Camino Cill Chuilinn A Journey with Brian Byrne through time and place

For a number of years I had the idea to devise a walk through Kilcullen heritage and history, but it was consistently shelved because of pressure of more immediate working demands. However, a query early in 2019 from serial 'peace walker' Donal Corcoran of Naas, about whether there was any interesting walking in Kilcullen, pushed me to get stuck in. I don't suggest it is a complete representation of everything to see and think about in our community, but it does take the reader and walker through several thousand years of what is behind today's Kilcullen. Obviously, I drew on many sources, locally and further afield, while compiling this journey. They are too many to list, so I take this opportunity to acknowledge them all. Enjoy.

For those who want to pare down the walking or who are short of time, there is a shorter version of the Camino Cill Chuilinn here, around 10km instead of 16km.

Start from Market Square, walk 3.4 kms to St Patrick’s Church of Ireland, Carnalway

Dublin House in the background of this postcard from the 1950s.

As you leave the square, going north you face the part of the village which 19th century writer Thackeray said 'tumbles down a hill and struggles up another'. It was probably formidable for the horses and coach transport used at the time. Before the base of the hill, the 'Dublin House', previously the residence of the Brennan family for more than 120 years, juts out and narrows the thoroughfare. Beside it you pass Bentley's Lane, which leads to what's left locally of an ancient road built by the FitzEustace family to link their castles at Castlemartin and Ballymore. The name comes from the owner of an inn which operated a few yards into that road. Further up, note the imposing saddlery firm of Berney Bros, one of the oldest businesses in the town, well worth a stop to savour the wonderful smell of leather. As you ascend the hill, there's a line of small artisan cottages, built sometime around 1911 to replace a row of less quality dwellings. Note the one which has been restored to show their original stonework.

Bentley's Lane, Hillside Cottages, and Dorcas House.

At the top of the hill, at Dorcas House turn right onto Logstown. The house was built in 1878 by Thomas Tickell, Secretary to the Lords Justices of Ireland, probably at the behest of his wife Clotilda Eustace of Harristown. He endowed it to carry out locally the work of the Dorcas Society, a charitable organisation which developed during the 1800s in England and Ireland, and later in the Americas. It was named after Dorcas, or Tabitha, a female disciple of Jesus. A branch established in Douglas on the Isle of Man in 1834, in thanksgiving for the town being spared in a major cholera outbreak, provided blankets, clothing and other necessities for people in poor circumstances. There's little record of the activities of the Kilcullen Dorcas Society, though it is referenced in a collection comprising 75 letters from Maria La Touche, now in the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York. In one of which she asks if her 'order for stockings' for the Kilcullen Dorcas Society had been delivered.

Walking along Logstown, the strip of formerly local authority houses was the second such estate in Kilcullen. Like the much larger Nicholastown at the south end of town, all the homes are now in private ownership. Once beyond the turn in the road at the end of the houses, you are outside the town, walking along with what was known locally as Nolan's Bog on the left. The road climbs up from the low section, and there's a fine view of a traditional thatched farm home, The Hermitage, on the left. Shortly afterwards, on the right, you reach the gates of Newberry Stud. From here, the road is probably part of the original FitzEustace road to Ballymore, with Newberry Stud on the right as far as Carnalway Cross where five roads converge.

Views of St Patrick's Church, Carnalway.

Turn right here, and you arrive immediately at St Patrick's Church of Ireland. There has been a church on the site since the 13th century. The current one is a superb example of religious architecture, with strong 11th-century style Hiberno-Roman detailing inside and out, even to the gutters. This work was carried out in 1894 under the supervision of the Diocesan Architect James Franklin Fuller. But he failed to make sure that foundations were included, and between 2000-2005 a major remedial work had to be carried out to save the building from collapse. The work was funded by local donations. One of the significant treasures in the church is a stained glass window by Harry Clarke.

From St Patrick's Church walk 1.1 kms to Carnalway Bridge

Beautiful farmhouse on road to Carnalway Bridge.
Carnalway Bridge.

