A Brief History of Leixlip
By John Colgan
Leixlip is old Norse for salmon’s leaping place, the name given to the area by Vikings when they established a settlement said to be near the confluence of the rivers Liffey and Rye in the 9th century. Recently it has been discovered that the area was inhabited 5,500 years ago by stone-age man on the bank of the Liffey in Cooldrinagh, on the southeast side of the town.
Some of the 5,500 year old burial places uncovered in 2003 on the site of Fingal Co Council’s Water works at Leixlip.
The pair of cataracts called Salmon Leap, once a famous tourist attraction, is now gone from view following the installation of a hydroelectric power station in the mid-1940s by the Electricity Supply Board. This event typifies Leixlip history: it has been hit by waves of industrial development. Industrial, and more recently, great residential development has presented challenges for the town’s statutory body and for voluntary groups like the Leixlip Tidy Town Association.
Being close to the capital, Leixlip became a resting place for middle classes and gentry. Having extensive water power, various forms of mills were established: corn, iron, paper, flax, flock, linen-printing and lastly saw mills; these and agriculture provided employment.
The town’s village-centred, built-infrastructure was mostly completed by 1820 and remains essentially thus today, despite the ravages of incessant and frequently insensitive shopping and commercial development this past 40 years.
The terrace of eight houses at the Mall (formerly called The Parade), Main St, Leixlip, which remain substantially unchanged in appearance since they were speculatively built about 1785.
About 1969 there commenced the construction of large housing schemes, drawing commuting residents, many from the west of Ireland, to live in Leixlip. Water and access to Dublin remain the key advantages to business. This lead to the Intel Corporation establishing its largest factory outside the USA here, with all the ramifications of that for construction traffic, commuters, expanded fresh and waste water pipe-works etc. Hewlett Packard, too, has set up a manufacturing and banking business on the southwest of the town. Together they generate a very substantial portion of the rates’ revenue in County Kildare. During this interval the housing stock and population rose to around 5,500 homes (from 400) and around 16,000 residents (from c1,000, and taking account of parts of adjoining areas within our remit). Many thousands commute here every day and some 60 per cent of employed Leixlipians commute daily – mostly to Dublin.
Leixlip Tidy Town Association (LTTA) was founded in 1963 by community members, lead by Colonel Niall Mac Neill, resident and retired head of the Ordnance Survey. At this time an existing historical society created awareness of a need to conserve the historic buildings and natural beauty of the town, such as Leixlip Spa (discovered in 1793). In 1970 the Association fostered the establishment of a Community Council to secure amenities and to moderate excessive, imbalanced, development. This later led to the establishment of a Town Council in 1988. However, the town council has negligible power; planning and other decisions are made remotely in the county town of Naas, which is accessible by circuitous routes and very inconveniently by public transport.
Leixlip has managed to retain some of its historic buildings and structures: the Castle of Leixlip, overlooking the confluence of the Rye and Liffey; the Black Castle tower house, albeit scarcely recognisable as such now, which overlooks the old road from Dunboyne to Leixlip; the ruin of the Eustace’s Confey Castle which overlooks the same road; an ancient encirclement and probably prehistoric farm nearby (from which word Confey derives its name); the World Heritage feature, the eccentric Wonderful Barn and its pair of pigeon houses at Barnhall townland; St Mary’s Church on Main Street; the Toll House on the bridge of Leixlip; two 18th century generals’ houses, Leixlip House and St Catherine’s Park, and the remains of a courtyard brewery operated by Richard Guinness, brother of the famous Arthur Guinness.
Leixlip Castle’s construction began 1172 by a follower of Strongbow, Adam de Hereford. It was one of the first of the Norman castles in the country begun just one year after the Norman Invasion of Ireland. It remains in private ownership and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in Ireland.
Originally called Gazebo Park, after the gazebo which allowed the privileged to look over the Liffey below, Leixlip house was built by William Brady, an army officer, who received the arms of local rebels in an amnesty during the Rebellion of 1798. It is now a small hotel of the same name.
St Marys Church
The clock tower on St Mary’s Church, Main Street, was built in Norman times and was used as a priest’s residence.
Toll House Liffey Bridge
The bridge of Leixlip built 1732-4 by the Dublin to Kinnegad Turnpike Commissioners and the Bridge or Toll House from the same period. It is the only Irish bridge pre-railway era known to have stonemasons’ marks on it.
A World Heritage site: the grain magazine on five storeys built by John Glinn in 1743 at Barnhall, Leixlip after the year of the Great Frost.