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Rathfarnham - Dublin - Loretto Convent

old photo

Rathfarnham is the start of the infamous Military Road. This road through the Wicklow Mountains (still in use mainly for tourist traffic) was built at the beginning of the 19th century to open up the Wicklow Mountains to the British Army to assist them in putting down the insurgents who were hiding there following the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Rathfarnham itself was the scene of some skirmishes in the early days of the Rising.


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Photo Details

  • County: Dublin South
  • Town: Rathfarnham
  • Scene: Loretto Convent
  • Date: circa 1910


  • Digitally remastered
  • 10' x 8' printed on quality photo paper
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  • Colour images can be printed in black & white if preferred.
  • Read about Rathfarnham below


Rathfarnham (Irish: Ráth Fearnáin, meaning Fearnán's Ringfort), is a suburb of Dublin's Southside. It is located to the south of Terenure, and to the east of Templeogue, in the postal districts of Dublin 14 and 16. It is within the administrative areas of Dún Laoghaire and South Dublin County Councils.

Rathfarnham is home to several notable historic buildings, including Rathfarnham Castle, Loreto Abbey, three parks: Marlay, St. Enda's and Bushy and several pubs including The Eden, Revels and the landmark Yellow House. There are also several golf courses. Padraig Pearse established St Enda's School for Boys, which is now a museum in his honour situated in St. Enda's Park.

The area of Rathfarnham includes Whitechurch, Ballyboden and Ballyroan.

Historical sites in the Rathfarnham townlands include: Kilmashogue , Mount Venus, Tibradden and Taylors Grange.

Rathfarnham is also home to the 13th Dublin, the 14th Dublin, the 31st Dublin and the 68th Dublin Scout troops, the Rathfarnham Girl Guides the Rathfarnham Concert Band and the Ballyboden St. Enda's GAA Club


Early history of Rathfarnham

The name Rathfarnham (Fearnain's Ringfort) suggests an earlier habitation but no remains of prehistoric burial places, early churches or old records have been found.

The written history of Rathfarnham begins in Norman Ireland when, in 1199 these lands were granted to Milo le Bret.

In 1199 he adapted an existing ridge to build a motte and bailey fort at what is now the start of the Braemor Road. It was apparently still in evidence up to the early 20th century.

In the following centuries no events of great importance are recorded as Rathfarnham was protected on its south siden by the Royal Forest of Glencree.

Rathfarnham became more exposed to attack when this deer park was overrun by the Clan O'Toole from the Wicklow Mountains in the 14th century. Rathfarnham Castle was erected in part to protect the area from such attacks.

In addition, part of the Pale's defences ran through the townland of Rathfarnham. Some of the remains of this are still extant. The castle and much of the land around Rathfarnham belonged to the Eustace family of Baltinglass. However, their property was confiscated for their part in the Second Desmond Rebellion of 1579-83. The castle and its lands were granted to the Loftus family.

In the 1640s, the Loftus family was at the centre of the Irish Confederate Wars arising out of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. In 1649, the castle was seized by the Earl of Ormonde's Catholic and Royalist forces before the battle of Rathmines. However they were granted it back by the English parliamentarians after their victory in that battle. Reputedly, Oliver Cromwell stayed in Rathfarnham Castle on his way south to the Siege of Wexford.

Economic activity in Rathfarnham was stepped up in the 17th century and in the early 18th century many gentlemen's residences were erected. Rathfarnham castle itself was re-modelled from a defensive stronghold into a stately home. Lower Dodder Road is still marked by a triumphal arch, from this era, which originally led to Rathfarnham Castle. The erection of this gateway is attributed to Henry Loftus, Earl of Ely from 1769 to 1783 who was also responsible for the classical work on the castle itself. The arch is named the new gate on Frizell’s map of 1779. After the division of the estate in 1913 the arch became the entrance to the Castle Golf Club but was later abandoned in favour of the more direct Woodside Drive entrance.

