Old Churchtown

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

This article on Churchtown is not intended to be a definitive history of the area, rather a ramble through times past, as it were.

Despite its name Churchtown was never a town or village, like Dundrum or Rathfarnham, but was rather a rural area with some large houses and a few estate cottages scattered around it. It was not until the present century that this characteristic was radically changed.

There are two possible origins for the name of Churchtown. The first suggestion is that it is derived from Saint Naithi who founded a Church in early Christian times on or near the site of the present Church on the hill between Churchtown and Dundrum. A large part of the original parish on the far side of the Dundrum Road took its name from the Saints supposed residence in the district, Tigh Naithi becoming Taney. This explanation certainly has the weight of time on it side. The other possible origin is equally plausible however. This one stems from the fact that in former times the Archbishop of Dublin owned large tracts of land in South County Dublin including Dundrum and Churchtown. Some of the areas were leased out to lay tenants but Churchtown was retained directly by the Church for its own use.

Being basically a rural area it did not find its way on to the pages of history as much as did Dundrum or Rathfarnham. At the time of the Restoration in 1660 Dundrum had a population of 47 people of whom 14 were British, but Churchtown only had 7, two of whom were British. A few houses did develop around the junction of Beaumont Avenue and Upper Churchtown Road during the last century but this was as close as Churchtown came to ever being a town.

It is perhaps ironical in this period of deteriorating Law and Order to see that one of the early references to Churchtown was in 1780 when four masked raiders broke into a house in Churchtown. They were armed with swords and pistols. It seems that towards the end of the 18th century there was a period of considerable unrest.

During the 1798 Rising there was also some trouble in the area. A curious anomaly occurs here. A resident of Churchtown, Mr. Richard Leech was killed by the insurgents. It appears that although Mr. Leech was a Roman Catholic he served as a Church Warden in the local Church. Perhaps Churchtown was ahead of its time in the field of Ecumenism.

Development in the area was slow and sporadic until quite recent times. The first sizeable group of houses to be planned and constructed were those by the British Ministry of Pensions on Lower Churchtown Road after the end of the First World War. When this scheme was completed Churchtown settled down again to rest for a further twenty years.

After the end of the Second Great War there was a period of great expansion in house building and Churchtown’s relative proximity to the city made it a natural prime choice. Braemor Road was originally intended to be a Ring Road though it took a further quarter of century before this was achieved, much to the dislike of many who had been used to a quieter existence. As the development continued to expand Churchtown began to develop its own identity. There was also an increasing need for various services, such as schools, shops, transport and a Church, even for a while its own cinema on Landscape Road.

Much of what it to-day considered to be part of Churchtown was in former years part of the Demesne of Rathfarnham Castle. This property was owned by the LeBret family from the time of the Norman Invasion until the 16th century when it passed to the Eustace family. After the Desmond Rebellion it was seized by the Crown and then granted to the Loftus family in 1582. The Castle remained in the Loftus family until 1716 when it was sold out, but in 1767 Nicholas Loftus, Earl of Ely bought it back again and in celebration of its return to his family he built the Ely Memorial Gate on the bank of the Dodder. The Castle finally passed out of the Loftus family in 1852. Much of the grounds were later taken over by the Lambs, the Jam Manufacturers, and used for growing fruit trees. A large part of the Nutgrove area was built on this ground. The Castle Golf Club also occupies part of the former grounds.

The Parish of Churchtown in pre-Emancipation times was divided between the Parishes of Donnybrook, Booterstown and Kilgobbin. The Mould family of Churchtown had their own burial plot in the old burial ground in Donnybrook. After Emancipation more Churches were built and the size of parishes reduced. This left Churchtown divided between Dundrum and Rathfarnham. In the 1950’s it became obvious that the growing suburb would soon warrant a Church of its own and in due course its own parish. The Church of the Good Shepherd was built twenty-five years ago, and spent the first years of its life as a Chapel-of-Ease to Rathfarnham, becoming a Parish Church in its own right in 1965.

Now Churchtown has grown into a mature suburb and has become a parent as it were, looking after its offspring of Marley. Quite a change in a few short years from the newly developing area of the early 1950’s when special buses were laid on for Sunday morning to bring the faithful to Milltown for Mass.

Barry Farrell

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