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Finglas

Finglas is a residential suburb on the North side of Dublin City.


The following started as part of "The Neighbourhood of Dublin" by Weston St. John Joyce (third and enlarged edition 1920). CHAPTER XXVI, "Glasnevin, Finglas and the adjacent district" as scanned in by Ken Finlay[1] (http://indigo.ie/~kfinlay/Neighbourhood/contents). It needs considerable work to update and to change its style from travelogue to encyclopedia article.

A walk of a couple of miles from Glasnevin takes us to the village of Finglas, on the old coach road to Drogheda - a road still preferred by many cyclists and motorists to that by Swords and Balbriggan[?]. Should it be decided to go direct to Finglas, without visiting Glasnevin, the distance to be walked is three kilometers from Hart's Corner[2] (http://www.dublincorp.ie/traffic/camera/Harts_Corner.htm). If this route be taken, we pass the cemetery, and presently come into view of the steep hill descending to the hamlet of Finglas-bridge, situated in a well wooded and sheltered hollow formed by the banks of the Tolka[?]. Viewed from the encompassing heights, this little village presents a most picturesque appearance, the blue haze of smoke from its cottages softening the dark background of the trees, and the buildings of Belle Vue, enclosed by their woods, in a commanding position overlooking the valley of the river.

John Dunton, the eccentric Dublin bookseller, in The Dublin Scuffle (1699) refers to "the fine town of Finglas, seated on a hill, where I had a noble prospect of the sea and of all the ships in the harbour of Dublin.

"All other times I would walk through the green meadows from the end of Stoneybatter to the Kabragh [probably Cabra[?]], which is a village about a mile from my lodging, full of stately trees, which give a pleasant shade and delightful prospect. From thence as I came back I had the sea and harbour directly in my view.

When the above was written, over 200 years ago, it is possible that the disposition of the buildings and trees may have been such as to permit of a view of the sea from this locality, but at the present day, although Howth is easily distinguishable, no view of either the bay or harbour can be obtained.

Referring to this neighbourhood, Dr. Rutty in his Natural History of the County Dublin (1772), page 5, sets forth his views on what he calls the ventilation of the city of Dublin. He explains that it lies in a valley between a lofty range of mountains on the south and a high tableland on the north. This, he states, causes a thorough draught, but he adds that the advantage lies with the north side of the city, where the land rising only to a gentle elevation enables the foul air to escape from that side: - "A gentle breeze from the east is not sufficient to disperse the smoke and vapours of the city, as anyone will be convinced who will take a walk to Finglas, or any more elevated place situated to the north of the city, in such a state of weather, when he will see a large cloud of smoke interrupted by, and stagnating under the mountains to the south, of which the villages to the south have a large share, while those to the north enjoy a serener air, which seems to be one reason, besides the nature of the soil, for the preference that has been given to habitations on the north, to those on the south side of the river."

As regards the concluding statement, it certainly is the case that down to about a hundred years ago, the city seemed to be extending more rapidly on the north than on the south side, but it is very doubtful if the inhabitants were influenced in their choice by atmospheric considerations, and the real cause was more probably the vague traditional fear of the "mountain enemie" surviving until the close of the 18th century, and handed down from early times, when Dublin was an English colony, menaced by fierce and vengeful foes, who, from their fastnesses in the mountains were wont to swoop down at uncertain intervals and ravage the country even to the city walls. This dread, operating for centuries, in time resulted in more settled conditions both in regard to agriculture and building enterprise, in the northern than in the southern pan of the county.

Dr. Lanigan, the learned Irish historian, resided in Finglas for many years prior to his death and burial there in 1828, but no memorial marked the resting-place of that genial scholar until some thirty years afterwards, when a handsome cross with both Latin and Irish inscriptions was erected to his memory in the old churchyard. A commemorative tablet has also been placed in the new church.

One of the most interesting antiquities in Finglas is an ancient Celtic cross, which, from early times, stood to the north of the village at a place called Watery Lane. When Cromwell[?]'s army were passing through Finglas in 1649 on their way to besiege Drogheda, they threw down this cross and broke it, and the villagers, anxious to preserve it from further injury, buried it in the churchyard, where in time it was forgotten, though vague traditions as to its existence lingered in the neighbourhood.

