarried in the parish. The principal gentlemen's seats are Levitstown, the residence of W. Caulfield, Esq.; Barn Hills, of—Hill, Esq.; Bellview, of Jonas Duckett, Esq.; Ballinacarrig, of G. Paine, Esq.; Coltstown, of John Moffit, Esq.; and Marshalstown, of—Duckett, Esq.

The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Dublin, episcopally united from time immemorial to the vicarages of Ballaghmoon, Graney, Grangerosnolvin, and Kilkea, and to the half rectory and entire vicarage of Monmohennock or Dunmanogue, together constituting the union of Castledermot, and the corps of the prebend of Monmohennock or Dunmanogue in the cathedral church of St. Patrick, Dublin, in the patronage of the Archbishop; the rectory is appropriate to the see of Kildare. The tithes amount to £553. 16. 11., of which £369. 4. 7 ½. is payable to the bishop of Kildare, and £184. 12. 3 ½. to the vicar; and the aggregate tithes of the benefice amount to £941. 18. 5 ½. The church, a remarkably neat edifice, was repaired in 1831, by aid of a grant of £300 from the late Board of First Fruits, and a donation from the bishop of Kildare.

In the R. C. divisions this parish is the head of a union or district, comprising the parishes of Castledermot, Moone, Timolin, Kilkea, Killelan, Dunmanogue, Grangerosnolvin, and Kinneagh, and part of the parish of Graney; there are three chapels in the union, one in this parish, a spacious edifice combining various styles of architecture, and one each at Moone and Levitstown. A school-house was built by the Earl of Kildare, who endowed it with £500, and bequeathed to it the same sum at his decease; the school was opened in 1734, and further endowed with 20 acres of land by his son James, Marquess of Kildare: it has, however, been discontinued since 1832. A parochial school, in which are 20 boys and 8 girls, is supported by the incumbent; and national schools are about to be erected on part of the site of the ancient Franciscan convent, given by Richard Farrell, Esq. Here is a dispensary.

The remains of antiquity, though rapidly passing away, are yet highly interesting. In the churchyard, and still used as a belfry, is an ancient slender circular tower, not so high as the round towers of Kildare and other places; at a small distance from its base it is covered with ivy, and has a very picturesque appearance. There are also two crosses, sculptured with several curious emblematical figures and groups, and with certain characters, of which translations were published in the Irish Magazine for 1814. These crosses, apparently of the same date, are traditionally said to have been erected by Abbot Carpreus, in the 9th century, to whom is also attributed the erection of the round tower, and are supposed to point out the burial-places of different saints; they are divided into compartments, each embellished with a group of figures representing probably some scriptural subject,; and of that which is still standing erect, the central compartment contains a rudely sculptured representation of the Crucifixion; on one of the arms is a figure in a sitting posture, playing upon a stringed instrument; and on the other are two figures, of which one is apparently in the act of paying homage to the other. Near the crosses is a fine Norman arch, decorated with the toothed ornament, the only remains of a church built by the first English settlers, most probably to replace that to which the round tower and the crosses were appendages.

In another part of the town are the extensive and beautiful remains of the Franciscan convent, consisting at present chiefly of the abbey church and the chapel of St. Mary, the former a long building, lighted at the west end by two lofty lancet-shaped windows, and at the east end by a window which, though now greatly mutilated, appears to have been of elegant design; on the south side, and attached to the church, is a low square tower with a circular staircase turret; and on the north side, opening into the church by a lofty pointed arch, was the chapel of the Blessed Virgin, distinguished for the elegance and richness of its windows, of which the principal was a very magnificent window of four lights, with a large cinque-foiled circle in the crown of the arch, having the spandrils ornamented in trefoil. Of the monastery of the Crouched Friars nothing remains but a single tower; the foundations of the conventual buildings have disappeared, and the ground has been ploughed to their very base.

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