The Curraugh

The Curraugh
Near Kildare and Naas, Ireland

It is said that in 480 C.E. Saint Brighid came to the area to found a monastery in Kildare and had approached the King of Leinster and asked for land for the poor and on to which to build it. He laughed a her and told her that if she lay out her cloak, whatever space the cloak covers is hers to keep. She laid out her magical cloak and thus claimed almost 5,000 acres of land in County Kildare which is known as “The Curraugh” (a.k.a. “An Currach”). It is a flat open plain that is common land for the Irish. It is used for Army maneuvers, Irish Horse breeding / training, horse racing, sheep herding, and public recreation. Ireland’s largest Fen, the Pollardstown Fen is also located here. There are many rare species of plants that grow on the Curraugh so it is a hot spot for botanists and ecologists. The Curraugh also has a sandy soil that was formed after an esker deposited a sand load on it thereby creating excellent drainage characteristics. In early Irish history, the Curraugh was a central point for legends and lore for thousands of years. The hill north is called the “Almhain” or “Hill of Allen” where the mythical Fianna used as a meeting place. The Fenian tales talk of much mythology here. The Curraugh is littered with prehistoric ruins, ring burial-mounds, and the Race of the Black Pig which may have been an ancient cattleway. In 1234 C.E. Richard Marshal, the 3rd Earl of Pembroke lost a battle here against a group of men loyal to King Henry III of England, he was wounded, and died at his castle at Kilkenny the same year. The Curraugh was also a common site for the mustering of the armies of the Pale. They held a Rebellion in 1798 here that resulted in a massacre of 350 unarmed United Irishmen at Gibbet Rath. This location is now where the Curraugh Camp is hosted where the Irish Defense Forces train. On March 20, 1914 the Curraugh Camp saw an incident called the “Curragh Mutiny” while the Camp was the main base for the British Army in Ireland. As in 1912 the Liberal coalition British governmen of H. H. Asquith had just introduced the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland which proposed the creation of an autonomous Irish Parliament in Dublin. Numerous Unionists objected to the inclusion of potential rule by the proposed Dublin Parliament and founded the Ulster Volunteers paramilitary group in 1912 to fight against the British government if necessary on this point. In 1913, Lord French and Henry Hughes Wilson with a number of senior officers expressed concerns to the government that the British Army would find it difficult to act against the Volunteers since they were all there to defend the British Empire. To combat this the Curraugh base commander Sir Arthur Paget was ordered by London’s War Office in March 1914 to start preparations to move troops to Ulster in order to deal with any violence there that might break out by occupying governmenet buildings and to repel any assaults by the Ulster Volunteers. He misinterpreted his orders from a precautionary deployment to meaning an immediate order to march against the Ulstermen. At this point he offered his officers the choice of resignation rather than fighting this battle. 57 out of 70 of the Officers, mostly Irish unionists resigned or accept dismissal rather than enforce the Home Rule Act of 1914. When Paget reported this to London. This caused Asquith’s Liberal Government to back down claiming an honest misunderstanding and the men were reinstated and the Army would not be used to enforce the Home Rule Act. A month later, the Northern Irish Ulster Volunteers covertly landed about 24,000 rifles at night in the “Larne gun-running” incident without discovery or arrest. This event led to Unionist confidence and the growing Irish separatist movement convincing nationalists they wouldn’t have Army support in Ireland which in turn increased nationalist support for the Irish Volunteers and a growing concern for an Irish Civil War. The Home Rule Act was dropped after the start of World War I. The plains were also used to film the battle scenes in the film “Braveheart”. A famous Irish song called “The Curraugh of Kildare” is dedicated to the plains.

