Booterstown & Blackrock
Booterstown and Blackrock, prosperous residential suburbs noted for their prestigious educational establishments, were formerly parts of the FitzWilliam family’s huge Merrion estate.
Merrion Castle stood opposite what is now Merrion Gates.
The earliest mention of a castle there is 1334, and it is known to have been held by Thomas Fitzwilliam in the late C15th. It was made the family seat by Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam, Kt, c.1550, and abandoned by the 5th Viscount Fitzwilliam in 1710.
Walsh’s Impartial News Letter of 16th May 1729 reported that Merrion Castle had sunk into decay; the ruins, described by Austin Cooper in 1780, were removed the following year.
St Mary’s School for the Blind now occupies the site. A new community building erected c.1995 on the NE side of the St Mary’s “campus” visibly incorporates a stone head and a carved stone plaque bearing the Fitzwilliam coat of arms, both of medieval origin, believed to have come from the old Fitzwilliam castle.
Merrion Gates Railway Station was open from 1835 to 1935. The Level Crossing marks the boundary between the Dublin suburb of Sandymount and the new administrative County of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.
Merrion Strand, stretching from Merrion Gates to Blackrock, is a pleasant place to stroll at low tide, good for spotting a wide variety of seabirds.
Merrion Cemetery, in use from the C13th till 1866, was the site of Merrion church, long vanished; the burial ground, with old gravestones facing the sea, is now a small park, just off the Blackrock Rd, behind the petrol station south of the hideous Tara Towers Hotel.
The Rock Road
The Rock Road an extension of the Merrion Road stretching southwards from Dublin, forms part of one of the oldest thoroughfares in the country, the ancient Slíghe Chualann connecting Tara with with Cualann, the area of land around Bray (formerly Brí Chualann), and was probably used by the O’Toole and O’Byrne clans in their medieval raids on the outlyind districts of the city.
In 1787, highway robberies and assaults by footpads were so common that a meeting chaired by Charles Wilkinson Jones, 4th Viscount Ranelagh at Jennett’s Tavern in Blackrock resolved to “give a reward of £20 to any person who will apprehend and prosecute to conviction any person guilty of a robbery upon the Blackrock-road, from Dublin to Dunleary, Bullock, Dalkey, Rochestown, Cabinteely, and Loughlinstown“.
In 1826, Rev George Wogan, the curate of Donnybrook, was murdered in his house in Spafield Place near Ballsbridge. Later on the evening of his murder, two bandits were apprehended for a highway robbery on the Blackrock Road, confessed to the murder and were hanged.
Booterstown (Baile an Bhóthair – “Town of the Road”), was historically known as Ballyboother. In the mid-C18th much of the formerly agricultural land was parcelled into leaseholds for the erection of villas, initially rented as summer homes by fashionable members of Dublin high society.
Booterstown Marsh, an important urban bird sanctuary, was created by the construction of the Dublin & Kingstown Railway line along the shore in 1834, and has been vigorously defended by An Taisce against encroachment over the years.
Booterstown Railway Station, reached across the marsh, opened in January 1835.
The Old Punch Bowl pub at the bottom of Booterstown Avenue was established in 1779.
St Helen’s, at the top of Booterstown Avenue, was the most important C18th property in the area. Originally called Seamount, it was built c.1750 for Thomas Cooley, MP and was later acquired and extensively remodelled by Field Marshal Viscount Gough, whose wife Marie Frances opened the gardens to the public. The house was the headquarters of the Irish Christian Brothers from 1925 to 1988, and is now run by The Radisson Group as an otherwise rather charmless hotel with a splendid orangerie bar and a good restaurant in the library.
The Sans Souci estate adjoining St Helen’s, laid out c.1765 by a landscape gardener called Gabriel Griffin, was variously the residence of the Earls of Lanesborough and the La Touche family.