Ashfield, the next house on the same side, was occupied during the 18th century by Protestant clergy. In the early part of the 19th century it became the home of Sir William Cusac Smith, Baron of the Exchequer and from 1841 of the Tottenham Family who continued in residence until 1913. After this the Brooks of Brooks Thomas Ltd. occupied it until about twenty years ago when the estate was divided up and houses built along the main road. A new road was later built along the side of the house and named Brookvale after the last occupants.

An industrial revolution, especially in the production of paper, began on the Owen Doher and Dodder rivers and many mills were erected. In the beginning of the 19th century most of them switched to cotton and wool and later to flour mills. The introduction of steam engines marked the end of this era and replaced the need for mills. Many of the old buildings fell into disrepair and were demolished.

A millpond and extensive mill buildings formerly occupied the low-lying fields on the west side of the main Rathfarnham road, just beside the bridge. On a map by Frizell dated 1779 it is called the Widow Clifford’s mill and mill holding and in 1843 it is named the Ely Cloth Factory. A Mr. Murray then owned it but in 1850, it passed into the hands of Mr. Nickson who converted it into a flour mill. His family continued in occupation until 1875 when John Lennox took over. In 1880 this mill closed down, the buildings were demolished and not a trace of it now remains.

Military Road

Rathfarnham is the start of the infamous Military Road. This road through the Wicklow Mountains (still in use mainly for tourist traffic) was built at the beginning of the 19th century to open up the Wicklow Mountains to the British Army to assist them in putting down the insurgents who were hiding there following the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Rathfarnham itself was the scene of some skirmishes in the early days of the Rising.

Construction commenced on 12 August 1800 and was completed in October 1809. The road starts outside the Yellow House, passes the head of Glencree, with a spur down that valley to Enniskerry, rises to the Sally Gap and then dips down to Laragh, over the hills into Glenmalure, and finishes at Aughavannagh. Well known sections also include the Featherbed Mountain, the section below Kippure Mountain. The total distance was 34 Irish Miles, of which the spur to Enniskerry was 5 Irish Miles. The engineer in charge was Alexander Taylor (born in 1746), who was responsible for many other roads in the country, including some 'Turnpike Roads', which are Toll Roads.

Rathfarnham Road

According to many writers the road to Rathfarnham follows the same route as the Slighe chualann, the ancient highway, which in the time of Saint Patrick was used by travellers between Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford. This road is believed to have crossed the Dodder at the Big Bridge, now Pearse Bridge, and re-crossed it again near Oldbawn, an unnecessarily inconvenient route, considering that a road through Templeogue to Oldbawn would not necessitate any crossing. The first record of a bridge being built here was in 1381 and in 1652 it was described by Boate in his Natural History as a wooden bridge which though it be high and strong nevertheless hath several times been quite broke and carried away through the violence of sudden floods. After three bridges had been demolished by the river, between 1728 and 1765, the present structure of a single stone arch was erected in the latter year. This was widened on the west side in 1953 when it was renamed in commemoration of the Pearse brothers.

In 1912 during the construction of a main drainage scheme to Rathfarnham, a stone causeway was uncovered 23-ft below the road level. It was 9-ft wide and built of great blocks crossing the course of the river. Cut into the surface of the stone were a number of deep parallel grooves, as from the action of wheeled traffic over a long period. This was evidence for the existence here of a busy thoroughfare even before the construction of the earliest bridge.

The Old Graveyard

Next to Ashfield is the old graveyard containing the ruins of a church that was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. This was a medieval church used for Protestant worship until 1795 when it was found to be too small for the congregation and a new one was erected a short way off. The end walls of the old church still stand, the west gable containing a bell turret and the east pierced by a chancel arch, the chancel itself having disappeared. The north wall is gone and all that remains of the south wall is an arched opening.

Near the entrance to the burial ground is the grave of Captain James Kelly, an old fenian who was associated with the Fenian rising of 1867. He was organiser for the Rathfarnham district and was known in the area as The Knight of Glendoo. On one occasion when he was on the run he was hiding in the cellar of his business premises in Wicklow Street when police raided it. An employee named James Fitzpatrick who strongly resembled Capt. Kelly in appearance was arrested in error and was tried and sentenced to six months imprisonment, which he served without betraying his identity. Capt. Kelly died on 8 March 1915, aged 70.