Donnolly’s Hollow, Giant Footsteps, and Circle Dances

The Curraugh, Kildare, Ireland

The Curraugh is speckled with natural bowl-shaped amphitheaters known to be dancing locations for Pagan and Christian groups. One of these is known as “Donnolly’s Hollow” where the Irish champion boxer Dan Donnelly defeated the English champion George Cooper in 1815. He was quite locally famous and the remains of his arm were shown until recently in the Hideou Pub in the nearby town of Kilcullen. Daniel Donnelly was born at the docks near Townsend Street in Dublin 1788 C.E. He was viewed by many to be a actual “Giant”. Over 6 foot tall his arms purportedly could touch his knees without him bending over. He was born into an Ireland that was suppressed with colonial oppression, acute agrarian poverty, and burning patriotism. He took on the carpenter trade and often frequented taverns where he was a legend for holding his own at hard drinking or hard hitting. A horse trainer from Maddenstown named Captain Kelly discovered him at a coffee shop brawl and upon recognizing his potential, lured him into boxing as a career. His first recorded fight took place on the Curraugh in 1814 against the famed Tom Hall. The fight drew an estimated 20,000 spectators and was won by Donnelly in 20 minutes. His second famous fight took place here in the Hollow against the mighty George Cooper. The spectators took meaning of that fight to epitomise the national struggle and championing their seemingly hopeless cause against the intransigent representatives of the Crown. Everyone crowded into the Curraugh to watch this spectacle and see history be made. The fight lasted 11 rounds with the first 3 involving Donnelly sledge-hammering blows upon the Englishman, though retook by Cooper until the 7th and 8th rounds when Donnelly’s strength and “giant” stature gave him the edge back striking at the head and temple and by round 11 knocked Cooper senseless, breaking his jaw-bone. The fight gave an enormous amount of spirit to the Irish. From 1815-1819 Donnelly lived a reckless life. When he was introduced to George IV, Prince Regent remarked “I am glad to meet the best man in Ireland” to which Donnelly replied “I’m not, your Royal Highness, but I’m the best in England.” This made a strong friendship with the Prince who later Knighted Donnelly. Donnelly died penniless at age 32 on February 18th, 1820. He had an enormous funeral, with thousands in attendance, his gloves carried on a silken cushion, and was laid to rest in Bully’s Acre, Kilmainham, Dublin. His corpse was then dug up and stolen by medical students which instigated riots amongst the Irish. His body was purchased by the Dublin Surgeon Hall who removed the right arm to study the muscle structure and respectfully reburied the body. Surgeon Hall then transported the arm to Scotland where it lay undisturbed until a roving circus purchased it for their “peep show”. Eventually it came into possession by Hugh ‘Texas’ McAlevey, a boxing fan and affluent Ulster bookmaker. When ‘Texas’ died, Tom Donnelly an affluent wine merchant and sportsman, procured the arm and presented it to the Hide-out pub in Kilcullen where it was displayed for roughly 43 years until Jim Byrne died. Eventually he believed the arm might be frightening off customers and then stored it in his attic. The arm made it back to Kilcullen in the 1950s. Upon Jim’s death, the pub was eventually sold. In 2005 it was sent for an exhibition called “Fighting Irishmen: A Celebration of the Celtic Warrior”. It was smuggled into America and became the centerpiece of the Fighting Irishmen Exhibit, Donnelly’s arm went on display at the Irish Arts Center in New York City, in the fall of 2006. The show traveled across New York to the South Street Seaport Museum in 2007. It was then displayed at the Boston College’s John J. Burns Library in 2008. The arm returned to Ireland in 2009 displayed at Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh. By 2010 it was exhibited at the Gaelic Athletic Association museum at Croke Park in Dublin.

Giant Footsteps

As Donnelly was seen as a “Giant” there is a long trail of giant footsteps in the ground going up the hill from his monument in Donnelly’s Hollow. This gives physical play with the legends of literal metaphorical super-humans who were believed to walk alot around the Curraugh. Throughout history, many Giants, Faeries, pilgrims, Celts, and Vikings left their marks on these Irish hills including legends like Cuchulainn and Brian Boru.

Natural amphitheaters and Circle Dancing

The Curraugh is speckled with natural bowl-shaped amphitheaters known to be dancing locations for Pagan and Christian groups throughout history. Some say these are the places where the faeries dance. One of these is known as “Donnolly’s Hollow” where the Irish champion boxer Dan Donnelly defeated the English champion George Cooper in 1815. He was quite locally famous and the remains of his arm were shown until recently in the Hideou Pub in the nearby town of Kilcullen. The Brighid Sisters of Kildare are believed to continue the tradition of circle dancing on the Curraugh as well as many various Neo-Pagan groups.

Circle Dance Area









Curraugh continued …








Fairy Tree


Fairy Tree


Circle Dance Area



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