Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Donadea Castle

THE AYLMER BARONETS WERE MAJOR LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY KILDARE, WITH 13,396 ACRES

This ancient family deduces its descent from Athelmare, or Ailmer, Earl of Cornwall, who lived in the reign of ÆTHELRED I, King of Wessex; and their settlement in Ireland is fixed at some time in the 12th century.

During the reign of HENRY VI, in 1421, we find Richard Aylmer, of Lyons, County Kildare, one of the keepers of the peace for that county, as well as for the adjoining county of Dublin.

In 1432, he is a subscriber (as sovereign of the town of Tassagard), to an indenture made to one John Staunton, and his heirs, of a waste plot of ground there, for the annual consideration of one penny at Easter.

In the reign of HENRY VIII, a member of the family,

THE RT HON SIR GERALD AYLMER (c1500-59), second son of Bartholomew Aylmer, of Lyons, by his wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir Christopher Cheevers, of Macetown, rose to considerable eminence in the legal profession.

Sir Gerald, for his very important services to the crown, obtained a grant of the manor and lordship of Dullardstown, County Meath, and settled there.

The baronetcy was conferred in 1621, little more than a year after the institution of the Order, by JAMES I, upon

SIR GERALD AYLMER (1548-1634), Knight, of Donadea, son of George Aylmer, of Cloncurry, and grandson of Richard Aylmer, of Lyons.

Sir Gerald married firstly, Mary, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Travers, Master of the Ordnance, and relict of James FitzEustace, Viscount Baltinglas.

He wedded secondly, Julia, daughter of Christopher, Lord Delvin, by whom he had two daughters and his successor, at his decease in 1634,

SIR ANDREW AYLMER (1613-71), 2nd Baronet, who wedded Ellen, daughter of Thomas, Viscount Thurles, and sister of James, 1st Duke of Ormonde, by whom he had, with one daughter, a son and heir,

SIR FITZGERALD AYLMER (1663-85), 3rd Baronet, who espoused, in 1681, Helen, second daughter of Luke, 3rd Earl of Fingall, and at his decease (by smallpox) was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR JUSTIN AYLMER (1682-1711), 4th Baronet, who married, in 1702, Ellice, daughter of Sir Gerald Aylmer, of Balrath, and had two sons.

Sir Justin was succeeded by his elder son,

SIR GERALD AYLMER (1703-37), 5th Baronet, who wedded, in 1726, Lucy, daughter of Admiral Sir John Norris, of Hempstead, Kent, by whom he left one son and two daughters, Lucy and Elizabeth.

This gentleman was succeeded by his son,

SIR FITZGERALD AYLMER (1736-94), 6th Baronet, who espoused Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Fenton Cole, of Silver Hill, County Fermanagh, by whom he had, with other children who died young,
FENTON, his heir;
John;
Arthur, lieutenant-general;
Margaret.
He was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR FENTON AYLMER (1770-1816), 7th Baronet, who married, in 1795, Jane Grace, daughter of Sir John Evans Freke Bt, of Castle Freke, County Cork, and sister of Lord Carbery, by whom he left issue,
GERALD GEORGE, his successor;
Arthur Percy;
William Josiah;
John Freke;
Margaret Susan.
Sir Fenton was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR GERALD GEORGE AYLMER (1798-1878), 8th Baronet, who wedded, in 1826, Maria, elder daughter and co-heir of Colonel Hodgson, of the East India Company, and had an only son,

SIR GERALD GEORGE AYLMER (1830-83), 9th Baronet.
  • Sir Justin Gerald Aylmer, 10th Baronet (1863–85);
  • Sir Arthur Percy Aylmer, 11th Baronet (1801–85);
  • Captain Fenton John Aylmer (1835–62);
  • Sir Arthur Percy Fitzgerald Aylmer, 12th Baronet (1858–1928);
  • John Evans Freke Aylmer (1838–1907);
  • Sir Gerald Arthur Evans-Freke Aylmer, 14th Baronet (1869–1939);
  • Sir Fenton Gerald Aylmer, 15th Baronet (1901–87);
  • Sir Richard John Aylmer, 16th Baronet (b 1937).
The heir apparent is the present holder's son, Fenton Paul Aylmer (b 1965).
The 1st Baron Aylmer was the second son of Sir Christopher Aylmer, 1st Baronet, of Balrath, County Meath.


