The Little Book of Blackrock

The Little Book of Blackrock

by Hugh Oram


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Blackrock is a noted residential area on Dublin’s southside, close to Dublin Bay. Its leafy streets cover a multitude of historical connections. Blackrock College is one of Ireland’s leading privately owned secondary schools and a whole host of famous people have had links with it: Éamon de Valera, Ireland’s longest serving Taoiseach and also a President of Ireland, taught maths there as a young man; another teacher at the college was Michael Cusack, founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884; while Sir Bob Geldof was a student there. Historical events have included the assassination of the first justice minister in the new Irish state, in 1927.A reliable reference book, this can be dipped into time and time again to reveal something new about the people, the heritage and the secrets of Blackrock.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750989121
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 07/01/2019
Pages: 178
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

HUGH ORAM has been working in the media in Ireland for over 50 years, initially in Belfast but for most of his career in Dublin. He has also worked in broadcasting for many years, mostly on radio, for such channels and stations as RTÉ Dublin, BBC Belfast and other local and national stations. He has contributed to over 80 books and is currently involved in television programming development in Dublin. He lives in Blackrock.

Read an Excerpt



1488: Present-day Blackrock called Newtown in parliamentary legislation. It and a vast area on the outskirts of Dublin were controlled by the Cistercians of St Mary's Abbey, off present-day Capel Street in Dublin

1610: At around this date, the name of the area was changed from Newtown to Blackrock

1659: What is now Blackrock had twelve residents, two English and ten Irish

1739: Frescati House built

1824: Carmelite chapel opened in what is now Sweetman's Lane.

1834: Westland Row to Dunleary railway line opened, including Blackrock station

1839: Blackrock baths opened beside the railway station

1845: St John the Baptist Catholic church opened in Blackrock

1860: Blackrock Town Commissioners established

1863: Seapoint Railway Station opened

1865: Blackrock Town Hall completed

1804: Work started on Martello Tower at Williamstown

1873: Blackrock Park created

1899: St Andrew's Presbyterian church, Mount Merrion Avenue, opened

1905: Carnegie Library and Technical Institute opened

1967: Guardian Angels' Catholic church on Newtownpark Avenue opened

1973: RTÉ television and radio presenter Ryan Tubridy born in Booterstown, but grew up in Blackrock

1983: Frescati House demolished, despite widespread protests; what is now the Frascati Shopping Centre built on site

1984: Blackrock Shopping Centre opened, with Superquinn, now Super Valu

1986: Blackrock Clinic opened

1988: Blackrock bypass opened

1988: Blackrock postal sorting office, Carysfort Avenue, opened

1991: UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School opened in present location in Blackrock

1996: Blackrock Market opened, just off Main Street

2003: The old post office in Main Street closed down; business transferred to the Frescati Shopping Centre




This two-storey over-basement house, built sometime before 1850, is typical of the many villas and houses built in Blackrock during the mid-to late-nineteenth century. It was also very capacious, with no fewer than nine bedrooms. For some sixty years in the later twentieth century, it was the home of the Stephenson family, Desmond Stephenson and his family; he was a brother of the renowned Dublin architect, Sam Stephenson. In his time there, visitors included Brendan Behan, the writer, and another writer, Brian O'Nolan, otherwise known as Flann O'Brien, who lived three doors away.


Blackrock House in Newtown Avenue was built as a two-storey Georgian house in about 1774; its third storey was added later. Unusually for the time, the facade of the house was faced in red brick. Most houses built in that period had their facades rendered. The house was indeed spacious, with six reception rooms and eight family bedrooms, two servants' rooms, a servants' hall, a laundry, a bootroom, and wine and beer cellars. The grounds ran down to the seashore and included a walled garden and grass tennis courts. An octagon summer house stood on the shore below the garden and the ruins of it are still there today.

