Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Driving recently towards Castledermot I passed along a road which in medieval days and earlier was possibly a trackway through thickly wooded countryside. I was prompted to reflect on how the fortunes of the town I had just left and the town I was approaching had changed over the centuries. John MacKenna in what I believe was his first published work ‘Castledermot and Kilkea – a social history’ in the final paragraph wrote ‘The present village of Castledermot is very old …..before Diarmuid established his hermitage on the Lir bank there were people in the area.’ The late Tadgh Hayden, who wrote and prepared the souvenir brochure for Castledermot’s An Tostal in 1953, claimed that Diarmuid, the hermit, came to the area in or about 500 A.D. and built a beehive shaped cell and a small church in the neighbourhood of the present round tower. The book of the Four Masters on the other hand had Diarmuid’s grandfather killed about the year 800 A.D. which prompted John MacKenna to believe that the religious collective which was later to become the Norman town of Tristledermot and finally Castledermot was founded in 823. Whether it is 500 A.D. or 300 years later Diarmuid’s monastery was part of Ireland’s golden age of religious foundations. It’s importance as a religious settlement can be surmised from the fact that the Vikings who normally travelled by water attacked the monastery and in doing so moved so far inland. A hog backed Viking gravestone decorated with crosses, the only such one in Ireland, is all that remains to remind us of the Viking attack on the monastery nearly 1200 years ago. The importance of Diarmuid’s monastery was further affirmed as the place of burial of Cormac O’Cuilleanain, King of Munster and bishop of Cashel, who was killed during the battle of Ballaghmoone in 907. The Anglo Normans who arrived in Ireland in 1169 recognised the importance of the religious settlement in the rural area, which by then included a round tower built for defensive purposes following the earlier Viking raid. Strongbow gave the area around the present Castledermot to de Ridellesford and the area around Kilkea to de Lacy. The subsequent building of Kilkea Castle and the Castle of Tristledermot strengthened the Norman influence in this area and for a time the village of Tristledermot was one of the most important rural settlements in the Norman’s Irish world. It was in Tristledermot, later corrupted to Castledermot by English speaking settlers that the first Irish parliament was held in 1264. Attended by 26 knights the Irish parliament would be held in Tristledermot on ten further occasions between 1269 and 1404. The Tristledermot settlement, like the neighbouring Norman settlement at the Ford of Ae (Athy), attracted not one but two religious houses. The Crouched Friars came in 1210 and the only physical reminder of their time in the area is the present St. John’s tower. The Franciscans founded a monastery in Tristledermot in or around 1300 and the substantial remains of what is today referred to as ‘The Abbey’ is what remains of that monastery. The village of Tristledermot was surrounded by strong defensive walls, the only portion of which remain today are what are called ‘the Carlow gate’. That gate was one of four gates which were in the Norman village walls and through which Edward Bruce and his Scottish troops marched when they attacked and destroyed much of Castledermot in 1316. The Confederate Wars also saw the Cromwellian army attack and destroy Castledermot for the second time in 1615. The village would never again regain the prominent position it had enjoyed in the social and economic life of south Kildare. The subsequent decline of the once powerful settlement of Tristledermot coincided with the emergence of neighbouring Athy as the most prominent urban settlement in south Kildare. The latter’s position on the navigable River Barrow gave it a huge advantage over its near neighbour at a time when travel by road was well nigh impossible. It was an advantage which in the 17th and 18th centuries saw Athy emerge as a developing market town. The opening of the Grand Canal to Athy in 1792 and the extension of the railway line to Carlow through Athy in 1846 copper fastened Athy’s claim to be the leading town in the south of the county. Unlike Athy Castledermot has been the subject of several publications over the years, including those earlier mentioned by Tadgh Hayden and John MacKenna. Reverend Warburton wrote a guide to St. James’s Church in 1968, while Eamon Kane’s book ‘Diseart Diarmada’ published in 2015 deals extensively with the early history of the village of Castledermot. One other interesting book was that published in 1919 under the title of ‘Dysert Diarmada; or Irish place-names’, it’s author being described as ‘an Irish CC’. Can anyone help me to identify the author in question.

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