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Kildare County

KILDARE COUNTY, a county of Ireland in the province of Leinster, bounded W. by Queen's County and King's County, N. by Meath, E. by Dublin and Wicklow, and S. by Carlow. The area is 418,496 acres or about 654 sq. m. The greater part of Kildare belongs to the great central plain of Ireland. In the east of the county this plain is bounded by the foot-hills of the mountains of Dublin and Wicklow; in the centre it is interrupted by an elevated plateau terminated on the south by the hills of Dunmurry, and on the north by the Hill of Allen (300 ft.) which rises abruptly from the Bog of Allen. The principal rivers are the Boyne, which with its tributary the Blackwater rises in the north part of the county, but soon passes into Meath; the Barrow, which forms the boundary of Kildare with Queen's County, and receives the Greese and the Lane shortly after entering Kildare; the Lesser Barrow, which flows southward from the Bog of Allen to near Rathangan; and the Liffey, which enters the county near Ballymore Eustace, and flowing north-west and then north-east quits it at Leixlip, having received the Morrel between Celbridge and Clane, and the Ryewater at Leixlip. Trout are taken in the upper waters, and there are salmon reaches near Leixlip.

Geology. The greater part of the county is formed of typical grey Carboniferous limestone, well seen in the flat land about Clane. The natural steps at the Salmon Falls at Leixlip are formed from similar strata. Along the south-east the broken ground of Silurian shales forms the higher country, rising towards the Leinster chain. The granite core of the latter, with its margin of mica-schist produced by the metamorphism of the Silurian beds, appears in the south round Castledermot. A parallel ridge of Silurian rocks, including an interesting series of basic lavas, rises from the plain north of Kildare town (Hill of Allen and Chair of Kildare), with some Old Red Sandstone on its flanks. The limestone in this ridge is rich in fossils of Bala age, and has been compared with that at Portrane in county Dublin. The low ground is diversified by eskers and masses of glacial gravel, notably at the dry sandy plateau of the Curragh ; but in part it retains sufficient moisture to give rise to extensive bogs. The Liffey, which comes down as a mountainstream in the Silurian area, forming a picturesque fall in the gorge of Pollaphuca, wanders through the limestone region between low banks as a true river of the plain.

Climate and Industries. Owing to a considerable degree to the large extent of bog, the climate of the northern districts is very moist, and fogs are frequent, but the eastern portion is drier, and the climate of the Liffey valley is very mild and healthy. The soil, whether resting on the limestone or on the clay slate, is principally a rich deep loam inclining occasionally to clay, easily cultivated and very fertile if properly drained. About 40,000 acres in the northern part of the county are included in the Bog of Allen, which is, however, intersected in many places by elevated tracts of firm ground. To the east of the town of Kildare is the Curragh, an undulating down upwards of 4800 acres in extent. The most fertile and highly cultivated districts of Kildare are the valleys of the Liffey and a tract in the south watered by the Greese. The demesne lands along the valley of the Liffey are finely wooded. More attention is paid to drainage and the use of manures on the larger farms than is done in many other parts of Ireland. The pastures which are not subjected to the plough are generally very rich and fattening. The proportion of tillage to pasture is roughly as I to 2j. Wheat is a scanty crop, but oats, barley, turnips and potatoes are all considerably cultivated. Cattle and sheep are grazed extensively, and the numbers are well sustained. Of the former, crosses with the shorthorn or the Durham are the commonest breed. Leicesters are the principal breed of sheep. Poultry farming is a growing industry.

Though possessing a good supply of water-power the county is almost destitute of manufactures; there are a few small cotton, woollen and paper mills, as well as breweries and distilleries, and several corn mills. Large quantities of turf are exported to Dublin by canal. The main line of the Midland Great Western follows the northern boundary of the county, with a branch to Carbury and Edenderry; and that of the Great Southern & Western crosses the county by way of Newbridge and Kildare, with southward branches to Naas (and Tullow, county Carlow) and to Athy and the south. The northern border is traversed by the Royal Canal, which connects Dublin with the Shannon at Cloondara. Farther south the Grand Canal, which connects Dublin with the Shannon at Shannon Harbour, occupies the valley of the Liffey until at Sallins it enters the Bog of Allen, passing into King's County near the source of the Boyne. Several branch canals afford communication with the southern districts.

