Silken Thomas in Dublin

Whilst walking in inner city Dublin, I past St. Mary’s Abbey. It’s really not that impressive! It’s important, however as this is the place Silken Thomas (known affectionately by one Tour Guide at Maynooth Castle as ‘The Silkster’), threw down his Sword of State and declared rebellion against Henry VIII.

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Silken Thomas

Thomas FitzGerald, better known as Silken Thomas was the 10th Earl of Kildare and is one of the more famous characters of Maynooth castle. He was the son of Garret Óg, and ruled during the famous downfall of the castle.

Born in 1513, not much is known of his youth but he did spend a few years in English courts so he would have been well versed in the culture at the time. Before his father Garret Óg left for England in 1534, being summoned by Henry VIII about his ruling in Ireland, he nominated his son Silken Thomas as his successor. This surprised a few people, as Silken Thomas was very young at the time. Also, the previous summer, he led a campaign against the O’Reilly’s under the title ‘Lord Offaly’, but was unsuccessful. Successor he was however, and it is said that his father warned him not to come to England, as he feared the worst for his family. Probably under his father’s advice, Silken Thomas marched to Dublin, with 1,000 men and threw down the sword of state, declaring rebellion against England. It is here that Silken Thomas may have gotten his name as the 140 horsemen that came with him had headpieces ‘gorgeously embroidered with silk’.

His father passed away whilst in prison in England, and Silken Thomas was officially the leader of the Kildare Dynasty. Henry VIII sent Sir William Skeffington over with 2,300 men to effectively put an end to any rebellion. Silken Thomas laid siege to Dublin twice that year but was unable to take the city. Skeffington landed and pursued Silken Thomas, who wished to avoid a pitched battle at all costs. Even though Silken Thomas fortified castles, and burned surrouding districts, he lost the initiative and his forces were slowly weakening- down to a few hundred by winter 1534. Not only that but two of his uncles defected to Skeffington’s side, and key leaders in his army died of sickness. By spring the following year, the English army was in Kildare. In March the English surrounded Maynooth castle with 1,000 men. A ten day siege began which ended on 23 March. Although the castle was attacked with artillery for a number of days, it was through treachery, with the bribery of Christopher Paris the captain of the guard which led to the fall of the castle. Most of the 100 men in the castle were executed, including Christopher Paris (who bargained for money but not his life), in what is now known as the ‘Pardon of Maynooth’. The castle became a home for Lord Deputy’s for years to come. What was left of the Kildare army now fled west to Lea castle, another Kildare castle, and then to the Bog of Allen. With few men left, and the Enlgish forces surrounding him, Silken Thomas surrendered on 24 August 1535 to Lord Leonard Grey, who had replaced Skeffington as commander. He surrendered on guarantee of his life which was given by Grey, but not by King Henry. He was eventually executed at Tyburn on 3rd February 1537 with his 5 Uncles (including the two who defected!). His Uncles were hung, drawn and quartered, while Thomas was hung and beheaded. So ended the Kildare Dynasty for a few years, until the return of Gerald Fitzgerald in 1552.


References: Thomas FitzGerald by Mary Ann Lyons (dictionary of Irish Biography)

Maynooth Castle The History Part 3

Please read Maynooth Castle: The History Part 1 and Part 2 before continuing…

The Kildare Title, estates and castles were restored to Gerald Fitzgerald, the 11th Earl of Kildare in 1552. He has escaped to Florence with the help of the Geraldine League some years previously. He only came back when Mary Queen of Scots was on the throne, though they lacked the power they once had. He was also known as the ‘Wizard Earl’, probably due to his interest in alchemy and astronomy. His death was supposedly due to magical reasons. His wife asked him to show his magical powers. He did so, and turned himself into a blackbird. At that moment, the devil appeared in the form of a black cat, and the Earl disappeared in a puff of smoke, never to be seen again. It is said the ghost of the earl haunts Kilkea castle, another Fitzgerald castle in south Kildare.

In 1620, George became the 16th Earl of Kildare at the ripe age of 8 years old. In 1629, Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork, bought the wardship of the young Earl for £6,000. This essentially meant that Boyle controlled the castle until the Earl was of age to do so himself. He married his daughter to George, guaranteeing his link with the castle. He spent thousands of pounds remodelling the castle, building his house into the inner curtain wall, as well as building a round tower on the grounds, and decorative arches still seen today. Only seven years after completing all the works of the castle, internal wars began which effectively ruined the castle. The Old English and Gaelic Irish had an shaky alliance together against the New English coming to settle. The castle was taken twice in 1641 by locals, in 1643 by royalist forces, and in 1646 also. In 1647 Owen Roe O’ Neill’s army took the castle and effectively destroyed it. The Earl may have lived on there until his death in 1656, but by 1682 it was considered a ruin.

