Cell Dara
Community ID
Alternate Names
Cill Dara / Kildare
Medieval Location
Kildare is located in the valley of the River Liffey, on the fertile plains of Leinster, in the southeast of Ireland, between the Bog of Allen to the west and the Wicklow Mountains to the east, in what was then the kingdom of the Uí Failge. Its position
Modern Location
Current location is in the city of Kildare, co. Kildare, about 25 miles southwest of Dublin.
Corporate Status
abbey / double monastery / episcopal seat
St. Brigit
Date Founded
490 (circa)
Date Terminated
1540-41 (male community disappeared after 1110). Kildare remains a Catholic episcopal seat today.
Religious Order
After 1171, may have become Arrouasian. There is one 15th-century reference to an Order of St. Brigit, (Calendar of Papal Registers, 1482). Had a Cistercian bishop (Finn O Gorman, +1160) in the second half of the 12th c. (see Anglo-Norman Ireland, c 1100-1318., 36).
Foundation Information

Saint Brigit NULL (?b. 453, ?d. 524) of the Uí Bresail, Uí Failge, Fothairt and Bishop Conláed of the Dál Messin Corb. However, scholars have long speculated that Brigit was either a non-historical figure derived from pre-Christian Irish goddesses named Bríg, or a historical figure who had the goddess' name. See extensive bibliography below.

Notable Heads

Abbesses at Kildare shared rule of the community with abbots and bishops - often more than one at a time - of Kildare (See Annals of Ulster (to A. D. 1131) for years 787, 785). The position of bishops of Kildare seems to have been occasionally subordinate to the abbesses, and there may have been more than one bp. at certain times. In 1111, at the reforming Synod of Ráth Bresail, Kildare became one of the five major Irish sees. In 1220, Henry of London, papal legate and archbishop of Dublin, supposedly ordered the perpetual fire in honor of Brigit put out (doubtful), thus asserting his control of the community.
The following list of abbesses, abbots, and bishops derives primarily from Annals of the Four Masters (Annala Rioghachta Eireann. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, by the Four masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616. Edited from mss. in the Library of the Royal Irish academy and of Trinity college, Dublin, with a translation, and copious notes,) and Annala Uladh: Annals of Ulster otherwise Annala Senait, Annals of Senat: a chronicle of Irish affairs from A.D. 431 to A.D. 1540, q.v. for full entries (dates given are by Annals of Ulster).

Date/ Name/ Sex/ Office:
520 Conlaedh (male) bishop
524 Brigit (female) abbess
639 Aed Dub (male) abbot, Bishop
640 Caonan (male) abbot
690 Gnathat (female) abbess
696 Locheni Menn (male) abbot
698 Forannan (male) abbot
709 Mael-doborchon (male) bishop
732 Sebdann ingen Cuirc (female) abbess
743 Aifricci (female) abbess
748 Do-Dimoc (male) anchorite, abbot
752 Cathal mac Forindain (male) abbot
758 Marthu filia maicc Dubain (female) abbess
762 Eutighern (male) bishop
773 Lerthan (female) abbess
787 Muiredach mac Cathail (male) abbot
787 Lomthuili (male) bishop
787 Sneidbran (male) bishop
797 Condal filia Murcodha (female) abbess of tighe Sruithe (elders' house)
798 Eudus nepos Dicholla (male) abbot
804 Faelan mac Cellaigh (male) abbot
805 Fine (female) abbess
823 Muiredach mac Ceallaigh (male) abbot
829 Aedh mac Ceallaigh (male) abbot
830 Siadhal mac Fearadhaigh (male) abbot
831 Muirenn (female) abbess
834 Tuatchar (male) bishop, scribe (scriba)
834 Affraic (female) abbess
840 Orthanach (male) bishop
845 Ceithernach mac Con-dinaisc (male) secondary abbot (secnap)
855 Cathan (female) abbess
864 Aedgen Britt (male) bishop, scribe (scriba), anchorite (anchorita), elder (senex)
865 Cellach mac Ailella (male) abbot
870 Cobthach mac Muiredaigh (male) abbot
875 Robartach Mac na Cerda (male) bishop, scribe (scriba)
875 Lachtnan mac Mochtigern (male) bishop
881 Suibne Ua Finnachta (male) bishop
885 Muiredach mac Brain (male) abbot
885 Tuileflaith inghean Uarghalaigh (female) abbess
885 Scannal (male) bishop
886 Tuathal mac Ailbhe (male) abbot
888 Lergus mac Cruinden (male) bishop
905 Dubhan (male) abbot
916 Coblaith inghin duibhduin (female) abbess
918 Muirenn ingen Suairt (female) abbess
922 Flannagan Ua Riaccan (male) abbot
931 Crunnmhaol (male) bishop
950 Maelfindain (male) bishop
955 Cuilen mac Cellaigh (male) abbot
964 Muiriond inghean mic Colmain (female) abbess
967 Muiredach mac Faolain (male) abbot
979 Muirenn ingin Congalaig (female) abbess
981 Anmchada (male) bishop
986 Muiredach mac Flaind (male) bishop
1016 Eithne ingen Hua Suairt (female) abbess
1030 Maolmartain (male) bishop
1042 Mael-brighde (male) bishop (espug)
1047 Lann ingen mic Selbachan (female) abbess
1072 Dubdil (female) abbess
1085 Find mac Gussain (male) bishop
1097 Mael-Brighte mac in tsair hUi Brolcan (male) bishop
1100 Aedh, Ae Ua hEremhain (male) bishop
1101 Ferdomnach (male) bishop
1108 mac mic Donnghail (male) bishop
1112 Gormladh ingen Murchadha Mic Diarmata (female) abbess
1148 Ua Duibhin (male) bishop
1160 Flaithbertach hUa Gorman; FM: Mac Gormain (male) bishop
1167 Mor inghean Domhnaiill (female) abbess
1171 Sadhbh ingen Gluin-iarinn Mic Murchada (female) abbess

