The present parish of Newbridge is made up of six ancient parishes and portions of others. These are Ballymany, Carnalway, Great Connell, Killashee, Morristown Billar and Old Connell.
Great Connell was the site of an Augustinian Priory dedicated to Our lady and St. David, founded in 1202 by Myler Fitzhenry, a grandson of Henry I. In 1205 King John confirmed the grant made by Fitzhenry to the Abbey of Connell.
A sister house of the monastery of Lathony in Wales, from whence monks came to Great Connell. This tradition became law in 1380 by an act of Richard II, when like all monasteries in the Pale, it was forbidden ” to admit mere Irishmen to profession. ” However, this rule was not always adhered to, as Gaelic names can be found amongst the canons of the 15th century.
Great Connell emerged as one of the most important Anglo-Norman monasteries and its wealth was increased when, in 1455, the King granted the Prior the power to acquire lands to a yearly value of £10. Consequently, the priory’s possessions were quite extensive and included “the value of 6 parish churches, over 1,260 acres of land, a mill, 5 castles, a demesne of 131 acres, and many dwellings and out-buildings.” The Prior was also made a member of the Privy Council.
Great Connell’s most renowned Prior was Walter Wellesley, who was also Bishop of Kildare, having been appointed to the See in 1529. He held these two positions up to the time of his death in 1539. The monastery survived the Act of Confiscation in 1537, when Wellesley asked that it not be suppressed, as it was united to the Bishopric of Kildare.
However, Great Connell was eventually closed in April 1541, when the then Prior, Robert Wesley “surrendered voluntarily and with the consent of the community,” thus allowing the order to make terms and receive pensions. The priory was then granted to Edward Randolph and later to Sir Edward Butler. According to the Civil Survey of 1654, the parish of Great Connell was divided between two men, Sir Nicholas White of Leixlip, and Sir Robert Meredith.
In the 18th century the monastery, according to a description by Archdall, who visited it in 1781, was “so decayed that scarcely any descriptive account can be given of its remaining ruins,” though he did mention “two Gothic windows and some pillars with curious capitals,” and ” the remains of some stalls in the choir. “
The Capella of Ballymany
Evidence that a church existed here at one time was re-inforced by the Kildare Archaeological Society’s findings, which discovered evidence of a site at Murphy’s farm at Ballymany. An article in their Journal of 1905 described the existing ruins as ” consisting of a foundation of an ancient edifice which shows it to be 25ft. in length, 18ft. broad and the walls are 3ft. thick. ” The article also reported that older people living in the area remembered the ruins of an old church being in existence up to 50 years earlier (1855).
No remains of the walls or foundations are now visible, though the location of the church corresponds roughly with the Ballymany church site referred to in Taylor’s Map of 1783, between the main Newbridge-Kildare Road and the Green Road. However, this is now though to have been a Protestant Church, which was adjacent to the Catholic Chapel at the time the map was drawn.
This Protestant church may have originally been a Catholic Church as each of Newbridge’s six ancient parochial districts would have had its own church; that of Ballymany may have been abandoned during the confiscations of the 15th century, or even during the Cromwellian or penal times. It was also not unusual for abandoned Catholic churches to be converted for use as Protestant churches.
The Military Barracks
In the 17th century a bridge was built near Old Connell but this was destroyed in 1798 by a flood. A new bridge was built in its place. The military barracks was constructed over a number of years, on land purchased in 1822 by a Major General, John Freeman. Completed in 1816, the site of the Barracks extended from the present site of the Irish Ropes factory, to the site of the present Garda Station, and as far back as the Athgarvan Road.
The barracks was occupied by the British Army until 1922. Many famous cavalry regiments were stationed here and one of its most famous soldiers was Lord Cardigan, who was stationed with the 15th Hussars in 1832. He later led the charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War in October 1854. A description of the town in 1837 said it ” consisted of only one street, with a constabulary police station, a dispensary, and an R.C. chapel with a friary, but it is yet in its infancy and there is every prospect of its increase. ” The arrival of the barracks heralded the growth and development of Newbridge. The demand for labour during its construction led to population growth, while the maintenance of both the barracks and its occupants ensured the prosperity of the townspeople.
