Bray, Enniskerry & Environs

Old  Conna

Old  Conna (from conna, an old Irish word meaning place for collecting brush / firewood) is often anglicised as Old Connaught.

Old Connaught church, a medieval oratory believed to have fallen into a ruinous state in the 1630s, lies near the junction of Old Connaught Avenue and Thornhill Rd. There are some very old gravestones around the ruin, and although the site is surrounded on three sides by modern housing and a busy road, it retains a very quiet and sombre air. The iron gate is locked, but access can be gained by asking Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council for permission. (Photo – http://irelandinruins.blogspot.com.es)

Lewis (1837) wrote of Old Connaught that “This parish, which is commonly called Old Conna or Connagh, is situated on the mail coach road from Dublin to Bray and Newtown-Mount-Kennedy. Besides the village of Old Connaught, it contains Little Bray, which forms the northern portion of the town of Bray, within the manor of which this parish is included. It is bounded on the east by the sea, and on the south by the Dargle river, over which there is a bridge that connects the counties of Wicklow and Dublin, and near which is a common of about 14 acres, that is used as a race-course. The parish, most of which belongs to Miss Roberts, contains 4050 statute acres, and is remarkable for salubrity of climate, beauty of sea and mountain prospect, and convenience of seabathing. The land is chiefly laid out in villas and ornamental plantations, and the part that is under tillage is occupied by substantial farmers. From its proximity to the sea, the Wicklow mountains, and the metropolis, with other natural advantages, this is a favourite place of residence. The principal seats are Old Connaught, the residence of the Rt. Hon. Lord Plunket; Palermo, of the Rev. Sir S. S. Hutchinson, Bart.; Cork Abbey, of the Hon. Colonel Wingfield; Woodbrook, of Sir J. Ribton, Bart.; Old Connagh Hill, of Miss Roberts; Thornhill, of F. Leigh, Esq.; Jubilee, of Miss Ryan; Oaklawn, of W. Garde, Esq.; Ravenswell, of I. Weld, Esq.; Beauchamp, of Capt. Lovelace Stamer; Woodlawn, of W. Magan, Esq.; Moatfield Cottage, of Capt. C. Johnstone; Bray Lodge, of W. C. W. Newberry, Esq.; Crinlin Lodge, of J. Cahill, Esq.; and Wilfort, of Messrs. Toole. At the entrance to Little Bray, through which the coaches from Dublin to Wexford pass, are three handsome houses, occupied by the physician to the dispensary, the Rev. W. Purcell, and Mrs Galway. The village of Old Connaught is small and pleasant, having a flourishing plantation of horse chestnut trees in its centre: it contains several neat cottages, and the handsome residence of R. Morrison, Esq. the architect“.

Old Connaught House

 

Old Connaught House stands on or near the site of the medieval castle of the same name, inhabited from at least as early as 1460 by the Walsh family, who sold it in the late C18th, when the earliest version of the current mansion house was built.

 

Old Connaught House was acquired early in the C19th by William Conyngham Plunket (1764-1854), the Eniskillen-born son of a Presbyterian minister from Dublin. A leading barrister and political ally of Henry Grattan, he was elected in 1797 to the Irish Parliament, where he advocated Catholic Emancipation and fought the Act of Union. Later the Westminster MP for Dublin University, he served as Solicitor General, Attorney General and Lord Chancellor for Ireland. His grandson, the Rev. William Conyngham, 4th Baron Plunket, ultimately became the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin and his statue may be seen in Kildare Street. He married Anne Lee Guinness, only daughter of Benjamin Lee Guinness, and sister of Lord Iveagh and Lord Ardilaun. This marriage brought a considerable sum of money with it and on inheriting the title and estate the fourth baron used a great deal of it to enlarge and improve the grounds of Old Connaught House, including extensive works to the gardens.

 

The Plunket family sold the property following the death of the 6th Lord Plunket and his wife in an air crash in the 1930s. The new owners were the Christian Brothers, who subsequently sold the property on. The magnificent old mansion is now divided into apartments.

Festina Lente, a non-profit organisation that takes its name from the Plunket family motto (meaning “Make haste slowly”), was established in 1968 to help people with learning disabilities, mainly through equine activities. Located on part of the former Old Connaught House grounds, their beautifully restored historic Georgian / Victorian heritage Gardens superficially appear to date from the C19th but may date from far earlier. (Photo – www.tripadvisor.ie)

The Quaker Meeting House on Old Connaught Avenue is run by the Religious Society of Friends.

Old Conna Hill was owned at various times by the singer Count John McCormack and the racing driver / rare car dealer Joe Kelly, and entrepeneur Ken Besson turned it into a hotel in 1962, when it was briefly famous for its superb French chef, Pierre Roland.

Graigueconna House, an impressive Georgian residence at the junction of Old Connaught Avenue and Thornhill Road, is surrounded by magnificent south facing gardens, a haven of tranquility long tended by  the well known gardener Mrs. Rosemary Brown,  who opened them to the public over the years. The property has recently changed ownership.

Old Conna House on Ferndale Road has since 1984 been home to Avondale Junior School; founded as a boys’ primary and secondary boarding school in 1862 in the grounds of Novara House, and now co-educational, it claims to be Ireland’s oldest preparatory school.

Old Conna Village is the modern name for the former stables of Old Conna House, now redeveloped as a gated enclave of six residential units.

Thornhill, a C19th country house, was converted by the Benedictine Order in 1918 into St Gerards School, now a prestigious lay secondary boarding school for Roman Catholic boys.

Ballyman church, dating from the C12th & C13th, is a fragmentary ruin on the Ballyman Road.

