Naas has a long and colourful history. In Annals and records the name appears in three forms, namely, An Nas meaning “The place of Assembly”, Nas Laighean meaning “The Place of Assembly of Leinstermen”, the and “Nas-Na-Riogh” meaning “The Place of Assembly of the Kings”, the latter is the Irish form of the name now used.
Bardic History relates that it was founded by Lewy of the Long Hand, and according to ancient tradition the original founders commenced the building of the of the town somewhere in the townland of Broadfield. Naas was the capital of the district anciently called Airthear Life and was on the border between Ui Faolain– the O’Byrne Kingdom, and the Ui Muiri – the O’Toole Kingdom. The Dun or Fort was considered almost unpregnable in ancient times. It was almost certainly built on the site of the Norman period North Moat, which is still intact, and commands the town from a central position, behind the town hall. The South Moat has disappeared as such, and its site is now a large low hillock which is the Fair Green.
The Dun of Naas existed at a very early period. It is mentioned in connection with the legendary origin of the Boroma Laighain or Leinster Tribute in the reign of the High King of Ireland Tuathail Teachtmhar in the second century. Tuthail had two beautiful daughters, Fithir and Darina. The King of Leinster at that time was Eochy Aincheaun, married Darina and carried her off to his Palace at Naas. Eochy was also determined to get his hands on her sister Fithir, as his second wife, so he shut up Darina in a room in his palace and sent out a report that she was dead. He then went to Tara in a great appearance of grief and informed Tuathail that his daughter was dead, and asked for her sister. Tuthail consented, and Eochy returned home to Naas with his new wife. Soon afterwards, however, Darina, escaping from her prison, unexpectedly met her husband and her sister. Her sister fell dead before her face, and the young Queen Darina soon died of a broken heart.
Tuthail, at the head of a powerful force, avenged the insult to his daughter by conquering and beheading Eochy. O’Flaherty’s Ogygia informs us that Naas was destroyed and the inhabitants massacred. He levied a Leinster Tribute of 6000 ounces of Silver, 6000 richly woven mantles, and 6000 cows, hogs, and sheep, every two years. This was abolished in 680 AD by King Finachtach. It was however revived 300 years later by Brian Boro, King of Munster, hence his name Boroime.
The Dun of Naas built by Luighdech Eithlenn King of Leinster, was burnt by Cormac Mac Art, a powerful High King of Ireland, whose laws remained in force throughout the middle ages. To avenge the massacre by Dunlang, King of Leinster, of thirty royal maidens, with a large number of their attendants.
432 – 469 AD
During the years of St Patrick’s ministry he paid several visits to Naas. The site of his Pupal or tent was on the green of the fort, now St David’s Churchyard; his Well, where he in 448 baptised Dubhlang’s two sons, Oillill and Illann, Oillill two daughters, Moaghain and Fiedelm, is in the Elder Grove at Oldtown. He also baptised at Sunday’s Well, where a annual Patron Sunday was held in olden times.
St Fechin of Fore visited Naas. He founded the Monastery of Tulach-Fobhair, close to the site of Sunday’s Well at Millbrook, which was built upon land given by the King of Naas. Ware says the Monastery was dependent upon “Foure”, hence the name Tulach Fobhair (Tulach means hillock). During his visit to Naas in 660 AD, he obtained the release of certain captives, in memory of which the Market Cross was erected, it stood in the Market place until the mid eighteenth century.
The Masters tell us that King Congal, son of Fergus of Fanat, while making a hosting against the Leinsterman, devastated Naas and carried away hostages, probably for the payment of “Tribute”, or some such debt.
Muireghan, son of Diarmead, Lord of Naas and Airther Life was slain by Norsemen.
Cearbhall, the last King to be recognised as King of Leinster was tragically killed, some say by accident at Kildare Town when he fell from his horse, and was accidentally killed by his own sword, others say he was killed in battle. He was a very brave man, and by all accounts, avenged the death of his father Muireghan, by defeating the Norse men at the battle of Dublin in 880. He also played a prominent part in the defeat of the powerful Cormac Mac Cuileannain, King and Archbishop of Cashel, at the Battle of Bealach Mughna in 903. He was buried at Cill Corban as were eight previous Kings of Leinster before him. With his death, we come to the end of the Brehon Laws, and a glorious era in the history of our town.
