Kildare is a town in County Kildare 50 km southwest of Dublin, and part of the city's commuter belt. It's best known for its cathedral, and for its thoroughbred stud farm. Although it shares its name with the county, it's not the county town, which is Naas. In 2016 Kildare had a population of 8634.
Newbridge is another commuter town, 5 km east across the plain of The Curragh. The bridge in question is over the Liffey, which halts its westward course to make a broad U-turn and head east into Dublin. Newbridge grew rapidly in the 19th century as a garrison and industrial town, and in 2016 had a population of 22,742. Officially known by its Irish name of An Droichead Nua, it's the largest town in the county and its visitor facilities are also described here.
Kilcullen is the third of the towns grouped around The Curragh. It has motorway links but no railway so it hasn't burgeoned like the others, and in 2016 had a population of 3505.
Brigid was a Celtic goddess cloaked in glittering legends. Her many powers, attributes and miracles particularly centred on fire, and on fertility of plants, farm beasts and humankind. St Brigid (451-525; in Irish Naomh Bríd) is said to have founded an abbey at Kildare in 480, and in hagiographies she strongly resembled the pagan Brigid: clearly the old folk tales were Christianised and grafted onto her. And somebody established an early religious centre here, so we may as well credit St Brigid. She's said to have founded it by an oak tree, hence Cill Dara or "Church of the Oak." She wouldn't need to look very far, as in her days the western lowlands of Europe were carpeted in oak forests, and daire or -derry is a common placename element.
Town Tourist Office (Heritage Centre), Market Square, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 10:00-13:00, 14:00-16:30. Helpful TIC for local info and accommodation. They also put on a VR immersive show "Legends of Kidare".
Commuter trains run hourly from Dublin Heuston via Dublin Park West & Cherry Orchard, Clondalkin, Adamstown, Hazelhatch, Sallins (for Naas) and Newbridge, taking 50 min to Kildare. They continue to Monasterevin, Portarlington and Portlaoise. A walk-up single might be €11; see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets.
Intercity trains run non-stop from Heuston to Kildare in 30 min, then fan out towards Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Westport. Trains from Belfast, Sligo, Wexford and Rosslare ferry port, and Dublin suburban lines, use Dublin Connolly station so you have to factor in a 5 km cross-town transfer.
1 Kildare railway station is 500 m north of town centre.
Dublin Coach 300 / M7 runs every 30 min from Dublin Burgh Quay via Red Cow Luas (it doesn't use Busáras) and takes just under an hour to Kildare retail village (it doesn't come into town centre). It continues to Limerick then either north of the Shannon to Bunratty and Ennis or south to Adare, Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Killarney and Tralee.
Dublin Coach 726 / N7, aka "The Green Bus", runs hourly round the clock from Dublin Airport via Red Cow Luas (for Dublin city trams), Naas and Newbridge to Kildare (90 min), and continues to Monasterevin (for Portarlington) and Portlaoise. A single is €10.
GoAhead Commuter Bus 126 runs every hour or two from Dublin Docklands and Heuston station via Rathcoole, Kill, Naas and Newbridge, taking 1 hr 45 min to Kildare. The service is every 30 min as far as Newbridge.
Kyanitedale Bus 826 runs M-F every hour or two from Naas to Newbridge, Kildare and Monasterevin.
Local Link Bus 883 runs from Athy to Kildare (40 min) and Newbridge. There are four M-W and six Th-Sa.
2 Market Square in town centre is the bus stop for everything except the M7.
From Dublin follow N7 / M7 and leave at jcn 13 for Kildare. The first section to Naas hasn't been upgraded to motorway but an hour should do it.
Kildare is small enough to walk around. This includes the National Stud 2 km south, as the road has a sidewalk.
Buses and trains link Kildare and Newbridge.
- 1 Kildare Castle. survives only as a single tower next to Market Square, best viewed by strolling into the car park of the Silken Thomas pub. It was built by the Normans in the 12th century, and much bashed in the Gaelic resurgence of the 13th / 14th centuries. Little is known of its later history, but the surviving tower was probably a gatehouse converted into a fortified dwelling in the 15th century.
