Kilcullen, County Kildare

From The Illustrated Dublin Journal, Volume 1, Number 28, March 15, 1862

KILCULLEN was anciently one of the boundaries of a district in Leinster called Caëlen, comprising parts of the present counties of Kildare, Wicklow, and Callow; being bounded on the east by the Wicklow mountains, on the south and west by the river Barrow, and on the north by the Liffey and part of the Bog of Allen.Kilcullen Castle In the early ages it was called Caëlen, Galon, or Coalan, from its being almost one continued wood; and the name is still retained in Kilcullen, the subject of our present notice, corrupted from Kil Coalan. It is from thence the noble family of Leinster take their motto "Crom ill abû," or, "a district on the crooked water" in allusion to the river Liffey.

The hill on which those ruins are situated rises rather abruptly within about a mile of the south bank of the Liffey. This was also the site of the old town, which was very considerable; at the time Archdall wrote his "Monasticon" it had seven gates, one of which had an arch of ten feet span; nothing now remains but a few scattered cabins.

The above engraving gives a view of the hill of old Kilcullen, surmounted by the church-yard and ruins, which comprise one of our ancient round towers, part of the old monastery, and many curious sculptured stones; the whole is enclosed by a circular wall, covering the summit of the hill. That part of the round tower now standing is about thirty-five feet high; the door is six feet from the ground, and the walls appear to be so durable, that many centuries may pass over

"Ere hoary time, with ruthless hand,
Will raze them."

The monastery was founded a little after the introduction of Christianity, for we read that Saint Isernin was appointed the first bishop of it; he died in 469. In 936, and again in 944, the building was plundered and burned, along with the town; and afterwards, in 1460, it was repaired, or, more probably, a new one founded, by Sir Rowland Eustace, of Harristown, many years Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

In 1319, Maurice Jakes built a bridge over the Liffey, and many of the inhabitants left old Kilcullen and went to reside there. Towards the close of the year 1517, Lady Elizabeth Zouch, first wife of the unfortunate Gerald, ninth Earl of Kildare, was buried here near to Allison, mother to the Earl, her husband. Through all his persecutions she was constantly by his side, to cheer him in sorrow and to assist him in danger. She was followed to this, her last resting place, by the neighbouring chieftains and their clans; and yearly it was the custom to cover her tomb with flower-garlands.

In the church-yard is a piece of ancient sculpture, of which the following is a drawing.

It represents a knight in complete armour; it is stated that a female figure, similarly executed, was originally placed by its side, on a large table monument that stood in the chapel of the old building. The stone on which this image is cut is six feet six inches long, and two feet five inches broad; it is broken across below the knees of the figure. The work has the appearance of being well finished, and the relief is still strong. The knight has his head resting on a cushion; he wears a morion, with double cheek-plates, and on this there appears to have been a crest; the body, the thighs, and the arms, down to the elbows, are covered with mail armour; from the elbows to the hands are plate armlets, and his legs and feet are defended with pliable plate armour. He wears spurs, and under his feet is a dog, the emblem of fidelity. A little distance from the stone just described, stands another in an inclined position; it is four feet high by about eighteen inches square, and is curiously divided into compartments on each of the four sides. Some of the figures are shown in the representation beneath.