In 1171 Strongbow granted most of North Kildare to his friend and companion Adam de Hereford. However, in 1317 the de Hereford lands reverted to the Crown and were granted to Sir John Wogan of Rathcoffey, then Lord Deputy of Ireland, by Edward II. The name Clongowes Wood comes from the hybrid Latin/Irish: silva, wood; cluain, meadow; gobha, smith; i.e. the wood of the meadow of the smith.
From the Wogans the Clongowes land passed to the Eustace family who built a castle there in 1450. Originally this was a Pale castle built to protect the English frontier from incursions by the Irish clans in search of cattle and plunder. The Pale was first proposed in 1435 as a result of a report to the English king that it was only in the area around Dublin, ‘that a man might safely go to answer the king’s writ and to do his commandments.’
The actual Pale rampart was to consist of a bank, six feet high surrounded by a double ditch. The top of the bank was to be flat and wide enough to serve as a footpath, a bridle path or even a road in some places. There are two well-preserved stretches of the Pale boundary on Clongowes land. The first section begins at the east gate of the present farmyard and runs for nearly 500 yards to the lane at Rathcoffey. The second and best known section, between Clongowes and Capdoo Commons, starts in the grounds of the College just south west of the castle and runs for over half a mile from north-west to south-east towards the Gollymochy river, perhaps intending to make the river part of the defence.
As a result of the Eustace involvement in the 1641 Rising the Cromwellian General Monck attacked and blew up the castle at Clongowes, and their lands were forfeited. In July 1667 the property was granted to Richard Reynall, who promptly sold the castle and 1000 acres to Thomas Browne, a Dublin barrister, for £2,100. The Brownes and their near neighbours, the Wogans of Rathcoffey, were Catholics and the two families intermarried – hence the family name Wogan Browne. It was Browne who changed the name to Castle Browne, by which it was known until 1814, when it was changed back to Clongowes by the Jesuits.
In 1718 Stephen Fitzwilliam Browne rebuilt the castle completing the western façade (front) just as it is today, comprising the central keep and the two square towers. In 1788 Thomas Wogan Browne extended and decorated the castle. The extension consists of the eastern façade and two round towers at the back of the castle all built in the Georgian style. Both building phases are recorded in the Latin inscription incised on the lintel over the hall-door of the castle beneath the Wogan Browne Coat of Arms.
Thomas Wogan Browne died in 1812 and his younger brother, General Michael Wogan Browne, who was helping Napoleon at the siege of Moscow, inherited the property. When he returned to Ireland on hearing of his brother’s death, he found the estate heavily in debt and sold the castle and 219 acres to Fr Peter Kenney SJ in March 1814 for £16,000.
This material is largely taken from A Short History of Clongowes Wood College, which was privately published in 2011 by Mr Brendan Cullen, a local historian and formerly teacher of history in Clongowes (1971-2007). It is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.