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Rathfarnham - Walking Tour

Estate Village and Gentlemen's Seats - Rathfarnham Village and its Neighbourhood - A Guided Walk

Getting there
Dublin Bus
15C (College Street - Whitechurch), 16 (Santry - Ballinteer), 16A (Dublin Airport - Lower Rathfarnham), 17 (Rialto - Blackrock), 75 (Dun Laoghaire - Tallaght)

Rathfarnham is signposted from the M50 and N81 roads

The Walk

This walk commences at the bus stop on the Rathfarnham Bypass, near Rathfarnham Castle. Please use pedestrian crossings and apply the Safecross code when crossing roads.

Distance: Approximately 4km

Duration: The walk can be completed in 1. 5 to 2 hours.  Alternatively, the walk may be shortened by only visiting the features centred on the village.

Down load a printable version of this walk.


The recorded history of Rathfarnham in so far as we can learn from existing records, began at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion when in 1199 these lands were granted to Milo le Bret. The name Rathfarnham (Ráth Fearnáin in Irish, the Fort of Fearnan or the Fort of the Alders) suggests that a habitation existed before that time but of those who dwelt therein we know nothing. They left no remains of pre-historic burial places, no early churches and no records preserved in the annals.


(1) Rathfarnham Castle, formerly approached through a rather ungraceful gothic archway from the Main Street is the castle of Rathfarnham, its great walls towering over the smaller houses in the village. This ancient fortress was erected by Adam Loftus, Protestant Archbishop of Dublin who was granted in 1583 what was then described as a waste village. His new castle was not long built when in 1600 it had to withstand an attack by the Wicklow clans and again in 1641 it was able to hold out against the Confederate army when the surrounding country was overrun. In 1649, a few days before the battle of Rathmines, the castle, which was garrisoned by the Parliamentary forces, was stormed and taken by the Royalists but they probably evacuated it again when Ormonde withdrew with his army to Kilkenny.

The original castle consisted of a square building four stories high with a projecting tower at each corner, the walls of which were an average of 1.5 metres thick. On the ground level are two vaulted apartments divided by a wall nearly 3 metres thick which rises to the full height of the castle. On level with the entrance hall were the library and reception rooms and above this the former ballroom.

Today, the castle is open to the public as a work of restoration in progress and is well worth a visit. The castle is open to visitors every day from May to October. The grounds are now a pleasant park under the care of South Dublin County Council..

2. Portion of the former entrance to Rathfarnham Castle from the Main Street can still be seen along with its gate lodge.

3. Following widening on the west side in 1952, the Dodder Bridge was renamed Pearse Bridge in honour of Patrick and William Pearse . This bridge of one stone arch was built in 1765. The first record of a bridge on this site was in 1381 and until the erection of the present structure, the demolition of bridges by the flood waters of the River Dodder was a common occurrence.

The road from Dublin City to Rathfarnham follows the route of the ancient Slighe Chualann, the ancient highway that at the time of Saint Patrick was used by travellers from Dublin to Wicklow and Wexford.

In 1912 while main drainage works were in progress, a deep cutting was made under the road at this point. At a depth of 7 metres below the road level a causeway almost 3 metres wide, built of great blocks crossing the course of the river was uncovered. 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 before the construction of the earliest bridge.

4. Facing an open green space on On Lower Dodder Road is a fine entrance gateway, built in the form of a triumphal arch and originally leading to Rathfarnham Castle. The erection of this gateway is attributed to Henry Loftus, Earl of Ely from 1769 to 1783 who also was responsible for the classical work at the castle itself. This is named the new gate on Frizell 's map of 1779.

After the division of the estate in 1913 this became the entrance to the Castle Golf Club but it was later abandoned in favour of the more direct Woodside Drive. In 1841 this place was the scene of a brutal murder, when the dead body of an Italian named Garlibardo was found lying on the open ground in front of the gate. Although arrests were made at the time no one was convicted of the murder.

5. To the west of this gate is a high and 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, which were introduced by the Normans in the twelfth century and constructed as a temporary measure until such time as stone castles and bawn walls could be built.

They consisted normally of a high and steep sided earthen mound, surrounded by a deep ditch and with a flat summit upon which a wooden tower was built. Against one side of this mound a larger and lower platform was made, also enclosed by a bank and ditch. The high mound was for the commander and the larger enclosure for his troops. In the case of the one at Rathfarnham which was probably built by Milo le Bret in 1199, the existing ridge was adopted. The narrow end was cut off by a deep cutting and the soil used to raise the top of the motte. Another cutting was made between the motte and the bailey and where the ridge widened the bailey was formed and again isolated from the rest of the ridge by another deep cutting. The top of the motte is about 10 yds wide and the bailey is oval in shape and about 23 yards long.

