Droichead Nua or Newbridge
A Brief History
“An Droichead Nua”, which is the official name of the town since the 1930’s, and means simply “The New Bridge”. The present parish of Newbridge is made up of six ancient parishes and portions of others; these are Ballymany, Carnalway, Great Connell, Killashee, Morristown Biller and Old Connell.
One of the earliest known references to Newbridge is contained in a letter written in 1698, where a gentleman traveller named John Dunton referred to a “new bridge standing on the Liffey”, and also makes reference to a “settlement” at Ballymany. It is believed that the first bridge was constructed circa 1656 at the site of present “Watering Gates” (included in the Arts & Heritage Trail), and resulted in those people who had settled around Connell Abbey (see below) migrating to a the new settlement down river adjacent to the area around the present Chapel Lane.
This first bridge was destroyed by a major flood in 1789 and a new “handsome five arched bridge” was then built further down river adjacent to the site of the present bridge “Droichead Conlaoch”. When the bridge was re-located the main road from the Naas direction had to be re-aligned – the road which originally ran from Buckley’s Cross to the end of Chapel Lane (near River Court Estate) now runs from Buckley’s Cross to the current bridge, and extended up through the current Main Street and Edward Street to the Gandogue Lane turnpike. The present bridge was constructed in 1936, and in 2006 the bridge was totally refurbished, with the walls removed and boardwalk added providing a wonderful vista of the Liffey.
There is evidence that Roman Catholic Church (or mass house) existed in this area (adjacent to the bridge) in the 1730’s and that there was an Inn in the area in the 1750’s. The current Roman Catholic Church of St. Conleth was built circa 1852, and the older church was then demolished. Noble and Keenan’s map of Kildare 1752 simply notes that there is a ‘New Bridge’ in this area.
From Connell to Droichead Nua
However the original settlement in this area was located approximately a half mile up river at Connell Abbey, (an Augustinian Priory dedicated to Our Lady and St. David), which was built circa 1202. The Abbey was founded by Myler Fitzhenry and in 1205 (the English) King John confirmed the grant made by Fitzhenry to the Abbey at Connell, and monks from its sister house in Lathony (Wales) came to Great Connell. While in general the policy was not to admit what were referred to as “mere Irishmen” to profession there is evidence that some Irishmen were professed in this Abbey.
The Abbey at Great Connell was a significant Anglo-Norman monastery and was quite wealthy, with in excess of 1,260 acres of land, a mill (as a consequence of its location beside the River Liffey), some castles, and many dwellings. Great Connell’s most renowned Prior was Walter Wellesley (appointed Bishop of Kildare 1529); he died in 1539 having ensured that the Abbey was not suppressed and therefore survived the Act of Confiscation (1537). However Connell Abbey was eventually suppressed and in 1541 it was closed. In 1781 it would appear all that remained of the Abbey were a few pillars, and the remnants of some windows, and today only scattered ruins of the original priory remain, and these ruins contain an old Cemetery. Connell Ford, which lies just 500 metres south west of the abbey was one of the major crossing points of the Liffey, and may indeed have been part of the Slighe Dhála.
Development of the Town
However the town really commenced to develop in 1813 with building of a British Army cavalry barracks on the southern side of what is now Main Street, the barracks was completed sometime in 1816, the barracks was of significant size extending from the site of the present Whitewater Shopping Complex, down through the present Bord na Mona site, St. Conleth’s GAA Grounds to the present Garda Station. The barracks extended from Main Street back to Military Road where some remnants of the barrack wall, gates, and fortifications remain. The “Watering Gates” located at the entrance to the Town Park on the Athgarvan Road was also constructed as part of the original Barrack building.
The garrison was reputed to have a compliment of 800 men and in excess of 500 horses, and the cavalry barracks was home to a number of regiments over many years, probably the most famous of which was Lord Cardigan’s 15th Hussars. Cardigan is probably best known for leading the charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War in October 1854.
The population in 1837 was around “577 persons” – today Newbridge is a thriving town with a population of 21,561 (2011 census).
The barracks was occupied by the British Army until 1922 when following the Anglo-Irish Treaty the British Army evacuated the barracks in Newbridge. The then Town Commissioners, realising that the then population of 3,000 was in the main relying on the barracks for trade and work petitioned the new Irish government for help with little or no success.
The barracks was used as an internment camp by the national army during the Civil War, where Commandant Denis “Dinny” Barry (Blackrock, County Cork ), a 1916 veteran, died on hunger strike on the 20 November 1923 however the barracks was not required as a Military Barracks by the new Irish Army, and was closed following the Civil War.
An Englishman, Eric Rigby-Jones (1897-1952) who had a background in rope manufacturing in England founded the Irish Rope Factory in 1933, commencing manufacturing in the former Riding School building within the by then abandoned barracks. The factory which manufactured ropes, twines and harvest / baler twines using such materials as sisal, manila and flax created much needed employment in the locality and thus began a new phase in the development of Newbridge. Later in 1937 the “Ropes” commenced manufacturing carpets and floor coverings from sisal – notably manufacturing the world renowned “Tintawn” “Cushlawn” and “Curragh” ranges of carpets. Both the Rope and Carpet factories are now gone.
The Newbridge Silverware (then Newbridge Cutlery) factory followed in 1935, and with employment generated by the Military in the nearby Curragh Camp, and the Horse Racing industry which developed on the outskirts of the town, Newbridge continued to expand.
With the arrival of Bord na Móna (whose headquarters are in Newbridge), Wyeth Medica – now Pfizer, Oral-B (Proctor & Gamble), and other industry the town has continued to develop as an industrial centre and is in many regards a relatively self-sufficient satellite town, providing jobs, business opportunities, and leisure services locally and thereby reducing the requirement for commuting to and from Dublin for work, shopping or entertainment.
Newbridge hosts a comprehensive selection of shops, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and bars in the town, many are owned and run by long established local businesspeople, there are also many large international branded businesses in the town, numerous primary and secondary schools, churches and leisure facilities.
Droichead Nua is located on the Liffey on the edge of the Curragh, 36km from Dublin, and 10km west of Naas. It is bypassed by the M7 motorway linking Dublin to Cork, Limerick, Waterford and the south. The town is naturally bounded by the Curragh Plains to the west, Pollardstown Fen and the Bog of Allen and Moulds Bog to the North West. Around the Curragh and to the east are many important stud farms. To the south the motorway now forms a boundary to the town.
The town has rail (railway opened in 1846) and road links both to Dublin and the South, and is within easy reach of Dublin Airport, and the major ports in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire.
Newbridge is Twinned with:
Link for further historical information: Newbridge Local History Group