Dependent Communities

The following list is from the 12th-century The Book of Leinster, formerly Lebar na Núachongbála list of abbesses and other ecclesiastics and their communities owing allegiance to Kildare (pp. 1580-1583, cf. Corpus genealogiarum sanctorum Hiberniae, 112-18, 210-12). Most of the sites are near Kildare in Leinster although some were as far away as Sligo and Tyrone.

1. Cel Chulinn in Cairpre (Oldkilcullen townland, parish/barony of Kilcullen, co. Kildare)
2. Cluain Choirinn.
3. Cell Dá Indenn (?Kildangan, bar. of Offaly West, co. Kildare)
4. Cel Bríge (?Kilbride, tl./par. of Abbeylara, bar. of Granard, co. Longford)
5. Lethráith (Lara, al. Abbeylara tl./par., bar. of Granard, co. Longford)
6. Cluain Brónaig (Clonbroney tl./par., bar. Granard, co. Longford)
7. Bruig Brocc
8. Both Roichnig at Cúil Úgaine in Mag Luigne (=Botha Ech Roichnig)
9. Cell Chalaid
9. Caill Luigmind
10. Tech Curchaisse
11. Cell Lasra in Uí Bresail (Killossery tl., par./bar. of Nethercross, co. Dublin)
12. Cell Chorpaige
13. Muine Tapláin in Inis Chróine on Loch Aindinn (Inchroan, par. of Carrick, bar of Fartullagh, co. Westmeath)
14. Ros Meic Ceit at Cruachán Ceineóil Ucha (co. Kildare)
15. Trácht Finde
16. Cluain Draignige
17. Telach Fuinechda
18. Tech Lúta in Fortharta Mara (?near Brí Éile, co. Offaly)
19. Rath Gairne
19. Fordruim
20. Tech Maíle Achaid
21. Aired (?co. Tipperary)
22. Imlech na Lega (?in Lége, i.e. par. of Lea, bar. of Potnahinch, co. Leix)
23. Imlech Mór
24. Cluain Ech
25. Tuaim Néill
26. Cell Lusca (?Lusk tl. and par., bar. of Balrothey East, co. Dublin)
27. Ard Trea (Artrea par., bar of Dungannon, co. Tyrone)
28. Cell Maignenn (?=Cell na hIngen, near Dublin)
29. Dísert Brigte in Cell Suird (near Swords, co. Dublin)
30. Enach Dirmaige
31. Mag Trega in Tethbae (co. Longford)
32. Ros Iarnglais
33. Cella Maige Uachtarcha ocus Íchtarcha
34. Cluain Moéscnae in Fir Tullach (Fartullagh, co. Westmeath)
34. Achad Corcaigi (?Cluain Chorcaige - Clonyhurk tl. and par., bar. of Upper Phillipstown, co. Offaly)
35. Achad Áeda
36. Cell Ingen Luain (?co. Wexford)
36. Cell Bróinche
36. Ráith Scothban
37. Domnach Mór in Feibe (Donaghmore tl. and par., bar. of Clandonagh, co. Laois)
38. Domnach Mór sanct Brigte (?Donaghmore tl. and par., bar. of Salth North, co. Kildare)
39. Inis Beoaíd (?=Inis Beoaín in Feighcullen par., bar. of Offaly East, co. Kildare?)
40. Cell Bia
41. Cell Neisse
42. Tír Guaire (in bar. of Tirerrill, co. Sligo)
43. Senchua of Eiltine (?Shancough tl. and par., bar. of Tirerrill, co. Sligo)
44. Ruba Senaig
45. Dinn Flatha (?Ceineóil Lugair in north of co. Wexford)
46. Cell Chondala (?near Oldconnell tl. and par., bar. of Connell, co. Kildare)
47. Cluain Fota in Uí Chuillinn in Loígis (near Mag Réta = Moyrath, deanery of Offally in diocese of Kildare)
48. Dercdoim (?co. Carlow)
49. Cluain Mór Lugnad (?= Cluain Mór Luigne = Clonmore tl., par. of Kildalkey, bar. of Lune, co. Meath)
50. Cell Láthraig ós tuile