It is a pleasant walk to the bridge, built over the Liffey in 1788 by John La Touche, whose family had bought the original Harristown Estate from the Eustaces. On the way, a very pretty roadside farmhouse on the right with roses climbing around its front is to be admired. It is worth pausing a while on the bridge itself to watch the river meander on its journey towards Kilcullen. From there via Newbridge and Celbridge it eventually flows into Dublin Bay. On the upstream side is Harristown House itself, owned originally by David La Touche II (1704-1785), a successful businessman and banker in Dublin, who had invested considerably in lands beyond the capital. When a national bank was proposed by the Irish House of Commons in 1782, David la Touche II was one of the commissioners appointed to receive subscriptions for stock, along with his three sons David III, John and Peter. The Bank of Ireland charter was successfully negotiated by David III in May 1783. He was then elected as the first Governor of the Bank of Ireland, and his brothers John and Peter were appointed Directors. John La Touche subsequently took up residence in Harristown, which he had inherited. The estate remained in the La Touche family possession until the 1920s.

Harristown House and Demesne.

From Carnalway Bridge walk 1.0 kms to Brannockstown Baptist Church

Brannockstown Baptist Church.

From the bridge an uphill walk, levelling out with Sallymount Stud on the right, brings you to the rear gate of Harristown in Brannockstown. Turn right and you are at the Baptist Church, built in 1882 by John La Touche, then master of the Harristown estate. A gothic chapel of limestone and red sandstone, it was followed in due course by the manse next door. John La Touche taught and cared for the church family, and later made provisions for the continuation of the church following his death in 1904. He also founded the school next door, which eventually came under the patronage of the Catholic church. It is today a non-denominational Community National School.

The old pump at Brannocktown, maintained by the Tidy Towns Group.

From Brannockstown Baptist Church walk 4 kms to St John’s Church of Ireland, Yellow Bog

Mill Stream bridge.

The road takes you out of Brannockstown village and between the Gilltown and Sallymount studs, and then New Abbey Stud on the right until you reach Mile Mill cross. Walk through the cross and on to the next turn left, where the Mill Stream runs under the road on its way to the Liffey. Walking along towards St John's Church, you are in the area of the Kilcullen Stream, which joins with the Mill Stream before it flows on to the Liffey. The church is at the next crossroads. According to author and historian James Durney, the present building was erected in the early 1800s on a site which was possibly where a previous church had been built to replace the ancient one beside the round tower of Old Kilcullen. Various local families are interred in the surrounding graveyard, many of whom are commemorated with plaques and stained glass windows. They include the Blackers of Castlemartin, and some of the items in the church were donated by them. Among these a Telford organ and an oak panelling in the chancel.

Various local families are interred in the surrounding graveyard, many of whom are commemorated with plaques and stained glass windows.

From Yellow Bog Church walk 0.7 kms to Old Kilcullen

Continuing on from the church, the road climbs to a motorway bridge. Beyond that, take a right across the main Carlow Road and then an immediate left up a narrow hilly road to the tower and graveyard of Old Kilcullen. As you approach, you pass a triangle of rough grassy land which contains a ring burial barrow which probably dates back to the Bronze Age.

A talk on the site of a ring burial barrow which probably dates back to the Bronze Age
The Old Kilcullen monastic settlement was established around 400AD
It was a place to stop for people who arrived by seven roads, who wanted shelter, sustenance, and protection

The Old Kilcullen monastic settlement was established around 400AD, either directly by St Patrick or by one of his followers, St McTail. It became a significant religious centre and a focus for travellers who reputedly came by seven different roads. They wanted shelter, sustenance, and protection. Such settlements provided these. Not always successfully — in 932 Old Kilcullen was attacked by Vikings, who are said to have taken 1,000 people captive. It was attacked again in 1114, and the monastery ‘burned white’ according to some accounts. About 60 years later what had been a bishopric was reduced to the status of a parish. Old Kilcullen was in decline.

Dun Ailinne, a place of gathering and ritual reputed to the ancient Kings of Leinster

Across to the west is a fine view of the hill of Dun Ailinne, a place of gathering and ritual reputed to the ancient Kings of Leinster. Dun Ailinne was higher than Old Kilcullen, and it might have been tempting for the new Christian religion to establish there. But maybe they didn’t want to upset followers of the old one? Or perhaps they wanted to thumb their noses at the ‘pagan’ space? Whatever, they chose to build their church on the hill with the holly bush.

From Old Kilcullen walk 0.9 kms to the 1798 monument

When you get back down to the road, take a left and walk 50 metres down the road to Victorian-era letterbox, located in the remains of an old wall just opposite Brennans Bar. Long disused, the box has been restored by the Old Kilcullen Area Community Association, and the remains of the original wall built up into a small landscaped seating area.

