Yesterday, we had a lovely visit to June Blake’s Garden in Blessington, Co. Wicklow. Even on a autumn’s day it was a sea of colour and life. Huge thanks to June and her son Dara for the very informative tour. You can find out more about June’s garden and the holiday rooms she has available to rent here: June Blake’s Garden.
Below you can enjoy our short video of our visit.
Blackrock is nowadays a suburb of Dublin, but it once was a Town of its own. Up to about 1700, the area where it is located was just an empty bit of coastline, south of Dublin. Strangely, as it was then quite a distance away, it did belong to the City of Dublin. We know this because the Mayor of Dublin, together with his sheriffs, would every three years take a tour of the boundaries of the city. They would end up in modern Blackrock, where the Mayor would ride on his horse into the sea and throw a spear as far as he could: they would claim even the sea, up to where the spear would land. The oldest artifact found in Blackrock is this cross, estimated to be from the 12th Century. Although by no means certain, one theory is that it was a boundary marker.
Just south of Blackrock used to be a castle, which was owned by the Byrne family. No trace of it remains, and even its exact location is uncertain. Around this castle, a little village sprung up. This village was originally called Newtown. The problem with this name was that there were many places in Ireland with this name. To distinguish it, it was therefore also called “Newtown Castle Byrne” or “Newtown at the Black Rock.”. It is the latter name in abbreviated form that survived.
The Black Rock in question was a large limestone. Blackrock is at a geological border. North of it, towards Dublin, the ground is made up of gravel on top of limestone. South of it, it is mostly granite. The limestone, over thousands of years, has eroded away and created the plains on which the City of Dublin sits. The granite is much harder, and has eroded much less. This is why we have the mountains of Wicklow and the beautiful cliffs at Killiney. Blackrock is also mostly on granite, and would therefore be higher above sea level than Dublin. But as it was at the spot where the limestone and granite met, a large piece of limestone sat in between the granite. This limestone, when wet, would be black and would be clearly visible against the light grey and brown of granite and thus form a natural marker. Hence the name. You can see the difference in the picture below (ignore the brick, they are from a later repair of this old wall).
Dark Grey Limestone, Light Grey and Brown Granite
From about 1700, bathing in the sea became popular as a leisure activity. As the Liffey and Dublin Bay nearer to the City of Dublin were heavily polluted (sewerage treatment plants did not exist yet), people traveled a bit further away. Blackrock, with its cleaner water and attractive views from its elevated position fitted the bill. It became one of the first seaside resorts.
At first it would mainly attract day trippers. Then, some entrepreneurial people built houses and started renting them out to holiday makers. The very rich would built their own homes. These were often very grand affairs. The grandest of them all was Frescati House, owned by the Duke of Leinster. It was their third house, as they would also own Carton House in Co. Kildare, their main seat where they would spend the summer) and a Town House in Dublin, where they would spend the winter, attending balls and other social occasions. The latter is now home the Irish Dial and Seanad (lower and upper chambers of parliament). Frescati House was built in 1739 for the family of John Hely Hutchinson, the Provost of Trinity College, but was sold in the 1750’s to the aforementioned Duke of Leinster. Unfortunately it was demolished in the 1980’s, being in a very bad state. Although of a later date, the 1850 Newtown House gives an idea of the splendor of Blackrock’s residences:
Later in the 18th Century, “promenading” became very popular. This meant walking in a beautifully maintained area, for which an entry fee had to be paid. This way, only people of “status” would get access, and the rich would have a chance to see and be seen by the others of their class. One such promenading area was also built in Blackrock, with the name “Vauxhall Gardens”. It was not a commercial success, and later became a private residence until in 1873 the Town Council (of which later more) purchased it and turned it into a park. The park was bigger than the original Vauxhall Gardens: when a railway between Dublin and Dun Laoghaire was constructed (see below), in Blackrock, it sat on top of a man made embankment in the sea, thus creating a “lagoon” type area. This was soon used as the local rubbish dump. When the park was developed, the area has been almost completely filled and it was decided to grass it over and add it to the park. The park itself was a Victorian affair complete with bandstand. Bands were then very popular, with most organisations (including large companies) having their own bands.
