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Saggart - History

Saggart is mentioned in the Martyrology of Tallaght as having been the site of a monastery founded by St Mosacra, known as Teach Sacra (House of Sacra). This monastery, founded in the 7th century, gives Saggart its name. For many years Saggart was known as Tassagard or Tassagart, and the latter name persists in Tassagart House, and in the names of some housing estates in the area.

To the south of Saggart lies the Slade of Saggart, the glaciated valley of the River Camac, where, according to some accounts, Laoghaire, the High King of Ireland was killed in a battle with the King of Leinster in about 458 AD.

Saggart and its surrounding landscape are home to a large number of sites of archaeological interest. To the left of the Boherboy Road, as you approach the village, two standing stones, known as ‘Adam and Eve’, are visible in a field. These stones, along with a large boulder with a groove cut into it, were noted by E.R.M.C. Dix on a visit to the village in 1899. Later, another visitor, Sean O’Riordain, was intrigued by a primitive stone figure with a ‘barbaric quality’ that he dated to the 6th century, which was located in the graveyard. The carving has since disappeared. In a field off the Blessington Road, not far from the Crooksling Home, is the Raheen standing stone. A 1939 excavation at Lugg uncovered the remains of what is thought to be a burial site that dates from the Bronze Age.

After the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, Saggart was retained as property of the Crown, becoming a royal manor. Nevertheless, it bordered the lands of the Gaelic Irish, and as such was exposed to regular attacks. In 1272, as a result of frequent incursions by Irish tribes, the King’s sergeant Robert Owen recommended that lands at Saggart ‘near the land of war’ be exchanged for lands at Newcastle Lyons, ‘near the land of peace’. The Crown vigilantly guarded its property in Saggart, at the end of the 13th century paying men such as Geoffrey le Bret of Rathfarnham and Hugh de Cruise for carrying out these tasks. In 1311, the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles invaded the area, according to Ball ‘on the morrow of St John Baptist’s Day’. Around 1323, the lands around Saggart became the property of St Patrick’s Cathedral, and were assigned by the Dean and Chapter to the Economy fund. At the time, it seems that Saggart was enclosed by walls; reference is made to a gate in an old deed. The town was ruled by a portreeve, or sovereign, a position that was held in 1432 by Richard Aylmer.

In 1472, ditches were dug around Saggart, in an effort to deter invasion from the native Irish clans. In 1494, further strengthening of Saggart’s defences took place, with an order to the inhabitants of the Pale to build a ‘double ditch of six feet high above ground’ for their protection.

A number of events that occurred in Saggart over the centuries have been recorded. In 1387, for example, a ring of gold – most likely a torc – was dug up in the area. In 1535, after the rebellion of Silken Thomas, one of the places war was waged was Saggart. Twenty years later, four horsemen and their attendants were stationed there. During his rebellion in 1580, Viscount Baltinglass, along with Feagh MacHugh, led 500 men to the village, whereupon they burned it. For a while after the rebellion of 1641, Saggart was under the control of the Irish. In January 1642, the village was defended by 500 Irish soldiers; however, those soldiers were soon called away to Drogheda, and Crown forces, under the command of Sir Thomas Armstrong, burned the village once again. In 1818 Saggart commons were divided, allotted and enclosed.

There are four surviving pre-Norman monuments in the village: two high crosses, a cross-slab, and cross-base, all of which stand in the graveyard, sited across Garter Lane from the Roman Catholic Church. The graveyard predates the current church, and is located on the site of previous church buildings, most probably the monastery of St Mosacra. The first edition Ordnance Survey map from 1843 shows the graveyard to be oval in shape, with access provided by a lane leading directly from the village; prior to this, the area is recorded by mapmakers as the site of a ruined church. Within the graveyard, there is a noteworthy memorial to Dublin merchant Edward Byrne, who was a member of the Catholic Committee, which included Wolfe Tone, which petitioned King George II in 1793 on behalf of the Irish people.

