Spooky South Dublin

As we near 31st October, it’s time to dust off the ghost story books and spook ourselves a little! The legends surrounding the Hell Fire Club are probably South Dublin’s most famous chilling tales,  but there are plenty of other ghoulish stories to get you in the mood for Halloween.

Old Bawn House looking particularly spooky

Old Bawn House looking particularly spooky

 The Ghost of Old Bawn House 

Close to the Old Bawn Road and the Dodder was situated one of the most important houses of the Dodder valley – Old Bawn House. Archdeacon William Bulkeley, son of the Archbishop of Dublin, built the house in 1635.

During the rebellion of 1641 the house was damaged, but was restored soon after. The house continued to be lived in for many years, but was eventually demolished. There was a local tradition in the old neighbourhood of Old Bawn House: that each year on the anniversary of the death of Archdeacon Bulkeley, a coach drawn by six headless horses and containing two passengers attended by two footmen, drives up to the house.

However woe betide anyone who looks on the coach, for they will die within a year and a day – or so the story goes.

The Murder of Lord Kilwarden

The Murder of Lord Kilwarden

Ghostly Horses

During Robert Emmet’s Rising of 1803, Newlands House, near Corkagh House, was occupied by Arthur Wolfe (1739-1803), 1st Viscount Kilwarden, or Lord Kilwarden as he was better known, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. There were rumours of an attempt on his life by Emmet’s insurgents but despite this, Lord Kilwarden decided to travel into Dublin City. He left the Corkagh Estate by the back entrance, near to the present day St. John’s Road, and headed off towards Dublin City for Dublin Castle. Near Thomas Street, his carriage was ambushed by a number of insurgents, and Lord Kilwarden was dragged from the coach and repeatedly stabbed with pikes. He was brought to a nearby building but died an hour later. After the insurgents ambushed the coach, the terrified horses galloped back the way they had come, and entered Corkagh Estate through the back entrance and out the front drive to Newlands House. Over the years, members of the Finlay family of Corkagh claim to have heard the sounds of a coach and horses rushing through Corkagh Estate: however, neither coach nor horses could ever be seen.

The Phantom Band

During the Easter Rising of 1916, Major Gerald Colley, a brother-in-law of Mrs Edith Colley of Corkagh, was stationed in Dublin Castle, and his wife lived in Corkagh. On the day before Easter, the Major telephoned his wife to tell her that there was some trouble brewing between the Irish nationalists and the British authorities.

On Easter Monday, the Rising took place, and the Major’s wife, along with a friend, went to Belgard Castle to watch the burning bridges in the city of Dublin. Meanwhile, Mrs. Edith Colley, whilst walking with her husband, George P. A. Colley, through Corkagh Estate, heard a marching band playing and the sound of tramping feet marching down the Naas Road and through the rear gate of Corkagh.

They hurried back to the house to find the entire staff anxiously gathered at the front of the house. All had heard the band, and they thought that Corkagh was going to be attacked. However the music suddenly stopped and there was nothing to be seen. Despite the large number of people who heard the band, no one saw it.

The Pond at Rathfarnham Castle, from the Fr. Browne Collection, courtesy of the Irish Picture Library

The Pond at Rathfarnham Castle, from the Fr. Browne Collection, courtesy of the Irish Picture Library

The Phantom Dog

In the hard winter of 1840-1841 a skating party was in progress on the icy pond in the grounds of Rathfarnham Castle. Among the group was a man who had with him a curly-haired retriever dog. The ice cracked suddenly and the man disappeared into the murky water. His dog jumped in after him and both were drowned. To this day it is reported locally that the ghost of the animal can be seen regularly along the Dodder between Lord Ely’s Gate and Rathfarnham Bridge.



The 1787 Explosion at Corkagh Gunpowder Mills

The gunpowder mills on Corkagh Estate, active during the 18th and 19th centuries, were regarded as a nationally important centre for the production of gunpowder and provided employment for many local people. The reasonably intact remains of four gunpowder mills are to be found in Kilmatead, along with two mill ponds. Some of the other buildings in the Kilmatead complex were possibly also mills as it was estimated that there were about nine powder mills in the area altogether. The remains of another gunpowder mill and mill pond are to be found at the southern edge of the park boundary bordering Kilmatead. Gunpowder milling in the Clondalkin area seems to have been carried on from 1716 until the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.

Photo of Kilmateed Mill and Pond taken by Patrick Healy in 1988

Photo of Kilmatead Mill and Pond taken by Patrick Healy in 1988

In 1733 the production of gunpowder ceased temporarily in Clondalkin as a result of an explosion. This was a relatively common occurrence with the manufacturing of gunpowder. It was a hazardous process which required a site to be sufficiently large and isolated from populated areas. However, another explosion in 1787 was so big that it was felt as far away as the city and caused damage to buildings around Clondalkin. The mill building itself was completely destroyed, it’s debris scattered around the surrounding fields. The explosion also had some other, more unusual, effects as reported in the Freeman’s Journal on Tuesday 24th April 1787:

