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