After Dollymount’s wooden bridge, the coast road has a more inland feel about it. The sandy Bull Island traps a narrow lagoon within its five kilometre span, and midway along a causeway connects with the mainland. Here we reach the borders of Raheny, five miles from Dublin city centre. The name derives from the Gaelic for an ancient ring fort, or rath, and here signifies the fort in the marsh. The old centre of Raheny is further inland and can be reached via St Anne’s Park or Watermill Road. Alternatively, it can be reached directly from the city by Dart.
The Dart stop is just north of the main road linking Dublin and Howth. The Howth Road now ploughs straight past what was once a small village remote from the city. Previously the road headed sharply seawards here, as Main Street still does. Then, in the early nineteenth century, the Telford Engineering Company were commissioned to construct the new Howth Road along its modern lines. William Dargan, having worked with Scottish Englineer Thomas Telford on the London to Holyhead Road from 1819, was placed in charge of the project in 1824. Dargan would soon graduate to the building of railways. From 1834, for two decades, the land of Ireland was well ironed, much of it thanks to Dargan. The Dublin to Drogheda railway was completed in 1844 and would ultimately connect to Belfast. Daniel O’Connell was on the first train to stop at Raheny railway station which dates from 1844. The Liberator would have been nearing seventy at the time, but still at the height of his powers as a nationalist and abolitionist. But he only had three years left to live, dying in Genoa in 1847, while on pilgrimage to Rome.
Coming from the Dart station, on the left eight cottages arranged in a crescent are Raheny’s oldest surviving dwellings. They were built in 1790 for the estate workers of Samuel Dick. He was a wealthy linen merchant who became governor of the Bank of Ireland. He also built a school, Dick’s Charity School, in 1787 for the poor children of the parish, located a little further on at the rath in the centre of the village. It is now a Pakistani Restaurant, the Mint Cottage.
At the Manhattan pub, you reach the Howth Road. If you follow the Howth Road northwards, it soon merges into a stylish streetscape. The houses are white, Art Deco, particularly suited to a seaside environment, even one as bracing as North Dublin, There’s just a hint of Miami in the air, giving the area a vaguely exotic twist.
The village plaza is on the seaward side. This is centred on what remains of the ancient rath, consisting largely of old church ruins. Raheny is first noted with the establishment of Christianity in the area in 570AD. By 1179 Pope Alexander III granted ownership of the local chapel to Christchurch Cathedral. A church, dedicated to St Assam, was erected in 1609 after the Protestant Reformation and rebuilt in 1712. In 1889 the Church of Ireland decided to abandon the old church, and moved south along the Howth Road where a new church was built. The ruins of the old church remain.
The Roman Catholic church, completed in 1864, was also called St Assam’s and lies just across Main Street from the rath. Designed by Patrick Byrne, a prominent church architect of the time, who died the year it opened. In 1962 it was replaced by the huge modernist hulk, the church of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace across the main road. The old church continued to function as a parish social centre und was only recently deconsecrated and earmarked for office development.
The new Church of Ireland venue, All Saint’s Church, is further south along the Howth Road. It was designed by Irish architect George Coppinger Ashlin. It is cruciform, built in the modern gothic style in Wicklow granite with limestone dressings and an octagonal spire. It is where Bono and Ali Stewart were married in 1982, with Adam Clayton as best man. The church is set within its own narrow parkland which connects to St Anne’s Park. I note a crossing road is called All Saints Drive, but not all drivers are saints.
Arthur Guinness, Baron Ardilaun, sponsored the building of All Saints. He was the great grandson of Arthur Guinness who founded the brewing company in 1759. Ardilaun owned extensive lands throughout the country including Muckross in Killarney and Ashford Castle in County Galway. Raheny was his Dublin residence. It had been purchased in 1837 by his father Benjamin who changed the name from Thornhill to St Anne’s. Arthur became renowned as a philanthropist and patron of the arts. Having bought St Stephen’s Green, he landscaped it and donated it to the citizens of Dublin in 1880. His statue stands, or sits, on the southwestern side. When approached by Sir Hugh Land to have a modern municipal gallery built there he stormed: “Are you mad? I will not have myself stand sentry to a picture palace like some giddy huckster!” The gallery eventually was established in Parnell Square, and Ardilaun was pilloried by Yeats. He died in 1915 and is buried at All Saints. The estate was eventually acquired by Dublin Corporation in 1939 and developed as St Anne’s Park. The big house itself burned down in 1943. The Guinness estate in total measured some 500 acre of which about half 240 acres has been used for St Anne’s.
I stop for a coffee in the village, at Perky’s coffee house with its pleasant little garden at the rere. Perked up, I then turn onto Watermill Road at the bottom of Main Street and stroll towards the park. From this entrance, a long, straight, pleasantly gloomy avenue of trees bisects the playing fields. There is a rough path down to the Nanikin River. Wilderness encroaches but this is balanced by a few picturesque follies. These are vestiges of the old Guinness estate.
The Herculanean Temple is one of a number of follies with a Roman theme The temple of Isis by the pond nearby takes its inspiration from Pompeii. The false ruins would make an ideal backdrop for a Romantic painting, with cavorting heros and nymphs. Today, two Goth couples lounge by the water smoking the herb. So, more of a Manet then. My journey becomes ever more winding, and I eventually gain the seafront across an Impressionist meadow.
Further south, I head back inland and underneath the Annie Lee Tower and bridge which suggests medieval times. It was named for Benjamin Guinness’s daughter who became Lady Plunket. Though it would pass for an ancient park gate it also dates from the 1890s as the Ardilauns continued to embellish their estate.
Lady Ardilaun was a guiding force in developing the gardens in the manner of French classical garden design. Lady Ardilaun, Olivia Guinness, was born in 1850, daughter of the Earl of Bantry. She was a keen artist and became a member of the Water Colour Society of Ireland. Her passion for horticulture has seen plants named for her. The annual rose festival at St. Anne’s is also a testimony to her work. Amongst the many beautiful gardens that remain is the Walled Garden marked by its landmark clock tower. The Chinese Garden is adjacent.
The Red Stables is the only surviving building of the demesne. This red brick stables was built in the Tudor style so popular in the late Victorian period, and also designed by George Coppinger Ashlin. Today the building houses artists residences and workspace, with a gallery and cafe. The cafe, Olive’s Room, is named for. Lady Ardilaun. Beside the gallery, there’s a a concise history display with a model of the Big House. The Red Stables is adjacent to the car park off Mount Prospect Avenue, taking you to the seafront and Clontarf Rad. The majestic central avenue leads westwards to Vernon Avenue which connects to Contarf Village. Due north, paths will lead you back to Raheny, via Watermill Road or All Saints Church.