Ireland’s Ancient East

Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare

‘This I believe the only house in Ireland to which the term palace can be applied.’

Richard Twiss, 1775

Jumping on the #67 bus on the quays early on Sunday morning, I make a little wish for clear skies. We trudge along passed Heuston Station, Chapelizod, Liffey Valley, Dublin’s northside filing passed from the uncomfortable seat. Trying to remember the sequence of bus stops, I stop counting after Chapelizod. We pass bridges and rivers, churches and community centres. The city is just waking up. Still we slouch on.

Forty-five minutes later, I jump out of the stuffy bus to take in Celbridge. I’ve never been here before. Looking for those familiar brown tourist signs, I follow the groups of ramblers and early morning risers towards gates of stone and steel. Castletown House estate.

It’s an eye-opening ten minutes to get to the house itself. I try to spot birds and flowers and watch as locals and their local dogs romp through the fields ignoring every sign posted along the way. This is nature. No traffic, no noise, just green.

I pass by a pond with warring ducks. I spot a happy golden retriever with a joyful trot returning to his master. Children kick stones and parents shout to ‘watch out’.

Up at the house, my coffee is delivered hot and sweet. I find an empty bench outside to sit and watch people come and go. This must be Sunday life in Celbridge.

I wander around the 18th century Palladian house, inspired by Italy. It has orange wings on either side that would make a nobleman proud. Inside, the wallpaper speaks of centuries of parties, audiences and respectability. Impressive portraits adorn each wall. Ticking clocks announce the passing of time. The Ikea-inspired pathway winds its way through the house ushering visitors to the Print Room, the glorious first floor sitting room with three stunning chandeliers. Threadbare chairs and dressed tables, this was wealthy Ireland two hundred years ago.

These manor houses stand as a reminder of Ireland’s complicated past. English-influenced and continental in aspiration, they remind us that we haven’t quite yet thrown off the shackles of empire. Wealth is once again concentrated in certain areas. Obedience is demanded and dissent is not welcome.