Rathcoole - Walking Tour
Taking in the village’s Ecclesiastical, revolutionary and natural places of interest.
Distance: Approximately 2.5 km.
Rathcoole Village is signposted from the N4. Take junction 4 signposted “Newcastle/Rathcoole”. Parking is available in the Avoca shopping complex, and also in the village itself by Pay and Display Monday to Friday. Parking there is free at weekends.
From the Avoca car park, walk out of the gates, head right and proceed along the railings of Rathcoole Park on the left. Skip down to the paragraph below beginning “Our first stop in the walk…”
- 69 from Hawkins Street (Dublin City Centre).
If arriving by bus, on the approach to the village, you will see on the left hand side a directional road sign ahead indicating a roundabout and the direction to Newcastle/Rathcoole. Alight at this stop (numbered 3437 Fitzmaurice Road)
Rathcoole derives its name from a rath, or fort, reputedly built in the area by the father of Fionn Mac Cumhail, the Ossianic hero. In 1337 King Edward allocated Rathcoole to Metropolitan See of Dublin. It subsequently became one of the smaller manors belonging to the Archbishop of Dublin. Elrington Ball in his History of Dublin states that, with the exception of a water mill, no buildings of any significance existed in the area at that time.
As Rathcoole’s importance grew, a Portreeve (an official possessing administrative authority over a town) was appointed to the area. James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglass’s rebellion in 1580 saw Rathcoole destroyed by fire. This was not the last time the village would be a victim of insurrection. Again in 1596 and 1641 Rathcoole would rise. In 1641, Sir Arthur Loftus sent a party of Dragoons to the area as a consequence of a rebel attack. As a reprisal, the military set fire to an expanse of furze atop a hill overlooking Rathcoole, knowing that several hundred villagers, women and children included, had taken refuge there. The massacre was one of many carried out in Dublin County during that time; those who managed to survive the burnings invariably succumbed to famine afterwards. Our walk will expand on the later happenings here in 1798 and during Emmet’s rebellion of 1803.
1734 saw the establishment of Mercer’s School. Established by philanthropist Mrs. Mary Mercer, who founded the Dublin City hospital that bore her name, it opened on Michaelmas 1745 and catered initially for 20 Protestant girls; lessons included spinning, knitting, needlework, cow milking, butter and cheesemaking, bread baking and laundry. The school was relocated to Castleknock on the 24th of January 1826, and the building served as a vicarage afterwards.
By 1831, the population of Rathcoole village was enumerated as 1,489 residents.
The next noteworthy event, apart from the obvious national and international events of the early- to mid-20th century (which affected Rathcoole in common with many other villages), was the removal of Rathcoole as part of the route to the South West. In 1968 its centuries-old position as a way-stop was finally ended when the N7 was adjusted to bypass the village.
Our first stop in the walk is Rathcoole Park which is accessible either from the Beechwood Lawns housing estate beside the bus stop (120 metres inside), or either of two entrances opposite Avoca. If time permits, the park is worth investigating. The entrance is landscaped, and further ahead is a pair of interconnected lakes fed by the Camac river.
Exit the park at the gates beyond the lakes, head back to the main road and turn left heading into the village itself for 240 metres.
On the left will be revealed the rear of the historic, and now sadly derelict, Rathcoole House.
The Rathcoole House Estate was built on this site in 1750 and was owned by the Clinch family. The house you see today was constructed in 1830.
Owing to its strategic location on a main artery out of the city, Rathcoole was a hotbed of activity during the 1798 rebellion. During this time Patrick Clinch, the owner of Rathcoole House, was accused, during a raid by the military authorities, of harbouring a priest in the house contrary to the Penal Laws. When the girls of the house began to be harassed by the soldiers, the priest Father Janes Harold appeared from his hiding place and John Clinch, the owner’s son, put himself forward as having been responsible for the presence of the priest in the house, at which point he was then wrongly accused of being a sergeant in the rebel army. This allegation was due to mistaken identity however, as the real rebel sergeant was another man with the same name residing in Hazlehatch. Despite Clinch’s denials of the latter charge he was hanged in Newgate prison at the same time as Lord Edward Fitzgerald was there dying of wounds. Father Harold was sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay and returned after 12 years to become Parish Priest of Glencullen, Co. Wicklow.