In the early 18th Century, the 19th Earl Robert thought about restoring the castle, but instead moved his residence to Carton, east of Maynooth. They changed their title in 1766 when James, Robert’s son, was made Duke of Leinster (actually pronounced ‘Linster’). Stories about the Dukes of Leinster shall be left for another day, but their Country home was Carton, and their town house in Dublin was Leinster House, now where the Dail sits. Now Maynooth Castle is managed by the OPW since 2001. So there you have it: a brief history of Maynooth castle in three parts.

Sources: Ma Nuad by Mary Cullen

OPW Maynooth Castle Visitor’s Guide

Maynooth Castle: The History Part 2

Please read Maynooth Castle Part 1 before you continue…

Garret Mór, was the 8th Earl of Kildare, and he ruled from 1487 to 1513 and was known as the Great Earl for a reason. Under him the Kildares were at the height of their power. He was the most powerful Earl in Ireland, winning the Battle of Knockdoe against the Burke’s of Clanrickard in the West, calling upon many allies across Ireland to do so. He survived political attempts to remove him from his office (he was removed but soon restored, showing his political shrewdness and power). He had a great library at Maynooth Castle with books of English, Irish, Latin and French. He also made plans for a college to be founded in Maynooth which was eventually build by his son, Garret Óg in 1518. It was only opened for a few years  until it was shut down by Henry the 8th during the Reformation. Garret Mór died in 1513 and his son Garret Óg, the 9th Earl of Kildare was appointed the new Lord Deputy soon afterwards. He added books to the library at the Castle, and acquired a licence to found ‘the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1518’. Garret Óg got into trouble many times with King Henry the 8th for the way he governed Ireland, more for himself than for the King. He was called over to answer charges a number of times, before being imprisoned in London.

His son Silken Thomas took control of the Kildare Dynasty whilst his Father was imprisoned. Probably under his Father’s guidance, Silken Thomas (who was known as ‘Silken’ for the fancy clothes he wore/the silk trappings on his horse) rebelled against England. He marched on Dublin with 1,000 men and threw down the sword of state, a symbol of his office. He became the 10th Earl of Kildare when Garret Óg died in prison in 1534. Sir William Skeffington was sent to squash the rebellion with 2,300 men. He landed in Ireland, slowly gaining control of the land surrounding Dublin and eventually besieging Maynooth castle in March 1535 with 1,000 men, against a defence of 100 men. The castle was heavily fortified, and for 6 days cannons could not break down the castle walls. According to Richard Stanihurst (a historian at the time), the castle was taken by treachery. Christopher Paris, the captain of the guard let the English in one night and most of the garrison was killed, including Christopher Paris himself who negotiated for a certain amount of money, but not his life: he was paid and shortly killed after! Silken Thomas, who was not in Maynooth castle when it fell, fled to the Bog of Allen in west Kildare. The fall of the castle truly marked the end of the Kildares and Silken Thomas’ allies deserted him. He was captured later that year and executed a couple of years after that in 1537. The Kildare’s power was destroyed and Maynooth castle was now home to the Lord Deputy’s of Ireland, giving more evidence to the report of the castle being betrayed rather than having been taken by force, which is what the English commander Skeffington claimed.. The Kildare’s would however, make a return in 1552 in the final installment of the History of Maynooth Castle.


References: Má Nuad by Mary Cullen

OPW Visitor’s Guide

Maynooth Castle: The History Part 1

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

Maynooth Castle: The building

So being a tour guide at the castle MAY have given me some helpful information on the castle to say the least. I’ll try and keep it interesting, informative and entertaining, using pictures to keep your concentration. Here I’ll focus on the building, and next time I’ll write about the history.

General: Maynooth castle came about because Maurice FitzGerald, an Anglo-Norman knight, came to Ireland in 1169 and was granted what is essentially modern day Co. Kildare as his reward from Strongbow. He probably built a wooden motte and bailey style castle here first, and his son or grandson built the stone castle  in the 1180’s or the 1190’s. The castle was built of mainly limestone, with mortar holding the stones together, together with granite quoin stones. It was probably locally sourced, though Anglo-Normans were known for transporting stone across long distances if they needed to. We think it was built in 3 or 4 different stages and added to over the years. There are reports that John the 6th Earl fortified the castle at Maynooth. It is a rectangular keep measuring 72 feet by 62 feet.

Outside: At the front of the castle, we see the main entrance at a first floor level. This was no doubt for defensive reasons. There is still evidence remaining of a forebuilding  (a stone building attached to the keep) which would have contained wooden steps leading up to the main door. This was  a room where one disarmed themselves before entering the castle. To the left of this we see another doorway which may have been an oratory inside the forebuilding (because it is at the east of the castle). We all see many defensive features typical of medieval building at Maynooth castle, including arrow loops, turrets and a basal batter.

