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Double Take: The bizarre 140ft-high monument towering over a park in Kildare

Conolly’s Folly has been there for more than 250 years.

HIDDEN DOWN A remote woodland lane in Leixlip, en route to Celbridge, stands an intricately designed stone structure. Known as Conolly’s Folly, its presence is mysterious to the casual passerby as it guards a gated park.

How exactly did this M C Escher like monument, 140 feet high, adorned with archways and an impressive obelisk, make its way to a relatively remote part of County Kildare?

Furthermore, where did this elaborate gateway once lead to?

The story of Conolly’s Folly, found on the aptly named Obelisk Lane, is one of – possibly misguided – charity. Its construction in 1740 brought industry to Kildare, providing families from the area with a modest income following a famine brought on by ‘The Great Frost’, from the previous year.

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A succinct history on Ireland In Ruins details the origins of the three-hundred year old monument. Commissioned by Katherine Connolly, the widow of  ‘Speaker’ William Connolly from the House of Lords, she called upon renowned architect Richard Castle to “design an elaborate structure that would also serve as a rear entrance gatehouse for Castletown estate. The locals could then be employed to construct it thus giving them a source of income to navigate the hard times.”

As reported by Maynooth Archaeology, the structure “cost £400 to build” and workers earned “half a penny a day”. The blog proffers information about the process of erecting the structure, including how the workers “transported [stone] from a quarry in Leixlip along a human chain all the way to the site.”

The location of the decorative entrance is situated at the foot of Castletown Estate, nearby Carton House, which was home to the Conolly family.

If you look closely at Conolly’s Folly, you’ll spot decorative pineapples, carved from stone, atop the structure’s pillars. According to Ireland In Ruins, pineapples were chosen as they represented “affluence as this fruit was exotic and much sought after”, at the time.

Richard Castle, the architect behind the monument was also responsible for the design of other notable buildings in Ireland such as Leinster House in Dublin and Wicklow’s Powerscourt House.

Today, Conolly’s Folly is protected by a gate surrounding the structure, preventing visitors from interfering with the historical monument. It was restored in the 1960s by The Georgian Society of Ireland and is currently under the tutelage of The Office of Public Works.

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