The Hill of Allen holds a special place in my heart for several reasons, mainly revolving around it being close to my family home where I spent the first 19 years of my life. As a child the tower that stands on top of the hill was visible from my parents kitchen and stories of Fionn MacCumhaill and the Fianna having a training camp in and around the hill echoed in my mind. As time has passed a lot has changed in the local area and the hill itself. Houses built beside my parents mean the hill and tower are obscured from view as I write this and the increased quarrying by roadstone has left the hill half decimated. The hill has been the site of a quarry for over a hundred years but the building boom during the Celtic Tiger years led to more demand for stone and the quarrying intensified. As a child the path up the hill to the tower was in regular use and I recall picnic tables and tonnes of families streaming up and down the hill during the summertime. The hill really is a hugely untapped resource and it seems that this may not change. The tower was shut a few years back due to fears around structural safety and is only meant to be open on heritage week, however on Christmas day when myself and my father made the trek up it was open, the perfect Christmas gift.
The Hill is surrounded in folklore and is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters as being the site of a fort held by Fionn MacCumhaill as he stood watch over the Fianna training on the flatlands surrounding the hill. It was also rumoured that Fionn was buried in a mound at the top of the hill, this mound known as Suidh-Fionn (Fionn’s Chair) occupies the highest point and on its centre stands the tower. In 722 the Battle of Allen was fought between the then King of Leinster and the forces of the High King of Ireland in close proximity to the site. The structure that stands on top of the hill – known locally as ‘Alymer’s Folly’ was a four year relief project by Sir Gerald George Aylmer who was the 9th Baronet of nearby Donadea Castle. During the initial construction of the tower a cave was found in the mound measuring nine feet deep and contained a wooden coffin and the remains of a remarkably large human skeleton, this may be another reason why the Fionn MacCumhaill legend remains strong in this area to the present day. However the body was reinterred in its grave and the building of the tower commenced. It took four years to build the tower due to the fact that it was only worked upon during the summer; the hill being far too exposed at winter time in generally flat Kildare. Like several other Folly’s built around the same era its purpose stood as a means of employment for the tenants of various landlords. Each one of the steps that lead from the base of the tower to the top have a name of a different workman engraved on them, these surnames still being very common locally. The tower measures 20 metres in height and roughly three metres in diameter. The tower was completed in 1863 and an inscription at the top of the stairs reads, “In thankful remembrance of God’s mercies, many and great- Built by Sir Gerald George Alymer, Baronet, A.D. 1860”.
I truly enjoyed my visit to the site on an amazingly blue skied Christmas morning; though it is sad to see the destruction caused by the roadstone work in the area. I have included a picture from one side of the tower which shows the irreparable damage done. I could go on at length about the strange occurrences that led to the permission being given by Kildare County Council for further quarrying on the site; including the ‘disappearance’ of two pre Christian sites on the hill in an Old Ordnance Survey map when permission was sought and granted by the council! I was delighted to find the tower open and even though a strange glass conservatory has been put on the top of the tower, one small window was open and we were able to squeeze out of this for a better view. I have also included a photo of myself as a child at the rear of the tower from 1984! Finally I wish to thank my father for a lovely trek and for being the person who inspired a reverence and interest in history in me from a young age, may he enthrall me with stories of the canalways and local area from the 1950s onwards for many years to come, put quite simply he is the best of men.
GPS: 53.22935, -6.86387