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So you have learnt all about Speaker Conolly and his little Hellfire club getaway. After Conolly’s death in 1929 the hunting lodge left the family and only then gained it colourful past. However while all the shenanigans where at play on Montpelier Hill, the Widow Conolly was busy in Country Kildare chiselling the Conolly name into Irish architectural folklore.
Katherine Conolly was not about to retire to the shadows to live off her pension after the death of her charismatic husband. Her father was none other than Sir Albert Conyngham. He was a war hero from the Williamite War in Ireland, between Jacobites (supporters of Catholic King James II) and Williamites (supporters of Protestant Prince William of Orange). Think Battle of the Boyne and you are in the ball park.
Upon her husband’s death, Katherine did what any good enterprising entrepreneur would do when a gambling ban followed in the 1730’s. She created an underground gambling den in her stately home. Katherine was ambitious though and the blackjack and dice soon expanded into full blown horse and carriage races on the estate grounds. She was in her 70’s at this point. The fast living however took its toil but right to the end she was considered a great host until she passed on in 1752 at the age of 90. To this day she still regarded as Ireland’s coolest granny.
Having the craic was only a part of Katherine’s legacy. Vision, social entrepreneurship and philanthropy are expressions that resonate with the name Katherine Conolly. The winter of 1739 and 1740 were harsh, way harsh. Famine took hold and the 78 year old Katherine took a wander up the road to the Carton estate. The very German architect Richard Cassels, Richard Castle when he was on these islands (From Kassel in Germany, this lad designed the Rotunda Hospital, Carton House, Russborough House, Powerscourt House, Leinster House and more….so yes basically Ireland).
So Richard listened to Katherine’s idea. She had a huge house so no need for an extension or renovations. However she wanted to create some local employment. Richard suggested an obelisk. Big, stone, pointless but will keep people out of trouble. Katherine loved the idea; just stick it on stilts for the craic. So the Conolly’s Folly master plan was born.
So in 1740 work started on this moment to go at the bottom of Katherine’s back garden at Castletown House. She told the neighbours she needed a new gate and don’t mind the banging for a few days. Also it would keep the dog from getting out. They watched aghast as her 42 meter gate rose with the dog pelting through its gaping arches. It is covered in those two inseparable icons of wealth, stone pineapples and eagles, and consists of several arches with a massive obelisk as a cherry on top. This grand design is still there to visit and served its sole purpose of providing employment during the then famine.
While you are there you might want to have a look at Katherine’s other ideas. Yes there is more. Building an odd building is much like getting a tattoo. Some people love it, some hate it, it might affect your reputation but either way you will go back for more. So did our Katherine. She called this one her Wonderful Barn. Again built to create employment and store grain during famine times, this wonderful 22m feature is shaped like a corkscrew with a stairs around the outside. Its funky design does have a practical application as multiple landings allow grain to be poured in at different levels.
So to visit. All three are located in West Dublin close to respective towns but not all together. The Wonderful Barn is closest to Leixlip town, see map below. Its just on the edge of town. Castletown House itself is on the edge of Celbridge while Conolly’s Folly is north from here on the East side of Maynooth. All three towns are accessible by bus and rail from Dublin city centre.
Castletown House Visiting Details are Here: Castletown House