The house was connected with several newsworthy and sometimes tragic events. In 1789, two young men, Crosbie and Maguire, ascended in a balloon from Mount Pleasant Square in Ranelagh. The ascent was successful but when they attempted to bring the balloon down, it landed in the sea off Howth. The two were rescued and taken across Dublin Bay to Blackrock House, where they were duly entertained. More tragically, in November 1807, when the Prince of Wales ran aground near Blackrock House, many of the bodies of soldiers, rescued from the stricken vessel, were laid out in Blackrock House.

Among the occupiers in the first eighty years of its existence were Lord Rutland and the Marquis of Buckingham. The last single owner-occupier of the house was the McCormick family, who bought it in 1898. They sold the house and the surrounding land in 1935; by 1940, it had been converted into flats, while part of the grounds were bought by a building firm called Archers, which built the terraced and semi-detached houses still standing today. At present, Blackrock House remains standing and is used for social housing.


By 1840, the lower part of Carysfort Avenue had been fully developed, with some of the houses built in terraces, all distinguished by attractive door cases and fanlights. The terraces here were very similar in design to those at Prince of Wales Terrace, also on Carysfort Avenue. Close by, Anglesea Avenue and Sydney Avenue had been built earlier, about 1830, with late-Georgian-style terraced houses.


Now owned by University College, Dublin, Carysfort House was built in 1803 by Sir John Proby and leased to Judge William Saurin, a notable legal figure of the time. Carysfort Park was built as a large three-storey over-basement house with a fine portico. The house was surrounded by open fields, which in recent times have been built over with houses and apartments. The house and the estate were bought by the Sisters of Mercy in 1891, who ran an industrial school for children there until 1903, when a teacher training college for women was set up. In this college, Éamon de Valera was an early professor of mathematics, appointed in 1906.

Other old buildings in Carysfort College included the novitiate, the halls of residence and the old farm buildings. Subsequently, newer buildings included the College of Education and a sports hall. In 1989, the Sisters of Mercy put their convent and the teacher training college on the market and Carysfort Park subsequently housed UCD's graduate school of business studies.


Over the past fifty years, since the late 1960s, the huge demand for building land in the Blackrock area has resulted in the destruction of many fine old houses, houses that once had considerable architectural and historical appeal. Artist and conservationist writer Peter Pearson has chronicled the destruction of many of these old houses, including Frescati House, Maretimo, Rosefield, Fitzwilliam Lodge, Laurel Hill, Elm Cliff, Dawson Court, Villa Nova, The Elms, Lisalea, Cherbury, Sans Souci, Rockville, Ardagh Park, Ardlui, Carysfort, Talbot Lodge, Hawthorn, Clareville and the eighteenth-century stables at Newtownpark House.

Some houses were saved from destruction, such as South Hill and the old house which is the focal point of the Blackrock Market, thanks to the interventions of An Taisce, even though planning permission had been given that allowed for their destruction.


This fine house in the Italianate style was built at Temple Hill in 1860 and was complemented by its fine gardens. It subsequently became a seminary run by the Daughters of Charity. Nearby was Craigmore, built slightly earlier in the more restrained Georgian style, for a wealthy Quaker tea merchant called Jonathan Hogg. Subsequently, it became a centre for mentally handicapped people. Also close by was one of the finest Victorian mansions in Blackrock, Ardlui, also built in the Italianiate style. It had a very large conservatory running the full length of its south front and it was noted for its fine gardens. Sadly, this fine house was demolished in 1955.


Two houses, known as Vauxhall Gardens and Elm Cliff, were built around 1750 for a Dublin brewer called William Medcalf. They had spectacular sea views and were also renowned for their gardens. Vauxhall Gardens was converted into a hotel in 1793, while in 1834, Elm Cliff, formerly Fort Lisle, was turned into a boarding house. In 1879, Elm Cliff's land was incorporated into the then new People's Park, while the house itself was demolished in 1880. The other house, Vauxhall Gardens, suffered a similar fate, but today the gates that once formed its entrance are at the entrance to the park, while the gardens of the two houses are still incorporated into the grounds.


This large Victorian house was built about 1850 on a field adjacent to Carysfort Avenue; among its outstanding features was a large porch with a flight of granite steps and a pair of old gas lamps. The house was demolished in 1987 and the grounds were then completely built over.


