Short Historical Note On Clane

Clane has been a focus of settlement from remote antiquity. It is situated at a fording point on the Liffey and the fact that the river was not fordable for some miles on either side of it gave Clane an importance in the earliest times, in probably the same way as neighbouring towns in north Kildare such as Sallins, Robertstown and Prosperous were in recent centuries to grow up around the building of canal, rail and improved road infrastructure. Clane, by contrast however, was there from the earliest times. Pre-Christian relics in the locality include a cromlech or stone age burial site on a sloping limestone outcrop above the quarry at Carrigeen, about one hundred yards from the Liffey bank. This was unfortunately bulldozed by Kildare County Council when turning the quarry into a public dump. Stoneage burials with pottery inclusions were found in sandhills at Loughbollard in 1971. The Mounds at Clane and Mainham, together with the Bullaun Stone on the bank of the Naas Road Stream have been tied in with the saga describing the killing of the first century King Mesgegra, at the Ford of Clane. It has been suggested that his body was buried under the earthen mound at Clane, his head was severed at the Bullaun stone, in the bowl shaped hollow of which the druids offered sacrifices of milk and grain and even human blood. His wife Buan, is reputedly buried under the mound at Mainham.

Even the name Clane has existed for a very long time. In the Annals of MacFirbhis, it is stated that before the Leinstermen went into battle, they assembled on the Crocaun Claonta, which has been translated as the Round (?) Hill of Clane. They believed that if they set out from there, they could only meet with success. The name Clane has been variously described as deriving from Cluain Damh (Meadow of the Oxen) and as Claonta in the Annals of the Four Masters, and Claonadh in the Irish Calendar. Though the first explanation is that most often given, and is supported by a medieval translation into the Latin ‘Pratum Bovum’, the objection is pointed out that the vowel change from ‘Cluain’ to Clane is without precedent in this very widely used word in the context of place names. One would wonder whether ‘Claonta’ were not a more likely explanation and that the ‘Crocaun Claonta’ already mentioned should not in fact be translated as the ‘Sloping Hill’, which might very well be in fact the sloping sandhill beside the Liffey, which was raised at its highest end by the Normans in order to create the Moat. This was trimmed around by the Late Ned Cash using a JCB. It originally had a long tail tapering off to the west. It stood beside a warm or thermal spring (Sunday’s Well) which would never have frozen in winter and would have been a cause of wonder going back to pre-Christian times, making it a very special place.

It can be little short of certain that St. Patrick must have passed through Clane on his way from Tara to Naas. If he did, one wonders how he felt on finding a Christian Monastery already there on his arrival. The monastery in Clane is said to have been established by St. Ailbe, Bishop of Emly, a fellow Roman (Ailbeus) who, along with Aidan of Ardmore, is believed to have preached Christianity in Ireland before the arrival of Patrick in 432. It is a singular fact that there is no tradition of St. Patrick having been in Clane and there are no establishments, even to holy wells, attributed to him. This, despite the fact that he is credited, with a degree of certainty which is quite exceptional, with having established a church four or five miles to the North of Clane at Dunmuraghill beyond Staplestown. Predictably, the Annalists give a later date for Ailbe’s foundation at Clane. One is cautioned however, to treat such proposed dates with suspicion, as the importance of establishing the primacy of Patrick was clearly seen by the Armagh lobby as the best basis for maintaining the primacy of the northern Archdioceses in their bitter struggle with Dublin.

Nothing remains of the ancient Celtic monastery in Clane, neither stone church nor round tower, if ever such existed. If stone buildings did exist, it has been suggested that the stone would likely have been removed for the Franciscan Abbey established by the Norman invaders in 1258. If indeed they had no stone buildings, they must surely have regretted the fact when Clane was sacked and plundered by the Danes in 1035, some twenty one years after 1014 when history, undoubtedly showing a Munster prejudice on this occasion, ironically recorded that Brian Boru had rid the country of the Norse in the celebrated Battle of Clontarf. It is believed that the site of Ailbe’s monastery is that where the Abbey now stands and which was formerly the ruins of the old Protestant church, which remained there for one hundred years, crowning the village green, following the building of the new church at Millicent. That is was an important monastery, there can be little doubt. In 1162 it was the setting for a general synod of the Church, attended by 26 bishops and a large number of abbots. Armagh was represented by Gelassius, and Dublin by St. Laurence O’Toole, who had recently been appointed Archbishop. It was at the Synod of Clane that one of the final bulwarks was added to the Primacy of Armagh when it was enacted that nobody could be a lector in any part of Ireland – taken to be the equivalent of the modern Professor of Theology – who had not been educated at Armagh. One wonders had things gone differently would Dermot Ryan and not Tomas O Fiach be Cardinal today. One wonders also what the people of Clane thought of Archbishop Gelassius whom history would suggest was suffering from advanced paranoia, for his whole life was governed by a fear of being poisoned by his enemies, and he took no food or drink except what he personally milked from his own white cow which was led behind his entourage everywhere he went.

