19th century Kildare towns
In 1845 it was estimated that the population of the country
was over eight and a half million; a decade later it was
reduced to six and a half million as a result of the Great
If the disaster of those years was less felt in the eastern
side of the country it is interesting nevertheless to note
the population changes, and the status the main towns, of
that period in this county.
Naas and Athy were the two principal towns, both having
court houses, jails and market houses. The jail at Naas,
built in 1833 at a cost of £14,000, was a substantial
and well built edifice of hewn limestone, on the radiating
principle, consisting of four detached ranges of building,
one of which contained rooms for debtors, and a hospital.
The other three wings had sixty cells and seven day rooms,
ten airing-yards, and a neat chapel.
It was further described as being well adapted for
classification; the entrance is between two semicircular
The Naas court house was a neat building consisting
of a centre and two wings faced with granite, and having
a receding portico of four columns, supporting a cornice
The population of Naas in 1837 was 3808, and by 1920 it
was very similar, at 3860 which included a staff of twelve
and 300 inmates in the workhouse.
The entry in a Directory of 1910 which claimed that in Athy
from 1810 to 1890 Whites Castle was used as
a gaol, is clearly wrong.
In 1824 the jail in the castle was described as the
worst of its kind in Ireland, and it was replaced
by a new jail in 1830.
It had cost $6,000, of which £2,000 was given by the
Duke of Leinster, who had also donated the site. The country
paid the balance of the cost.
It was a well arranged building on the radiating principle,
the governors house being in the centre, and comprises
six airing yards, six day rooms, two work rooms, and thirty
two sleeping and two solitary cells, with a matrons
room, two hospitals and a chapel.
Athy had two chapels, one in St. Michaels and the
other in Tankardstown.
The former was a handsome spacious edifice built in
1796 on Land given by the duke Leinster, and with a donation
by Maurice Keating of Narraghmore. The Duke had also built
a house for the parish priest in 1826.
The town had a population of 4,494 in 1837, and of 3,600
Maynooth had also traditionally benefited from the benevolence
of the Duke of Leinster, whose main seat was approached
through an entrance at the end of the town. He had encouraged
the establishment of a seminary for students studying for
the priesthood in Stoyte House, at the other end of the
town, in 1795.
At that time the parish chapel was described as very
plain, but a new chapel on a larger scale has commenced,
which when completed will be a handsome structure.
The Christmas and Midsummer quarter sessions for the eastern
division of the county were held in the neat court
house at Maynooth. In 1837 the population was recorded
at 2053, but by 1920 it was just 900, a remarkable decline.
The chapel at Leixlip in 1837 was a small edifice,
situated on the banks of the Rye Water, and is about to
be replaced by a handsome structure of larger dimensions.
Then the population was 1159, but it also dropped substantially
to 650 by 1920, possibly due to the closure of a distillery
At Celbridge there were 2421 inhabitants in 1837, of which
about 600 were employed in the woollen manufacture
buildings which had been established in 1805. There
was a chapel, and a fever hospital with six wards and a
dispensary, in 1813. by 1920 the population of Celbridge
had fallen to 850, mainly due to the closure of a paper
Newbridge, with a population of 577, was described in 1837
as being of very recent origin, and appears to have
arisen since the creation of extensive barracks for cavalry
in 1816. There is an RC chapel and a friary.
By 1920 the town had developed into an important commercial
centre accommodating not only the large floating military
population there, but also serving as the main social and
shopping catering for the army personnel and families from
the Curragh Camp which, since its establishment in 1858,
had transformed the character of not only Newbridge, but
also the other towns within reach, from dull provincial
places into vibrant multi-cultural recreational centres
for the gentlemen and their ladies, and the other ranks
of the British army.
Courtesy of the Leinster Leader