Many years later, during the demolition of part of the original house, the priest’s hiding place was discovered. Also discovered, hidden in the thatch of a nearby house used as a school in the 1700s, was a penal cross made of wood along with a pewter gilt lined chalice.
Patrick Sheil of Coolmine rented the current building in 1831, eventually purchasing it outright. The house remained in the ownership of the Sheil family right up to the early 1960s.
Beside Rathcoole House stands the village’s Anglican Church. The attached graveyard is the final resting-place of generations of the great and the good of Rathcoole; the graveyard, like the church’s interior, invites the casual observer and historian alike to get an feel for Rathcoole’s history by learning about the village’s past residents. The best time to visit is at 10.00 on Sundays; at other times the church and grounds are locked.
In the graveyard, there’s a structure near the front boundary wall with iron doors and a family crest over the entrance. This is the Kennedy family crypt which was constructed in 1828, and its high visibility is testament to the high esteem in which the Kennedy family was held in these parts over the years since the first interment in this vault took place. This took place in 1828, the deceased being Maria Beaumon, wife of John Kennedy, who later became the first Baronet Kennedy.
Later Kennedys married into the Gentry and had among their number a noted Justice of the Peace, three British army officers, a philanthropist and a Magistrate. The Kennedy family home, the Johnstown-Kennedy estate, still exists and gained fame as the house used for exterior shots in the 1980s UTV/RTE series “The Irish R.M.”
Also prominent enough to be visible from the street is a distinctive burial marker in the form of a broken column. This is the Verschoyle family plot. The broken column memorial is a common theme in late 19th to early 20th century burials, and symbolises a life cut short. Arthur Griffith’s headstone in Glasnevin Cemetery takes the same form.
At the front of the church boundary wall, facing the street, is a plaque, commemorating an incident in 1798 which reads:
Within this churchyard
lie the mortal remains of
who were executed near here
on the 20th June 1798
We will learn more about these two men and their fate very shortly.
Beside the church is the Rectory, the clergy’s residence, which was constructed in 1820. It now serves as the district health centre. Evidence of its previous use can be seen in the form of a bricked up doorway in the boundary wall which once provided the clergy with easy access to the neighbouring church.
Exit the grounds of the rectory.
Look across the road and slightly to the right is a piece of street furniture resembling a street lamp, but is in fact a sewer vent,, used to release fumes, which has stood on this spot since 1880.
Next to the Rectory is the Garda station , which was built in 1930 and in itself is of no great historic interest. However the piece of land on which it stands was the scene of another incident during the insurrection of 1798:
Richard Fyans had a bakery in the village (the location of which we will visit shortly). On the 22nd of June, the Angusshire Regiment led by Capt. Joseph Hewan was in the neighbourhood looking for rebels. These were the days before field kitchens, so troops had to fend for themselves by acquiring rations locally. Having stopped first in a tavern to drink, they then entered Fyans’ bakery where they helped themselves to newly-baked bread and buttermilk. A number of the soldiers became violently ill. Local lore describes the captain of the militia incorrectly concluding that Fyans had deliberately poisoned his men. A very different account in Sir Richard Musgrave’s book, “Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland” published in 1803, describes many more people, some innocent, and some domestic animals being poisoned in the incident, and states that “two ounces of yellow arsenick [sic] was found in his (Fyans’) bake house”.
Whichever version is true, the result was that Fyans was taken from the bakery along with his apprentice, John Molloy, and both were summarily executed at this spot.
Walk approx. 300 metres to the Baurnafea House, pub on the corner.