In 1925 it was handed over to the Board of Works, and in the following years most of the buildings were demolished to make way for new factories such as Irish Ropes. The church was maintained and was used as a library and then a Town Hall. It now houses a FÁS Training Workshop. Part of the old wall of the barracks can still be seen at the Athgarvan Road. The present town was built in 1934 and was named Newbridge (Droichead Nua).
1933 saw a revival in the town of Newbridge following the foundation of the Irish Ropes factory on part of the site of the former cavalry barracks. It was established by an Englishman, Eric Rigby Jones, whose family had traditionally been involved in rope manufacture. It was founded primarily to manufacture ropes, twines and harvest twines using such materials as sisal, manila and polypropylene fibres for the home market, and in 1937 it extended its range of products to include floor coverings made from sisal.
During the years of the Emergency, 1939-1945, the factory prospered as extra tillage farming was undertaken during this period, leading to an increased demand for its main product, binder twine. In 1946 the company had a workforce of 300 and in the same year it entered the export market. By 1953 the workforce had increased to 400 workers and an export market had been established in 24 countries.
The 1960s saw the company again extend its range of products to include synthetic and wool carpets, bearing such well-known brand names as Tintawn, Cushlawn and Curragh carpets. The workforce continued to rise and in 1969 it reached a peak of 1035. However, the economic recession of the seventies took its toll and by 1975 the workforce had been substantially reduced.
The Irish Ropes factory has been producing carpets since September 25th, 1933. It has made carpets for such famous places as Buckingham Palace, Liberty Hall, and the University of Miami to name but a few. Newbridge Cutlery, Bord Na Mona, Curragh Tintawn, Oral B and Wyeth Medica are also situated in this booming town.
Things To Do
Riverbank Arts Centre
This is the County Council’s Cultural Campus, built to provide better library and arts facilities for the people of County kildare.
The County Library, Athgarvan Road, Newbridge, is the location for the Kildare Heritage & Genealogy Company which provides a research service for those wishing to trace their family history.
This is the only Greyhound Track in County Kildare. Newbridge Dog Track is at Hawkfield, only one mile from the town. Race meetings take place every Monday and Friday at 8p.m.
Newbridge Silverware & Museum of Style Icons
Silverware has been crafted in Newbridge since 1934. The passage of half a century has changed little. Craftsmen with a lifetime`s experience fashion the finest materials with traditional skills and loving care. This silver has seduced sheikhs, served sultans, pampered princesses and reflected the gaze of barons and bards. The extensive range of Newbridge Cutlery, Jewellery and other Silverware can be seen at the Silverware Visitors Centre, just off the industrial ring-road, which is open 7 days a week.
Father Moore’s Well
Father Moore’s Well is situated at Rathbride just off the Kildare/Milltown Road. It has attracted pilgrims for over a hundred years. Although the well is named after Fr. Moore, there are a number of different traditions associated with it, and one reference suggests that it may have been regarded as a holy well before his time. Fr. Moore was born in Rathbride in 1779 and appointed curate to Allen Parish where he remained until his death in March 1826. He was said to have a remarkable gift in curing ailments and to have blessed the well before his death so that people might still be cured in years to come. The tradition of visiting the well developed after that time and there are many local claims of cures effected there.
Leisure Gyms/Fitness Centres
Droichead Nua Sports Centre is fully equipped with facilities for tennis, badminton, hockey, indoor football, aerobics and judo. Relax on the sunbed or in the sauna. There are Summer, Easter and Christmas camps for children.
The Keadeen Hotel
The Keadeen Hotel has a gym equipped with the latest gym equipment, and they also have some excellent gym instructors. There is also a swimming pool.. The Keadeen is situated on the road to Kildare.