Secrets of the powers that be
In 1961 the Eighth Duke of Leinster, Gerald FitzGerald, then living in England, presented the Royal Dublin Society with a 16th-Century relic of his family in the form of the Geraldine Rent Table that had once stood at Carton, and later at Kilkea Castle.
It came there from an even earlier home of the family, for it had once been part of the Old Council House at Maynooth Castle, the ruins of which are now to be at the entrance to Maynooth College. Kilkea Castle was being sold and the Duke wished to find an appropriate new home for the Rent Table, a large piece with five legs.
It was across this table that the tenant of the family estates every quarter day would have their rents, which would have been recorded by the Duke’s solicitor in his ledger also rested on the table. Though slightly damaged it was a remarkable fine example of stone carving in the Ireland of Elizabeth I. It was inscribed with the name of the 9th Earl of Kildare who died in 1534, the father of the famous Silken Thomas.
The RDS accepted the table, but was unable (or perhaps reluctant) to find a place for it at Ballsbridge, so the table was never moved. When Kilkea Castle (where the table had remained) was sold it was excluded from The G.F. Mitchell of TCD for the RDS.
But when the castle, by now in use as a hotel, was later sold on there arose a legal and emotional imbroglio which involved the Duke, the RDS, Kildare County Council, the government, the OPW, and several bodies charged with the care of Ireland ancients monuments and archaeological items
An attempt was made to remove the table ‘for restoration’ by the previous owner of the hotel…”
In the course of this an attempt was made to remove the table ‘for restoration’ by the previous owner of the hotel. This was prevented by concerted action of some local people.
The file reveals the extraordinary tangle that erupted, the table eventually being (so to speak) arrested by the gardaí and being locked up in a police station.
This file closed with the matter unresolved as of 1989.
But this was a fine example of just how imperilled items of Irish heritage are when there is no clear legal framework, proper legislation, and appropriate bodies to care for them.
With the rapidly increasing transformation of Ireland over the last 30 years, many more sites, relics and objects are now in danger, some disappearing mysteriously, perhaps to be sold here or abroad, with often little enough being done in time to preserve them.
Kilkea Castle continued to be run as a hotel for decades, but the business entered examinership in 2009, as a result of the the disastrous financial state of the country. It was closed and put up for sale. It was bought by an American entrepreneur, Jay Cashman and has now re-opened as a resort, popular for weddings.
But there is a happy end to the tale: the Rent Table, after a high court action, was returned to the ownership of Kildare County Council. On the advice of the National Museum, a conservation assessment was undertaken. In the light of this repairs and conservation will be put in hand. The County Council says the project is out to tender.
It is now stored in the National Museum, as no final for its location has yet been settled on for the Table to be displayed to the public. But it is unlikely ever again to stand in the open air.
NA file 2019/30/523.