Donadea Castle is a very significant place to me, seeing as I grew up only a few miles from this wonderful forest. It was a standard family outing and the huge castle, gardens (including man made lake), church and graveyard captured my imagination as a child. I find the forest calm and serene and there is a palpable sense that this place is important which is reflected in its history which goes back nearly two thousand years.
In the pre-Christian period of Ireland’s history one of the five ancient roads passed through Donadea and a small section of the road survives within the demesne. In 455AD, St Patrick travelled this road and founded the first church at Donadea, the site of this church is in the chancel section of the overgrown ruins in Donadea graveyard. St Patrick founded another church nearby at Dunmurraghill but this was destroyed in 1035 by a Viking raid that never reached Donadea Church itself.
Anglo-Norman settlers came to the area in the twelfth century and established a manor house in or around the site of the present castle. The lands passed from Norman lord to lord until finally coming under the control of the Aylmer family. The Aylmers play an important part in the history of the area of Kildare that I come from for over the next 300 years, including building Alymer’s Folly on the Hill of Allen, and being involved in many Irish rebellions and uprisings.
In 1581 Gerald Aylmer built a new tower at Donadea, this is the oldest remaining part of the castle. He also repaired the medieval church and built a new extension and an altar tomb monument as a burial place for his family. Gerald was titled by the crown and became the first Baronet of Donadea.
During the rebellions of the 1640’s Andrew Aylmer, the 2nd Baronet, was imprisoned for supporting and aiding rebels. Although Andrew was a brother in law of the Lord Lieutenant, Earl of Ormond this did not grant him any leniency in fact quite the opposite. In 1642 Ormond sent an army to capture Donadea but it was stoutly defended by the Baronet’s sister Ellen Aylmer. Donadea was eventually captured and burned but Ellen was not imprisoned and subsequently rebuilt the castle
In 1689 after the Battle of the Boyne a the 3rd Baronet’s widow Lady Ellen Aylmer was in charge of the castle, she supported King James and was outlawed due to this, she managed to hold on to the castle under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick. In 1736 the 6th Baronet Fitzgerald inherited the property and extended the Castle, incorporating the medieval tower into his new home.
A split occurred between two branches of the Alymer Family around the 1798 rebellion, the 7th Baronet Fenton was famous as a Yeoman leader during the rebellion. In the period prior to the rebellion there had been an attack on Donadea castle by rebels under the control of Fenton’s relative William Aylmer of nearby Painstown. This led to a split in the two families which continued long after the rebellion. Baronet Fenton even went as far as to remove his ancestors remains from the old Aylmer vault and erect a new church and memorial for the Fenton Aylmers, away from the remains of the Painstown Aylmers.
Fenton’s song Gerald George, the 8th Baronet held the lands of Donadea between 1816 and 1878 and completed and repaired much of the buildings and demesne we see today. He built a huge wall enclosing the demesne withand gate lodges at each entrance. He erected a new main carriageway that became known as the Lime Avenue. In 1827 he remodelled the front of the castle, and in the yard behind the castle he built houses for staff and farm buildings. He also constructed a man made lake, an Ice House and landscaped over 8 acres of gardens. It was also Gerald George that built Aylmer’s Folly at the Hill of Allen.
The last Aylmer to live at Donadea was Caroline Aylmer, she died unmarried in 1935 and the property was sold to the Department of Lands, it is now under the management of Coillte.
GPS: 53.34095, -6.74697
6 thoughts on “Donadea Castle, Kildare, Ireland”
Hello, I am one of the descendants of the Aylmers. Thank you for taking this valuable trip down memory lane. From what I recall, Sir Gerald Aylmer (1st baronet) ended up in the Tower of London for a while, before becoming Lord Protector of Ireland for a short time. Also, Lady Caroline’s brother – I heard two stories of his death. The first is that he was riding his horse around the castle, fell of the horse and broke his neck. The second was that he was riding a bicycle at university, fell off the bicycle and broke his neck. I don’t know which story to believe. All I know is that he died at the age of 21.
I’m glad you love the area so much. I have visited twice (from Australia – I’m the great great great great granddaughter of the Reverend William Aylmer) and loved it, too.
Have you visited Aylmer’s Folly on the Hill of Allen? I used to be able to see it from my parents house until dormer’s were built next door. Always been very intrigued by the stories of a giant skeleton being found during construction of the folly.
I did see the bogs of Allen the first time I went. Is that what you mean by the Folly? As I live in Australia, it is a little hard to get there as often as I’d like. Could you please tell me more of the giant skeleton? I have seen documentaries about bodies being found in the bogs, and I’m just so curious.
I can understand your curiosity. In Kildare there are very few hills, its mainly flatland, for horse breeding and motorways! However the Hill of Allen was owned or under the stewardship of the Alymers. During one of our many periods of hard times the Alymers built a folly. A folly was essentially to create work, build something and to pay workers, essentially a private-civic build. The folly was built on the Hill of Allen by the Alymers was a civic project. The hill itself is steeped in forgotten culture, na Fianna, the ancient army of Fionn McCumhaill trained there, its a beautiful hill. I still live in Ireland and my parents live near there, many generations of my family are buried nearby and its a special, strange and foreboding hill. I will post a link below,….there were stories of giant skeletons found as it was buillt, I’lll try find the stories soon. The hill of Allen has sadly been destroyed by quarrying in many ways but I do recommend visiting it. The bog of Allen is beautiful and an unusual place to see, it covers a large expanse of the midlands. Thank you for your post 🙂 https://visionsofthepastblog.com/2013/01/02/alymers-folly-hill-of-allen-co-kildare/
Thank you for your reply. I can’t recall if I saw it, but I did hear stories that my family had the wall around the castle built in order to give as much employment as possible to the community as a means of keeping the potato famine out of the area. In 2003, I had spoken to one of the last remaining relatives of a family, and this woman had met Lady Caroline. Everyone spoke very well of the Aylmers, because of the human rights aspect. I’m not surprised a Folly was built.
For me, this is what I have done: http://www.tracieaylmer.wordpress.com
I’m carrying on the family tradition of human rights.
Nice to hear you are carrying on the tradition Tracie. Indeed thw walls and also I think the little church in Donadea were also famine community employment schemes, in the history of Kildare the Alymers were considered very decent. The folly is about 8 or so miles from Donadea so not sure if you would have seen it. Here is a link to my previous post on it https://visionsofthepastblog.com/2013/01/02/alymers-folly-hill-of-allen-co-kildare/