The importance of Clane continued after the Norman settlement. Gerald Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, Lord of Offaley, established the Franciscans here in 1258. The establishment was well endowed with land and property and very extensive ruins remain to the present day at the Abbey Cemetery on the Naas Road. A general chapter was held here in 1345. It was finally suppressed in 1540 during the reign of Henry VIII. Clane was a town of the Pale, which was established by an act of the Parliament of Drogheda in 1488, the bounds of which were thus traced: “From Merrion, inclusive, to the waters of the Dodder, by the new ditch to Saggart, Rathcoole, Kilheel, (Kilteel), Rathmore and Ballymore (Eustace). Thence to the county of Kildare into Ballycutlan, Harristown and Naas, and so thence of Clane, Kilboyne and Kilcock.  From Kilcock it ran to Athboy and so ended at Dundalk”.  Stretches of the Pale embankment survive at Clongowes and further north about half way to Kilcock. Adminisiteratively, Clane was a Corporate Town with its own chapter and the modern equivalent of a Mayor and Corporation. From the Rolls we find that on 14th March 1391, the King granted to the Provost, Bailiffs and the Commonalty of the town of Clane, that for seven years they may make custom of goods coming to the town and build anew a certain bridge of the said town over the water of the Analiffey. The bridge in question stood in fact until 1862 when it was replaced by the present structure.  Again in 1417, we find a letter addressed to  King Henry V on behalf of Lord Furnivall, dated 26th June. Among the signatories are found the Commons of Clane. Another letter dated the 23rd January 1454 is signed, among others, by the Portrives and Commons of Clane. The original is still intact in the British Museum with many pendant seals. (Cottonian MSS). It is the intention of the Community Council shortly to reactivate our rights under this ancient Charter and re-inaugurate the office of “Mayor” in Clane.

Clane was involved to a greater or lesser extent in every major political episode down through the centuries. The Castles at Blackhall and Donadea came under siege during the rebellion of 1641. Cromwell confiscated much of the local land in the 1650s. There was some Jacobite activity in 1690. A remarkable feature of Clane and the North Kildare area in general was the way it came through the Penal Laws with little interference with the activities and properties of the major Catholic families. The Aylmers of Donadea and the Wogans of Rathcoffey, together with the Fitzgeralds of Maynooth, were typical. The Catholic church in Rathcoffey was built in 1710 at the height of the Penal Laws under Queen Anne. It is in fact believed to be one of the oldest post Reformation churches in Ireland. It was built by Lady Frances Jennings, (Lady Tirconnell), a Wogan, whose husband, the Viceroy, died during the Siege of Limerick. Such was the unquestionable power they held. More than in any other period perhaps, there was much local activity during the Rising of 1798. No less than two of the national organisers of the United Irishmen lived locally. They were Theobald Wolfe Tone (whose father Peter Tone farmed at Blackhall) and Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who resided in Rathcoffey. The first battle of 1798 was fought simultaneously in Clane and Prosperous, on the night of Wednesday 24th May. The insurgents in both towns were led by the local medical doctor, John Esmonde. After initial successes, including defeat of detachments of militia in both towns, Esmonde was taken under arrest and later hanged on Carlisle Bridge. It was a bloody and excessive affair and shameful acts were committed on both sides, including the burning of the roof of the local Protestant church.

