Maynooth and the Boyle Family

It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon in Maynooth and I don’t feel like taking my usual walk so I thought I’d post another bit of local history like I did last week. This is another thing I’ve just found out and thought I’d share. This is a view I took last spring of Maynooth Castle (or the ruins thereof):

The Castle, together with a Manor House that was next to it, belonged to the Fitzgerald family, local aristocracy since the 13th Century. As I mentioned in a previous post, Thomas Fitzgerald, the 10th Earl of Kildare, led a rebellion against the English authorities during the time of Henry VIII. He acquired the nickname “Silken Thomas” because of the ribbons of silk worn by his supporters. The rebellion failed and his family castle was badly damaged. Thomas surrendered and was subsequently executed, along with several members of his family, in 1537. The family fortunes declined pretty drastically at that point but the family line did survive.

Now fast forward to 1630 when George Fitzgerald, the 16th Earl of Kildare married a Lady Joan Boyle. She was the daughter of a tremendously powerful figure by the name of Richard Boyle, the 1st Earl of Cork. Richard Boyle had been part of the Tudor plantation of Ireland and had acquired enormous amounts of land and personal wealth in the process. He spent some of his riches at the time of his daughter’s wedding doing up the ancestral home of his son-in-law, refurbishing the castle and building a new manor house next to it.

Unfortunately this didn’t last long. During the Irish Confederate Wars the Castle was attacked several times and badly damaged. It remained in occupation but by the end of the 17th Century it was derelict. The Fitzgerald family eventually moved to a new home at the other end of Maynooth, Carton House (now an upmarket golf resort). All Richard Boyle’s refurbishment work went to nothing and all that survives to the present day – the Gatehouse and Solar Tower – dates to the 13th Century, no doubt because it was more solidly built.

I’ve known about this for quite a while, but only this morning I discovered something else. Richard Boyle had a very large family – fifteen children altogether – and his seventh son (14th child altogether) was none other than the famous natural philosopher Robert Boyle, after whom Boyle’s Law is named. He was a particularly important figure in the development of chemistry, paid for the publication of a translation of the Bible into Irish, was a founder member of the Royal Society of London and, more importantly than any of those things, wrote the book whose cover I use when I post rambling from In The Dark on Twitter:

It’s a very descriptive title for this blog, but perhaps not so catchy.

Anyway, largely because he found it difficult to acquire materials and equipment in Ireland, Robert Boyle spent most his scientific career in England. He did however return to Ireland a number of times. He was born in Lismore, in County Waterford, so probably would have stayed near there on these visit. It is entirely possible – and indeed likely – that he may have visited his sister in Maynooth while in Ireland.

3 Responses to “Maynooth and the Boyle Family”

  1. Yes indeed, some colleagues of mine run a Robert Boyle Summer School in Lismore every year. You can hear some great talks there from top science historians on the life and science of Boyle, you must come down sometime when life returns to normal. http://www.robertboyle.ie/
    I recall hearing that Boyle ‘s sister Lady Ranelagh may have played a significant role in some of his philosophy and science, not sure if that’s the same sister.

  2. The Physics Society of University College Oxford is the “Robert Boyle Society”. There is a plaque on the outside (High St) wall of the Shelley Memorial [see the Wikipedia entry if you want to see a statue of which the college is not particulalry proud!] noting the fact that Boyle and Hooke worked there.

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