The railway (Dublin & Kingstown Railway) is also worth mentioning: it was the first railway in Ireland, constructed in 1834. In the world, only the Manchester to Liverpool railway is older (1830). The railway connected Dublin to Dun Loaghaire, which was then called Kingstown. There was only one stop in between: Blackrock. The Dublin station – orignally Westland Row, but now called Pearse Station – has been redeveloped in 1981. As the heart of Dun Loaghaire moved over time – as a result of the harbour – it too got a new station. That leaves the Blackrock station as the only original station. It is still in use today. It was designed by a local architect, Mulvaney, and you can see his trademark in it: the recessed doorway with the Ionic columns.
The railway did cause some problems though as it separated the town from the sea, and bathing was still popular. The railway company therefore provided footbridges and bathing areas (men and women separated, as bathing costumes did not exist yet). These were very basic affairs, just a platform and a wall that protected the bathers from wind and their modesty. See the picture below to the left. Towards the end of the 19th Century a private entrepreneur constructed new sea baths, which had changing areas, diving boards, etc. It was purchased in the 1920’s by the government for their “Celtic Games”, essentially a form of Olympic Games for the Celtic Nations. Seating for 1150 people was added. The baths closed in 1987, as a result of cutbacks necessitated by the economic crisis of that decade. In the picture below to the right you can see what is left of it.
The town was at this stage already booming, and no doubt the railway helped to sustain its growth. Due to a previous reorganization, Blackrock was no longer part of the City of Dublin but of County Dublin. Towns like Blackrock could ask the government to be officially incorporated as Town Councils, by petition. The citizens of Blackrock decided to do so in the 1860’s. This was mainly because people started to demand more of the government: they wanted paved streets and pavements, street lighting, fire stations, etc. It was the role of the Town Council to ensure Blackrock would get these amenities. And as we already saw, they added a Town Park in 1873. To house the administration a City Hall was built, which was extended when the Blackrock Council was made responsible for its rural hinterland (stretching all the way to Stillorgan) as well. In this period we also see the construction of the Catholic St. John the Baptist church (1842-1845) as well as continued building of residential houses, such as Idrone Terrace.
In the 1870’s Dublin is getting its first trams. These only covered small distances, as they were originally horse drawn. Most companies would operate only one line. To get from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire you need to take three different trams. In the picture below, you can see the sheds in which the original trams were kept (until recently the were in use as a car dealership, they are now vacant). The tram companies would be amalgamated in the 1890’s by William Murphy (of 1913 Lockout fame) in his Dublin United Tramways Company. He would also start a program of electrification. The tramway from Dublin via Blackrock to Dun Loaghaire and further to Dalkey was the first to to electric. It was also the last line to be closed down in 1949, when trams were replaced by buses.
Before that, in 1930, there was also an amalgamation of local councils. One victim of this was Blackrock, which became part of Dun Laoghaire. The local council is now – after several further reorganizations – called Dun Loaghaire County Council. The Blackrock City Hall has been turned into a Library.
Blackrock still has its own identify however, and although no longer a seaside resort, its Main Street with its many shops is still worth a visit.
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Cobh, pronounced Cove and previously known as Queenstown, is near Cork in the South West of Ireland. It is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
First of all, it is a a very important port in the history of many Irish families. Of the 6 million Irish who left Ireland between 1848 and 1950, 2.5 million left from the port of Cobh. If you are doing your research, please note that Cobh was renamed Queenstown after the visit of Queen Victoria in 1849. It remained so until the early 1920s and the formation of the Irish Free State.
The port is also famous as the last port of call for the ill-fate Titanic. The tenders “Ireland” and “America” brought 123 passengers to the ship from Cobh . Seven lucky passengers disembarked at Cobh including Jesuit priest Father Francis Browne and the Odell Family. Their photographs, taken aboard, are now world famous. Of the 123 passengers, 79 perished. There is a fantastic museum (there is an admission fee) in Cobh telling their story, located in the original departure building. We have included a link to their website below.
Only a few years later, in 1915 1,198 people perished when the Lusitania was sunk off the Cork coast by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat. Only 289 bodies were recovered. 169 were buried in the Old Church Cemetery just outside the town in three mass graves while only 20 were buried in individual plots.