The Normans; King Dermot McMurragh of Leinster, carried off Dervorgilla the wife of Tiernan O’Rourke, King of Breifne. The revenge battles that ensued resulted in Dermot having to flee to Wales and seek succour from Richard deClare, Earl of Strigul. Richard known to the Irish as Strongbow, was married to Dermot’s Daughter Aoife. Strongbow, with a contingent of 300 Welshmen, assisted by Robert FitzStephen (half brother of the bishop of St David’s, and of Maurice FitzGerald), and Myler FitzDavid, son of the Bishop, crossed to Ireland in 1170. Strongbow soon stamped Norman authority on Leinster, and granted the prosperous towns and fertile lands to his supporters. Maurice FitzGerald. was granted the barony of Naas.
The grant was reconfirmed to Maurice FitzGerald’s son, William FitzMaurice, by Henry II, it was also confirmed by Prince John. This Anglo Norman possession was followed by the settlement of a colony from the St David’s area of Pembrokeshire in Wales and these colonists made many changes. The Parish Church originally dedicated to St. Patrick or St. Corban, was rebuilt and rededicated to the Welsh Patron St. David.
William FitzMaurice founded a Priory under the invocation of St John the Baptist, for Canons Regular of the Order of St Augustine. St John’s Abbey was situated on a site behind where the present Parish Priest’s House stands.
King John visited the town. The State Papers of the time tell us that “At the Nace to the Earl of Salisbury 10 marks pd, to Robin deCamera, Where the King lay in a tent”. It appears the Castle was not yet built.
King John again visited Naas and held a Parliament here. This assembly would probably have been held in the newly built Naas Castle. It was about this time that Kildare became a separate County, prior to this, it would have been considered a suburb of Dublin by the Normans, and that decision could have been made at the Naas Meeting.
Henry III granted an annual Fair to the town.
Edward Bruce and his Scots burned Naas and plundered the Church and St John’s Abbey, and pillaged the tombs in search of treasure.
A Dominican Friary dedicated to St Eustachius was founded by the Eustace family, it was sited in the area near the junction of Basin Street / Abbey Street or Back Street. Excavations in that area in recent times uncovered some skeletons, possibly the Monks Burial Ground.
The Augustinian Friary for Friars Ermites of the Order of St Augustine was founded . The site of this Monastery was located in the the old grave yard west of the North Mote. A tower and side wall of this building was still standing in 1835. A 1793 Grose drawing of this ruin is in existance. It was known as the “Monastery of the Mote“.
An Inquisition held on the complaint that William deWyndesore, that the Lord Lieutenant, had at Tameline (Timolin) imposed a talliage on the Commons of Meath of a crannock (16 bushels) of wheat, on each of 520 Carrucates of land, and carried it to Naas, where it was valued at 2s. 8d. less than its value in Meath, the difference appropriated to the Lord Lieutenant’s own use.
King Henry IV granted to Naas its first charter as a Corporation consisting of Portreeves, Burgesses, and Commonalty. A few years later in 1413, King Henry V granted the corporation power to collect tolls at all the entrances to the town, the money to go towards fortifying the town with walls and gates. A number of Castles or fortifies houses were were also built around this time, perhaps St. David’s / King John’s Castle was rebuilt on the original site, and incorporated into the town wall structure. The vaulted rooms of the old building still exist in the castle. It is one of a line of castles and houses to the North and East of Naas, which with its own defences, became the chief southern outpost of the “Pale” fence ordered by the “Poynings” Parliament of 1494.
Parliaments were held in Naas in 1419, 1457, 1471, 1472, 1473 and 1477 and it was probable that that the decision was taken to insist that “every Irishman that dwells betwixt Englishmen in Dublin, Myeth, Ureill, and Kildare. shall go like one Englishman in apparel and showing of the beard above the mouth–and shall take to him an English Surname, or name of a town such as Sutton, Chester, or colour as White, Black, or Brown. art or science as Smith, Carter, or Carpenter. or trade or office as Butler, Cook, or Baker. and that his issue shall use this name , under pain of forfeiting of his goods yearly”.
