Castledermot is a small town in south Kildare
with a population of approximately 1,122 (2002 census). The name
of Castledermot (Diseart Diarmada) originated in an early
Christian monastic settlement of about 500 A.D.
This historic town, with its round towers and castles, is situated
on the River Lerr. Originally called Diseart Diarmada, and later
Tristle-Dermot. A must for historians, the town contains St
James's Church, a Hiberno-Romanesque arch, a round tower, two high
crosses and a number of ancient stones and grave slabs.
A step through a gateway at the southern end of this straggling
town takes visitors back 800 years in an instant, into the
stillness of a 13th century Franciscan friary, which was plundered
by Robert Bruce in 1317. Later, in 1541, the friary was
suppressed. Only the walls of the church remain, attached to a
square building known as the Abbey Castle, which possibly dates
from the 15th century and was where the monks lived. The ruins are
set back from the main road by only two or three feet, which makes
it all the more remarkable that they have survived for so long.
The solid stonework is well-preserved, seeming as secure and
strong as the day it was first assembled. It is a
thought-provoking place, worth spending a few moments in,
pondering on the life of its original inhabitants. The key is
available in the caretaker's house next door.
A short walk from the friary is a churchyard just off the main
road, which goes back even farther in time, to the 12th century
and even to the 9th. It lies on the site of a monastery founded
around 800 by St Diarmuid, after which Castledermot takes its
name. The monastery was raided by the Vikings in the 9th century,
but continued its existence at least until the 12th century. All
that is left today is a splendidly reconstructed Romanesque
doorway, which came from a church that has since vanished, a 10th
century round tower, 65ft high with granite base, and two
magnificent high crosses, probably 9th century. They are richly
carved with depictions of the Crucifixion, Adam and Eve, Daniel in
the Lions' Den & the Sacrifice of Isaac. The north cross shows
David with his harp, one of the few images from this time of an
Irish harp. These high crosses are among the best preserved of the
granite crosses in the Barrow valley.
There is also a hog-back Viking grave stone, decorated with carved
crosses and lozenges. It is a representation of a long house, a
common type of Viking Age house. It is the only monument of its
kind in Ireland.
Also in the churchyard are the foundations of a medieval church
and early Christian and medieval grave slabs.
Things to do
Situated approximately 1 km from Kilkea Castle is Mullaghrelan
Wood where there is a 3km trail. There is a rath-capped hill which
stands 170m above sea level overlooking the River Griese. The main
tree species found here are Norway spruce, Scots pine, Douglas
fir, ash and beech. The fauna include fox, badger, squirrel and
pheasant. The facilities include forest walks, a wishing well and
a ring fort. Open to the public. No entrance charge.