On the opposite side of the road is Crannagh Park and Road, Rathfarnham Park and Ballytore Road, all built on part of the old Rathfarnham Estate. In the garden of a house formerly named Tower Court in Crannagh Road is an ancient circular pigeon house, a relic of Lord Ely’s occupation of Rathfarnham Castle. The entrance to this curious structure is by a low door on level with the ground and the inside is lined from floor to roof with holes for the pigeons. A floor of more recent date has been inserted half way up, so as to make two rooms, and a second door broken through the wall at that level.

Rathfarnham Village

In the castle grounds were several fish ponds which were supplied by a mill race taken from the stream which rises up at Kilmashogue and flows down through Grange Golf Links and St. Enda's Park. This served several mills before entering the fish ponds, whence it ran through the golf links while a smaller branch was conducted under the road to the flour mills which stood at the corner of Butterfield Lane, on the site later occupied by Borgward Hansa Motors Ltd. Described in 1836 as Sweetman’s Flour Mills, it frequently changed hands before closing down in 1887. It was later operated as a saw mill. The dry mill race can still be seen here on the north side of Butterfield Avenue.

Rathfarnham Protestant Parish Church on the Main St. was built in 1795 to replace the church in the old graveyard. Beside the church is the old school house that dates from early in the nineteenth century. Immediately adjoining is Church Lane at the corner of which is a bank built on the site of an Royal Irish Constabulary barracks that was burned down during the Irish War of Independence. In the lane is an old blocked up doorway of an early eighteenth century type. Church Lane leads to Woodview cottages, which are built partly on the site of an old paper mill. The mill race previously mentioned passed under Butterfield Lane to the paper mill and continued on below Ashfield to turn the wheel of the Ely Cloth Factory. It was later turned into the Owen Doher River at Woodview Cottages. Until recently, when the new road was made to Templeogue, the old mill race could still be traced through the grounds of Ashfield where its dry bed was still spanned by several stone bridges.

The paper mill, of which some old walls and brick arches still survive, has been described as the oldest in Ireland but there does not appear to be any evidence to support this. The earliest reference to a paper mill here is 1719 when William Lake of Rathfarnham presented a petition for financial aid but we hear of one at Milltown as far back as 1694. In 1751 William and Thomas Slater whose works were destroyed by fire in 1775 made paper here. Archer’s survey of 1801 mentions two paper mills here, Freemans and Teelings, and both Dalton in 1836 and Lewis in 1837 state that one paper mill was still working and from 1836 to 1839 the name Henry Hayes, Rathfarnham Mill appears in the directories. If this can be identified with the mill at Woodview cottages it must have become idle soon afterwards as it is designated “Old Mill?on the 1843 edition of the O.S. map. In 1854 when this mill had neither water wheel nor machinery an attempt was made to re-open it for the manufacture of paper but it came to nothing. The mill race has now been completely removed to make way for a housing development.

At the end of the main street, on the right, the road to Lower Rathfarnham passes the site of the earliest Constabulary barracks. This closed down in 1890 when the establishment was transferred to a house named Leighton Lodge near Loreto Abbey.

Rathfarnham Lower

The Catholic church of the Annunciation was erected in 1878 to replace the old chapel in Willbrook Road. Outside the church door is a primitive type of font on a pedestal bearing the inscription FONT USED IN MASS HOUSE OF PENAL TIMES IN PARISH OF RATHFARNHAM FROM 1732. The appearance of this font would suggest that it was originally a stone bullaun dating back to a period much earlier than the penal times. On the opposite corner is the well-known Yellow House, a licensed premises built near the site of an inn of the same name which is marked on Taylor’s map of 1816. (The Catholic church of the Annunciation (see above) is on the site of the original Yellow House). A tradition has been recorded by Mr. Hammond that in 1798 a Michael Eades, who sheltered wanted men in his house, owned it. It