When I was planning my return visit (May 2013) to Castletown House in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, I fully intended to visit two odd structures I’d read about before my previous visit (September 2012)—the Obelisk and the Wonderful Barn. Once a part of the estate, neither are now, though fortunately they have been preserved. (The barn, I was told, is on the grounds of a hotel now.)
For a variety of reasons, I didn’t see them yet again. We were told that both were being refurbished, that there was scaffolding, that we couldn’t get close … and so on. So we didn’t go. But when I was writing up the post about my return visit, I did a little research—and I thought you might be interested in that.
Both structures had purpose, of course. Conolly’s mansion was designed to have a specific vista, or focal point, from each of the four sides of the house. The obelisk (often called Conolly’s Folly) is what you see from the rear of the house. It’s two miles away, so it’s a very, very distant view, but it is there.
It was built in 1740 as a famine relief project for the local citizenry, and was intended to mark the boundary of the estate, but apparently ended up partly on the property of the neighbor, the Earl of Kildare. Whoops! You can read a little more about it here (and here), here, and here. There’s some nice photos here. I find it all just fascinating.
The barn was also intended to keep the poor of Celbridge from starving; it was built in 1743. It’s a highly unusual design—have a look here—sort of like something out of the Shire, and it closed the eastern vista from the house. You can read more about it here, here, and here. It looks like … well, like a teepee.
Two last things: there are some fabulous photographs of both the obelisk and the barn here. And I want to draw your attention to this gentleman’s delightful little blog, called Maynooth Archaeology. The subtitle is “Looking closely at heritage in Maynooth,” which just says it all. I’m swooning over it. I mean, just have a look at his post about Castletown House! Here’s a little excerpt:
William Conolly is the most famous figure associated with the house. He actually came from a humble background; born in Ballyshannon Co. Donegal in 1662, the son of a local Innkeeper. He married Katherine, who brought £2,300 into the marriage. With this William invested much into land confiscated after the Williamite Wars. In fact, by 1703, he has spent over £10,000 on buying 15,000 acres of land. Their first home was in Kilcock, before moving to Castletown. In 1709 he acquired Castletown and the surrounding states of 1,890 acres for £15,000. By the year 1728 Conolly owned a staggering 148,487 acres of land, with a rental income of £14,926. One of the reason’s for this is because he was Irish and landlords would rather sell to him than other English landlords.
The text is accessible and just fun to read. He is an interested reader and local “tourist.” And I’ll definitely be spending more time at this blog.