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Newcastle - History

Newcastle's name derives from a castle newly built after the English first occupied the area. It was originally named Lymerhin and often called Newcastle Lyons to distinguish it from towns with the same or similar names.

Before the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169 the area belonged to Mac Giolla Mo-Cholmóc. After the invasion a fortification (motte) was erected and Mac Giolla Mo-Cholmóc was granted some land back under conditions of feudal tenure. Later his nephew and heir lost much of the property as the English king allocated the lands around Newcastle to one of the royal manors of the Vale of Dublin. The 1235 Crown receipts from Newcastle show that it was generating considerable revenue from the sale of corn, wool, cheese, sheepskin and ox hides. The demesne lands were farmed by the Crown itself. That year, however, the king directed the Judiciary of Ireland to lease the manor of Newcastle for as high a rent as possible. Later in the 13th century, tenants complained that they were oppressed by the farmers. No manorial records exist for Newcastle but it was likely that its social structure was similar to that of the nearby manors of Crumlin and Esker. Seneschals, portreeves, bailiffs and knights were at the top of the social hierarchy. There were also class divisions among the tenants.  Free tenants who paid high rents were at the top of the scale. They were not committed to military tenure. Next were the 'firmarii' who leased lands on certain terms (they were the most numerous class). The lowest group of tenants were cottiers who often only owned their cottage and garden.

In the sixteenth century, Newcastle contained no less than six castles and was a place of considerable importance. In the first half of that century the Earls of Kildare held land there under the crown. Newcastle was also one of the places where a garrison was stationed after the rebellion of Silken Thomas.

In 1613 Newcastle was elevated to the status of a parliamentary borough by James I and was considered to be one of the best villages in Dublin. Like Rathcoole, it was ruled by a portreeve (chief magistrate). The portreeve was also clerk of the market. At this time there were markets held in Newcastle every Thursday and fairs took place on the feasts of St. Swithin and All Saints and the day after these feasts.

After the 1641 Rebellion Newcastle became the headquarters of the Irish forces in County Dublin. It is estimated that for some months there were about 5,000 armed men assembled there. The government feared that the Irish forces would advance from Newcastle into Dublin city and attack. In January 1642 the government forces decided to assume the offensive and 2000 foot soldiers and 300 horses marched on Newcastle. On arrival, instead of the thousands of Irish troops that they had expected, they found that Newcastle had been evacuated and the inhabitants had taken their belongings with them. The government army went onwards to Naas but returned to Newcastle some days later where they caught the returned inhabitiants by surprise. The town was pillaged and six or seven villagers were hanged.

The oldest standing settlement structure in Newcastle is the motte, an earthen fortification. It is thought that this dates from the early part of the Norman conquest, when the royal manor was first established. The motte can be seen in the grounds of the Newcastle's Anglican church which was built in the early fifteenth century. This church was dedicated to St. Finian who established a monastery at this location in the 6th century.