The century’s old roadway which runs through the cutting at Ardreigh bringing traffic to and from Carlow will soon be no more. Kildare County Council has announced that work will start in the Summer on the new roadway which will run at the rear of Ardreigh Cemetery.
Ardreigh is and remains an ancient place. At one time it was even more important than the medieval village of its near neighbour Athy. It was itself a village, the lands and area having being granted by Strongbow to Thomas Le Fleming, one of the many Norman adventurers who came to Ireland in 1169. The grantee Fleming was in all probability Thomas of Flanders for whom Hugh de Lacy built a Castle in1182 by the waters of the River Barrow. The Castle was probably a Motte located on the high ground at Ardreigh and more likely than not in the area now occupied by Ardreigh House. It was here that Thomas Le Fleming or perhaps his successor Milo de Stanton established a borough similar to that later established in Athy. It was the same de Stanton who in or about 1200 gave “the Church at Ardria” to St. Thomas’s Abbey, Dublin the advowson of which the Bishop of Glendalough later gave to the same Abbey. Very soon after the initial gift by de Stanton, Archbishop Henri de Loundres assigned Ardreigh Church to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. The stones of the Church of Ardreigh just visible below the ground and lying within the cemetery of the same name are the only remains of the twelfth century Ardreigh settlement.
In 1318 King Edward II allowed a weekly market to be held at Ardreigh which was then in the ownership of Milo de Poer. In 1303, an Inquisition was held to value the property of Ralph de Manton late Treasurer of Scotland who had died some time previously. It found that amongst other property, de Manton held a farm at Ardreigh, Athy but that his Steward John Tonjours sold most of the stock on it and converted the sale proceeds to his own use.
The borough of Ardreigh continued into the fourteenth Century as the register of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, Dublin makes reference to Nicholas Fitz Austin Provost of Ardreigh borough. The earliest extant reference to a Provost in Athy followed the chartering of the village of Athy by King Henry V111 in 1515 over a century after the earlier mentioned reference to the Ardreigh Provost. Does this perhaps indicate that the early medieval Settlement in Ardreigh was more substantial and of greater importance that that at Athy?
When the borough of Ardreigh went into decline one cannot say with certainty. Clearly the adjoining settlement of Athy continued to grow and the granting of Athy’s charter in 1515 might indicate the earlier demise of the borough of Ardreigh.
Following the rebellion of Silken Thomas in 1534, the Earl of Kildare’s property was attained and not restored until 1554 when Queen Mary granted to Gerald 11th Earl of Kildare his ancestors honours and estates. The Earls allegiance was perhaps unnecessarily subjected to continual examination and in 1575, he was arrested on a charge of treason. Amongst the allegations against him were that he colluded with the O’Connors, O’Mores and the Keatings who were then in revolt and allowed them to attack and destroy castles in Co. Kildare including that of William FitzGerald of Ardreigh. The Earl who was imprisoned for two years was eventually released after it was found that the allegations against him were exaggerated.
Before long, the castle of Ardreigh was again in the limelight when reports reached Dublin Castle of its destruction following an unexpected attack. Walter FitzGerald who was married to a daughter of Feagh MacHugh O’Byrne of Wicklow was banned by Sir Piers FitzGerald the high sheriff of the County from entering County Kildare. Some claim that the ban was imposed because of his marriage to a daughter of an Irish Rebel while others give the cause as the outlaw activity of Walter who was otherwise known as “the swarthy” FitzGerald. Although a son of Maurice FitzGerald of Glassealy and a relative of the Earl of Kildare who in turn was related to Sir Pier’s FitzGerald, Walter “the swarthy” exacted a terrible revenge on his distant cousin.
On St. Patrick’s day 1593, Sir Pier’s and his wife Elinor a daughter of Sir Maurice FitzGerald of Lackagh whose effigy lies in St. Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare were living in Ardreigh Castle with two of their daughters, Ann and Catherine. The castle in contemporary records was described as being “a little castle that was but thatched with straw or sedge”. Walter “the swarthy” accompanied by his brothers in law, Felim and Redmond sons of Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne with their followers attacked Ardreigh Castle and set it alight. We are told that all the occupants of the small castle perished in the flames including Sir Pier’s, his wife Elinor and their two daughters.
The FitzGerald’s were survived by their son, James who was married and aged 30 years when Ardreigh Castle was destroyed. He was later appointed High Sheriff of County Kildare and Sheriff of County Carlow in which latter capacity in 1597 he accompanied the Lord Deputy on an expedition against the O’Byrne’s. James FitzGerald later rebelled against the crown and when on the 12th May 1599 the Earl’s of Essex and Ormonde met at Athy with their armies ready to pass into Laois, FitzGerald pulled down the Bridge of Athy and garrisoned White’s Castle in order to hinder the Earl’s horsemen. He later however, capitulated and surrendered to the Earl of Essex.
Ardreigh Castle was not rebuilt after the fire of 1593 and a Report of a Commission established in 1626 to enquire into the Estate of Philip Bushen, late of Grangemellon made no reference to Ardreigh Castle but rather to Ardreigh Mill and Weir, clear evidence of the changing face of Medieval Ireland.
The Urban Archaeology survey carried out some years ago in County Kildare by John Bradley, Andrew Halpin and Heather King noted that “Archaeology is concerned with the past of ordinary people --- with the life and death of communities ancestral to our own”. It would be appropriate if during the roadworks to be carried out at Ardreigh later this year, some elements of the hidden past of the borough and the Church of Ardreigh which existed on this ancient site over 800 years ago were revealed.