Tuesday 16 October 2018

Castle tied up in colonial power


Kindlestown Castle today.
Kindlestown Castle today.


KINDLESTOWN CASTLE lies astride the slopes of Kindlestown Hill just to the northwest of Greystones. It is a fine but late example of a group of castles known as hall houses, commanding a good view of the countryside and the coast - attesting to the strategic eye of its builders. The castle takes its name from its association with the Englishman Albert de Kenley who appear to have erected it during late 1200s.

Albert de Kenley was a prominent figure in the colonial administration, serving as sheriff of the county of Kildare about 1300. His association with the region was through his marriage to Joan, the widow of Sir Ralph Fitzdermot. Sir Ralph had been lord of Rathdown, tracing his descent from the Mac Gilla Mo Cholmoc kings of Ui Briuin Chualann (a region that covered much of north Wicklow).

Over the one hundred and thirty years that had passed since the English arrival in Ireland in 1169, the Mac Gilla Mo Cholmoc kings had become substantially anglicised to such extent that they were virtually indistinguishable from their colonist neighbours – assuming also the name of Fitzdermot.

De Kenley was to enter the picture after the death of Sir Ralph about 1291. Within a year the widow Joan had married de Kenley. The motivation behind the marriage appears to have been twofold.

Firstly, Joan probably married de Kenley so as to prevent her late husband's lands being taken into the hand of the crown during the minority of her son John Fitzdermot.

This action was to deprive the administration of the revenues that would have come from the said lands. Secondly, Rathdown and much of northeast Wicklow during the 1290s were exposed to ever increasing Irish raids from the Leinster mountains. Thus, Joan's introduction of de Kenley into the region was to set him up as a strongman and defender of her son's future inheritance.

The widow's pact with de Kenley was to earn the rebuke of an English crown sore at being outmanoeuvred by the pair who had married without licence from King Edward I of England, culminating in de Kenley being fined.

As John Fitzdermot's guardian, de Kenley took the manor of Rathdown (except for the widow's portion) into his custody, accounting £23 11s. 9d. to the crown in 1296.

De Kenley was to strengthen the grip of the Fitzdermots on their lands, building the two storey castle at Kindlestown in direct response to the Irish threat to the local farmers. The castle itself is rectangular and is built of local limestone with a barrel vault and two towers on the northern corners.

It was also entirely surrounded by a four metre wide fosse ( ditch), testifying to omnipresent danger from the Irish. The potency of the danger was graphically illustrated in Lent 1301 when the Leinster Irish devastated the English colony in north and east Wicklow, sacking the chief Fitzdermot castle at Rathdown.

That same year de Kenley surrendered custody of the lands to John Fitzdermot who had reached his age of majority. Thereafter little is known of de Kenley.

But John Fitzdermot had not the stomach for the fight with the Irish, conveying the manor of Rathdown about 1305 to Nigel le Brun, the escheator of Ireland.