Ballyman Road is also the location of these castellated “College ruins”, tentatively identified as Jubilee Hall, until recently occupied by the Elian Spanish School. (Photo by Simon Mortimer)

Ballyman Glen, once a uniquely beautiful valley, is now largely occupied by Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.

The Ballyman Road leads to the Monastery district outside Enniskerry.

Fassaroe & Kilcroney (Co. Wicklow / North)

Fassaroe Castle was built by “Master Tresorver” for the Brabazon family in 1536, and was largely destroyed by Cromwellian forces in 1649.

St Valerie’s / Valery’s Cross, brought from another glen (Ballyman?) in the early C19th and erected near the castle and the house that gave it its name, soon became an object of popular pilgrimage. It is the tallest (1.4m) of the four so-called Fassaroe Crosses dotted around the Rathdown area; probably carved by the same anonymous medieval stonemason sometime in the C12th – C15th, they are similar in style to crosses found in Cornwall, England, with solid wheel-shaped heads bearing crucifixion scenes in false relief. The cross at Fassaroe also depicts several human heads, two with beards and one apparently mitred. The site commands great views of the surrounding countryside.

Fassaroe House is a splendid Georgia mansion dating from 1826, set in beautiful grounds; the property is strictly private.

Charles Barrington (1834-1901) from Fassaroe was the first man to reach the Eiger summit in Switzerland, in 1853. A plaque commemorates his feat.

Kilcroney is named after a ruined C13th church dedicated to the virgin Saint Croine. (View photo here) Celtic burial stones found nearby indicate religious use of the site dating back to the pre-Christian era. In Cromwellian times, public hangings took place from tall trees beside the River Dargle. The land was confiscated by King Charles II from Brian McAlexander O’Toole for his clan’s 1668 attack on Newcastle, and granted to Sir William Flower.


Kilcroney House / Castle, an imposing Tudoresque mansion, was designed by Sancton Wood in 1835 as a country residence for Rev. Humphrey Lloyd,  Provost Of Trinity College, Dublin, and was later the home of Anchor Brewery owner Matthew D’Arcy. Over the years it has been variously used as a hotel, a sports club and a religious retreat centre. Since 1994 it has housed the Dublin Oak Academy, a boys’ boarding school run by the controversial Legionaries of Christ, a Roman Catholic Order enmeshed in numerous scandals involving sexual abuse.

The bridge across the River Dargle at Kilcroney was blown up during the War of  Independence.

The Kilcroney pedestrian footbridge over the N11 links Bray’s Herbert Road to the scenic old Enniskerry Road / R117, known locally as “the 21 Bends”.

St Brigid’s church (CoI), built near Kilcroney in 1859 as the parish church for the Kilbride district,  is mainly notable for the Darley Memorial windows designed by the British architect and artist Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960), whose work included ten windows in London’s Westminster Abbey, where he was himself buried. He signature motif, a wild strawberry plant, was in homage to his father, the Rev. John Comper, an evangelical minister in the Episcopal Church of Scotland and member of the Oxford movement, who died suddenly while distributing strawberries to the poor in Aberdeen.

Hollybrook House / Brennanstown RS

 

Hollybrook House, on the old Adair family estate at the southern end of Killarney Road, is another impressive Tudoresque mansion, designed by William Vitruvius Morrison for Sir Robert Adair Hodson (1802-1831), and completed in 1835 by his brother Sir George Hodson (1806–1888), was damaged by fire in 1969, and has since been divided into multiple dwellings. (Photo – www.buildingsofireland.ie)

 

Brennanstown Riding School, one of Ireland’s premier equestrian centres, founded c.1970 by 3 Day Event Rider Jane Kennedy and now run by her children, occupies the stable yard and part of the grounds of Hollybrook House. Regular treks explore  the remaining Hollybrook Estate (featuring a Round Tower folly erected as relief work during the Great Famine) and the slopes of the Little Sugarloaf within the neighbouring Kilruddery Estate.

 

Brenanstown Rideout.

Avoca Handweavers still maintain one of their earliest outlets , including an excellent Food Hall and two pleasant cafés, set amidst rolling gardens and  ancient trees in the grounds of the former estate of the Jameson family (of whiskey fame).

Kilmacanogue (Co. Wicklow / North)

Kilmacanogue, officially Kilmacanoge (Cill Mocheanóg – “church of Saint Mocheanóg“) (pop. 1000) is a village overlooked by the Great Sugar Loaf and near the Glen of the Downs. The district is nowadays noted for its upmarket housing.

Saint Mocheanóg  was a Welsh-born companion / disciple of Saint Patrick who, according to legend, baptised the Children of Lir after their re-transformation from swans into humans and just before they died. He founded a monastic community locally in the C6th AD; the old graveyard in the village is the original site, and contains the ivy covered ruins of a stone church that probably dates back to the C12th, was modified slightly during the C13th, and was still in use as late as 1630, when it was described as in need of repair, but was equipped with a Book of Common Prayer and a font.

St Mochonog’s church (RC) is of the Romanesque style and was built on its elevated site in 1824.

The population of Kilmacanogue was 2,797 in 1824, but by 1891 it had fallen by 40% to 1678, mainly due to the Great Famine and emigration. Due to its convenient distance by car from Dublin, Kilmacanogue became a pleasant residential district in the early C20th, inhabited principally by wealthy merchants and professionals, retired clergymen and country gentry.

The Glencormac Inn, long a major local landmark, serves great pints and good pub grub.

Walkers and cyclists visit this area to enjoy bucolic winding country roads, while climbers make their way to the nearby mountains for spectacular scenery.

Kilmacanogue village is within east reach of Windgates and Greystones & Delgany on ByRoute 1 and Enniskerry and the Rocky Valley on ByRoute 2.

 

 

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