Henry VIII is made King of Ireland by an Irish Act of Parliament, prior to 1542 English Monarch’s were Lords of Ireland. As King he commenced the suppression of the Irish Monasteries, starting with Kilmainham, Naas and the rest of the country followed. and so commenced 300 years of Roman Catholic Persecution in Ireland. Henry VIII excuted 72,000 catholics and confiscated over 1,000 catholic religious houses in Britain and Ireland . Charles Dickens called him a “corpulent brute, a disgrace to human nature – and a blot of blood and grease on the history of England”.
Lord Deputy Skeffington reoccupied Naas which had been held by Lord (Silken Thomas) FitzGerald, then in open rebellion.
Naas had two representatives in Parliament up to the time of the Union. That was reduced to one after 1800, and ceased altogether in 1840, when Naas was no longer a borough.
Queen Elizabeth grants a new charter to Naas Corporation. creating the position of Sovereign of the town.
Rori Og O’More and Cormack MacCormack O’Connor with 140 men and boys on the 3rd of March burned between 700 and 800 thatched houses in Naas. They ran through the town like ” haggs and furies of hell, with flakes of fire fastened on poles and were not half an hour in the town”. There was about 500 men asleep in their beds after the celebration of St David’s Day.
Naas was garrisoned by 500 men under Lord Gormanstown who were responsible for the murder of a number of Spanish survivors of the Smerwick Massacre in that year. The site of the massacre in Naas is still known as the “Fod Spainneach”.
The Lattin Alms-house founded by William Latton and Anne Lutterell in Poplar Square. It was rebuilt in 1702 by Patrick Lattin. It was moved and rebuilt in 1787 due to street widening. In 1798 during the Rebellion it was again demolished to enable the British Artillery to position their guns. It was rebuilt in its present position on the Dublin Road in 1919 and the Monumental slabs bearing the inscriptions as to its founders, was set in the front wall. It is still in use and is looked after by the St. Vincent De Paul Society. It is now believed to be the oldest Charitable Institution in Ireland.
Robert Ashe, Sovereign of Naas, reported on oath that Queen Elizabeth’s charter of the town had been accidentally burned.
King James I granted a replacement of the Elizabeth Charter, but also
grants power to the Sovereign to appoint a Sergeant-at-Mace to carry the Mace before him within the limits of the borough.
A further charter of King James I gives further powers to the Corporation to make bylaws provided they are consistent with general Laws in the Kingdom. The Sovereign to be a Justice of the Peace.
Thomas Wentworth (Black Tom) Earl of Strafford and Lord Deputy of Ireland builds his great house at Jigginstown, it would be an Irish Residence for Charles I, but alas Wentworth is recalled to London and loses his head before the roof goes on his great house.
Naas occupied by the insurgents but was taken over by the Earl of Ormonde who plundered it and left a Garrison there. Naas Dominican Priest Fr Peter Higgins was arrested and taken to Dublin and executed by the “Cruel and Bloody” Sir Charles Coote, Governor of Dublin. Confederate and Cromwellian wars rage in Ireland for a further ten years. Naas taken and plundered many times.
King Charles II grants a new charter. It takes notice of the changes that has taken place since the Charters of Elizabeth and James, which are made doubtful by the recent wars and Disturbance in the Kingdom.
Corbans Gate and the North or Dublin Gate were pulled down to repair the Church. There were gates at all entrances to the Town, Corbans Gate was in Corbans Lane, the Green Gate on Fairgreen Street, West Gate on New Row, Water Gate on Friary Road and Yeagogs Gate was on the Sallins Road.
Edward Sherlock was appointed Town Clerk at £12 per annum.
Dublin Philosophical Society describes Naas as “very thinly inhabited” and “totally neglected, it has a commodious sessions house, in the centre of the town, built at the charge of the county, most of it new, and advanced on pillars”. This reference is to the Tholsel.
Englishman John Dunton noted Naas to be “a good handsome town”.
Thomas Burg Surveyor General of Ireland purchased some land in Naas, around 1700 and proceeded to build himself a residence at Oldtown. He planned a building similar to Russboro in Blessington, but never managed to complete. He was the first of a long line of De Burghs to reside in Naas. Since then ten generations of De Burghs have resided here. The Family has been in Ireland since 1170.
The Dublin Gazette of February 24th reported that “On Saturday last John Caghee, formerly of the Naas, was executed near St. Stephens Green, for stealing a mare from Thomas Neyle, carter, at the Naas”.