Then retrace your steps to the triangle of grass, and go straight down the hill, past commonage on your left which would have been the location of a substantial village of Old Kilcullen before being destroyed in the Rebellion of 1798, a major battle of which took place here. At the end of the road before it junctures with the Main Road, there's a Celtic cross monument to those who died in that battle. The cross was originally erected by the Kildare Branch of the National Graves Association (NGA) in 1948, on the 150th anniversary of the rebellion. It has recently been refurbished by the local community association.

The cross commemorating the 1798 Rebellion was originally erected by the Kildare Branch of the National Graves Association (NGA) in 1948

From the monument walk 1.3 kms to the Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park

The late Professor Bernard Wailes speaking about his excavations in the 1960s on Dun Ailinne, on the occasion of the dedication of the spear monument at the Interpretive Park in Kilcullen in 2008. At the Equinoxes, the Noel Scullion sculpture provides spectacular dawn effects from the rising sun.

Cross the road at the junction and walk back to Kilcullen, passing over the motorway bridge and on to the Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park. Developed by Kilcullen Community Action, it has a centrepiece sculpture by local artist Noel Scullion based on a spear head found during excavations of the actual Dun Ailinne site in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Details can be read here about the earliest gatherings and the archaeological excavations at the 'royal' site, being considered for UNESCO World Heritage Status jointly with three other similar locations.

From the Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park, walk 0.8 kms to St Brigid's Cemetery

St Brigid's Cemetery.

Exit down the steps of the Interpretive Park and turn right. Take the next left on the road to Milemill, with views of the Wicklow Mountains in the distance. The first left turn is McGarry's Lane, the origin of the name forgotten in time. Two thirds of the way down is Kilcullen's 'new' cemetery, St Brigid's, which was opened in the late 1990s as the New Abbey graveyard no longer had room for more graves. In 1999, following the exit of the Cross & Passion sisters from their Convent in Kilcullen, their deceased members buried in the Convent Graveyard were re-interred in this cemetery.

From St Brigid's Cemetery walk 0.9 kms to New Abbey Graveyard

In the 15th century a Franciscan Abbey was established here by the FitzEustaces
The original graveyard area, with many unmarked graves, has been maintained in a park style

At the bottom of McGarry's Lane turn right and then immediately left down the chestnut walk to the old New Abbey Graveyard. In the 15th century a Franciscan Abbey was established here by the FitzEustaces. That abbey lasted for most of 200 years. Its church was destroyed by fire in 1784. A new chapel was constructed two years later, and was the Kilcullen Parish Church until the present one was built in the 1870s. There is still a Mass Path public way across the New Abbey Stud lands. In recent decades, the original graveyard area, with many unmarked graves, has been maintained in a park style by a local voluntary group. The Portlester family 'altar table' gravestone which is one of the important monuments in the locality, was moved in the early 2000s from its exposed position in the graveyard to a vertical sheltered space on the old Abbey wall. It depicts Rowland FitzEustace, Baron Portlester, and his wife. He was buried here in 1496.

The Portlester Effigy before it was moved to a sheltered location in 2001.

From New Abbey walk 0.7 kms to St Brigid's Well

The ancient Mass Path to New Abbey.

Exit from the graveyard into the fields on the Mill Stream side, turn left, cross the little bridge and walk through the field towards the parish church visible in the medium distance. After exiting the field, take note of the 700 young trees provided by the Tree Council of Ireland to celebrate the Kilcullen 700 year, planted by representatives of families in Kilcullen. Then continue the path until you reach St Brigid's Well, which features a sculpture by the late Fr Henry Flanagan OP, teacher and artist at Dominican College Newbridge. The piece is built into the stonework above St Brigid's Well and was commissioned in 1977 when the well area was being built in what it is today the Valley Park.

St Brigid's Well with the sculpture by Fr Henry Flanagan OP.

From St Brigid's Well walk 0.3 kms to the Grotto and Kilcullen Parish Church

Our Lady's Grotto beside the Parish Church.

Beyond the well, take the steps to the upper path and then cross the road into the grounds of Kilcullen Parish Church. The grotto in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Bernadette was a gift from local businessman James J Quinn in the 1950s and is the location for nightly parish Rosary during the month of May.

Kilcullen Parish Church.

