KILDARE, an incorporated market and post-town, a parish, and the seat of a diocese, in the barony of EAST OPHALY, county of KILDARE, and province of LEINSTER, 9¼ miles (W.S.W.) from Naas, and 25 miles (W.S.W.) from Dublin, on the mail coach road to Limerick; containing 2541 inhabitants, of which number, 1753 are in the town. This place derived its name either from Chille-dara, "the wood of oaks," or from Kill-Dara, "the cell or church of the oaks," from the situation of the first Christian church founded here among trees of that kind. The source of its ancient importance appears to have been the foundation of a monastery by St. Bridget, the daughter of a native Irish chieftain, who in the fifth century is said to have received the veil from the hands of St. Patrick. This monastery, which was both for monks and nuns under the same roof, and had only one church, soon caused other habitations to be erected in the neighbourhood, which, on its being subsequently made the seat of an episcopal see, became a town of importance. It is recorded that, in 638, Aed Dubh, or Black Hugh, King of Leinster, resigned his authority, and took the habit of the Augustine order in this monastery, of which he afterwards became abbot and bishop.
The town and monastery were consumed by fire in 770, and again about four years after; and in 830 they suffered greatly from the depredation of Ceallach Mac Brann, who slew many of the clergy in their own house. Farannan, the abbot of Armagh, attended by a retinue of his clergy, visited the abbey in 835; and during his stay, Fethlemid, at the head of an armed force, seized the church and carried off the clergy prisoners. In the following year, a Danish fleet of thirty ships arrived in the river Liffey, and another also in the Boyne, and, making an irruption into the country, not only plundered every church and abbey within the territories of Magh-Liffe and Magh-Breagh, but also destroyed the town with fire and sword, and carried away the shrines of St. Bridget and St. Conleth. From this period till the commencement of the 11th century, the annals of Kildare present only a continued series of Danish rapine and massacre; and scarcely had the ravages of these invaders ceased, when the town was plundered by the people of Hyfaolan. It was either wholly or in part destroyed by fire in 1038, 1040, 1071, 1088, and 1089; and, in 1135, the abbess of the monastery was forcibly taken from her cloister by Dermod Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, who compelled her to marry one of his followers; on which occasion not less than 170 inhabitants of the town and inmates of the abbey were slaughtered. Till the time of the English invasion, the town and monastery were continually exposed to depredation by fire and sword; but shortly after that event, one of the English adventurers who had obtained possession of this territory erected a castle for its defence.
In 1220, the sacred fire, which had been maintained here from the time of St. Bridget, was extinguished by Henry de Londres, Archbishop of Dublin; it was, however, soon afterwards rekindled, and continued to burn till the Reformation. In 1260, a monastery was founded here by William de Vescy, for Grey friars, which was completed by Gerald Fitzmaurice, Lord Offaly; the same William also founded a convent for Carmelite friars in 1290; and in 1294, Calbhach O'Connor of Offaly took the town and castle by force, and destroyed all the rolls of the Earl of Kildare. A parliament was held here in 1309, or the beginning of the following year; and in 1316, the castle and town were granted to John Fitzgerald, who was at that time created Earl of Kildare; but in the wars during the reign of Elizabeth, the town was reduced to a state of entire ruin and depopulation. In 1641, the castle was garrisoned by the Earl of Castlehaven, but in 1647 it was taken by Col. Jones for the parliament; it fell again into the hands of the Irish, but was finally retaken by the Lord-Lieutenant in 1649. During the disturbances of 1798, 2000 of the insurgents, under a leader named Perkins, having agreed to surrender themselves on the 28th of March, on condition of being allowed to return unmolested to their several homes, and of the liberation of Perkins' brother from the gaol of Naas, Major-Gen. Sir James Duffe advanced at the head of 600 men to the Gibbet-rath on the Curragh, where they had assembled for that purpose; but some imprudent firing taking place on their part, they were charged by the troops, and more than 200 of them were killed.
The town, though consisting only of 346 houses, and carrying on but little trade, has an appearance of importance, form its commanding situation on boldly rising ground, and from the numerous remains of its ancient religious edifices. It is badly supplied with water, raised from a very deep well near the market-house, by a forcing pump, into a public cistern. The principal streets are portions of the public roads, and are kept in repair by the county. It is a place of great resort during the races, which are held on the Curragh in the last week of April, the second Monday in June, and the second Monday in October, when the king's plates are contested. A gift of two annual plates of £100 each was obtained through Sir W. Temple, and, in 1821, Geo. IV. attended a meeting at this place. The jockey club have a house in the town, for the use of the members during the races, which are well attended and under good regulations.
The Curragh is under the care of a ranger appointed by the Crown, and is distinguished as the "Newmarket" of Ireland, not only as the principal race-meeting but as a central spot for the breeding and training of the best horses in the country. No manufactures are carried on here, nor any trade except what arises from its public situation and for the supply of the neighbourhood. The market is on Thursday, and fairs are held on Feb. 12th, April 5th and 26th, May 12th, June 29th, and Sept. 19th. The market-house is a neat building. There is a constabulary police station in the town. By charter of James II the town was governed by a corporation consisting of a sovereign (who was a justice of the peace), two portreeves, 20 burgesses, and an indefinite number of freemen, assisted by a recorder, town-clerk, two sergeants-at-mace, and other officers. The corporation returned two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, when the borough was disfranchised, and the £15,000 awarded as compensation was paid to William, Duke of Leinster. The borough court had jurisdiction to the extent of five marks, but no proceedings have issued from it for several years; and since 1828 neither sovereign nor any other officer has been elected, and the corporation is virtually extinct. The quarter sessions for the county are held here in April and October, and petty sessions every alternate Thursday.