The physical lay-out of Clane is intriguing in that the long Main Street, with its well aligned buildings, would normally suggest eighteenth century town planning. There is good reason to believe however, that despite its planned appearance, Clane evolved in response to a combination of purely natural factors of an unusual nature. The Main Street in Clane is built along a broad, relatively flat sand ridge where an esker ridge peters out in the Liffey valley. The course of this former sub-glacial stream can be traced some two and a half miles southwards from Boherhole Cross. Prior to the 1940s when the hydro-electric dam was built on the Liffey at Poulaphuca, flooding was a perennial problem in Clane. Flood waters regularly came up through the back yards as far as the Dublin Road. In times of particularly bad  flooding only the main street would have stood above water level, together with the houses on either side of it, tucked up as tightly as they are on the sloping sides of the ridge. To appreciate this, an observer will note how the yard entrances from the street drop steeply down from street level, particularly on the northern end of the street. The same basic lay-out as exists today can be seen on the earliest street map, that of Noble and Keenan of 1752.

The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought a great communications boom and Clane narrowly missed out on two canals and two railways, passing as they did to the north and south of us. Ironically, Clane had stood to gain from an even earlier and almost equally ambitious scheme which proposed to open up a new road to Limerick, passing behind the Slieve Bloom Mountains and not alone cutting seven miles off the existing route but providing an alternative route which would have been much more easily negotiable to horse transport. The scheme was the brainchild of one Moss, a past President of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland. He succeeded in having a Turnpike Act of George III passed in 1752. The road, which bypassed Straffan, came through Clane, and it was proposed that it be constructed in a dead straight line, irrespective of terrain, bypassing Edenderry. It was not begun until 1770, a time when road transport with unsprung coaches was loosing popularity in face of the new found enthusiasm for the Grand Canal project. The road, as it came through Clane, was a marvellous improvement, but the whole project fell through when the new road had reached only Derrybrennan, on the road to Rathangan.

So Clane retained its function in the nineteenth century of a small local service centre and market village. The traditional patterns of trading flourished, principally the combined pub and grocery, doing in addition a general trade in hardware, footwear, etc. A successful local businessman, James O’Neill, succeeded in the course of a lifetime, in buying out a majority stake in the town, including the post office. The population in the last century was in fact, greater than in the early decades of this one. The eighteenth century brought slow but steady improvements, including the arrival of the Presentation Sisters in 1838, the establishment of the Boys’ and Girls’ National Primary Schools in the same year to replace a number of Parish and privately run schools. In 1882 the Hewetson School moved from Betaghstown to Millicent, amalgamating with the Protestant Parish School. In 1883, the Church of St. Michael and All Angels was built in Millicent. In 1884, the Church of St. Patrick and St. Brigid was built in Clane on the site of a smaller church built in 1805. In the same year, G.A.A. was founded in Clane. Politically, the last century was relatively quiet. Ribbonism was strong at the beginning of the century, while the Land League agitation for proprietor ownership of the land attracted widespread support in the closing decades.

The twentieth century did not bring much excitement either to disturb the quiet pattern of country life. Both the R.I.C. and later the Garda Barracks were burned during an otherwise rather quiet local version of the ‘Troubles’. The R.I.C. Barrack had been vacated at the time. The Garda Barrack was burned by the same people in a fit of pique. National Government and two World Wars brought little change. From 1968 onwards, Clane came under the influence of an expanding population in the Dublin area due to lack of regional planning and the lack of development throughout the towns and villages of the Irish countryside. The next seven years brought a massive 500% increase in population to the present 1,500. This put great pressure on very primitive and inadequate community facilities. A ten year slowing period, due largely to a lack of sewerage capacity and also to the recession and increased petrol costs, has provided the time and opportunity to consolidate and develop facilities like the two magnificent new primary schools opened last year and the Community School to be opened next September. This will replace the co-educational secondary school opened originally in 1963 as a Secondary Top, attached to the Convent Primary School. The other major additions to community facilities have been the G.A.A. Grounds and Hall and Behan’s Hall. There has also been some welcome growth of small local industries, despite the recession. However, the town is still largely of the ‘dormitory’ type, with most of its inhabitants engaged in outside employment. Dormitory towns are notorious for their lack of community spirit. Clane however, is exceptional in this regard. The very good community spirit which has grown up over the years continues to improve. The establishment of the Community Council ten years ago has played a major part in this, as have organisations like the Scouts, now almost five years old, and numerous other sporting and cultural organisations which are working for the common good.

Tony McEvoy – 1983.