I left Walkinstown just over thirty years ago. Many’s the time I’ve been back since, taking the kids to visit Granny, meeting friends for football or beer. Bit by bit, the ties are loosened. There’s less opportunity to drop by and give the auld sod a look. Recently, getting a new car brought me back to those fields where I grew up.
Walkinstown is certainly the go-to place for cars. New or in their prime along the Long Mile Road and the industrial estates to the west. Over by the Naas Road, the hypnotic Mercedes sign rotates on its Art Deco tower, day and night. A beacon in the darkness, a neon blue call to prayer. Death awaits all things, however, and auto graveyards line the moraine that carries the Greenhils Road from Tallaght down to The Cross. Junkyards are sculpture parks with a purpose, a place where discarded jalopys await their reincarnation.
In Norman times, the land hereabouts was granted to Hugh De Bernevale, a confederate of Strongbow. The belt of land between the Dodder and Camac was densely wooded and vulnerable to attack from Irish tribes. The Pale (a fortified ditch) was established to protect settlement in the area, and a ring of castles was constructed from the Liffey Valley through Tallaght and on to Rathfarnham and Dalkey. Drimnagh Castle was built in 1240 as a prominent fortress guarding the marches. Constructed in local limestone it remains surrounded by a flooded moat, the only castle in Ireland to retain this feature. The Great Hall dates from this period, the High Tower was added in the sixteenth century, offering commanding views of the surrounding countryside. To the west lies Robin Hood. An intriguing name, it is now an industrial area. Legend, of course, insists that Robin Hood himself sojourned here. General myth places him early in the thirteenth century, when the lands in the shadow of the Castle were secured by the Bernevals. Robin Hood, of course, could simply be a stock alias for a robber. The area then would have been isolated woodland, just beyond the periphery of settlement, where banditry was rife.
It is said that Cromwell stabled horses in the Castle during the War of the Three Kingdoms in the 1650s. Cromwell’s Fort Road draws its name from that period too. Cromwell is said to have visited many places, most of which needed to be rebuilt afterwards. Drimnagh Castle seems to have survived unscathed. The Bernevals, later Barnewalls, lived here until that time. The Castle remained inhabited until being sold to the Christian Brothers in 1954. The new schools built to service Walkinstown were completed in 1956. In the interim, the first students of Drimnagh Castle CBS were accommodated in the Castle itself. Masses were hosted before completion of the Church of the Assumption nearby. A theatre group and local GAA teams also used the building. By the late twentieth century, the Castle had fallen into disrepair. Refurbishment was carried out in the late eighties, completed by 1996. As well as the restoration of the castle itself, part of the exterior grounds have been reconstructed as a formal seventeenth century garden. Today Drimnagh Castle is open for visitors, and available for private functions. Tours give a glimpse into castle life in the late medieval and early modern period.
Walkinstown takes its name from a tenant farmer called Wilkins. A village had grown up by the early nineteenth century, straggling along the banks of the Walkinstown Stream, a tributary of the Camac. The Camac runs to the north, between Drimnagh and Bluebell, on through Inchicore and into the Liffey near Islandbridge. The stream was visible when I was young. It passed in front of the Halfway House and on to the rear of Wilkinstown House. We used to clamber on its muddy banks, in the shade of trees and bushes, competing to see who could jump across the seething waters. A wall on the western bank retained a flat scrub area, long used as a carpark for the Halfway House. This was a Coach House by the early nineteenth century. While subject to some modernisation, it retains much the same footprint and general appearance as it would back then. Wilkinstown House was originally reached along the banks of the stream. After the Famine of the 1840s the demographics changed. The village was deserted and bypassed by the Walkinstown Road. Walkinstown House passed into the ownership of the Flanagan family.
Most famous of the big house’s residents was William ‘The Bird’ Flanagan, born in 1867 and son of Alderman Michael Flanagan. Small of stature but larger than life, he was a notorious practical joker in late nineteenth century Dublin. The Bird got his name from one of his most notorious japes. Probably. One Christmas he purchased a turkey at a butcher’s in Dolphin’s Barn, requesting that it be hung at the front of the shop for collection. Later, The Bird caught the attention of a policeman on the beat nearby and began to act in a suspicious, excessively furtive manner. Grabbing the turkey, The Bird raced off towards Rialto with the constable in pursuit. Eventually apprehended, he flourished his purchase docket and the unfortunate policeman had to exchange his collar for the mirth of onlookers. The Bird Flanagan pub in Rialto illustrates the incident on its sign. The bar in the Gresham Hotel is also named for him. He once rode a horse into the bar, claiming that the horse needed cheering up, as he’d such a long face on him. His legend also attaches to the naming of the Long Mile Road. Apparently the Bird organised a horse race along its length. The Bird had the furlongs marked out dutifully. His own mount trailed badly at the eighth but as the leaders reined in it galloped past to the end of the road. The Bird claimed his winnings, saying the mile was not enough as the road was a ‘Long Mile’.
William’s brother was Frank ‘The Pope’ Flanagan. Despite the implication of piety, he featured in early Republican gun running. The Irish Volunteers sought arms to defend Home Rule against armed loyalists and their co-conspirators in the army and the Lords. A shipment aboard the Asgard landed at Howth in 1914. The Pope was one of a large crowd who rallied to the cause. He came on horseback. On the instructions of Bulmer Hobson, Frank effected a diversion, leading security forces on a merry dance across the countryside. Frank was loyal to Redmond’s wing of the Volunteers, and served with the British Army for the duration of the Great War.
WT Cosgrave married into the Flanagan family, taking Louisa Flanagan as his bride in 1919, right at the start of the War of Independence. Cosgrave had led the Insurgents at the Dublin Union in 1916, and was lucky to have his death sentence commuted. Something of an elusive pimpernel, British forces suspected he might be hiding out in Walkinstown House during the war. It was raided by the Black and Tans and suffered minor damage. Cosgrave became Ireland’s first prime Minister after independence in 1922, a position he held for ten years.
Much of the Flanagan land was sold off in the development of Drimnagh and Walkinstown. The house itself endured for some decades until it was demolished in 1970 to make way for a supermarket. Suburban expansion had begun in Crumlin in the thirties, followed by Drimnagh and the Walkinstown Musical Estate in the late forties. The Musical Roads rejoice in such names as John McCormack, Bunting, Balfe, Thomas Moore and Percy French. It certainly strikes a welcome note (ha) in the colourful nomenclature of Dublin 12. Bluebell, Robin Hood, Fox and Geese Greenhills, and Ballymount are also part of D12. Pubs include the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Halfway House, the Cherry Tree, the Submarine and the Kestrel. I worked in the Cherry Tree and drank in the rest. The past is always worth revisiting, and imagining.