- 2 St Brigid's Cathedral, Market Square. C of I (Anglican) cathedral dating to 1223, though largely re-built from 1875. St Brigid (451-525) is said to have founded a church on this site in in 480 AD. Myths and legends associated with the pagan Celtic goddess Brigid have been transferred to her, with many more accumulating in later centuries (see the example below), and her supposed date of death 1 Feb is the Celtic festival of Imbolc. The Round Tower a few steps northwest is almost 33 m tall: in the 1780s its conical cap was replaced by castellations. Its Romanesque doorway is 12th century but the tower may be 200 years older, and you can climb it for a small fee. "St Brigid's Kitchen" is the name given to a 14th century burial vault in the grounds, and there's the remnants of a High Cross. Another structure is said to be an ancient "fire temple": St Brigid is altogether unlikely to have been Zoroastrian, but in the 6th century, woe betide anyone who let the community's main fire go out. Round tower adult €4, child €2.
- 3 Grey Abbey 500 m south of town centre is just a few tumbledown walls in an old cemetery. It was founded in 1260 for the Franciscans.
- 4 White Abbey (Carmelite Friary Church). M-Sa 10:00-15:00, Su 10:00-13:30. Nothing remains of the Carmelite friary of 1290. Its white-robed friars survived Dissolution and the Penal Laws and built a church on the same site in the 1750s. That was replaced by the present Puginesque-Gothic church in 1884, still in use. Free.
- Black Abbey, just to ensure you collect the full set, is on Tully Road by the National Stud. Set in an old graveyard, it's a sturdy tower built 13th / 14th century for the Knights Hospitaller of St John, who wore black robes. There's no interior access but you see enough over the low hedge.
- 5 Irish National Stud & Gardens, Tully Road R51 KX25, ☏ . Feb-Nov 10:00-18:00. This farm was bought in 1900 by Colonel William Hall Walker, of Johnny Walker whisky, and he built up the stud business. Walker also developed the Japanese gardens here, and in 1916 he donated his entire bloodstock to the government to form a National Stud. After independence the British component was at Newmarket, England, but in 1943 the Irish equivalent was set up here. Half a dozen prize stallions stand ever-ready to service any beast you bring along. In 1999 St Fiacre's Gardens were added, and the grounds also include the Black Abbey, see above. Adult €14, conc €11, child €8.
- 6 St Brigid's Well, off Tully Road. 24 hr. This is a "clooty well" - you dip a piece of clothing in the blessed waters, rub the afflicted part, then pin the clothing to the rag tree. The affliction will fade along with the sacrificial rag. Free.
- The Curragh is the flat grassy plain east of Kildare. Sand deposited by glacial meltwater has given it good drainage, so it's long been common grazing land for livestock (though pigs have been forbidden since 1299), for horse racing, and for parading and exercising troops. The first permanent military camp was built in 1856 for the Crimea Wars - until then the barracks were in Newbridge, with just tents out on the plain. Nearby were the camp followers or "Wrens", first recorded from 1840, a group of some 60 women in makeshift shelters. Some were in irregular partnerships with soldiers and therefore not allowed to live in married quarters in camp, others were sex workers. Curragh Camp is now Ireland's largest defence establishment, with some 2000 personnel. The M7 bisects Curragh plain with the camp south and the racecourse north.
- 7 Donnelly's Hollow on R413 east of the plain is an obelisk celebrating the prizefighter Dan Donnelly (1788-1820), who had notable victories at this spot. This was bare-knuckle fighting, before boxing was codified. Post-mortem, his formidable right arm embarked on a remarkable solo career. An urban myth grew up that his arms stretched to his knees, but they were in proportion to his 6 foot / 183 cm stature.
- 8 Pollardstown Fen is a wetland nature reserve and Ramsar site. Ireland is notoriously boggy but this place is unusual is being fed by calcareous springs from the aquifer beneath the plain. It's been compromised and whittled down by drainage over the centuries, mostly recently in 2003 by construction of the M7, but you can stroll along a boardwalk over what remains.
- 9 Lullymore has a Heritage Park and the Bog of Allen Nature Centre.
- Gaelic games: Kildare GAA play football and hurling at St Conleth's Park, capacity 6200, in Newbridge town centre.
- Greyhound racing is at Newbridge Greyhound Stadium, on R416 one km northwest of Newbridge railway station and 2 km from town.
- Golf: the terrain is good for golf so there are several nearby courses. These include Cill Dara north side of Kildare town, Royal Curragh by the military base, and Newbridge north of that town.
- 1 Curragh Racecourse, Newbridge R56 RR67, ☏ . Cuirreach means "place of the running horse" and it's been used for racing for centuries. It's a two mile track for thoroughbred flat-racing April-Oct, with the five classic fixtures being Irish 1000 and 2000 Guineas, and the Irish Derby, Oaks and St Leger. The place was refurbished in 2017. Its railway connection has gone, but shuttle buses run from Kildare station on race days.
- Punchestown Racecourse: see Naas.
