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Lucan - History

Lucan’s name derives from the Irish “Leamhcán” meaning “Place of the Elms”. A slightly more surreal derivation (at first glance) is also purported to be “Place of the Marshmallows” mentioned in Francis Elrington Ball’s “History of the County Dublin” (1906). Marshmallow in this case being, of course, the flower and not the confectionery.

Lucan is situated 13 Kilometres west of Dublin City Centre. Its history of settlement really begins at the time of the Norman invasion, with very little evidence of Stone age or Bronze age settlement, examples of which are very evident in other parts of South Dublin. Nevertheless it is rich in history. A 7th to 12th Century Ring Fort, surmounted by a Souterrain (locally known as “the Cave”), is one of the oldest items in the vicinity. It is located near Vesey Park on the Adamstown Road, but is not publicly accessible.

The Anglo Normans arrived in 1159 and settled in what is now Lucan Demesne. The oldest buildings in the district are located behind what is now the Vesey Arms pub. King Henry II granted lands near Lucan Village (now Lucan Demesne) to Alard Fitzwilliam.  The lands changed hands many times over the subsequent centuries, being owned in succession by:

Werris de Peche (1200s)

Robert de Nottingham (early 1300s)

Sir Thomas Rokeby (late 1300s)

The Fitzgeralds of  Kildare (1537)

The Sarsfields had possession until 1718, and thereafter the Veseys. These last two names adorn placenames, buildings and objects in the vicinity to this day. The local GAA club is named Lucan Sarsfields.

Buildings surviving from these eras are to be seen in quite unlikely places:

The ruins of 12th Century Esker Church still stand defiantly in the midst of its ancient cemetery on a prominent hill in what is now deepest suburbia.

Sarsfield’s Castle and the 13th Century ruin of the Church of the Blessed Virgin are to the rear of the Vesey Arms pub in the village. Unfortunately one can only peer at the remains through a locked gate.

17th Century Ballyowen Castle is still habitable, although much altered. Its current role is that of an Indian takeaway surrounded by the L-shaped Ballyowen Shopping Centre. “Christopher Taylor, Gentleman”, one of the castle’s then occupiers would be flabbergasted if he could see the changes to his former abode and the surrounding area…

Lucan house (1772) – is now the Italian Ambassador’s residence, but is hidden behind the demesne wall on Main Street and is not accessible to the public.

Lucan (and more so the neighbouring townland of Esker) was a centre of the linen, cotton, corn and flour milling industry in the 18th Century. Lucan and Esker between them had six mills which used, as their energy source, the river Liffey and its tributary the Griffeen River respectively.  The only mill surviving is Shackleton’s mill which is visible from the Liffey bridge. It ceased milling operations in 1999 having been in continuous use since 1859.

No historical account of Lucan would be complete without reference to the famous Lucan Spa which started from very humble beginnings when Agmondisham Vesey noticed a sulphur spring beside the Liffey in 1758. A fascinating account by John Rutty in his book “An essay towards a natural history of the county of Dublin” (1772)  - available free on Google Books - refers to the physical and medicinal qualities of the Lucan water:

  “It may be smelt at the distance of many yards, especially in frosty weather, or in rainy weather. It is limpid, and in the well has a bluish cast, and throws up a white bluish  foum [sic] to the surface …having the flavour of a boiled egg, and when strongest, of a semiputrid egg”

The spa became famous, attracting invalids to take the waters. Rutty’s book states that the waters were effective in the treatment of mild Leprosy, Impetigo, Herpes, “Eruptions on the skin” and Tuberculosis of the lymphatic system among many more. Reading his many accounts of almost miraculous cures, there seems to have been almost no condition the Lucan Water couldn’t cure!

1795 saw the building of a ballroom to accommodate the entertainment of the more able-bodied visitors. This was extended and developed into what is now the Lucan County Bar building, with the hotel proper being established around a hundred years later.  

The Great Southern & Western Railway came to Lucan South in 1846. The station was located in Lucan South near Finnstown.

Around that time the Great Famine was beginning to create its stranglehold on Ireland. Back in Lucan Village. This story may or may not be true, but local lore has it that the Veseys opened a circular hole in the limestone rubble wall of Lucan Demesne in order to provide food to destitute local inhabitants. Whatever about the truth of this story, the hole is still to be seen to this day around the corner from the Vesey Bridge, albeit bricked up.