The previous hostelry that stood here, called the Village Inn, was owned by the Fyans family in 1798. Opposite this pub is a small pair of semi-detached cottages.
This was the site of Fyans’ Bakery.
Next to the bakery site is Barrack Court, a new housing development unveiled in 2003 which takes its name from the RIC barracks which once stood here.
Continue now past Muldowney’s pub and to the right, down a cul-de-sac, will be seen the Church of the Holy Family which opened for worship as recently as 1988, the community centre having opened ten years earlier.
Rathcoole village boasts some of the oldest pubs in South County Dublin. Look across the road ahead and you will see the thatched Rathcoole Inn which was built in 1785 and could well be one of the taverns that the army visited on that fateful night of the 22nd of June.
Right beside the Rathcoole Inn is the Rathcoole Court of Petty Sessions building built in 1914. The Courts of Petty Sessions were forerunners of our modern day District Courts. The court building was found to be unsuitable for court business, and was later reincarnated as the village library. Here once stood the Catholic priest’s house which was destroyed in 1798. This site was reputedly witness to yet another grisly episode involving a local United Irishman – Felix Rourke.
Felix was born in 1765 and was the son of a local farmer and tollhouse keeper at nearby Blackchurch and was involved in several skirmishes in the area during the 1798 Rebellion, being later made a colonel by Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Having served time for his activities, he was released only to become embroiled in the later 1803 revolution under Robert Emmet. He was actively involved in the fighting that took place in Thomas Street and High Street in Dublin City, one incident being the shooting of a yeoman on horseback and the subsequent killing of the wounded man and his horse, at the hands of a gang, using pikes. Rourke was tried and convicted of High Treason in September of that year, and was sentenced to death. He was hanged on this site on the 6th of September 1803 on the roof beams of the burnt-out priest’s house that stood on this site. As with other accounts from that period, there is another version of the incident, placing Felix Rourke’s execution taking place outside his parents’ house in the village.
Either way, his execution was intended to be a very public and symbolic act, and his body was brought for burial afterwards to Bully’s Acre in Kilmainham. By Rourke’s side would later be temporarily interred the body of Robert Emmet himself.
On the 5th July, 1998 the then Tanaiste Mary Harney unveiled a monument outside the court building to commemorate Fr. Harold, Clinch, Fyans and Rourke. The stone was designed and carved by Tallaght stonemason Eamon Brennan.
Crossing the road, and walking on, on your right will be seen Glebe House, another residence for the local clergy. It lay derelict for many years before being destroyed by fire in 2008.
Now walk to the Credit Union building and take the first turn right. This is Tay Lane which was at one time the start of the road to Rathcoole’s sister village Newcastle. The laying of the Rathcoole Bypass as part of the N7 in 1968 cut off this route. At the end of Tay Lane, on the right, is the site of St. Brigid’s Well which unfortunately, like so many of Dublin’s Holy Wells, has been culverted to empty into the watercourse and no evidence of it is now visible. The name lives on as the name of the house facing the site.
Return to Main Street. Continuing for 200 metres you will come to a “Y” in the road. Look across towards the left side of the “Y” a little, and at left will be seen the village’s former national school.
Built in 1886, it is built on a T-plan and was reinvented as a Scout Hut from 1977. It is now unoccupied.
Facing the school, across the green space, is our final stop on this walk; one which, at this stage, will probably be a welcome sight: the famous Poitin Stil pub.
This pub has stood here since 1700, and was originally a cattle-drovers’ inn with grazing areas for the cattle nearby, and unorthodox licensing hours to cater for thirsty herdsmen. It is incredible to think these premises were already almost a century old when British Redcoats marched the streets of Rathcoole in search of United Irishmen, and the Penal Laws were still very much in force.
This is where our walk ends. If you wish to return to the city centre by bus, go back towards the village on the left-hand path for around 100 metres to the city-bound bus stop numbered 3444.
We hope you have enjoyed this walk. Further information and other Walks around South County Dublin villages are available to view and download on our Digital Archive Source