County Kildare (Contae Chill Dara) is in the East Coast and Midlands of Ireland, bordering Dublin and historically part of the Kingdom of Leinster. It's low-lying, horse-rearing country, now part of the city commuter belt, and in 2016 it had a population of 222,504.
- 1 Naas the county town has its own racecourse, with Punchestown a few km south.
- 2 Maynooth is a college town, with an RC seminary. Along with Celbridge and Leixlip it has several historic mansions.
- 3 Newbridge or Droichead Nua is a commuter town near The Curragh racecourse.
- 4 Kildare has a cathedral with a fine Round Tower, and is near the Irish National Stud.
- 5 Carbury has a ruined castle.
- 6 Clane has a ruined abbey.
- 7 Athy has a white castle guarding the bridge over the River Barrow.
- 8 Blessington on the Wicklow boundary stands by Poulaphouca reservoir lake and grand Russborough House.
This low-lying, fertile area has been settled since prehistory, but traces of its earliest years have been built or farmed over, or carted off to museums. Ptolemy's map of 100 AD marks a settlement of Rheban hereabouts, but the area only starts to come into focus around 490 AD, when the monastery was founded at Kildare, and its abbess St Brigid acquired all the legends and supernatural attributes that previously cloaked the pagan goddess Brigid. Her church by an oak grove - Cill Dara - lay in the Gaelic kingdom of Leinster, which the Normans made sure to grab and subdue when they arrived from the 12th century.
The Normans carved their conquest into shires or counties - County Kildare was originally much larger and included Laois and Offaly until Tudor times. They battled with the kings of Leinster and of Meath but found it much easier to pay them to keep quiet. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Gaels repulsed the Normans from much of Scotland and Ireland, but Leinster held firm within the palisades or "Pale" of Dublin. Not until the 16th century could England resume colonising the rest of Ireland. Castles, garrisons and strongholds were placed at every river crossing and astride every major highway, many of which crossed Kildare. Troops stationed here could quickly be deployed into Dublin or dash out to crush trouble in the midlands. They were also a great recruiting poster for any likely lad who despaired of life on the farm and saw more future in marching to fife and drum behind the Union flag. The plains of the Curragh hosted large military camps, and still do under the Irish tricolour.
And in any spare moments between uprisings from Killala to Khartoum, folk raised and raced horses. Even with the coming of the railways, horses remained essential for agriculture, day-to-day transport and military use. The 19th century created leisure time and disposable income for many, and horse-racing flourished, especially here so close to Dublin. Good transport links also created a commuter population, concentrated along the two major corridors towards Maynooth and Naas / Kildare.
Neither the county nor the town of Kildare inspired the fictional "Dr Kildare". He first appeared in print in 1936, then in the TV soap opera of 1961-66 played by Richard Chamberlain. The doctor was a Faustian invention, created by Frederick Schiller Faust under the pen name Max Brand. The real role model was George Winthrop Fish, a distinguished New York urologist who had played for the US Olympic rugby union team.
County Kildare has two principal transport corridors, laid down in prehistoric times to avoid the midland bogs. One follows the north edge of the county through Maynooth then branches towards Galway, Mayo or Sligo, the other is central through Naas and Kildare then branches for Waterford, Cork or Limerick. Public transport is good along these corridors but sparse elsewhere.
Trains from Dublin Connolly run frequently to Maynooth, 40 min; six per day continue to Mullingar, Longford, Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle, Ballymote and Sligo. Change at Connolly for trains from Belfast, Rosslare, Wicklow, and Dublin suburban DART lines.
Trains from Dublin Heuston run hourly to Sallins (for Naas), Newbridge and Kildare (30-50 min), then fan out across the country towards Athy and Waterford, Cork, Tralee, Limerick, Galway and Westport.
For Maynooth, the Hopper bus runs direct from the airport and Dublin Bus 66 / 67 plies from city centre. Coaches run from Dublin via the airport to Maynooth and variously continue west to Athlone and Galway, or via Mullingar and Longford then northwest to Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle and Sligo, or west to Ballina.
"The Green Bus" N7 runs hourly round the clock from the airport to Naas, Kildare and Portlaoise. The GoAhead Commuter Bus runs from city centre to Naas and Kildare. Dublin Coach M7 runs from city centre to Kildare and Limerick, then either heads north of the Shannon to Bunratty and Ennis, or south to Adare, Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Killarney and Tralee.
By road from Dublin take M4 for Celbridge and Maynooth, M7 for Naas, Newbridge and Kildare, and M9 for Athy.
You need a car for travel off the two main transport corridors, and many places of interest are away out in the countryside. The area is lowland and the distances are not great so a bicycle might do, though it's sure to rain. There's a bus between Maynooth and Naas, but other cross-county trips by public transport may involve trekking all the way into Dublin to come out again. For the awful fate of prehistoric citizens who strayed off the corridors and attempted to short-cut, visit the "bog bodies" display in Dublin's national museum.
- In Kildare see the Irish National Stud Farm, which contains the Japanese Gardens.
- Other gardens are at Larchill near Kilcock, west of Maynooth.
- Castletown House is a grand Palladian mansion in Celbridge near Maynooth. It has two remarkable follies, though nowadays they're severed from the house by M4.
- Castles: lots of these, but tumbledown or smashed up. Find them at Athy, Maynooth, Carbury and Naas.
- Go to the races: The Curragh is between Newbridge and Kildare, while Punchestown is south of Naas.
- Gaelic games: Kildare GAA play football and hurling at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge. There are some 50 GAA clubs across the county.
- Golf: There are some excellent golf courses in Kildare, such as The K Club, Carton House, and Castlewarden.
- Canal boats: Ireland's main waterways cross the county and are navigable throughout. The Grand Canal, completed in 1804, runs from the Liffey in Dublin via Celbridge, Sallins (with a branch to Naas), Robertstown (for the Barrow), Edenderry and Tullamore, to join the Shannon near Banagher. The Barrow Navigation runs from Robertstown south to Athy, Carlow, Bagenalstown, Graignamanagh and St Mullins, where it joins the tidal river down to New Ross and Waterford. The Royal Canal was completed in 1817 and runs from the Liffey to Maynooth, Mullingar, Ballymahon, Killashee (for Longford) and so to the Shannon. Check Waterways Ireland for current status of locks, moorings and so on.
Naas and Kildare town have the most choice.
See Kildare and Naas for a selection of pubs and hotel bars.
- County Wicklow lies east; Blessington has a grand mansion, backed by the Wicklow Mountains. The must-see is Glendalough monastic complex.
- County Meath to the north has a remarkable collection of ancient sites. Brú Na Bóinne and Hill of Tara are the best-known (and very touristy) but don't overlook Loughcrew Cairns or Trim.
- County Laois west has a scattering of sites such as Rock of Dunamase.
- County Kilkenny's star attraction is the historic city of Kilkenny.
- County Carlow is a quiet place for pottering along the River Barrow.
- Dublin is the unmissable big city.