This picture shows the motte and bailey around 1977 when it was to the rear of the site occupied by Young's Caravan Sales. The feature is not as visible now as it is located behind Riverside apartments.

6. The low lying fields on the west side of the road, just beside the bridge were formerly occupied by a mill pond and extensive mill buildings. 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. It was then owned by a Mr. Murray but passed in 1850 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. This view is taken from the western side of the bridge facing east.

7. Ashfield was occupied by the Protestant clergy during the eighteenth century.In the early part of the nineteenth century it was the home of Sir William Cusac Smith,Baron of the Exchequer and from 1841 of the Tottenham Family who continued to reside there down to 1913. After this it was occupied by the Brooks of Brooks Thomas Limited down to about 1950 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.

8. Next to Ashfield is the old graveyard containing the ruins of a church which was 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 one was erected a short way off. The end walls of the old church are still standing, 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.

9. This little building was built as the Court of Petty Sessions in 1912. The public entrance is to the of the picture while the room for the judge which was behind the bench is to the right. The Courts of Petty Sessions were forefunners of our modern day District Courts. This building served as a courthouse until the Boys' School in Willbrook Road became available when it was converted to a courthouse.

10 The AIB Bank building is built on the site of an RIC Barracks which was blown up during the troubles in 1922.

11. In Church Lane is an old blocked up doorway of an early eighteenth century type.

12. Woodview cottages which can be seen from the brow of Church Lane are built partly on the site of an old paper mill. The mill race 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 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.

The paper mill has been described as the oldest one in Ireland but there does not appear to be any evidence to support this. The earliest reference to a paper mill here was in 1719 when a petition for financial aid was presented by William Lake of Rathfarnham but we hear of one at Milltown as far back as 1694.

13. Rathfarnham Church of Ireland Parish Church on the Main St. was built in 1795 to replace the church in the old graveyard which had become inadequate for the congregation. Beside the church is the old school house which dates from early in the nineteenth century.

14. Appropriately, this statue of Anne Devlin stands at the end of the Main Street of Rathfarnham looking in the direction of Butterfield Avenue. This statue by sculptor Clodagh Emoe, was oficially unveiled by Mayor Maire Ardagh of South Dublin on the 4th of March 2004, the anniversary of Robert Emmet's birth. Anne worked with Emmet in Butterfield Lane where he planned the 1803 Rising and she suffered imprisonment and torture in the aftermath of its failure. The project was realized through the efforts of the citizens of the Rathfarnham area and was grant-aided by South Dublin County Council.

Butterfield Avenue leads to Templeogue and Firhouse. Formerly known as Butterfield Lane, it retained its rural character down to the middle of this century but housing development, road widening and the removal of dangerous bends have now altered it beyond recognition. In this connection it is interesting to note that on the map made by John Rocque in 1760 only 4 houses are shown on the entire length of the avenue. Down to 1912 the only addition to these was a pair of council houses beside the bridge. These four houses 18th Century are still standing.

The fairs of Rathfarnham were formerly held in Butterfield Lane

15. Butterfield House, one of the 18th Century Houses already mentioned on Butterfield Avenue is identified by most historians as the house occupied by Robert Emmet. In order to avoid being arrested before the rising took place, Emmet rented the house in April 1803 under the name of Robert Ellis and lived here with Dowdall, Hamilton and others. Some of the meetings arranged here were attended by Michael Dwyer and some of his men from Glen Imaal. In charge of the housekeeping was Anne Devlin, already mentioned whose father Brian Devlin had a dairy farm nearby.

16. Old Orchard House is another of the four 18th Century Houses on Butterfield Avenue. The name Old Orchard does not appear before 1845, previous to which there were apparently two houses named Butterfield House. It would appear, however, that in 1836 Old Orchard was named Brasvailanne, which was recorded by the O. S. that year. It is believed by many that this was the house occupied by Robert Emmet in 1803 but historical evidence does not support this.

17. The Catholic Church of the Annunciation was erected in 1878 to replace the old chapel in Willbrook Road.

18. 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 and dated to a period much earlier than the penal times.

19. On the opposite corner is the well-known Yellow House, a licensed premises built on the site of an inn of the same name which is marked 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.
20. Willbrook Road commences beside the Yellow House and passes on the right the parochial house St. Bridgets, where the old chapel stood which was replaced in 1878. This was described by the historian D 'Alton as a "cruciform edifice with galleries disproportionately low. "
21. A short distance along Willbrook Road is the former Boys' School. The first entry in the records refers to the establishment of a male school in January 1842. In January 1977, St Mary's Boys' National School was opened. and from 1978 until the opening of the Courthouse in Tallaght in 2000, the building served as a District Courthouse. in 1978, the Court of Petty Sessions at Main Street, Rathfarnham which was opened in 1912, was then closed.

