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Camino Cill Chuilinn 2 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.

This is a shorter version than my other Camino Cill Chuilinn, around 10kms instead of 16, and leaves out the Carnalway and Brannockstown elements.

Start from Market Square, walk 1.2kms to the Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park

Bardons is a former hotel.

Starting from Market Square, cross the bridge, noting its 700 years and how it was responsible for the formation of the town of today. At the bottom of the hill is Bardons, a former inn and the oldest building in Kilcullen providing accommodation, food and drink. On the way up the street look at the shape of the buildings and the streetscape, much of it as it has been since the 19th century and before. On the right a plaque marks a residence as the Old Courthouse.

The Old Courthouse is now a private residence.

Beyond the crossroads, the Cross and Passion College on the right was established by the sisters who came to the village in 1878. Inset in the bounding wall of the property is a milestone, one of the original set of distance markers 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.

Milestone and 18th century map.
Kilcullen Garda Station is a standard design from the early days of the state.

The Garda Station is typical of those built after the foundation of the state. Past the more recent housing estates of St Brigid's Avenue and Conroy Park is Nicholastown, built in 1939.

Nicholastown was the first Council housing estate in Kilcullen.

Nicholastown Green is the former location of the Carlow Stables which accommodated horse changes for the post coaches. In the 1930s the building was used as a community hall, and housed among other activities the beginnings of what is today the Kilcullen Drama Group.

The spear monument is inspired by an artefact found during excavations at Dun Ailinne.
The information at the Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park.

At the Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park, find out about the earliest gatherings at the 'royal' site on the outskirts of town. 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.

Walk 2.2kms to Old Kilcullen

Leave the Interpretive Park, walk across the motorway bridge and follow the road to the next junction left at Thompson's Cross. An immediate next right is the road up to Old Kilcullen, the original monastic settlement.

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

Just after turning 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.

A talk on the site of a ring burial barrow which probably dates back to the Bronze Age.

From there start up towards the hill, passing the commonage on the right around which there would have been many homes which were destroyed in the battle. At the junction of the roads near the top there's a triangle of rough grassy land, in which there's a ring barrow burial area which predates the Christian settlement era.

Dun Ailinne, a place of gathering reputed to the Kings of Leinster.

Looking back to the west there's a clear view of Dun Ailinne. Archaeological excavations in the 1960s and in recent years show a succession of very organised occasional settlements. Gatherings may have occurred at spiritual times of the year, or for trading. Maybe for providing tribute or taxes to chieftains. Dun Ailinne is on the assessment list for possible inclusion with three other royal sites for joint UNESCO World Heritage status.

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.

Walk 1.5kms to Yellow Bog Church

Leave the graveyard, and 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.

Restored Victorian-era letterbox.

Then retrace your steps, take the next right by the triangle of grass and down the hill. Cross the main road at the bottom, then over the motorway bridge offering pleasant views of the Wicklow Mountains. A little further, on the right, is the churchyard of St John's Church of Ireland.

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

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.

Walk 2.5kms to New Abbey Graveyard

Mill Stream bridge.

From the churchyard gate turn right and continue the previous direction. At the end of the road turn left over the small bridge at the start of the Mill Stream, forming the last stage of the substantial Kilcullen Stream that comes through Yellow Bog and which is a nationally-monitored waterway. The stream flows from here through the old Abbey and into the Liffey.

St Brigid's Cemetery.

The road climbs and a little beyond the top turn right into the McGarry's Lane, the origin of the name forgotten in time. Two thirds of the way down is Kilcullen's St Brigid's Cemetery which was opened in the late 1990s as the New Abbey graveyard no longer had room for new grave spaces. 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.

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 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.

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

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 Mass Path from New Abbey to Kilcullen.

There is still a Mass Path public way across the New Abbey Stud lands. After visiting the graveyard, exit into the fields on the Mill Stream side, turn left, cross the little bridge and walk across 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.

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

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.

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.

Walk 0.4kms to finish in Market Square

Kilcullen Community Library, formerly the Boys School.

Leaving the church grounds, turn left towards the crossroads, noting the 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

Walk back down the street, noting on the right the modern butcher shop of Nolans, one of the longest-established family businesses in Kilcullen. Before reaching the bridge again, note the laneway down to the Valley Park, which was likely 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 the 700th anniversary of the building of the first bridge at this site.

Cross the bridge and walk on the left past Bank of Ireland, then down the lane beside the Heritage Centre. 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 shorter 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
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