The house was built in 1697 by Bartholomew Van Homrigh, who at the time was the Lord Mayor of Dublin. It is, however, more famous as the childhood (1688–1707) and later adult (1714–23) home of his daughter, Esther Vanhomrigh, (1688–1723), who was Dean Swift's 'Vanessa'. Swift was known to travel frequently to Celbridge Abbey to see her.
The poem in which Swift fictionalised her as "Vanessa" "Cadenus and Vanessa" (1713) was written seven years before he visited her in Celbridge in 1720. A rock bower associated with the lovers is a 19th-century recreation. The current Celbridge Abbey was constructed by Thomas Marlay, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, grandfather of the Irish parliamentarian Henry Grattan. His daughter Mary was married to James Grattan, Henry Grattan’s father and a member of the Irish House of Commons.
Henry Grattan (1746–1821) renowned 18th Irish patriot politician, lived with his uncle Colonel Thomas Marlay at Celbridge Abbey between 1777 and 1780. He afterwards wrote: "Along the banks of that river, amid the groves and bowers of Swift and Vanessa, I grew convinced that I was right."
A later occupant was Gerald Dease, a Catholic nobleman who entertained the Empress of Austria during her visit to Ireland. He is buried in a prominent position on front of the local Catholic church, the construction of which he helped to fund.
The Celbridge Abbey building is now owned by the St. John of God Brothers, who operate it as part of the St John of God Kildare Services, as a care home and nursery for intellectually disadvantaged children and adults.
There is a bridge in the grounds of Celbridge Abbey. The rock bridge in Celbridge Abbey grounds is now the oldest stone bridge across the River Liffey since the removal of John Le Decer’s 1308 bridge three miles downriver at Salmon Leap.
- Webb's Dictionary of Irish Biography