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

Competition Time!

Maynootharchaeology invites you to enter it’s competition!

Maynootharchaeology is looking for a logo and entries are welcome! Simply draw either by computer or by hand a logo which you think befits Maynootharchaeology. Write a small piece on why you created this logo, describing each part you think is important.

Below you’ll find some past pictures on Maynootharchaeology you may find helpful. I’ve also included some ideas to begin your design process…

  • Use of symbols?
  • Perhaps a picture?
  • Colours
  • Think history!
  • People and places
  • Maynooth’s own past
  • Blog and past content of Maynootharchaeology
  • Think outside the box

Competition closes on 20th December, so you have a month to think and implement your creations. Entries can be submitted to, where postal information is also available on request. The winner will have the rights to their logo and see it emblazoned across this international (I logged on in France once) blog! The winner will also receive a copy of ‘Cannonballs and Croziers’, a local history book of Maynooth, as well as a gift voucher. So what are you waiting for? Get designing!

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Know your Local History 5? Revealed

So earlier I posed a question. There were some good answers and both guessed correctly the location of Carton House. Andy perhaps guessed Connolly’s Folly? Not correct I’m afraid. Good guess Patrick, and spot on with location (I did cycle through some greens and fairways)! However, history books inform me that the tower is known as ‘The Prospect Tower. Not much is know about it, all I can find about is is that:

1. It was built by the Talbot family who leased the estate from the Fitzgeralds

2. Not much is known about it!

Though I may be mistaken? Can you offer insight into your ideas of it being names Tyrconnell Tower, and a famine relief project?

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Sources: Ma Nuad by Mary Cullen

Exploring Maynooth: Five Self-Guide Historical Walks by Maynooth Local History