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Rathfarnham - History

The name Rathfarnham comes from the Irish Ráth Fearnáin which means The Rath or Fort of Fearnan. We do not know who Fearnan was and we cannot find traces of where he lived or of prehistoric burial places or early churches in the area. Some sources explain Ráth Fearnáin as the fort of the alders, a species that can be found growing along the Dodder. We know that there was a fort at Rathfarnham only through the name of the place.

The written history of Rathfarnham, as far as we can learn from existing records, began at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1199 when the lands around Rathfarnham were granted to Milo le Bret. in addition there is a notable absence of any older archaeological remains from the vicinity of the village

Close to the Dodder and to the Triumphal Arch on Lower Dodder Road is the remains of a Motte and Bailey. This feature is located on a narrow ridge of ground about 50 feet high which is formed between the river Dodder and the stream which flows through the Rathfarnham Estate. With a certain amount of cutting and scraping this ridge has been converted into a defensive earthwork of the motte and bailey type. The Motte and Bailey type defensive earthworks were introduced by the Normans in the twelfth Century and were used as temporary measures until such time as stone castles with bawn walls could be built.

In the centuries immediately following the invasion, no event of great importance occurred. The lands were to some extent protected from the Irish neighbours by the existence of the Royal Forest of Glencree with its wardens. It was only when this great deer park was overrun by the O'Toole Clan in the 14th Century that Rathfarnham was exposed to the danger of attack.

The Motte and Bailey was eventually superseded by Rathfarnham Castle which was built by Adam Loftus, Protestant Archbishop of Dublin. He was granted the lands of Rathfarnham in 1583 and within 2 years had built the castle which stands today. Rathfarnham castle is an example of a type of structure known as a fortified house.

In 1583 the village of Rathfarnham was described as a waste village. In 1618 it was granted a Fair patent. Fairs were held on 29th July and markets on 29th June. Rathfarnham developed as an estate village which served the nearby demesne and surrounding areas. One gate of Rathfarnham Demesne opened directly on to the Main Street.

The fairs of Rathfarnham were formerly held in Butterfield Lane on May 15th, July 10th and October 7th. The former was a cattle fair and that in July for horses and sheep.The fair green was beside the bridge and stretched along the west bank of the Owendoher river but as is the practice throughout the country, the business was not confined to the green but overflowed along the main street and into every lane and alley.

At the end of the Main Street is Rathfarnham Graveyard which contains the ruins of a church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. This was a medieval church and was used for Protestant worship down to 1795 when it was found to be too small for the congregation and a  New Church was erected nearby. This church is still used by the Church of Ireland Community.

There was much activity in Rathfarnham during the stormy period of the 17th Century but early in the 18th Century gentlemen's residences were being erected in the vicinity such as Old OrchardButterfield House,Washington Lodge HermitageRathfarnham HouseBloomfield Fairbrook ,Glenbrook Silveracre  Ashfield (now known as Brookvale) and Priory .

At this time also a great industrial drive took place. Mills which harnessed the water power of the Owendoher and other rivers were built. Initially most of the mills produced paper. During the early part of the 19th Century a number of these mills changed over to the manufacture of woolen and cotton goods and later still many were converted into flour mills. Steam power took over from water power and as the old mill buildings fell into disrepair, they were in most cases not replaced.

Church Lane leads to Woodview cottages which are built partly on the site of an  old paper mill . A mill race flowed from Rathfarnham castle grounds where it supplied water to fish ponds and 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 Owendoher river at Woodview Cottages but down to recent years 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.

At the corner of Church Lane is a bank built on the site of a Garda barracks and former R.I.C. barracks which was burned down during the Troubles. In the lane is an old blocked up doorway of an early eighteenth century type.

The road to Rathfarnham according to many writers follows the same route as the Slighe chualann, the ancient highway,which in the time of St.Patrick was used by travellers from Dublin to 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 a crossing at all. 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 one stone arch was erected in the latter year. This was widened on the west side in 1952 when it was renamed in commemoration of the brothers Pearse.

The Catholic Church of the Annunciation was erected in 1878 to replace the old Chapel in Willbrook Road. Outside the door is an Ancient Font on a pedestal bearing an inscription. The appearance of the font led the archaeologist Patrick Healy to speculate that it was originally a stone bullaun and dated to a period much earlier than the penal times.

On the opposite corner is the well-known Yellow House built on the site of an inn of the same name which is shown on Taylor's map of 1816. A tradition has been recorded by Mr. Hammond that in 1798 it was owned by a Michael Eades, who sheltered wanted men in his house. It was also frequented by the soldiers of the Rathfarnham Guard whose careless talk was carefully noted by the United Irishmen hiding on the premises. In 1804 when the truth came to be known, the place was wrecked by the same military.

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

The Dublin Central Tramways Company commenced a horse-drawn tram service from Dublin City via Harold's Cross to Terenure on the 22nd June 1879. Within a short while this was service extended to Rathfarnham. The North Dublin Street Tramway Company's horse-drawn tram service from Nelson's Pillar to Drumcondra had opened in 1877. The entire line was electrified from the 9th of November 1899. Depots at Phibsborough and Terenure served the route whose symbol was a green Maltese cross. This service was the no. 16 route and on 1st may 1939 the tram service was replaced by a bus service, also designated the no. 16. The 16 service was augmented by the 16A Service which also took its name fron the number 16 service. In the Rathfarnham area the 16A bus serves Nutgrove Avenue where it has its terminus.