The Swiftbrook Paper Mills were founded around 1760, and later became famous for their Ancient Irish Vellum and Erin brands; they also produced paper for banknotes and stamps. The mills underwent redevelopment and expansion over the years: the old, lower mill was refurbished in 1795, and a second upper mill was added in the mid-nineteenth century. Apparently named after the former Dean of St Patrick’s, Jonathan Swift, in whose prebendary Saggart was located, the mills were to become a major employer in the village over the next two centuries. For much of their history the mills were driven by a huge water wheel on the river Camac, at the upper mill; it was said to be the largest waterwheel in Ireland. Mill ponds and a mill race were created to supplement the river’s water supply, and a series of filtration ponds purified water intended for use in paper production. Paper was made from rags collected on a daily basis from Dublin, and brought by horse and cart via the new turnpike between Dublin and Kilcullen, which passed near Saggart. In the morning, cartloads of fresh paper were sent into Dublin, returning in the evening laden with sackfuls of rags, many of them offcuts from garment factories, but also material sold on by Dublin’s many rag-pickers. At the factory, rags were sorted in the three-storey rag-mill building: the ground floor was where unclean rags arrived, the middle floor was for sorting rags, and the third storey was for storing clean rags. During the Second World War air-raid shelters were built on the Mill’s grounds, but were never needed. The Mill closed in 1972, and the Swiftbrook buildings were cleared in 2001; the site has been partially redeveloped for housing.

Work began in 1844 on the foundations of Saggart church, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Work on the structure began in 1847, and the dedication of the church took place on 19th August 1849, carried out by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Murray; it was followed by the confirmation by the Archbishop of 200 girls and 400 boys from the area. The church was rendered in Wicklow granite in the gothic style popular at the time. Within the church is a plaque to Fr Andrew Hart, who ministered to Saggart’s Catholic population during the harsh penal times of the early 19th century. The altar rails, table and baptismal font were gifts from the parishioners of the Church of the Three Patrons in 1926, the church features stonework by the Dublin-based sculptor Albert Power, and a stained-glass window by the firm of John and David Casey, of Marlborough Street, Dublin. After the closure of the Penal Church of St Michael and St John, Dublin, its seating was purchased for use in the church in Saggart.

In 1881 the National School was established in Saggart village. In 1888, the Dublin and Blessington Steam Tram began to offer journeys from Terenure, stopping at the Embankment, not far from Saggart village. Advertisements for pleasure journeys on the tram suggested the Slade of Saggart as a potential destination.

In 1901, Jacob’s Bar was established in the village by members of the Jacob family, and it since established itself as a local landmark. It was sold in 2005, but continues to operate as a public house from its premises in the centre of the village.

St Mary’s GAA club was founded in 1906. Over the years, it has won many trophies, including, in 1921, the Dublin Senior Football Championship. In 1942, Dublin won the All Ireland football final against Galway with five Saggart players in the squad. One of them, Caleb Crone, again won the All Ireland, with Cork, three years later.

The area surrounding Saggart and Rathcoole is renowned for horse training, not least Tom Taaffe, whose racehorse Mr What won the English Grand National in 1958. Mr What was known for his celebratory roll on the ground whenever he won a race. Taaffe’s son, Pat, had won the Grand National in 1955 on Quare Times; he won the race again in 1970 on Gay Trip.

In 1968 the dual carriageway to Naas was opened, dividing Saggart and Rathcoole from Newcastle. It marked a major stage in the evolution of these villages into the commuter towns of the present day.

In 1991 Dublin County Council granted planning permission for a business park at Citywest, near Saggart. Subsequently, a large amount of farmland was rezoned, and building began on Citywest, including a hotel, golf course and a large conference centre. In 2000, planning permission was granted in Saggart for a new 45,000 international football stadium to be named Eircom Park; the plans were initially opposed by the Department of Defence, who took issue with the height of the proposed buildings, as the site was located close to the air base at Baldonnel. Ultimately, the plans for Eircom Park fell through.

In 2008, permission was granted for an extension of the Luas light rail network to Saggart, with a spur breaking off the Red Line at Belgard, then passing through Jobstown and Citywest. In February 2009 work began on the extension, and on 2nd July 2011 it opened to the public.