Nothing more was heard of the matter until 1816, when the Rev. Robert Walsh, LL.D., and M.D., rector of the parish, anxious to investigate the truth of these traditions, instituted exhaustive inquiries, and at length found an old man in the village who stated that he had heard his father describe the position in the churchyard which had been pointed out to him by his grandfather, as the place where the cross was buried, and on search being made, his statement was verified by the exhumation of this ancient relic after an interment of 168 years. It was then repaired by iron cramps, and erected in the churchyard near the place where it had lain so long concealed.

The name Finglas (Fion-glaiss), meaning a clear streamlet, is derived from the rivulet which flows through the village and joins the Tolka at Finglas-bridge.

In 1171 Dublin, then held by the Anglo-Normans under Strongbow[?] and Miles de Cogan, was besieged by a great army under King Roderick O'Connor[?], while simultaneously a Danish fleet took up its position at the mouth of the Liffey, cutting off communication by sea. For two months the army remained inactive in camp, maintaining a blockade which reduced the garrison to great distress, but without making any attempt at an assault on the city. Despairing at last of succour, Strongbow sent out the Archbishop to make terms with King Roderick, offering to submit if he was allowed to retain the kingdom of Leinster. To this proposition Roderick returned answer that Strongbow might keep Dublin, Wexford[?] and Waterford, but no portion of Leinster outside these three cities, and that if these terms were not accepted, Dublin would be attacked next day. This reply so much exasperated the Anglo-Normans that rather than accept the proffered conditions, they determined to make a desperate effort to cut their way through the weakest part of the encircling forces, which they judged to be that between Castleknock and Finglas. Meanwhile King Roderick, relying on the strength of his army, had become careless, relaxing discipline and neglecting matters generally to such an extent as in every way to favour the execution of Strongbow's project.

In pursuance of their resolve, a picked body of about 600 Anglo-Normans in complete armour, with some Irish allies, suddenly and silently sallied forth in three divisions towards Finglas, where they found Roderick's forces so unprepared, that at the first attack they broke up in disorder and fled without making any effective resistance, leaving a great quantity of booty on the field, all of which fell into the hands of the attacking party. The king, who was taking a bath at the time, only escaped capture by flying precipitately from the battlefield in a semi-naked condition.

This cleverly planned sortie raised the siege of Dublin, and provided the garrison with sufficient stores and provisions to render abortive any further attempt at blockade by land or sea.

Many years ago, considerable quantities of human bones, together with remains of antique weapons and armour, were discovered in an old quarry near Finglas wood. Dim traditions of the neighbourhood point to the place as a scene of a battle in remote times with the Danes, but as no such engagement is recorded in history, it is probable that the relics in question belonged to the battle which resulted so disastrously for the forces of King Roderick O'Connor.

In 1649 the Marquess of Ormonde encamped here prior to his overthrow at the battle of Rathmines[?], and obtained some successes over small parties of Parliamentarian troops near Drogheda, who had taken up positions there in order to intercept convoys of provisions coming from the north by the Drogheda and Ashbourne Road. His letters to King Charles II[?]., written at this period, exhibit the utmost confidence as to the final issue of his operations against the city of Dublin.

In 1690 King William[?]'s army encamped at Finglas for a few days on their return from the Battle of the Boyne. Two massive structures known as "King William's Ramparts" the erection of which is ascribed by local tradition to that monarch, remain to the present day - one on the boundary of the Rectory ground, and the other, a larger one, close to the village, on the road running southward from the new church. Both have heavy growths of ivy, and present the appearance of antiquity, but the larger one is strengthened by buttresses which appear to be of recent date, and may have been added to prevent it falling out on the road.

According to tradition, St. Patrick having come to Finglas from Meath, ascended a rising ground, and viewing Dublin at a distance, blessed it, and prophesied that although then but a small village, it should one day be a city of importance, and ultimately become the metropolis of the kingdom. Possibly connected with this legend is St. Patrick's Well, standing in a field a little to the north-west of the village, and formerly held in great repute for its sanative virtues as a spa.