Dominating the town is the Roman Catholic Saint Colman’s Cathedral that is perched on the hillside. It is a magnificent neo-Gothic building that took 47 years to build, starting in 1868. For many Irish emigrants, it was the last bit of Ireland they would ever see. (Click on photo to see a larger picture).
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Edward Hudson, a State Dentist, built ‘The Hermitage’ in 1786. Over a century later, Patrick Pearse discovered the house while on a historical pilgrimage of sites associated with Robert Emmet. Set in nearly fifty acres of beautiful parkland, Pearse moved his innovative school into it in 1910. His family gave it later to the Irish state, who turned it into a museum, telling the story of Patrick Pearse. The Office of Public Works operates and manages Pearse Museum and St Enda’s Park.
Have a look at our video giving an impression of the museum. Below the video is some information on the life of Patrick Pearse.
Patrick Pearse was born at 27 Great Brunswick Street in Dublin, the street that is named after him today. His father, James Pearse, established a stonemasonry business here in the 1850’s. The business provided the Pearses with a comfortable middle-class life.
In 1900, Pearse received a B.A. in Modern Languages (Irish, English and French). He immediately enrolled in the King’s Inns and was called to the bar in 1901.
Before then, in 1896, only 16 years old, he had joined the Gaelic League. Subsequently, in 1903 Pearse became editor of its newspaper. He wanted to help save the Irish language. To do this, he wanted to establish a sympathetic education system. Therefore, to set an example, Pearse started his own bilingual school, Saint Enda (Scoil Éanna). Teaching was in both English and Irish. In 1908 it opened in Cullenswood House in Ranalagh. Two years later Saint Enda’s School moved to The Hermitage, now home to the Pearse Museum.
Patrick Pearse involved himself in Irish politics. He joined the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He gave a graveside oration on 1 August 1915 at the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. This oration made Patrick Pearse famous.
Pearse, on behalf of the IRB, gave the signal for the uprising in 1916.
As a result, Pearse and fourteen other leaders, including his brother Willie, were court-martialled. A firing squad executed Patrick Pearse on the morning of 3 May 1916.
During his short live, Patrick Pearse was also a prolific writer.
We hope you enjoyed our video and story. Why not have a look at the rest of our website?
Click on the photo for a bigger picture or scroll down for the text.
We visited the magical miniature world of Tara’s Palace Childhood Museum at Powerscourt House, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. The Museum is home to Ireland’s Largest Period Doll House, Tara’s Palace. Each of the 24 rooms in Tara’s Palace is 1:12 in scale. They are furnished with miniature masterpieces, hand painted ceilings and hand crafted wooden and marble floors. We brought a 3 year old boy and 8 year old girl who both adored it.
With Tara’s Palace as the centrepiece, the Museum also contains hundreds of fascinating exhibits, including the amazing 17th century house in a bottle, the smallest doll in the world, and a 300 year old doll’s house. There is a Museum Quiz, which is popular with all visitors and an interactive room for our younger visitors. Tara’s Palace at Powerscourt runs events, family activities, school and group tours and children’s birthday parties throughout the year.
The Tara’s Palace Trust runs the museum to support Irish children’s charities and to entertain and delight generations of children and adults alike. Each year the Trust donates any profits made by the museum to deserving Irish children’s charities
For the official site, follow this link: http://childhoodmuseum.org/
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My Great Aunt called snowdrops ‘fair maidens of February’.
If you love snowdrops and are in Ireland in February you should visit Altamont Gardens?, Carlow. The tour by the gardener is highly recommended.
“Every visitor says it has a special atmosphere, that’s why so many people come back. Every element you want from a great garden is here, from lovely lawns, floral beds and beautiful woodland going down to the river, to a walled garden and really superb collections, such as the snowdrops, rhododendrons and the fabulous oaks in the arboretum” Paul Cutler, head gardener at Altamont Gardens.
If you can’t make it this year, check out this short video we made of our visit. The video is an example of a presentation we at www.genealogy.ie can make of sites of historical importance to your ancestors.
Find out more about the gardens here: http://carlowtourism.com/altamont-gardens/
If you have enjoyed the garden and its story, why not have a look at the rest of our website?