Basement: Entering the basement entrance, we arrive into two vaulted rooms. Here they would have stored food and supplies. There was also an indoor well inside the castle. This is very rare and only one other castle is known to have an indoor well. This meant that during a time of siege, defenders had a constant supply of water. These rooms would have been very dark, so they would have been painted white – both to reflect any extra light, but also for hygiene purposes. The ceiling and walls show construction marks and we know how they built the ceiling. They replaced a wooden ceiling with a vaulted stone ceiling (which could support more weight when the building was extended). There are holes in the sides of the chamber called putlog holes where giant wooden beams were placed across. A wooden wickerwork was build up in an arch shape as a temporary support, and a layer of mortar and finally stones shaped on top of this. The support was taken down and voila, you have your stone vaulted ceiling, lessening the dangers of fires inside the castle.

First Floor: On the first floor level, the general consensus is that the large room on this floor was divided in two by a wooden partition running halfway along north-south down the middle. On the east side you have a public area where guests were entertained, the family welcomed acquaintances, and dining and negotiation was done. On the west side, we think this part of the castle was reserved for the family. We say this because there are three rooms built into the walls of the castle, two of which have evidence for chimneys. Most likely they were used as a sleeping area, or for storage (the FitzGerald’s were reported to have a great library of English, Irish, French and Latin books). The stone in the centre of the room is the central support column which holds up the weight of the castle. At the top of the castle there would have been four turrets, only one of which survives well. There would have been a parapat walk (an internal walkway) going from tower to tower which protected the soldiers as they walked the top of the castle. To enter the top of the castle, there would have been an internal wooden staircase leading up to the doorway in the north of the castle. We see arches below these towers, again supporting the extra weight of said towers. Interesting to note is the diagonal roof scar in the tower showing us where the roof would have been. The corbels (stones that support roof beams) below and above again give us evidence that the castle was extended.

Second Floor?:  There is a mystery over whether there was another floor in Maynooth castle or not. Either there was simply one floor and the ceiling went to the top, or there was a second floor. Evidence for a second floor would be in the square holes and ledge running all along the inside of the castle. These may have had beams in them to support another floor. Evidence against this is that if there were beams in these holes, they would have ran into each other as they are on all sides of the castles. There are also no windows on this level of the castle, which is strange if there was a floor. Finally, the stone work is slightly different around the square holes, indicating that the holes may have been added at a later date.

Outside…again: There are a number of ruins to the east of the castle. There is a postern gate, which was the back way into the castle. There was space inside for a soldier to hide from view. There are two arches dating from the time of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork who essentially took over the castle in the 17th century. He built many things seen here, including the two arches (there used to be four) and the solar tower which was the corner of his house. That’s the building, now wait for the history!

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Irish Castles and Castellated Houses by Harold Leask

Ma Nuad by Mary Cullen

The Office of Public Works, Maynooth Castle, de Blacam and Meagher Architects, 1994 (survey)

Maynooth Castle in 5 simple points

Yesterday I had an interview to be a Tour Guide in Maynooth Castle. The fact that it’s a stone’s throw away from where I live would make it a handy job. I’ve decided to give you 5 points about the castle so after you read this, you’ll be able to recite to yourself or a friend exactly what is that monstrous stone structure in our town. Here goes…

1. Anglo-Normans

The Anglo-Normans first arrived in Ireland in 1169. It was they who brought over the idea of the castle. Maurice Fitzgerald was granted land here in 1176. Maynooth Castle was built where two streams meet. It was probably a Motte and Bailey wooden structure first, going on to be built of stone by Gerald FitzGerald, Maurice’s son.

2. Kildare’s

The Kildare FitzGerald’s were one of the most powerful families in Ireland, becoming ‘Lord Deputys’ of Ireland (essentially holding and running Ireland on behalf of England). So powerful were they that during the Hundred Years war, though they sided with the Yorkists, and lost to the Lancasters, they still retained their power when a Lancaster King sat on the throne.

3. Names

So many names are associated with the castle. The names you need to know are Garret Mór, father of Garret Óg who in turn was father of Thomas FitzGerald also known as Silken Thomas. These are big names and it was during the time of the two Garret’s at the turn of the 16th Century that Maynooth was at its power. A college was found at Maynooth during their time.

4. Silken Thomas

Garret Óg summoned to England and because of political struggles, was dismissed as Deputy, replaced by Sir William Skeffington. Silken Thomas heard he was executed and rebelled against England. Skeffington arrived and burned Maynooth town. A story is told that a man Christopher Paris betrayed the castle and opened the door for the English troops. He apparently negotiated for money but not for his life and was soon executed along with Silken Thomas and 5 Uncles. The castle was given over to future Lord Deputies but eventually restored to Kildare’s.

5. Richard Boyle

Richard Boyle Earl of Cork in 1629 bought the wardship to take care of the young FitzGerald and lived in the castle. He extensively remodeled the castle, extended wings, carved arms into the stonework etc. Wars such as the Ulster rising and the English Civil war broke out after the restoration however and many groups ransacked the castle. Furniture was taken and the library was destroyed. By 1682, the castle had already become a ruin…


Sources: Guide to National and Historical Monuments of Ireland by Peter Harbison

Maynooth (Ma Nuad) by Mary Cullen

Cannonballs and Croziers: A History of Maynooth edited by John Drennan