Churchtown Brief Memories

Extracts from the Parish Booklet published for the 25th Anniversary in 1982

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where
The sun came peeping in at morn.

Our house was on the outskirts of Dundrum at the foot of a steep hill rising past the castle into the heights and wilds of Ballinteer. The side window was at the gable end of our house and looked down from the road into a sunken area by a river. The only building visible was the Dundrum National School.

My first memory is of being a pupil, or maybe at best a child of three, in this school as my mother was a teacher in one of the two rooms allocated to boys. First, second and third classes were my mother’s responsibility and all were assembled in the one room with seating accommodation available for less than half the pupils.

I remember so, so many exciting incidents in the attractive village of Dundrum. However, my story is of Churchtown where we moved at the end of the twenties, a move that brought us to an area of trees and fields containing some houses and dividing Dundrum from Rathfarnham.

Churchtown had no centre not even a pub. In fact, all Churchtown had really was an ancient church and a dilapidated graveyard. This Protestant Church stands very likely on the site of the original house of prayer when ancient Churchtown belonged to Christ Church Cathedral. Cromwell eventually made his impact and the civil survey of 1654 described as “English Protestants” the two landlords of Churchtown, Sir William Usher and a Dublin tailor named John Kempe.**

Our home, “Meadowlands”, was surrounded by non catholics but there never seemed a need for a movement towards unity or reconciliation as our neighbours were our friends, people who had time to talk, to visit and extend hospitality. Dundrum was still our village and the church our parish, but we were proud of our area and Churchtown was very much our place.

I think our football team best illustrated our pride, in particular when, with our slender resources, we played, in their own territory, mighty Dundrum. We would go as an expedition all together across the fields towards the mountains. Usually we were annihilated. One day, however, we were victorious. Then our departure from the ground and our journey home was a battle for survival. It was exhilarating to know that I was part of a team all united, courageous and proud of Churchtown. Maybe we returned dirty and bloodied but our shared experience is still a warm, lasting memory.

“I remember the games of my childhood, the dark and golden park peopled with Gods……..

What do we learn when we return to it……..

that it is into the game and not the park that we have lost the power to enter….. ”

- “Wind, Sand and Stars”, de Saint-Exupery.

Churchtown was a very clean community. The roads were well manicured by the dedicated work of a great character, Jack Ward. He spoke to me of his pride in keeping the roads clean and of his final day. “I was working on the road”, he said, “and they came, put me in a car and brought me home”.

Jack was a proud man; he had a good reason to feel proud and when he celebrated it was usually with the enthusiasm of a victorious warrior.

When we first arrived in Meadowlands a high wall across the road surrounded the home of the family Franks and Beaumont Avenue was a narrow road, then known as Nolan’s Lane.

If I turned right on the narrow rural road outside my home, I soon reached, at the beginning of Braemor Road today, a small white thatched roofed house, with a divided main door. So often the jolly lady of this house would be leaning on the bottom half of this door. The important traffic then were the big carts pulled by horses bound for Hughes’ Dairy. I can still recall so well her cheery hello to the drivers, identifying each by name.

Continuing left, I would have to my right a high wall surrounding fields that, during the Emergency, would become known as the public plots providing food for Ireland during the last great war.

** “Know Your Dublin”, – J.B. Malone

To my left, in the shadow of the present church, stood one house, majestic it its own way, and still standing. Today it a De La Salle School for young boys but I remember many happy days in this house, and treasured the kindness and friendship of Mrs. Ceannt, widow of Eamonn, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of Independence.

“Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly,
A terrible beauty is born. ”
- “Easter, 1916” – W. B. Yeats

The next house was Cosgrave’s farm, Barn Elms. Phil Cosgrave was a wonderful man. We were always welcome to his house and around his farm. He encouraged our enterprise. My best memory of Phil is of the many times he brought me with his own children by pony and trap for a swim at Seapoint.

Phil Cosgrave also allowed us use of his fields for memorable boxing tournaments. We marched around Churchtown ringing a bell, calling out the news and displaying on a rake details of the contests.

Each tournament attracted a big audience, but I think the majority entered free despite all our security. They witnessed some skilful boxing, hard bruising bouts, extraordinary courage, and no bitterness. Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber”, was a heavyweight champion of the world. In our ring his words were often so true – “He can run but he can’t hide”

We changed in Cosgrave’s pigsty and our boxing ring was situated not too far from the present position of our Church. At the end of each context the winner and loser were rewarded with a full bucket of water emptied over their heads.

Eventually Churchtown received its first Catholic Church, The Good Shepherd, a daughter in those days for Rathfarnham. However, I felt from the beginning that we were a separate community and this acceptance and indeed happiness was inspired by Fr. Chris Hyland. He made all feel so welcome. I believe he was in every respect a Good Shepherd.

We may have been a small community but we had as an involved member The Taoiseach. Sean Lemass, of course, was from our early days a Churchtown person and even though he had moved to a different home when he was elected Head of the Government he still was a local and the Good Shepherd was his parish.

Our Church in the fullness of time was declared a separate parish and Fr. Frank Kenny appointed first Parish Priest. When eventually his companion and friend, Fr. Hyland, moved to pastures new, Fr. Kenny showed in a very human way his personal sense of loss and his depth of Christian love. We all have special memories of Fr. Kenny. I remember in particular the moment during his Mass when he would invite all to pray by raising his arms high and in a loud clear voice saying – “Now, everyone – all together – Our Father”. Somehow it seemed to me at this time that we were a special community and fortunate to live in Churchtown.

“Christ minds; Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
There, eyes them, heart wants, care haunts, foot follows kind,
Their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast, last friend”.
- “The Lantern Out of Doors” – Gerard Manley Hopkins )

Never ask, “Oh why were things so much better in the old days? It’s not an intelligent question. (Ecclesiastes Ch.7 v.10.)

Michael Walsh

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