Rev Stephen Radcliffe, Vicar of Naas, in his return to the House of Lords on Popery, stated that “in Naas Mass is said within the ruins of an old abbey, in other places, in some cabin, or under a shed at the back of a ditch… a reputed popish priest officiates at Naas, but unregistered and unlawful”.
Naas to gets its first post Penal Church Fr Denis Dempsey, Parish Priest obtained the lease of a site to build a new Catholic Church, close to the present site of the Moat Hall, at a yearly rent of five shillings.
Dublin Castle issued a Decree that Naas should have a posthorse and horseman to bring post regularly to the town.
According to a House of Lords report, the “number of Protestant inhabitants was 280. There was 2,570 Popish inhabitants. There was one popish priest and two friars”.
New jail built on the site of the old Whites Castle. The present Town Hall Building.
A new era of transport comes to Naas, The County of Kildare Canal is completed to Naas at a cost of £12300. For the next 170 years the towns needs would come by canal. It was completed as far as Corbally in 1810 at a further cost of £20,000. In 1911 the Canal Bridges were raised to allow passenger boats to ply between Naas and Dublin. While a new Market House was built in the Harbour by Lord Mayo in 1813.
Rebellion and Michael Reynolds, a farmer from Johnstown, and group of around a 1000 United Irishmen attack Naas and were repulsed with a loss of around 150 men, by Lord Gosford, Commanding a force composed of the Armagh Militia and local yoemanry.
Naas Courthouse constructed to a design by Richard Morrison. The pillared front was added later in 1859.
Work commences in August 1810 on the Naas Infantry Barracks. which would accommodate 18 officers and 300 Privates, or double that in time of war. The cost of construction was £17900. It was opened in 1813.
The New Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St David was opened on the 15th August 1827 on a site donated by the De Burgh Family. It would replace the smaller Post Penal Church built in 1755. The Parish Priest at the time was Fr. Gerard Doyle P.P. who lived to see the spire erected in 1858. The last payment was made on the church in 1949, when the Church was dedicated by Bishop Thomas Keogh.
Building of Naas Jail completed at a cost of £14000. The main wing of the building had 96 cells and there was also underground punishment cells, a treadmill, dining halls, wash houses, school, and quarters for the governor and warders. Many Prisoners were transported to Australia from Naas Jail and it was used a lot during Land League days. It ceased to be a jail in 1896.
A report in “Paddy Kelly’s Budget” a somewhat scurriluos publication of the time describes the first recorded Race Meeting at Jigginstown, in that year. The writer reports;
“The course has been considerably improved since last year.’Tis situated about half a mile outside the town at the back of Jigginstown, a little off the Newbridge Road,’Tis about a mile and quarter in circumference and from the central elevation of the ground even the pedestrian could see a race all round. There were however, a couple of ill constructed stands erected on which we did not choose to risk our precious carcasses, and there was one continuous line of tent’s stretched from east to west of the course in which many a rustic couple figured away in reels, jigs, and hornpipes to the well known airs of “Shiver the Quilt”, “Father Jack Walsh”, “My Duck’s in the House”, ” The Night of Fun” ete ete. to the astonishment and delight of the inebriated natives”.
The Sisters of Mercy come to Naas, and started a Primary School within a month of their arrival. In addition to this work they also cared for the poor and elderly in the Old Naas Workhouse, a duty which they continued until the early part of the 1920s.
The Municipal Reform Act 1840, spelled the end for the Old Naas Corporation, it was dissolved and replaced by a Grand Jury until 1854.
May 26th 1841, the contractor handed over officially to the Board of Guardians the key of Naas Workhouse.
The Famous writer William Thackeray visited Naas, and remarked that “it looks poor, mean, and yet somehow cheerful… a few cars were jingling along the broadest street… I saw the fine courthouse where the assizes of Kildare are held”.
Monday April 1st 1850 is the date of the first recorded official Race Meeting at the Punchestown Racecourse. Royalty would visit there later in 1867 and 1904.
The New Naas Town Commissioners takes over administration of the town from the Grand Jury which had governed the town since the dissolution of the old Corporation.
The Leinster Express, Saturday 12th October 1861, reported a great boon has been opened to the inhabitants of Naas, and the several small towns, from it to Dublin. In the shape of an excellent Omnibus service suited to all grades of society, having first, second and third classes, which leaves Naas every morning and returns every evening. The fare is reasonable.
