Maynooth manor was a part of a grant covering much of the modern Co. Kildare as was
allegedly given by Earl Richard Clare to Maurice Fitz Gerald in 1176.  Both men died this year.  Maurice was succeeded by his son, Gerald Fitz Maurice (d.1200), who was also known as Gerald Windsor, after his more famous grandfather, the husband of Nest, the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the king of Deheubarth (d.1093).  On Gerald's death the castle probably passed under the control of King John who held the fortress until his death on 19 October 1216.  After this, on 26 November 1216, the new government of King Henry III (1216-72) ordered the Irish Justiciar, Geoffrey Marisco (d.1245), to cause Maurice Fitz Gerald (d.1257) to have seisin of the land of Maynooth as his father, Gerald, had died seised of them.  Oddly it was only in 1243 that King Henry III ordered a gravestone for Gerald Fitz Maurice.  Apparently his grandson, Maurice Fitz Maurice (d.1287), was recorded as holding Maynothe and Ramore by the service of 3½ knights which had a value of £7.

The descendants of Gerald became known as the Kildare Fitzgerald.  Much building work is said to have been undertaken by the sixth earl of Kildare in the 1420s.  By 1535 the castle was held by Earl Thomas Fitz Gerald of Kildare better known as Silken Thomas when he rebelled against Henry VIII (1509-47).  After failing to take Dublin castle, Thomas' support faded away and in March 1535 a royalist army led by William Skeffington surrounded the castle and bombarded it for a week while Silken Thomas was trying to raise a relief army.  However, before he could do this, the castle constable, Christopher Paris, surrendered the fortress unconditionally.  The garrison was then executed, an act later known as the ‘Maynooth pardon'.  Subsequently by February 1537 six Fitzgeralds including Silken Thomas had been executed for treason.  The castle, however, was returned to the FitzGeralds in 1552 and remained with them until passing to the earls of Cork by marriage.  The first of these earls, Richard Boyle, restored the castle around 1630-35, before the Eleven Years War when the castle was again battered into submission by the Catholics in 1641 and then dismantled by Eoghan Rua O'Neill in 1647.

The castle keep was built at the junction of two streams, the Abhann Slad and the Lyreen.  The centre of the castle was the rectangular keep, set in a roughly 140' square bailey to the north-east.  The keep is approximately 60' east to west and 70' north to south and has walls 9' thick rising from a fine stepped plinth.  It is entered from the north-east at ground floor level, although the original entrance was on the first floor and reached via a forebuilding of which traces of toothing still remains.  The basement has been subdivided, although the three piers that held up the original first floor can still be seen embedded in the later crosswall.  It was lit by 5 rectangular windows, although a further one may have lain where the current ground floor entrance has been cut.  At the same time as the crosswall was built, a spiral stair was inserted to the basement against the crosswall next to the first floor entrance.  The vaults were probably inserted in the sixteenth century when windows were inserted in the first floor embrasures. 

The upper room was probably a hall and had 3 small chambers set in the thickness of the walls within the three pilaster buttresses to north-west, south-east and south-west.  There was no chamber or room to the north-east as this is where the forebuilding was.  Quite obviously the forebuilding was part of the original plan.  An exit to the wallwalk existed to the north-west and five windows with rounded embrasures to west, south and east.  At some point the 40' high hall was subdivided into two rooms.  Access between them must have been via a wooden staircase and the room very dark, having a single small light and rounded embrasure to the north-west.  Fragments of the original battlements survive above this.  Later still a third floor was constructed with garrets at the corners and a wall passageway that ran all the way around the summit.  Most of the battlements still survive at roof level.

The rectangular ward has been much rebuilt, but there appears to be one rectangular postern tower which survives in poor condition to the north.  This is centrally pierced by the postern in a manner similar to the sallyport gates at Rhuddlan castle in Wales.  These date to 1278-81.  A later and most irregular wall then joins this gate to the elongated rectangular east tower occasionally known as the solar tower.  Between this and the keep, isolated by the destruction of the curtain walls, is a massive rectangular gatehouse of two storeys above a gate passageway.  This appears to be an addition to the adjoining curtain walls and early prints show that it was protected by a barbican and probably a sixteenth century outer ward.  On the curtain fronts of the gatetower are decorative Romanesque arches which stretch from curtain to rear projecting wall and the united coats of arms of the Boyle and FitzGerald familes.  The castle remains have been much tidied up, possibly when a large Georgian house was built on the site of the curtain between the gatehouse and the east tower.

Perhaps you would like to join me in visiting this and other great castles of Ireland in October with Scholarly Sojourns.  Details of the trip can be found by clicking here.


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