The Curragh
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The Curragh

The Curragh is perhaps the oldest and most extensive tract of semi-natural grassland in Europe, having existed as such for over two thousand years. It is possible the only landscape of its kind in the world consisting of a mainly unenclosed flat to gentle rolling plain of 4,870 acres. Following the the treaty of 1921, the lands passed from the Crown to the Minister for Finance and later to the Minister for Defence and is administered by his Department's property Management Branch under the Curragh of Kildare Acts.

The Curragh has a number of sensitive archaeological sites and rare grass species all of which are the subject of frequent studies by students from various Universities and Colleges. Those of note include the Gibbet Rath, and base of the cross at Rathbride and the ancient road known as the Race of the Black Pig. The archaeological sites have been listed by the National Monuments Branch of the Office of Public Works (OPW). Maps and schedules are available at the County Library.

Curragh Plains close to Donnollys Hollow

Tradition has it that the great plain was handed over to St. Brigid of Kildare in the year 480 AD. The Curragh is closely related to many neighbouring historical sites. To the south is Dun Ailainne, a national monument dating back to 300 BC and the seat of the Kings of Leinster. To the north, is the Hill of Allen where, it is claimed, Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna assembled. The Curragh has been the scene of horse racing for hundreds of years and golf was first played on the Curragh in 1852.

Sheep Grazing on the Plains

Early management of the Curragh by the Crown was through the Office of the Ranger. Through this office the Crown set about preserving the Curragh, against the depredations of trespassers and encroachers, either horsemen, grazers or vagrants. This office can be traced back pre-1680 and the office was to last until 1961 and was abolished by the Curragh of Kildare Act 1961. Historical records confirm that the Curragh survived more or less intact throughout that period of time.

The formal statutory basis for the Ranger had to await the passing of the Curragh of Kildare Act of 1868 when the post came under the direction of the Lord Lieutenant.


The Office of Ranger was vacant from 1904 to 1910 due to a dispute with the War Office. The War Office at that time wished to take control of the Curragh and have the office and function of the Ranger abolished. This challenge was resisted and eventually, the Government overruled the Military, restored the Rangership and appointed George Wolfe, of Forenaughts, Naas. George Wolf held this office until his death in 1941 and during this period, also found member of Cumann na nGaedhael and TD for Co. Kildare. George Wolf had the distinction of being the last Ranger appointed by the British. For the next 20 years the post was filled by the Chairman of the OPW by appointment on behalf of the Minister for Finance.

The Curragh has been the subject of legislation as far back as 1299, when an Act was passed, to prevent swine feeding on the Curragh plains to the detriment of the sward. However, it was to be the Acts of 1868 and 1870 that were to govern the Curragh for over 100 years. In response to agitation, the House of parliament set up a Commission in 1865 to examine the Curragh. The findings of the 1865 Commission led to the enactment of the Curragh of Kildare Act 1868.  This was described as an Act to make better provision for the management and use of the Curragh of Kildare, ascertaining and preserving the use of the Curragh for the purpose of horse racing and the training of racehorses. The care, management and the preservation of the Curragh was vested in the Ranger, a nominal and honorary position with no salary attached.

The total area under the 1868 Act was defined as 4,870 acres and divided into 3 parts:

Brown Lands (site of camp)....575 acres
Blue Lands (rifle ground)........463 acres
Green Lands (residue)............3,382 acres


The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland with the advice of the Privy Council on December 3, 1868, issued bye-laws for the purpose of managing the Curragh more efficiently. These bye-laws lasted until 1964. The Curragh of Kildare Act of 1868 provided for a second Commission to inquire in to the position of the rights of common pasture and they reported in June 1869. Their report is embodied in the Curragh of Kildare Act 1870. In all 7,957 sheep grazing rights were approved as being appurtenant to holdings adjacent to the Curragh on the basis of approximately one right  to each acre (Irish Plantation) of such holdings, while in some cases claims were refused and no awards made. The sheep claims were listed in the first schedule, with the use of right of ways and public roads in second schedule. The Commissioners disallowed many claims but there was not a single appeal despite procedures being provided for in the 1868 Act. The Curragh of Kildare Act 1870 confirmed the award of second Commissioners (1869) and in addition specified that only sheep could be grazed on the Curragh.

The Curragh of Kildare Act 1961 repealed the 1868 Act and parts 4, 5 and 6 of the 1870 Act. A total of 196 acres was added to the Brown Lands and 352 acres to the Blue Lands resulting in the reduction of the Green Lands by 548 acres. While the total area remained at 4,870 acres the Act deemed that the Curragh be divided into:

Brown Lands........771 acres
Blue Lands...........815 acres
Green Lands........3,284 acres


One of the most important provisions of the 1961 Act is that which deals with the enclosures and the voluntary surrender and extinguishment of grazing rights. At the time of the passing of the Act, the number of sheep rights stood at 7,957 which was somewhat less than twice the number as were the acres available for grazing. The 1961 Act abolished the office of Ranger with the management duties of that office transferring to the Department of Defence. Today the Department employs a staff of four full time civilian employees at the Curragh to look after the day-to-day affairs of the Blue and Green lands.

My Kid's sitting on one of the many Concrete Defensive Positions dotted around the Curragh Camp.

Further legal recognition of the Curragh was brought about by the introduction of bye-laws by the Minister for Defence on January 15, 1964. These bye-laws provided for further regulation of the use and management of the Curragh. The 1969 Act amended and extended the Curragh of Kildare Act 1961. The important sections being 2 and 3 which put on the statute book provisions which up to then had only the status of bye-laws. Section 4 and 5 provided for means to deal with the contravention of the law, effective control of sheep grazing on the Curragh and those entitled to graze. This act changed the titles of the Department of Defence employees on the Curragh from Head Bailiff and Bailiff to Maor and Fo-Mhaor.


Apart from its support to the bloodstock industry the provision of grazing for 6,000 breeding ewes annually makes the Curragh a major contributor to the agricultural economy. The area is also used extensively by the military for training and there is increasing public demand for amenity facilities. The Department of Defence makes available lands at the Curragh for various sporting activities. In 1994, the Curragh played a major part in attracting the 'Braveheart' film project to Ireland and the lands were used extensively during the filming.

Springtime Sunset on the Curragh Plains

Our predecessors, despite living in turbulent times of wars, plantations and the famine, took what ever steps were necessary to maintain the Curragh in its original state. The value and importance of this unique property can never be overstressed and places heavy responsibility on the Department of Defence to ensure its conservation.