The church was designed by architect James Joseph McCarthy, one of the most respected in his profession in Ireland in the 19th century. He specialised in designing churches for the Dublin Archdiocese and beyond. He was a keen follower of Pugin's revival of the 12th century Gothic church architecture, and his design for Kilcullen's new St Brigid's parish church in 1869 was a classic in this regard. The church was built in 1872.

It has some significant interior elements. The altars were made by the renowned church sculptor William Pearse, father of the 1916 Rising leader Padraig Pearse. All but one of the stained glass windows in the church were made by the father of the famous stained glass artist Harry Clarke, Joshua Clarke. The painting which hangs around the back of the altar is by an Italian artist named Buccini, about whom nothing further is known beyond the fact that he was one of many Italians brought to Ireland at the time to provide church artwork. The painting was hung behind the altar in 1900, and has recently been refurbished by a local resident who is a specialist in art conservation.

From Kilcullen Parish Church walk 0.5 kms to finish at Market Square

Kilcullen Community Library, formerly the Boys School.

Leaving the church grounds, turn left towards the crossroads, noting Kilcullen Community Library on the right which was originally the Boys National School, established in 1925. Cross at the traffic lights and enter the grounds of the former Cross and Passion Convent, established by nuns invited to the parish in 1878 to set up a primary school. That later developed into a secondary school for girls, and today is a major second level college for boys and girls.

The Cross and Passion Convent was established by nuns invited to the parish in 1878 to set up a primary school
The 21-miles stone.

Inset in the wall of the property at the crossroads is a milestone, one of the original milestones from Dublin. It indicates 21 miles from the capital, which means that it is dated well before 1826 when the country changed to British imperial miles. Old Irish miles were longer. It is of interest too that the milestone is located on the other side of the bridge in the Taylor and Skinner Road Maps of Ireland, published in 1778. The milestone then represented the end of the first toll road in Ireland, from Dublin to Kilcullen, established in 1729.

Section from the 18c Taylor and Skinner map of the Kilcullen area.
The Old Courthouse

Walk back down the street, noting on the right the modern butcher shop of Nolans, one of the longest-established family businesses in Kilcullen. Further down on the left, a plaque marks a residence as the Old Courthouse. While the occupants and retail uses may have changed, the shape of the street is largely what it has been for hundreds of years.

Bardons, formerly a hotel

At the bottom of the hill is Bardons, a former inn and the oldest building in Kilcullen providing accommodation, food and drink. Across from it note the laneway down to the Valley Park, which is believed to have been the road down to the fording point of the river before the bridge was built.

The Valley Park

The Valley Park itself was former impassable scrubland which was purchased by the then Kilcullen Community Council in the early 1970s and subsequently developed into a park with the help of locally collected funds.

The Spout

A cast-iron ‘spout’ originally providing a constant supply of fresh water from a spring on that laneway has been moved and enclosed in an ornamental railing as a feature of the park.

Sculpture to commemorate Kilcullen Development Association

Just down from Bardons, before you cross the bridge, there's a sculpture installed in 2016 to commemorate the work of the Kilcullen Development Association. During the 1950s and for decades later, KDA was instrumental in bringing industry and affordable housing to Kilcullen. The sculpture is the work of local artist Noel Scullion, and includes a depiction of the late Paddy Nugent, who along with Michael St Leger, was a driving force behind KDA. Paddy Nugent's parents came to live in Kilcullen in 1930, and in the mid-1980s we talked about his experiences growing up in the town in those those times.

In 2019 Kilcullen celebrated 700 years since the first bridge here.

Cross the bridge and walk on the left past Bank of Ireland, then down the lane beside the Heritage Centre, built on the site of a Community Hall erected in the 1930s. From the edge of the river you have a fine view of the old bridge of Kilcullen. In 2019, the town celebrated 700 years since the building of the first bridge at the location, by Canon Maurice Jakis of Kildare Cathedral. It has been an important transport link ever since, including being part of the first toll road in Ireland, and for many hundreds of years allowing traffic use the main road from Dublin to the south, including Cork. You can walk under one of the arches back into Market Square, completing the full loop of Camino Cill Chuilinn.

The square in Kilcullen in a painting by Richard Murphy in the 1940s

It's worth noting, before you move on, that the riverside Kilcullen's importance had been recognised by the granting in 1681 of a Royal Charter to hold regular markets in the square area.

Life on the River Liffey is timeless.
A Kilcullen Diary Production for the Kilcullen Heritage Group, Heritage Week 2020.
Created By
Brian Byrne