Rich in heritage and history, Kildare Town dates from the5th Century, when it was the site of the original Church of the Oak and monastery founded by St. Brigid. This became one of the three most important Christian foundations in Celtic Ireland.
It was said that Brigids mother was a Christian and that Brigid was reared in her fathers family, that is with the children of his lawful wife. From her mother, Brigid learned dairying and the care of the cattle, and these were her occupations after she made a vow to live a life of holy chastity. Both St. Mel of Ardagh and Bishop Mac Caille have been credited with the consecration of Brigid and some companions, after which the woman established a community beneath an oak tree, on a hill on the edge of the Curragh. Hence the name Cill Dara, the church of the oak.
Not too far away, on Dun Ailinne, lived the King of Leinster who had donated the site to the holy woman. A story told was that the King offered Brigid as much land as her cloak would cover. When she spread her garment it miraculously stretched out to embrace the entire Curragh. True to his promise, the King gave her the fertile plain, and there the new community grazed their sheep and cows.
St. Brigid's Well & Fr. Moore's Well
Both of these popular wells hold reputations as curing wells. St. Brigids well is located close to the Black Abbey. Father Moores well is on the Milltown road. It is reputed to have a cure for headaches. Both wells are sites of religious devotion and there is an annual torchlight procession to St. Brigids Well on 1st February.
St. Brigid's Cathedral and Round Tower
St. Brigids Cathedral, most recently rebuilt in the 19th century, stands on the original site of the nunnery founded by St. Brigid in the 5th century. Today it houses numerous religious artefacts including a 16th century vault, religious seals and a medieval water font, later used for christening. The architecture reflects the defensive function of the Cathedral, with distinctive Irish merlons (parapets) and walkways a noticeable feature of the roof.
Situated in the cathedral grounds is an oak sapling. In pre-Christian times a sacred oak around which Druids gathered to pray grew in the grounds behind the present Cathedral. In the 5th century St. Brigid built her church near this oak. Hence Kildare Cill Dara the Church of the Oak.
Also in the Cathedral grounds and at 108 feet in height, Kildares Round Tower is open to the public during the season or on request. The tower is built atop Kildare Hill, the highest point in town. Its parapet affords panoramic views for miles-including the Curragh races! The raised doorway, some 4 meters off the ground, is surrounded by ornate Hiberno-Romanesque stonework. The tower base is constructed of Wicklow granite, transported from over 40 miles distant, and the higher portion is constructed from local limestone. The conical roof was originally destroyed and was replaced by a parapet to facilitate viewing and complement the Cathedrals architecture. Both Cathedral and tower are magnificently floodlit, and really must be seen at night.
The grounds also house the foundations of an ancient Fire Temple which was surrounded by a ring of twigs, inside which no man was allowed to enter. The flame was extinguished in the 16th century but plans are underway to rekindle it. Nearby is a restored 14th century underground vault locally known as St. Brigids Kitchen which is said to be the starting point of a reputed secret escape tunnel, lost for centuries. Also in the grounds is a fine Celtic stone cross.