In June 1881, the Dublin and Lucan Steam Tramway (DLST) opened for business. Despite its name, initially the route only went from Conyngham Road (12 yards from the end of the Dublin City tramways line) to Chapelizod. In November that year the route extended to Palmerstown. Only after two more years had elapsed did the service finally extend to Lucan.

The advent of the Lucan Steam Tramway made the Lucan Spa more popular than ever, with increased accessibility making it easy for the population of Greater Dublin to “take the waters”  

A short two years after the Gaelic Athletic Association itself was founded in Thurles, the Lucan Sarsfields GAA Club was established in 1886 making it one of the oldest GAA clubs in Dublin.

Still on a sporting theme, Lucan Golf Club was founded in 1897, moving to its present location behind the Spa Hotel in 1902.

1900 saw the electrification of the Lucan Steam Tramway and its renaming to “The Dublin and Lucan Electric Railway Company” (D&LER). Sixteen years later, during the Rising in Dublin, the D&LER was the only public transport system running during the insurrection. However, as time went on, the increasing popularity of the motor bus, together with the Civil War in 1922 conspired to sound the death knell for the Lucan line. The D&LER became bankrupt in 1925 when negotiations with the GSR to purchase the Lucan line came to naught.  It briefly reopened in 1928 under the auspices of the Dublin United Tramway Company who re-gauged the tracks and ran the Dublin City trams on the line as far as Lucan, but the latest incarnation was shortlived. In 1940, one of the last vestiges of the once great Lucan Tram service were erased when Dublin City Council removed the Lucan tram lines and reinstated the roadway. However, one of the nine trams built in Spa Road Inchicore for the 1928 reopening (number 253) lived on as a sewing classroom and, later, sleeping accommodation (with four self-contained bedrooms) at St. Joseph's Convent, Tivoli Road, Dún Laoghaire. It may be seen today in the National Transport Museum in Howth.

In 1947 Lucan South railway station closed to passengers.

The population of Lucan in 1976 was 12,451. Dublin County Council submitted design proposals for the construction of a £2m bypass for Lucan. The bypass was completed in Dublin’s Millennium Year of 1988 which had the effect of splitting “old” and “new” parts of Lucan. In an unkind twist of fate, the venerable Spa Hotel ended up on the “new” side- effectively cut off from the village.

In 1981, the Council embarked on the acquisition of Griffeen Valley Park, opening it in 1983 as a public amenity. Vesey Park was acquired in 1991, providing a welcome green space for the newly-established commuter belt which was beginning to establish itself around this time. These linear parks will eventually become part of a proposed Liffey Valley Park which will be co-operatively managed and maintained by the three local authorities concerned — Fingal, Kildare and South County Dublin — on the basis of an agreed management plan. In 1996, Lucan Demesne was bought by the Irish Government with the aim of adding to the proposed park.

To address concerns surrounding a lack of infrastructure which marked the development of the Greater Lucan area on the 90s and 00s, the draft Planning Scheme for Adamstown was drawn up in December 2002. Adamstown was and is a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) with South Dublin County Council as its Development Agency. SDZs are developments where infrastructure must take place in tandem with housing. Builders are allowed build a certain amount of housing, but only after specific non-housing elements have been incorporated into the site – in Adamstown’s case the railway station, primary and secondary schools and shops are examples. The first planning application for development within the Adamstown SDZ was submitted to South Dublin County Council in June 2004.   Adamstown Planning Scheme won the principal award at the Irish Planning Institute's 2005 Awards. Infrastructure works commenced on 7 February 2005, and on 16 February 2006 the first houses went on the market. Development in the area still continues, and sales are ongoing despite the (at the time of writing) poor condition of the property market.

By 2006, Lucan’s population had increased to 37,300. Almost three times the 1976 figure. Facilities in Lucan provided by SDCC were further expanded by the development of Ireland’s first, and hugely popular, concrete skateboarding park in Griffeen Valley Park.

2007 saw history repeat itself with the opening of Adamstown Railway Station. The new station is on the same line, and just over one kilometre west of where the original South Lucan GS&WR station opened in 1846.