Earlier I commented on Maynooth castle and its cool building. Here I’ll focus on the history of the castle, which if we’re honest (and if it’s actually well told), is more interesting. Stories of real people versus ruins ALWAYS win. I think. I’ve divided the history of the castle into three parts.
The history of the castle begins in the 12th Century with the coming of the Anglo-Normans to Ireland in 1169. Richard de Clare (Strongbow) was a Welsh lord: Earl of Pembroke to be precise, and he was convinced by Diarmuid MacMurrogh, the King of Leinster to come to Ireland and help him win back his Kingdom. Diarmuid had already been granted English King Henry the Second’s permission to recruit within his Kingdom. With that, the Normans invaded, and landed from 1169 onwards, quickly subduing much of the population of Ireland. You’ve heard the names Hugh de Lacy, Raymond le Gros? Famous Anglo-Norman Lords who carved out their own personal Kingdoms in Ireland for themselves. Maurice Fitzgerald did just the same thing. He was an Anglo-Norman Lord of 70 years who came over in the following summer of the invasion. He landed with about 160 men of knights and archers and helped the Anglo-Norman’s win land in Ireland. He was granted the territory of Uí Faelaoin or the Barony of Naas – what is essentially modern day County Kildare in 1176. Here he built Maynooth castle. He probably built a wooden castle here, the motte and bailey, and then his son or his grandson built the stone castle we see today- we think in the 1180’s or 1190’s. Maurice came over here when he was about 70 years old and came along with his entire family! Epic.
From then on the Fitzgeralds slowly built up their power base in Maynooth. There isn’t much to say about the next few Barons until the 4th Baron, John FitzThomas, who did such good work in leading the Anglo-Normans to victory against the Bruce Invasion led by Edward the Bruce that King Edward the Second of England raised him to Earl status and he was the first Earl of Kildare in 1316. John the 6th Earl of Kildare strengthened and fortified Maynooth Castle amongst others in the early 15th Century. Remember that the Earls of Kildare controlled much of County Kildare and during the height of their power, had castles in Lea, Kilkea and Athy amongst other places. During much of the period after that, the English were involved in the Hundred Years War with France, not to mention the War of the Roses. England during this time was happy to leave the governing of Ireland to the powerful Anglo-Norman lords who could maintain relationships with the Gaelic Lords as well as with other Anglo-Norman Lords. So Thomas Fitzgerald, 7th Earl of Kildare, was made Lord Deputy (the King’s representative in Ireland) by the English government in 1471, increasing the power of the Kildares immensely. This role recognised the Fitzgeralds’ power and position in Ireland. Thomas’ son was Garret Mór, also known as the Great Earl. Under him, the Kildare ascendancy began, where the Kildare family were at the height of their power…
References: Ma Nuad by Mary Cullen
Maynooth Castle, OPW Visitor’s Guide