The term ‘rich in history’ is bandied about all too often however today is the day to cash in my chips and write about this incredibly beautiful site that played a huge role in 1500 years of Irish history. The first recorded mention of an ecclesiastical site at Old Kilcullen comes from 488AD when St Patrick was said to have assigned a bishop named Mac Táil to the monastic settlement. The site is beautifully situated on a small hill overlooking the Kildare countryside, although the walled churchyard appears to be the extent of this site aerial and ground surveys have shown that the site extended outside of these boundaries. The settlement was attacked by the Vikings at least twice in 936AD and 944AD. At the time, and according to the Annals of the Four Masters, a thousand people were taken as prisoners which exemplifies how important Old Kilcullen was. These attacks subsequently led to the building of a round tower, the scant remains of a Romanesque church on the site would’ve been connected to the tower at a later date. The tower itself is roughly 13 metres in height with a round-headed doorway about 2 metres above ground level. The site is also home to the shafts of two high crosses and the base of another. The shaft of one of the high crosses in particular is well decorated and I found it somewhat amusing! One of the images shows what is believed to be Mac Táil beheading his enemies (the vikings one would assume) with an adze, a tool similar in shape to an axe! Other images on the shaft show a horseman blowing a trumpet and Samson slaying a lion.
The town grew considerably and reached its peak during early Norman period. At this time it was a completely walled town with seven entrance gates, it has been recorded that some form of castle was also situated here. In 1319 a bridge was constructed across the Liffey about 2km away, and this led to the growth of what is currently known as Kilcullen – at the time known as ‘Kilcullen Bridge’ – and the eventual abandonment of this site (In the images I have included an early map showing both ‘towns’). Owing to its vantage point the tower was involved in battles throughout the centuries. Being held by parliamentary forces in 1641, then taken by the Royalist army before being finally recaptured and burned in 1647 by the parliamentarians During the rebellion of 1798 this was the site for the Battle of Kilcullen, with the rebels initially the victors but were eventually driven out. The tower seems to have sustained most of its damage during this time as prior to the battle it was mentioned in a 1782 account as having four windows. The settlement continued to decrease in size and the dethknell seems to have been the removal of a licence to hold markets which was given to the nearby – and increasing in population – Kilcullen Bridge. The Church moved into the hands of the Church of Ireland until some time in the 19th century when it was abandoned.
GPS: 53.10788, -6.76062