The late explosion of the mills at Clondalkin has been productive of many incidents, the natural result of a great concussion: – A quantity of fish were taken up dead in the adjoining river and Grand Canal, so far as the effects of the explosion could operate. A fox was unkennelled in the Hill of Belgard, and ran with such velocity as to lose the power of fight, whereby he was taken with great care by the boatmen at the Canal and is now chained in the stores. The glasses, china, windows, etc. of the Monasterevan boat on the Canal were broke to pieces; but what is more surprising, a large cat was found at the threshold of Ballyfermot Castle, still alive, but with its hair singed off, which was killed by one of the servants to put an end to its misery and this is a fresh proof, that thrown at this prodigious difference from the mills, it is not easy to rid a cat of existence. But what will surprise somewhat more, Mrs. Margaret Donovan, a respectable dairywoman at the East end of Clondalkin, at hearing the explosions, not only got rid of an old rheumatism with which she was afflicted, but an aching tooth dropped out; and her eldest son, an otherwise acute lad of seventeen, was restored to the full use of the tympanum of his ears, and the articulation of his tongue, and immediately cried out, “Oh mother! Is that the Napper Tandy?” And of this Mrs. Donovan has made oath before Justice Jones, who declared that it had a contrary effect upon him, for he had lost his speech on the occasion. Many other marvelous effects are said to have happened, which shall be conveyed to the public as soon as they are received. The wind being at N.N.W. when the above incident happened, all the damage that was done was between Clondalkin and the city; Mr. Calbeck’s country-house, which lay contiguous, being to windward, received little or no injury whatever.

1816 Map of Clonalkin showing the Powder Mills

1816 Map of Clondalkin showing the Powder Mills

The gunpowder milling operations in the Clondalkin area were operated by several people over the years, including Nicholas Grueber from 1716 to 1733 and the Arabin family in the 1790s.

Corkagh House and Demesne

Corkagh House

Corkagh House

One of the treasures of South Dublin County is Corkagh Park, 300 acres of parkland adjacent to the Naas Road and Clondalkin Village. Although thousands use the public amenity every week, it’s probably that few know of its long and varied history.

The Finlay and Colley families owned the property from the 18th Century until 1959. The house they occupied has gone, but they left behind a rich heritage of mature trees and woodlands, natural water features and gently undulating parkland. The landscape is also a part of the flood plain of the River Camac, which flows through the park. It fed a number of mills in the area which are now in ruins. The adjacent lands contain the ruins of mills which were used for making gunpowder, oil, and various other products.

Corkagh Dairy Vans

Corkagh Dairy Vans

The former Corkagh House originally started out as a small farmhouse built circa 1650. It was extended between 1702 and 1714 when a large wing was added to the existing building. In its heyday, Corkagh House contained ten bedrooms, a library, a dining room, drawing room, study and anteroom. It provided employment for twenty-five servants, with a further twenty-five employed in the management of the demesne lands. There was a substantial walled garden, a stove house, a number of glass houses, a rose garden, dairy and laundry. A tennis court stood at the front of the house and further out across the front lawn was a ‘ha-ha’, a ditch which prevented livestock from trespassing, while providing an uninterrupted view. The farm outbuildings and barns are still to be seen to the rear of where the house once stood.

Corkagh demesne was owned by the Finlay family, from about the mid eighteenth century. Their ancestor Alexander Finlay moved to Ireland from Scotland in 1568, settling in Co. Cavan. Thomas Finlay (1710-1776) of Corkagh established a bank in Dublin, Thomas Finlay & Co. of Jervis Quay (now Ormonde Quay). Members of the Finlay family were active in the military and politics down through the years. Colonel John Finlay was an MP in the Irish House of Commons from 1776-1783. He was also a leader of the Uppercross Fusiliers. Colonel Finlay’s son, Thomas, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the County Dublin Light Infantry. His grandson Henry Thomas Finlay, born 1847 was a Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 5th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. His three sons followed family tradition by joining the army. Sadly, they were all killed in action, Francis in the South African Wars, and George and Robert in WWI. With the deaths of her three brothers, Henry Finlay’s eldest daughter Edith became the heir to Corkagh. In 1909, she married George Pomeroy Arthur Colley, bringing a new family name to Corkagh.

Mobile Milking Machine at Corkagh

Mobile Milking Machine at Corkagh

The Colleys were a distinguished family who arrived in Ireland during the sixteenth century. Edith’s daughter George Pomeroy Colley studied engineering at Trinity College Dublin, which was useful in his hobby, motoring. He was actively involved in the Royal Irish Automobile Club up until his death in 1933. His son, Dudley Colley (1911-1959) shared his father’s passion for motor racing. He also studied engineering at Trinity and was involved in various motoring pranks as a student, including driving across the Ha’penny Bridge in his Baby Austin. When his father died, Dudley took over the farm at Corkagh rather than persuing a career in engineering. His engineering skills were put to good use in setting up a mini hydro-electric scheme which provided electricity for Corkagh House. He also established Corkagh Dairies, including one of the first mechanised bottling plants in Ireland. He did not abandon his racing interests, and in 1946 he became Champion Race Driver of the Year and was the first winner of the Walter Sexton Memorial Trophy.

When Dudley died in 1959, Corkagh estate was put up for auction. The lands of Corkagh Demesne were earmarked for a regional park for the Clondalkin and Tallaght areas in the 1983 Dublin County Development Plan. That year, the lands of Corkagh were acquired by Dublin County Council and the park officially opened in 1986. South Dublin County Council have managed the park since 1994.

For more on Corkagh see Source, particularly The House of Corkagh by Joe Devine and South Dublin County Council’s publication on Corkagh Park. See also the article about Corkagh on Ask About Ireland.