- Cinema: the Odeon is in Newbridge at Whitewater Shopping Centre.
- Riverbank Arts Centre is a theatre in Newbridge, north end of Main St. Box office is +353 45 448 327.
- K Leisure is a gym and swimming pool on Station Rd Newbridge. It's open M-F 06:00-21:30, Sa Su 09:00-16:30.
- Gordon Bennett Classic Car Rally, open to vehicles of 30+ years, circles through Portlaoise, Kildare, Stradbally, Athy and Carlow. It's held in June over the Bank Holiday weekend. The next is probably 3-6 June 2022, tbc.
And did those feet in ancient times?
St Brigid's successor was St Durlagdach, who as a young nun lodged with Brigid, but one night she snuck out to tryst with a soldier lad. But then she got cold feet: "I know, I'll fill my shoes with burning coals, that should save me from temptation." This done, she traipsed back to the convent like a van with a dirty exhaust. Brigid not only proved a miraculous chiropodist but assured Durlagdach that she was now safe from the flame of impurity and the fire of hell. And they wonder why the Irish have suffered so many serious accidents through smoking in bed.
- 1 Kildare Village, Nurney Road, Greyabbey R51 R265, ☏ . Su-Th 09:00-20:00, F Sa 09:00-21:00. Large designer shopping outlet at Exit 13 of M7.
- Newbridge is a better bet for day-to-day shopping, with Whitewater Centre and supermarkets.
- Firecastle, Market Square R51 AD61, ☏ . Su-W 08:30-18:00, Th-Sa 08:30-19:00. Deli cafe with wide selection. They also have a cookery school and accommodation. B&B double €110.
- Harte's of Kildare, Market Square R51 TN60, ☏ . Tu-Su 12:00-22:00. Pub bistro with decent mid-price food.
- Silken Thomas is a pub bistro with rooms, see Sleep.
- Others around the Square in Kildare are Sitaaray Indian, Victoria House (Chinese), Agape Food Bar, Strong's Cafe, Kingsland (Chinese) and Hons (Chinese).
- L'Officina is part of the Dunne & Crescenzi chain of Italian restaurants. It's in the Village retail mall and is open M-Th 08:30-20:00, F-Su 07:30-21:00.
- 1 The Hanged Man's Pub, Milltown, Newbridge (5 km north of Kildare on R415), ☏ . M-Sa 17:00-23:30, Su 12:00-15:00, 17:00-23:00. Good pub and restaurant by the canal - this is the non-navigable Milltown feeder, draining water from Pollardstown Fen towards the Grand Canal.
- Cunningham's Bar, Main St, Kildare, ☏ . M-Th 17:00-23:30, F 17:00-00:30, Sa 13:00-00:30, Su 13:00-23:00. Lively place, good atmosphere and service, often has live music.
- Boyle's Bar is a trad place on Market Square open W-Sa 11:00-23:00, Su 12:30-23:00.
- James Nolan's is a cosy pub on Dublin St with TV sport, open M-Sa 10:30-00:00, Su 12:30-23:00.
- 1 Kildare House Hotel, Dublin Rd, Kildare R51 AX74, ☏ . Reliable mid-range place, comfy and central. B&B double €100.
- Silken Thomas, Market Square, Kildare R51 HK54, ☏ , email@example.com. Comfy central pub with rooms, backing onto the castle. It's named for "Silken" Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare (1513-1537) - his mercenaries wore silk fringes on their helmets. He led an ill-judged and ill-fought rebellion against King Henry VIII. That was the kind of rebellion that Henry most enjoyed, so Thomas was assured of his safety if he surrendered, then was hanged. B&B double €90.
- Firecastle Deli on Market Square has rooms, see Eat.
- 2 Keadeen Hotel, Curragh Chase, Ballymany, Newbridge W12 T925, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Smart hotel in Victorian mansion, gets great reviews for comfort, food and service. B&B double €150.
- 3 Martinstown House, Curragh, Kildare R56 KV78, ☏ . Posh B&B with 6 rooms in an 1830's "strawberry Gothic" hunting lodge, often caters for weddings. They also have glamping tents.
As of July 2021, Kildare has 5G from Eir and 4G from Three and Vodafone.
- Naas nearby has Punchestown racecourse.
- Portlaoise is a workaday town, but it's near Rock of Dunamase and Timahoe Round Tower.
- Blessington just over the county boundary has the grand Russborough House, with the Wicklow Mountains rising to the east.
- Dublin is only an hour away. If you head there in the morning, most of Kildare and Newbridge will be travelling with you.