Linden, in the area where Blackrock meets Stillorgan, was built around an eighteenth-century villa. Linden was run as a convalescent home for well over a century, from 1864 until 1996. The home was begun and run by the Sisters of Charity, who had also set up St Vincent's Hospital. The third house here, Talbot Lodge, was also run as part of that convalescent home. Linden was also renowned for its gardens. The houses were eventually demolished and the site redeveloped for housing.


At the bottom of Mount Merrion Avenue, in the mid-eighteenth century, a merchant and brewer called William Medcalf leased several plots from the Fitzwilliam Estate, the predecessor of the Pembroke Estate, in order to build a number of fine houses. He was obliged by the terms of his lease to spend at least £300 on each house and to make considerable plantations of trees such as oak and elm.

One of the houses he built is now known as Lios an Uisce, or Lisnaskea, on the high ground overlooking what is now Blackrock Park. In its first incarnation, the house, then known as Peafield Cliff, was of simple design, two storeys high and five windows wide. In 1754, it was leased to Lady Arabella Denny, along with two adjacent fields that would later become the site of Sion Hill convent and Peafield Terrace at the foot of Mount Merrion Avenue.

As the house didn't have enough room for the large gatherings that assembled to dine and dance, in the tradition of Georgian Ireland, Lady Arabella had substantial extensions built on to the house, while she also had laid out a fine landscaped garden.


Maretimo was built as a marine villa in about 1770 by Sir Nicholas Lawless, MP for Lifford in Co Donegal, and a successful woollen merchant, otherwise known as Lord Cloncurry. Like the neighbouring villas, Maretimo was renowned for its constant entertainments, at all hours of the day and night, and its lavish garden parties. Sir Nicholas was also a keen collector of classical antiquities and a generous patron of the arts. After he died in 1799, his second son, Valentine, succeeded him, and when the railway line from Westland Row to Dunleary was being built, it was he who persuaded the railway company to build an elaborate bridge, the Cloncurry Towers, which are still in place over the line.

With the death of the fourth baron in the early 1930s, the title died out. The 1936 Ordnance Survey map shows new terraced and two-storey houses that had been built in the former gardens of Maretimo House by a developer called J.P. Colbert. The big house itself survived until 1970, when it was demolished and replaced with an apartment block.


Melfield, which is now in the grounds of Newpark Comprehensive School on Newtownpark Avenue, was built in the late eighteenth century, but little of the once elaborate interior survived. For many years, prior to the establishment of Newpark School, the house was occupied by the Avoca and Kingstown Junior School. Also nearby was Belfort, a solid Victorian house built in 1870. The gardens of this house were used to create all-weather playing pitches.


Mount Merrion Avenue, which runs straight as a die downhill from the Stillorgan Road to the main road at Blackrock for a distance of 2km, dates back to the earlier eighteenth century.

At that stage, the Fitzwilliam family had their main residence at Mount Merrion; in 1704, Richard Fitzwilliambecame the fifth Viscount Fitzwilliam and promptly built Mount Merrion House. Mount Merrion Avenue started out as the avenue on the eastern approaches to the big house. Both this and the adjoining Cross Avenue were laid out as just a small part of the overall grandiose landscaping plan for the whole estate.

Until about 1800, Mount Merrion Avenue was almost entirely undeveloped, but as the nineteenth century unfolded, so too did housing development begin. Seven plain-looking houses were built at Pembroke Terrace, on the lower part of the road, while Peafield Terrace was built opposite. In the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century, further infill developments were built along Mount Merrion Avenue, including the near contemporary Brookfield and Brooklawn.


Below what was once the Playwright pub in Newtownpark Avenue and the present-day small shopping centre, there was once a continuous row of small terraced houses that made up the village of Newtownpark. But these days, virtually all trace of them has disappeared, including the cottages off Price's Lane.


