Monkeys, Mermaids and the Evil Eye. Medieval Stone Sculpture at Kilkea Castle and Graveyard

A few weeks back I visited Kilkea Castle which has just reopened as at Hotel and Golf course.  The castle was once the seat of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare.



Kilkea Castle


The castle and surrounding demesne has a long and interesting history. For this short post Im just going to highlight a few of the many interesting features carved in stone that date to the late medieval period.

Within the gatehouse of the castle is a really interesting stone called the The Evil Eye Stone.


The Evil Eye Stone Kilkea Castle

The carving is built into a stone in the guard-room above the bawn entrance to Kilkea Castle. It depicts a man engaged in a sexual act with a semi-human creature with the head of dog or wolf while another beast appears to be having sexual intercourse and eating the man at the same time while a bird pecks at this chest. Gary Dempsey has created a wonderful 3D model of the stone using photogrammetry (see reference section also for the link).

According to Lord Walter Fitzgerald (1896, 27) this stone was an ‘evil eye’ stone.

The idea of the “Evil Eye” is that a person unknown to himself may possess it, so that by admiring or looking at a human being, beast, or crop, &c., he would unintentionally cause it to sicken or be blighted by its evil influence; to prevent the present day, the peasants will add “God bless it” or “God bless you” when taking any special notice of anything; while in the old times grotesquely cut carving were built into castles near the entrance in order to attract the “Evil Eye”, and so prevent its evil influence from affecting the dwellers in them.



View of Kilkea Castle from Graveyard.


A number of other interesting carvings are found close to the castle in the graveyard.

The graveyard is a circular shaped raised area enclosed by a stone wall and a series of   large trees around periphery.  At the  centre of graveyard are the ruins of  a late medieval church.


A sixteenth century chapel  dedicated tot the Blessed Virgin abuts the north wall of the chancel of the church. The Fitzgerald mortuary chapel is located at the west side of the nave of the church. The burial-place of Lords of Leinster the Fitzgeralds are found within the church defined by a iron railing.

There area a number of  late medieval carved stones including two stone fonts in the graveyard.



Within the church there are several interesting late medieval carved stones. One is a stone plaque called the Monkey Stone dating to the sixteenth/ seventeenth century is set into the west wall of the church. The plaque depicts a monkey with collar and chain holding a helmet in one hand (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1). The monkey is part of the Fitzgerald Coat of Arms.


Close by is another  carving of a limestone panel with a mermaid carved in relief. She hold two long strands of her hair in her right hand and in her left hadn she holds a comb/mirror. The lower part of her body is shaped like a fish and a snake-like creature is biting her tail’ (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 241).


Mermaid plaque at Kilkea Church



Illustration of a carving of  Kilkea mermaid (after Fitzgerald 1898-1902, 241)


A third  plaque bears the coat of arms of the Fitzgerald family

carved in false relief with a heater shaped shield with helmet and lynx above. Below the shield in the lower corners are two small shields; the left one has the arms of Fitzgerald impaling Keating while the right has the Fitzgerald arms impaling Geidon. Below are the initials: I K 1630 SG (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1)



Plaque with the Fitzgerald coat of arms


The remains of a broken late medieval chest tomb are also found within the Lady Chapel.


The graveyard also has some fine examples of late eighteenth and early  nineteenth century gravestones.



You might also be interested in an earlier post on the pet cemetery at Kilkea Castle.


Fitzgerald, W. 1 Kilkea Castle ournal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.II, No.1.  2-34.

Fitzgerald, W. 1889-1902. ‘William Fitzgerald of Castleroe and his tomb in Kilkea churchyard’, Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.  III, 229-253.

Evil Eye Stone


Pet Cemetery at Kilkea Castle

Yesterday I paid a visited to the newly opened  Kilkea Castle Hotel and Golf Course , in the company of my good friend, archaeologist and historian, Dr Sharon Greene.  The castle and grounds are full of many interesting features  including  a late medieval church and graveyard and medieval carvings.  Sharon is an expert on the history and archaeology of south Co Kildare and she provided an excellent tour of the church and historic graveyard located behind the castle.


Kilkea Castle

Kilkea Castle ( pronouced Kilkay)  was the residence of the renowned antiquarian Lord Walter Fitzgerald.  Lord Walter was a very  active member of the Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society and was a prolific contributer to  the societies journals on archaeology, history and folklore  of the county. Such was his influence and achievements that  Walter is commemorated by the Lord Walter Fitzgerald prize which is awarded biannually by the Kildare Archaeological Society for an essay of original research on some aspect of the county’s history.


View of Kilkea Castle from old graveyard and church

A small pet cemetery located under a tree at the back of the castle close to the road leading to the golf club house shows us another side of Lord Walters personality. As well as being a keen archaeologist and historian Lord Walter was also a dog lover as is clearly evident from  his commissioning of stone memorials to mark the passing of his pet dogs.

Memorial stones for Lord Walter Fitzgerald’s pet dogs

The cemetery consists of two finely cut stones.   The one closest to the road is a rectangular limestone  slab which bear the inscription




She was a Dandi Dinmont that for 12 years

was more faithful to him than her master’s shadow.


There are men both good and wise who hold that in a future stage

Dumb creatures we have cherished here below

Shall give us joyous greeting when we pass the Golden Gate.

Is it folly that I hope it may be so?

For never man had friend more enduring to the end.

Truer mate in every turn of time and tide,

Could I think we’d meet again it would lighten half the pain.

if the thought that my Pet had died.

                                          (Whyte Melville)


Kavanach Carlow

Judging from the sentiment of the memorial stone Jessie a Dandi Dinot ,  now a rare breed of terrier, was sorely missed by her master. I like to think she accompanied him on his archaeological explorations.

Lord Walter adapted  the last verse of the The poem the place where the old horse died by George Whyte Melville to express his loss for his little dog.

Another interesting feature of the stone is that it also records the details of the maker  who is named as  Kavanach of Carlow.  It would be interesting to find out more about this stone mason.

Memorial stone for Jessie the beloved Dandie Dinmont terrier of Lord Walter Fitzgerald.


The dogs who followed Jessie are recorded on a second stone which is partially covered in soil and pine needles. The  stone is  rectangular  in shape  and at the top a dog collar has been carved  in relief with the words

1891 SHAUN 1902

The lower part of the stone contains the following inscription

The Faithful companion of

his Master,


1902 MURTAGH 1913

1913 TEIGE   19

The date of death for Teige has been left blank which may suggest he outlived his master.

Memorial stone of Shaun, Murtach and Teige the beloved dogs of Lord Walter Fitzgerald

Lord Walter died in 1923 and was buried in the nearby family graveyard a short distance from his beloved dogs.

Fitzgerald family plot at Kilkea Castle graveyard located within the ruins of a later medieval church.


Image of Lord Walter Fitzgerald from the Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society