After the Norman invasions of Ireland, the land around Maynooth in Kildare that had formerly belonged to the O’Byrne family, was granted by Richard de Clare the leader of the Norman forces to Gerald fitzMaurice fitzGerald in 1176. FitzGerald chose Maynooth to be the capital (known at the time as the caput). Originally it was thought that like many other Norman castles in Ireland, the first defensive structures on site would have been made of earth and timber. However in a recent article for Archaeology Ireland, Professor Tadhg O’Keefe of UCD convincingly argues* the case for the first construction to be of stone.
He notes in particular many similarities with the great donjon of Trim Castle, situated relatively close by in County Meath and suggests that there was sharing of knowledge, architects and builders between the two powerful medieval magnates of de Lacey and fitzGerald.
|The keep or donjon of Maynooth Castle|
He had unprecedented power in Ireland and jealously guarded his families interests. FitzGerald was summoned to London in 1534 by King Henry VIII, and he left his son Thomas as deputy governor in his absence. Thomas was a flamboyant young hothead, known as Silken Thomas for the silk his men wove into their helmets. A false rumour spread that the Earl had been executed by the King, Silken Thomas was enraged at the thoughts of his father being put to death in the Tower of London. He flew into a rage, and charged into St. Mary’s Abbey where the Kings Council in Ireland were meeting. He threw down the sword of state in an act of defiance, and immediately began a campaign against the Kings forces in Ireland. He had his men cut off the water supply to Dublin and laid siege to the City. The campaign was going well, until the Crown forces realised that Silken Thomas had neglected to defend his own stronghold of Maynooth. The English army under William Skeffington managed to negotiate their way into Maynooth Castle, but once inside they slaughtered many of the inhabitants. Silken Thomas heard of the bloodshed and immediately marched to try and save his family home, but he was ambushed and captured on the way. He was brought in chains to London, where he heard that his father had actually died of natural causes and had not been executed after all. Thomas and his five uncles were brought to the place of execution in London, Tyburn, and brutally executed by being hung drawn and quartered. The castle was thought to have been betrayed by Thomas’s foster brother Christopher Paris. The morning after Skeffington took the castle he offered his thanks to Christopher Paris and paid him for his services, but then ordered Paris to be beheaded, probably because he had shown himself to be a duplicitous character not to be trusted.
|The undercroft or cellar level inside the keep has a number of interpretative panels|
|The area of Boyle's Manor House with its fine arches|
|The surviving gatehouse to Maynooth Castle|
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*O'Keefe,.T. 2013, 'Trim’s first cousin: the twelfth-century donjon of Maynooth Castle' Archaeology Ireland, Vol 27 No.2. Pages 26–31.