In early times an Abbey was founded here and dedicated to St. Canice, whose festival was formerly celebrated in the village on the 11th October. At a later date, which cannot be definitely ascertained, the church whose ruins now remain, was erected on the site of this ancient establishment, and used until 1843, when the new church was built, and the mural monuments belonging to local families moved thither from the older edifice. One of these is to the memory of the Rev. Robert Walsh, LL.D., through whose exertions, as stated, the village cross was discovered.

From some documents of the 13th century as to the rights of turbary at Finglas, it would appear that there was then a considerable supply of turf in the neighbourhood.

A hundred years ago Finglas was celebrated for its May sports, which were carried out on a more elaborate scale than at any other place near Dublin. Until about 1845 the Maypole stood in the open space near the police barrack, on the site now occupied by the pump, and although it had been, no doubt, originally decorated in the orthodox fashion with ribbons and streamers, at a later period of its existence it was painted white, with blue and red stripes encircling it like a gigantic barber's pole. During the sports it was well greased, and at the top were affixed in succession the various prizes which awaited the successful aspirants to fame as climbers. Besides the pole-climbing there was dancing, with a number of other sports and amusements, such as catching a pig, which was well shaved and soaped before being turned loose among its would-be captors, grinning through horse collars, the prize being awarded to the competitor who achieved the most fetching grin, catching a bell-ringer, his pursuers being blindfolded; foot, sack, and ass races, and improvised frolics of every description.

During this period Finglas fully equalled Donnybrook as a popular attraction, the festivities causing so much commotion and excitement in this ordinarily quiet neighbourhood that at one time it was proposed to have them suppressed as a public nuisance. Whiskey was then only a penny a glass, and the public houses did literally a roaring trade; the jarveys, too, reaped a rich harvest; and if a few casualties occurred through the free use of blackthorns or an occasional car getting emptied into a ditch, these were regarded as the fortunes of war, the risks of which only added to the zest of the amusements.

These festivities began to show signs of declining in popular favour about 1820, and notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of some of the residents to revive what they called "the humours of Finglas," almost every vestige of them had disappeared by 1845.

Due south of Finglas, and situated on the green banks of the Tolka, is the conspicuous ruin of Finglaswood House, an ancient structure, which during the Commonwealth was the residence of Henry Segrave, whose possessions were forfeited to the Government. Adjoining the house, and leading up to Finglas, is a narrow, shady path known as "Savage's Lane," from a family who occupied the house about eighty years ago. The most noticeable feature in the building is a lofty square turret, the lower part of which appears to be very ancient, probably dating from the time of Queen Elizabeth, while the upper portion, constructed of brickwork, seems to be of more recent date, and is covered by a modern, slated roof The defensive character of the original structure is indicated by the massively built turret, with its inconspicuous loopholes commanding the approach to the entrance door, and by the arched entrance at the back to an underground passage, now fallen in, which probably led to some secret exit, while inside the front wall a large well furnished the place with water. Attached to the establishment were numerous out-offices, bakehouses, and stables, with extensive walled gardens, which still contain a few of the old fruit trees, and in the western side of the house may still be seen the remains of the great kitchen fireplace.

About a hundred years ago this house was used as a tannery, and since that time has been gradually falling into decay. Over the hall door there formerly was a stone tablet bearing the arms of the Segrave family, the ancient territorial proprietors.

The whole structure presents the appearance of a dwelling-house built on to the nucleus of an old castle, which, however, has suffered such destructive alterations in the process as to leave but little by which to judge of its original design or character.

Like many other old houses in the neighbourhood of Dublin, popular tradition assigns to this building the dubious honour of having sheltered King James[?] on the night of the Battle of the Boyne, and although there is no historical evidence to support this belief, the ruin is in consequence almost universally known as "King James's Castle."

In addition to the authorities already quoted, an article by Mr. Wm. C. Stubbs, M.A., on the Fingal District, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries for 1897, has been consulted in the preparation of this chapter.



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