51. Cluain Chonaire Maíle Duib (Cloncurry tl. and par., bar. of Offaly East, co. Kildare)
52. Cell Muine in Maig Liphi (=Kilmoney tl., in par. of Rathangan, bar. of Offaly East, co. Kildare)
53. Cell Rois (kilrush tl. and par., bar. of Offaly West, co. Kildare)
54. Tech Airthir in Uí Ercáin (south of co. Kildare)
55. Methas Caille (?co. Kildare)
56. Glass Éille in Uí Ercáin (=Glassely tl., par. of Narraghmore, bar. of Narragh and Reban East, co. Kildare)
57. Ernaide (=Nurney tl. and par., near Kilruch, bar. of Offaly West, co. Kildare)
58. Tech Trebtha (in cos. Longford and Westmeath into northwest Offaly)
59. Enach Gaibríne
60. Tech Derescain at Tipra Sabraille
61. Cill Chaí (?Kilkea par. and bar., co. Kildare)
62. Imlech Forechta (?at Forenaghts tl and par., bar. of Salt South, co. Kildare)
63. Cenn Trácta
64. Cuil Chorra (?in par. Granard, co. Longford)
65. Findchoire (?=Fincora, now Fancroft tl. par. of Seirkieran, bar. of Ballybrit, co. Offaly)
66. Tech Acronáin (Timahoe, al. Fossy, bar. of Cullenagh, co. Laois)
67. Tech Mo Chua Maic Lonain
68. Marcach in Sliab Mairce (bar. of Slievemargie in cos. Laois and Kilkenny)
68. Cluain Salainn
69. Cell Achaid Draignige (=Killadreenan tl., par. and bar. of Newcastle, co. Wicklow)
70. Cell araid (?al. Cell Aird in Uí Ercáin, south of Co. Kildare)
71. Cell Ennga
72. Dinn Flatha Ceineóil Lugair (cf. 45)
73. Cell Bairnig (?=Beirrechy in Fotharta, now par. Barragh, co. Carlow)
74. Cell Chúla Duma in Loígis Cúile
75. Tech Cendorcha
76. Imlech Tuascirt
77. Cell Feirbe
78. Tech Bríge
79. Rátha Brigti in Crích Ua Cormaic (Ua Loisc at the Curragh = Rathbride tl., par. of Tully, bar. of Offaly East, co. Kildare)
80. Cell Tuascirt in Tíre
81. Ard Conaig
82. Domnach Eochaille (?at Oghil tl., par. of Monasterevin, bar. of Offaly West, co. Kildare)
83. Cluain Chaín (Clonkeen tl. and par., bar. of Clanwilliam, co. Limerick)
84. Duma Ríg
85. Deircne (Delgany tl. and par., bar. Idrone West, co. Carlow)
86. Srui
87. Rus Conaill (Rosconnel tl and par., bar. of Clarmallagh, co. Laois)
88. Tech Dímma

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

Kildare was never part of a formal congregation or order, but the influence of Brigit's church in Irish politics, ecclesiastical and secular, was considerable. Kildare was the mother-church of many affiliated communities throughout Leinster and other parts of Ireland. Brigit herself was considered one of three premier saints of medieval Ireland; some references in material relating to St. Patrick and his main church at Armagh (Ard Macha, see Temple Brigid)suggest that Kildare contested Armagh's primacy in Ireland during the seventh century. Brigit's importance in Irish hagiographical material represents the powers of her abbesses and bishops during the middle ages and the rents, dues, and allegiances owed to Kildare by other, less wealthy and influential communities such as Clúain Brónaig. Churches dedicated to Brigit also existed at other, unaffiliated communities, such as Armagh.