The Town Hall Clock was installed and paid for by public subscription. The mechanism was made by John Chancellor of Dublin. The Bell bears the inscription “Sheridan 1866” it also bears a harp with the inscription “Erin go Bragh”.
The New Presbyterian Church was opened. It is built on the site of the old Naas Tholsel. The foundation stone was laid by John La Touche of Harristown. The Architect was Mr. Duncan Ferguson.
A Royal visit to Punchestown by the Prince of Wales.
Naas gets a new Baronial style Royal Irish Constabulary Barrack in the Main Street, beside the Courthouse.
The Christian Brothers came to Naas and established the Moat School. They lived over the class rooms in the upper floor until they moved to the monastery on Friary Road.
The Green School opens its doors in the building which was later St John’s Hall, Naas Headquarters of the Order of Malta Ambulance Brigade for many years. The building is now occupied by Pat Goulding’s Hardware Store.
The Kildare Observer is Published for the first time. It would be the voice of Unionist Kildare and surrounding counties until 1934.
The Leinster Leader was first published at Naas in mid – August. The aim of its promoters was “to strenuously and faithfully maintain the great principles of Irish Nationality and liberal progress”. The paper would reflect the true feelings of the people of the central counties of Ireland.
On the 2nd August 1880 a meeting of the Naas and County Cricket Club was held in the the Pavillion at Oldtown, at the request of Colonel DeBurgh who wished “to organise a County Club for Cricket, Football, Polo, Pigeon Shooting, Lawn Tennis, and Archery”. The proposal was accepted by the Cricket Club and thus the County Kildare Club came into being on the 1st day of January 1881, and retained its name until the 26th October 1977 when it was altered to that of “Naas Lawn Tennis Club”.
Another milestone in the transport history of the Naas when the Naas/Tullow Branch of The Great Southern and Western Railway came to the town. It last for almost eighty years.
The first Gaelic Football Match under the G.A.A. rules to be played in Co Kildare was played at Naas on February 15th 1885 between Sallins and Naas. The Gaelic Athletic Association had only been founded just three months before in Hayes’s Hotel in Thurles, where Naas was represented by the Editor of the Leinster Leader, Mr John Wyse-Power.
St Corbans New Cemetery on the Dublin Road was opened, it being necessesary to close the Old Abbey Graveyard near the Moate.
The Naas John Dillons G.A.A. Club was founded in the Naas Town Hall Ballroom on the 16th October 1887. Just over twenty attended the inaugral meeting which was chaired by Naas Curate Rev. E. Walsh.
Maudlins Cemetery extended. In 1882 a high wall had been erected to prevent the the scurrilous practice of “Body Snatching”.
The new St David’s National School on the Dublin Road was opened. The teacher was Mr Shepherd A. England. The school had previously been situated in North Main Street on the site of the present Superquinn and was opened in 1840.
On Saturday April 25th 1891 a group of people assembled at Palmerstown House, near Naas, the home of the Earl of Mayo, to consider the establishment of the “Co. Kildare Archaeological Society”. Among the attendance was a Duke, an Earl, a Lord, and two Ladies, a General, a Bishop, a variety of clergy, including a Jesuit, an Archdeacon and a Canon.
The first qualified nurse to be appointed by the Board of Guardians, to Naas Hospital, arrived in February 1898, she was Miss McCann from Glascow and her salery was £25 per year, with rations; Bread, Butter, and Beef. Things were beginning to look up at the end of the nineteenth century.
The First Meeting of Kildare County Council, a new system of democratic Local Government established by the 1898 Local Government Act, was held in the County Courthouse in Naas. One of the first motions passed by the new body carried the message; “That we affirm the right of the Irish Nation to a full measure of Self-Government. We accept the Local Government Act of 1898 as a first instalment of the same, and call on the Imperial Parliament to proceed with the further restitution of our rights”.
The opening of a new National School by the Sisters of Mercy was another milestone in the educational history of our town.
The New Century brought a new system of Local Administration to Naas, when the new Urban District Council, established by the Local Government of Ireland Act 1898, succeeded the Town Commissioners, who in 1854 had replaced the Ancient Corporation as the Administrators of the town. They held their first meeting on Tuesday 3rd April 1900 with Mr. William Staples in the chair. A whole new century of business lay ahead.
The end of two thousand years of the history of Naas.