Population and Administration. The decreasing population (70,206 in 1891; 63,566 in 1901) shows an unusual excess of males over females, in spite of an excess of male emigrants. About 86% of the population are Roman Catholics. The county comprises 14 baronies and contains no civil parishes. Assizes are held at Naas, and quarter sessions at Athy, Kildare, Maynooth and Naas. The military stations at Newbridge and the Curragh constitute the Curragh military district, and the barracks at Athy and Naas are included in the Dublin military district. The principal towns are Athy (pop. 3599), Naas (3836) and Newbridge (2903); with Maynooth (which is the seat of a Roman Catholic college), Celb ridge, Kildare (the county town), Monasterevan, Kilcullen and Leixlip. Ballitore, one of the larger villages, is a Quaker settlement, and at a school here Edmund Burke was educated. Kildare returned ten members to the Irish parliament, of whom eight represented boroughs; it sends only two (for the north and south divisions of the county) to the parliament of the United Kingdom. The county is in the Protestant diocese of Dublin and the Roman Catholic dioceses of Dublin and of Kildare and Leighlin.

History and Antiquities. According to a tale in the Book of Leinster theoriginal name of Kildare was Druim Criaidh ( Drumcree), which it retained until the time of St Brigit, after which it was changed to Cilldara, the church of the oak, from an old oak under whose shadow the saint had constructed her cell. For some centuries it was under the government of the Macmurroughs, kings of Leinster, but with the remainder of Leinster it was granted by Henry II. to Strongbow. On the division of the palatinate of Leinster among the five grand-daughters of Strongbow, Kildare fell to Sibilla, the fourth daughter, who married William de Ferrars, earl of Derby. Through the marriage of the only daughter of William de Ferrars it passed to William de Vescy who, when challenged to single combat by John Fitz Thomas, baron of Offaly, for accusing him of treason, fled to France. His lands were thereupon in 1297 bestowed on Fitz Thomas, who in 1316 was created earl of Kildare, and in 1317 was appointed sheriff of Kildare, the office remaining in the family until the attainder of Gerald, the ninth earl, in the reign of Henry VIII. Kildare was a liberty of Dublin until 1296, when an act was passed constituting it a separate county.

In the county are several old gigantic pillar-stones, the principal being those at Punchestown, Harristown, Jigginstown and Mullamast. Among remarkable earthworks are the raths at Mullamast, Knockcaellagh near Kilcullen, Ardscull near Naas, and the numerous sepulchral mounds in the Curragh. Of the round towers the finest is that of Kildare; there are' remains of others at Taghadoe, Old Kilcullen, Oughterard and Castledermot. Formerly there were an immense number of religious houses in the county. There are remains of a Franciscan abbey at Castledermot. At Graney are ruins of an Augustinian nunnery and portions of a building said to have belonged to the Knights Templars. The town of Kildare has ruins of four monastic buildings, including the nunnery founded by St Brigit. The site of a monastery at Old Kilcullen, said to date from the time of St Patrick, is marked by two stone crosses, one of which is curiously sculptured. The fine abbey of Monasterevan is now the seat of the marquess of Drogheda. On the Liffey are the remains of Great Connel Abbey near Celbridge, of St Wolstan's near Celbridge, and of New Abbey. At Moone, where there was a Franciscan monastery, are the remains of an ancient cross with curious sculpturings. Among castles may be mentioned those of Athy and Castledermot, built about the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion; Maynooth Castle, built by the Fitzgeralds; Kilkea, originally built by the seventh earl of Kildare, and restored within the 19th century; and Timolin, erected in the reign of King John.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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