In 1581, Sir Gerald built a new Tower in Donadea, not fully completed until 1624 and now the oldest part of the Castle.

In 1626, he repaired the medieval Church in Donadea and built a new extension in which he established his family burial plot.

In the extension he also constructed an Altar Tomb monument as a burial memorial for his family. Gerald was titled by the Crown and became the first Baronet of Donadea.

The Aylmers were connected with the various conflicts and rebellions over the next two centuries.

During the wars of the 1640s, Sir Andrew, 2nd Baronet, supported the rebels and was imprisoned at the beginning of the war.

Although he was a brother-in-law of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Ormond, there were no favours granted to him.

In 1642 Ormond sent an army to capture Donadea Castle which was stoutly defended by Sir Andrew's sister, Ellen Aylmer.

The Castle, nevertheless, was captured and burned. Ellen, however, was not imprisoned and subsequently rebuilt the Castle.

In 1689, after the battle of the Boyne, Lady Helen Aylmer (daughter of 3rd Earl of Fingall) was in charge of the Castle.

Lady Helen was the widow of the 3rd Baronet and was outlawed due to her support for JAMES II.

However, she managed to hold on to the Castle and lands under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick.

In 1736, Sir Gerald, 5th Baronet, died leaving an only son FitzGerald who became the 6th Baronet.

He was only one year old when his father died and was subsequently raised by his mother and her relatives who were members of the established church. FitzGerald subsequently conformed to the established religion.


In 1773, he built a new house in front of the Castle and incorporated the Tower in his new residence.

Sir Fenton Aylmer, 7th Baronet, was well-known as the man who founded the Kildare Hunt. He was also famous as a Yeoman leader during the Rebellion of 1798.

In the period leading up to the rebellion there was an attempt to burn Donadea Castle. During the rebellion Fenton’s kinsman, William Aylmer of Painstown, was the leader of the local rebels.

This led to a split among the Aylmer family.

Sir Fenton’s son Gerald, 8th Baronet, held the lands of Donadea between 1816 and 1878 and he is accredited with most of the construction work that is visible in Donadea demesne today.

He began his building program in the 1820s by re-routing the roads away from the Castle and the construction of a high wall enclosing the demesne.

Gate lodges were then built at all the entrances. He also built a new grand entrance known as the Lime Avenue.

In 1827 he completely remodelled the front of the Castle which gave it an attractive bow shaped appearance.

It has been suggested that he employed the renowned architect Richard Morrison to design this new structure.

The older cabin-type dwellings close to the castle were demolished and new estate houses built at the Range.

To the west of the Castle he built an eight acre area of gardens and paddocks, surrounded and sub-divided by walls.

In the Castle yard he built dwellings for staff and elaborative farm buildings. He also constructed the artificial lake and the Ice House.

Large areas of the demesne were planted and, by the time of his death, Donadea demesne was listed as one of the finest parkland settings in the county.

Outside the demesne he was involved in numerous construction projects including the famous ‘Aylmer Folly’, viz. the Tower on the summit of the hill of Allen.

Sir Gerald's grandson Justin, 10th Baronet, died unmarried in 1885.

His sister Caroline inherited the castle and much of the demesne, while the baronetcy passed to a cousin.

Caroline Maria Aylmer, who was the daughter of Sir Gerald George Aylmer, 9th Baronet, was the last Aylmer to live at Donadea.

She died in 1935, leaving the estate to the Church of Ireland who, in turn, passed it on to the Irish state.

The castle remained unoccupied and was de-roofed in the late 1950s.

Lieutenant-General Sir Fenton John Aylmer Bt VC KCB, 13th Baronet, was a recipient of the Victoria Cross.

In 1981 the Irish Minister for Lands designated the area of the demesne held by his department as Donadea Forest Park.

Under their management, a new era of history then began which transformed the old demesne into Donadea Forest Park.

First published in December, 2011.

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