South Hill on Booterstown Avenue was the home of John Boyd Dunlop (1840 – 1921), a Scottish vet who developed the first practical pneumatic tyre for his son’s tricycle and founded the Dunlop Rubber Tyre Company in Dublin in 1889, only to be forced by Dublin Corporation to move his first factory to Belfast; the firm went on to become a C20th colossus.
Booterstown Places of Worship
The church of the Assumption (RC) was erected in 1813 at the expense of the Richard, 7th Earl FitzWilliam, replacing a chapel that had occupied the site since 1616, and is a focal point on Booterstown Avenue.
St Philip & St James’ church (CoI) on Cross Avenue was built in 1822.
The South Hill Evangelical church is on Booterstown Avenue.
St Andrew’s College, an expensive non-denominational co-educational secondary school, was founded as a Presbyterian boys’ school on Stephen’s Green in 1894, moved to Wellington Place in 1937, and has occupied its current location on Booterstown Avenue since 1973. Pupils have the options of taking the International Baccalaureate and participating in a Model United Nations.
Sion Hill College, a girls’ secondary school, and the Froebel College of Education, one of the top primary school teacher training institutions in Ireland, are both run by the Dominican Sisters on Cross Avenue.
Notable Booterstown residents over the years have included Dr. Richard Robert Madden (1798-1886), slavery abolitionist and historian of the United Irishmen; legal historian Francis Elrington Ball (1863–1928) of Booterstown House, best known for his work The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 and A History of the County of Dublin; the internationally famous tenor and Papal Count John McCormack (1884–1945); and the nationalist politician Eoin MacNeill (1867–1945).
Kevin O’Higgins (1892-1927), the Irish Free State Minister for Justice, who lived in a house called “Dunamase”, was assassinated at the end of Cross Avenue on his way to Mass on 10 July 1927 by members of the IRA, presumably for ordering the execution of many republicans during his tenure in office. Nobody was ever convicted of the murder, although the identity of the assassins was soon clear. Kevin’s daughter Una O’Higgins O’Malley (1927 – 2005) was a doughty campaigner for Peace & Reconciliation.
Seán MacBride (1904-1988), an active Republican who also lived locally, was one of many charged with the murder of Kevin O’Higgins, and interned for subversion; he went on to become Chief of Staff of the IRA, and later founded the left wing Clann na Poplachta party, serving as a prominent if craven government minister. He was a founding member and Chairman of Amnesty International, and held various important Human Rights posts in the UN, UNESCO and other international bodies. By the 1980s his appearance was so cadaverous that fellow barristers nicknamed him Dr Death.
Willow Park, former residence of the Viscounts Mountmorres, has been run since 1924 by the Holy Ghost Fathers as a preparatory school for Blackrock College, with which it shares common grounds. (The Venezuelan piranha deity Bukah is still a dreaded memory in at least one dormitory!).
Booterstown’s Circus Field on the Rock Road is occupied annually by Duffy’s Circus (June/July) and Fossetts Circus (October).
Blackrock Clinic, an expensive private medical centre, was constructed in 1983 on the site of Rosefield (originally Belleville), one of the first seaside villas built on the Fitzwilliam estate c.1750.
Blackrock College was established by the Holy Ghost Fathers from Paris, who purchased Castle Dawson from a branch of the Massy family in 1860 (when it became known as the French College), Williamstown Castle in 1875, and Clareville in 1899. The current grounds extend over 63 acres.
Blackrock College University (1881 – 1908), primarily a Civil Service training centre, was not included in the new NUI upon its formation in 1908, since when the school has concentrated on secondary level education.
The prestigious school is proud of its rugby record, and has produced numerous leading establishment figures; however, its most famous living graduates are probably Bob Geldof, Des Bishop and Ardal O’Hanlon.
Williamstown, established c.1780 by Counsellor William Vavasour, was remodelled in 1904 by the widening of Rock Road and the rehousing of tenants from their cottages in the College grounds to the new estate around Emmet Square.
Williamstown Martello Tower, erected c.1805, was originally encircled by seawater at high tide, and is now half-buried in a corner of Blackrock Park.