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)

Domhnall O’ Buachalla (Donal Buckley)

Domhnall O Buachalla was one of the most interesting people I have heard of to have come from Maynooth. Born in 1866, his legacy can still be seen on main street Maynooth: ‘Buckley’s House‘, now in ruins, is the house he grew up in and is now a protected building; he ran a shop on the Main Street which only closed down a few years ago and of course ‘Buckley’s Lane’ is no doubt named after him. There are three fascinating stories about him which I’ll briefly mention.

1. He was a fluent Irish speaker, a member of the Gaelic League, and interested in the Irish language, teaching it in Maynooth. In 1905 he was prosecuted for having his name in Irish on his cart, which was illegal at the time. Patrick Pearse defended him in his case, but he was fined. He refused to pay the fine, so goods were seized from his shop instead and sold at a public auction. They were bought and the buyer handed them back to O’ Buachalla !

2. He was a member of the IRB and active in the Irish Volunteers. When he heard about the Easter Rising, he got together a small group of volunteers, went to a local priest for a blessing and marched all the way to Dublin to volunteer on Easter Monday. He is reported to have killed a couple of soldiers as well as a sniper. He was imprisoned afterwards but soon released. He also fought on the anti-treaty side during the Civil War and was imprisoned afterwards again from 1922-23.

3. My friend told me that Eamon De Valera appointed O’ Buachalla Governor General (the Kings representative in Ireland) in 1932, so as to downplay the role and make it redundant. O’ Buachalla did not disappoint: he never lived in the stately home given to him, never attended functions, never took transport in the official car, never hosted people. He made the position redundant and the office was abolished by 1936, helping De Valera in his view of breaking down another connection between Ireland and England. O’ Buachalla retired to Dublin and died in 1963. He was 97 years old, was buried and given a state funeral in Laraghbyran Cemetary. If you wish to know a bit more, I found the link below very interesting.


References: Dictionary of Irish Biography, O Buachalla, Domhnall by Marie Coleman