The association of monasteries in other provinces with Kildare and other Leinster monasteries, such as certain houses in Mide and Tethba, is probably due to the fact that these monasteries were founded while their lands were still part of Leinster, and later (after the 7th century)lost to northern invasions.

Secular Political Affiliations

In pre-Norman times, control of Kildare alternated between the ruling dynasties of the province of Leinster. As in many Irish religious settlements, its major offices devolved to heirs and lesser branches of the local ruling dynasty. At its founding in the sixth century, Kildare was doubtless strongly associated with the Uí Failge of the Fothairt, on whose land the monastery was situated. At this time the Uí Failge were the ruling dynasty of Leinster, and Brigit was supposedly the daughter of a nobleman of this family. Bishop Conlaed was a member of the Dál Messin Corb, a dynasty that controlled northern Leinster before the Uí Failge and may still have had influence, or at least prestige, at the time of the founding of the monastery at Kildare. Unlike lesser monasteries which were generally controlled by local aristocracy, famous and wealthy houses such as Kildare attracted the attention and influence of provincial overlords. From the seventh century, Kildare was usually ruled by the Uí Dúnlainge, despite the fact that it was geographically located in Uí Failge land. From this point, the abbacy and bishopric of Kildare often fell to the ríogdamhna (potential heirs to the kingship) of Leinster, such as Áed Dub (+639) and Muiredach (+965); in at least one instance, the bishop was the king of Leinster. Kings of Leinster may have resided at Kildare. The Uí Fáelan branch of the Uí Dúnlainge seem to have had more control over Kildare than the other two branches. After 883, the Uí Cheinselaig controlled both the kingship and Kildare; see Annals of Ulster (to A. D. 1131) for 883, 923, 968.
By the twelfth century, the region was under the sway of the Uí Tuathail (O'Tooles) until the Anglo-Norman invasions, when Richard 'Strongbow' de Clare took control of Leinster. An English bishop, Ralph of Bristol, took office in the see of Kildare in 1223, died in 1232, and was succeeded by a series of English or Hiberno-Norman bishops up to the end of the 15th century. The Norman de Vesci family claimed the lordship of Kildare in 1245. By 1297, it had fallen under King Edward's control, and was constituted a county. The 16th-century dissolution of the monasteries, particularly those within the Pale including Kildare, followed soon afterward, the proceeds collected therefrom going to patronage for cooperative lords and the vacated houses used to board the military forces to enforce English rule.

Relative Wealth

For much of its early history, Kildare was one of the wealthiest communities in Ireland. See Vita sanctae Brigidae and below.


The inquisitions of the 16th and 17th centuries list estates belonging to Kildare:
26 Nov. 1540: small castle with chapel, 8 acres, and two cottages in Kildare; 44 acres in Callaughton (Knockencayllagh), total value 43s. 6d. Extents of Irish monastic possessions, 1540-1541, from manuscripts in the Public record office, London, 163-64.
1605, townland of Knockinalliagh contained 80 acres arable belonging to Kildare Monasticon hibernicum, or, A history of the abbeys, priories, and other religious houses in Ireland : interspersed with memoirs of their several founders and benefactors, and of their abbots and other superiors, to the time of their final suppression, 802.

Early Documents

The earliest life of St. Brigit was the first extant vita composed in Ireland.(Vita sanctae Brigidae) This so-called Vita II was by Cogitosus, who was probably a monk at or near Kildare, fl. 650x675. Two other vitae of Brigit, Vita I Vita Prima Sanctae Brigidae and III, are attributed to Coelan and Anmchad. A.P. Smyth suggests that MS Rawlinson B 502 was compiled at Kildare (Celtic Leinster : towards an historical geography of early Irish civilization, A.D. 500-1600, 103). Rawlinson B 502 contains, among other works, the largest collection of early Irish genealogical material.

Architecture & Archaeology

Cogitosus' seventh-century Life of St. Brigit contains one of the earliest and most detailed descriptions of an Irish church and its surrounding settlement:

Vita sanctae Brigidae virginis, Cogitosus Vita sanctae Brigidae, col. 789
Note: Angle brackets (< >) denote editions made Sept. 1996 RE. Square brackets ([ ]) from Pat. Lat. edition.