Newtownpark House, just off Newtownpark Avenue, was built in 1770 in the classical style for Ralph Ward on an existing site. Ward was the surveyor-general of ordnance and he died at Newtownpark House in 1788. During the nineteenth century, the house had a number of owners, including John Armit, a wealthy army agent, who bought it in 1805. In 1946, Senator E.A. McGuire bought the house; the McGuire family were the then-owners of the old Brown Thomas department store in Grafton Street, Dublin. Much of the McGuire family's collection of fine art in the house was sold off by auction in 1976.

In 1984, the house and its remaining gardens (much of the estate had been sold off for housing development between 1967 and 1972) were sold to what became the Newtownpark House nursing home. It opened in 1987 and still occupies the house today.


Blackrock has long been renowned as a swimming place, and John Rocque's 1757 map of the Dublin area showed that what is now Blackrock had baths for women close to the rock from which the area took its name, according to many sources, andalso close to what became Blackrock's swimming pool. In the eighteenth century, there were also separate baths for men in the area now covered by Blackrock Park.

Also in the eighteenth century, what is now Blackrock was renowned for its places of entertainment, such as the one at Castle Byrne, close to where Newtown Avenue and Seapoint Avenue now meet. One pamphleteer of the time was unimpressed by the general throng of dubious individuals and by what he called the 'scabby parcel of pygmy tents' that were set up to cater for people in search of entertainment. He also said that strong drink was freely available and gave the impression that, as a result, morals were loose.


This rather plain house was built about 1830. Jonathan Goodbody, a Dublin stockbroker who came to live here in the 1880s, added a two-storey, bow-fronted extension and an elaborate granite doorcase. The house, at the bottom of Mount Merrion Avenue, now houses the Benincasa School.


The first proposal to build what became Proby Square, off Carysfort Avenue, came in 1840, but the square never materialised. By 1843, only four tall houses had been built on the north side but curiously, the short cul-de-sac is still called Proby Square. The Church of All Saints was built here in 1868 and close by, in 1875, the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys was set up to house homeless children and children who had committed minor offences. At its busiest, it accommodated 150 boys.


Rockfield House was built at Newtownpark Avenue in the 1750s and in its heyday it had extensive grounds. For the rest of the eighteenth century, this was the most important big house in the area.

The design of the house was French and even though many alterations and enlargements have been made to it, the original design can still be clearly made out. In 1772, Lord Townsend, towards the end of his viceroyalty in Ireland, chose Rockfield House as his summer residence. It became renowned for its dissolute parties, full of fun and revelry. It eventually passed to Sir Boyle Roche, who was master of ceremonies at Dublin Castle.

For most of the nineteenth century, from about 1840 until around 1890, the house was owned by the Valentine O'Brien O'Connor/Henchy family. The house was then sold to William Geoghegan, the chief engineer in the Guinness brewery, who lived there until 1930. He was responsible for adding the huge ugly wing on to the house, which still dominates Newtownpark Avenue.

Rockfield House had first been used to provide medical services during the First World War, when the Geoghegan family turned over part of the house for use by wounded or invalided soldiers. In the 1950s, the Sisters of Mercy set up a private female psychiatric hospital in the house and called it Cluain Mhuire. By 1995, Cluain Mhuire was providing these services to both children and adults.


In the nineteenth century Rockville, at the bottom of Newtownpark Avenue, long since demolished, was home to Thomas Bewley. It was also renowned for its gardens and its tropical greenhouses. Behind Rockfield, Dunardagh was built about 1860 in the extravagant Italian style. This house once had a magnificent pair of granite entrance gates that were subsequently relocated close to the Blackrock bypass. In 1939, the Daughters of Charity took over the house to run St Catherine's Seminary there.


Excerpted from "The Little Book of Blackrock"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Hugh Oram.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Timeline,
2 Ancient Roads and Old Buildings,
3 Churches,
4 Crime and Mayhem,
5 Health,
6 Historical Places and Events,
7 Modern Houses,
8 Natural History,
9 Pubs, Restaurants and Leisure,
10 Remarkable People,
11 Schools and Colleges,
12 Community Organisations,
13 Shops Old and New,
14 Sport,
15 Transport,
16 Work,

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