22. The fine carved granite pillars of the former entrance to Beaufort House now flank the pedestrian entrance to Beaufort Downs estate.

23. The main street of Willbrook village, a quiet retreat lying between two busy thoroughfares, has seen few changes in the last hundred years. Many of the surrounding residences were built about the beginning of the 19th Century.  

24. Riversdale was the last home of W. B. Yeats in Ireland.

25. At Willbrook the Whitechurch road branches to the east and follows the course of a little river which flows down from Kilmashogue Mountain. On the other side of the road is a partly choked up mill race which was taken from the river higher up to serve the Silveracre Mill. This was named Brooklawn Mill on both Taylor’s map of 1816 and on Duncan’s of 1821. In 1836 Mark Flower had a pin and wire factory here which was then named Silveracres Mill. This closed down in 1853. The place was then converted into a flour mill by Robert Gibney who also owned the nearby Willbrook Mills. From 1864 to 1893 it was operated by Patrick Gibney, after which it was taken over by Mr. J. E. Madden. Subsequent to 1899 it changed hands frequently and the last tenant was Mr. Murray from 1922 to 1933. The mill has since been demolished but the Mill House and some out offices still remain.

26. Hermitage or St. Enda 's, is the former home of Padraig Pearse. The house, which is entirely faced with cut granite and has an imposing stone portico, was occupied in the eighteenth century by Edward Hudson, an eminent dentist. He had a passion for Irish antiquities which he demonstrated in an unusual way by the erection of a number of romantic ruins around the estate. The pleasant grounds and The Pearse Museum will well repay a visit.

27. Directly opposite to St. Enda 's was Priory, the home of John Philpot Curran, at the time of Emmet 's rising. The house was formerly named Holly Park but when Curran bought it in 1790 he changed the name to Priory. Here he lived for 27 years at the peak of his fame and here he was to endure the tragic events which cast a shadow on his private life. First the untimely death of his daughter Gertrude, followed by the loss of his wife, who left him for another man, and lastly the discovery of the association of his daughter Sarah with Robert Emmet.
Little now remains but some ruins on the green in Hermitage estate.

28. The imposing buildings of Loreto Abbey in Lower Rathfarnham form a landmark visible for many miles south of the city. The mansion which now forms the centrepiece of the group was built by Mr. William Palliser about 1725. No expense was spared in its construction and decoration, as can still be judged by the beautifully preserved interior, the polished mahogany and, in one room, embossed leather wallpaper. William Palliser died in 1768 without issue and Rathfarnham House passed to his cousin the Rev. John Palliser, who was rector of the parish. After his death in 1795 the house was purchased by George Grierson, the Kings Printer, who resided here for a few years. When Grierson removed to his new abode in Woodtown the house remained unoccupied for some years until in 1821 it was purchased by Most Rev. Dr. Murray for the newly founded Loreto Order.  The foundress Rev. Mother Frances Mary Teresa Ball made many improvements to the place. She is said to have added a storey to the old house although there is no evidence from the exterior to support this. Many additions have been made over the years, the church was built in 1840, the novitiate in 1863 and six years later the part named St. Joseph 's wing which contains the concert hall and refectory. St. Anthony 's wing was erected in 1896, St. Francis Xavier 's in 1903 and the Lisieux building in 1932 for the accommodation of visiting prelates to the Eucharistic Congress.

29. Beaufort House, Grange Road, is now the headquarters of the Loreto Order in Ireland. On the grounds is Loreto High School Beaufort which was founded in 1925.

30. A short distance past the church is Nutgrove Avenue, widened and extended in the 1960s to link up with Churchtown. The old quiet tree shaded avenue has been completely swept away, along with the "narrow lanes " a cramped passage bounded on both sides by towering walls and full of right angled bends, which wended its crooked course between Loreto Convent cemetery and the garden of Nutgrove House.
Joyce in his "Neighbourhood of Dublin " states that Nutgrove house was at one time the dower house of Rathfarnham Castle but in this he is almost certainly mistaken, as Frizell 's map of 1779 shows that it was outside the estate. It is possible that he confused it with the other old house on the opposite side of the avenue which was formerly named Ely Cottage, later altered to Ely Lodge, and which was shown as within the boundary of the estate.


Rathfarnham and the surrounding area are rich in heritage and history. A guided walk such as this can only hope to give a flavour of that history and heritage. Please see www.southdublincountyhistory.ie and www.southdublincountylocalstudies.ie for more information or visit the Local Studies Collection at The County Library or Ballyroan Library