Nec et de miraculo in reparatione ecclesiae tacendum est, in qua gloriosa amborum, hoc est episcopi Conleath et hujus virginis sanctae Brigidae corpora a dextris et a sinistris altaris decorati, in monumentis posita ornatis, vario cultu auri et argenti et gemmarum, et pretiosa lapidis, atque coronis aureis et argenteis desuper pendentibus requiescunt.
Ecclesia namque crescente numero fidelium et utroque sexu, solo spatiosa, et in altum minaci proceritate porrecta, ac decorata pictis tabulatis, tria intrinsecus habens oratoria, ampla et divisa parietibus tabulatis, sub uno culmine majoris domus, in quo unus paries decoratus, et imaginibus depictus, ac linteaminibus tectus, per latitudinem in orientali ecclesiae parte, a pariete ad alterum parietem ecclesiae se tetendit; qui in suis extremitatibus duo habet in sua ostia; et per unum hostium in extera parte positum intratur ad sanctuarium ad altare summus pontifex cum sua regulari scola et his sacris sunt deputati ministeriis, sacra ad dominica et immolare sacrificia. Et per alterum ostium in sinistra parte parietis supra dicti et transversi positum, abbatissa cum suis puellis et viduis fidelibus tantum iverat [Leg. intrat], ut convivio corporis et sanguinis fruantur Jesu Christi. Atque alius paries pavimentum domus in duas aequales dividens partes, a parte orientali usque ad transversum in latitudine parietem extensus est. Et haec tenet Ecclesia in se multas fenestras, et unam in latere dextro ornatam portam, per quam sacerdotes et populus fidelis masculini generis sexus intrat Ecclesiam; et alterma portam in sinistro latere, per quam virgines et fidelium feminarum congregatio intrare solet. Et sic in una basilica maxima, populus grandis in ordine, et gradibus, et sexu, et locis diversis interjectis et inter se partibus, diverso ordine et uno animo Dominum omnipotentem orat.

See also: Ekphrasis at Kildare: The Imaginative Architecture of a Seventh Century Hagiographer

State Of Medieval Structure

The cathedral, begun by Ralph of Bristol around 1223, was restored in the 15th and again in the 19th century. Some medieval tombs and tiles remain. The Romanesque round tower was capped by a parapet in the 18th century. Some remains to the north of the cathedral nave were thought, in the 18th and 19th centuries, to be original to the site, including the so-called Fire House.

Manuscript Sources

Earliest references to Brigit come from the Irish annals, such as the Annals of Ulster, for the late fifth century. However, the annals are probably much later documents than the three seventh- to eighth-century vitae of Brigit (Vitae I, II, III). All survive in much later mss.

Published Primary Sources

Annala Uladh: Annals of Ulster otherwise Annala Senait, Annals of Senat: a chronicle of Irish affairs from A.D. 431 to A.D. 1540, i. 40, 240, 278, 325, 328, 329, 436, ii. 18, 66, iii. 112; Martyrology of Donegal: A Calendar of the Saints of Ireland, 4, 8, 34, 36, 52, 118, 354; B&A 1898 [PN=4I027], 108, 117, 120, 121, 168; The Annals of Loch Cé : a Chronicle of Irish Affairs from A.D. 1014 to A.D. 1590, ii. 78, index;Félire Óengusso céli dé: The Martyrology of Oegnus the Culdee, 7, 40, 72, 83; Félire húi Gormáin. The martyrology of Gorman, 7, 10, 28, 38, 88; The Martyrology of Tallaght: from the Book of Leinster and MS. 5100-4 in the Royal Library, Brussels, 11, 23; Chronicum Scotorum. A chronicle of Irish affairs, from the earliest times to A. D. 1135; with a supplement, containing the events from 1141 to 1150, 87, 217, 488, index; Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh: The war of the Gaedhil with The Gaill, or, The invasions of Ireland by the Danes and other Norsemen, 18, 34; Schwierige Frauen, schwierige Männer in der Literatur des Mittelalters; The genealogies, tribes, and customs of Hy-Fiachrach : commonly called O'Dowda's country. Now first published from the Book of Lecan, in the library of the Royal Irish academy, and from the genealogical manuscript of Duald MacFirbis, in the library of [?], 458; The book of Ballymote. A collection of pieces (prose and verse) in the Irish language, compiled about the beginning of the fifteenth century, 42 a; The book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach ; otherwise, the Book of Lismore, 15 a, 24 a.. For twelfth-century episodes concerning Kildare, see Gerald of Wales, Conquest of Ireland in Giraldi Cambrensis Opera.

Miscellaneous Information

The name, from Old Irish Cell Dara, means "Church of the Oak".

R. Eickwort; Lisa Bitel
Contributors Notes

dates and entries for annals in JVKLEINS (Kildare)
UiFiach [PN=4R001], 156;

Date Started
Date Finished