The History of the Parish of Cruagh: An illustrated account from the 6th to the 20th century

The parish of Cruagh, situated near Rathfarnham, appears in the 18th century as containing the town lands of Cruagh, Glendoo, Jamestown, Newtown, Orlagh, Tibradden, Woodtown and Killakee. Today Cruagh is just a townland, after the parish was united with Whitechurch and Tallaght.

It is likely that St. Dalua, a disciple of St Patrick, founded a church that today is a ruin in Cruagh cemetery. Built around 580 AD, it was served by the vicar of Tallaght until the end of the 17th century, when turbulent times in Ireland led to the church falling into lay hands and finally disuse. A round watchtower was built c. 1820 on the site of the former church. It was constructed as an observation post so that a sentry could protect the cemetery from body snatchers.

ScreenHunter_405 Mar. 10 17.43

1656 Map of Cruagh Parish

A map showing principal industries in 1840 shows 7 mills on the Owendoher River. Millmount Mill had been operating since at least 1773 , it closed down in 1899. Edmondstown School is built on the site of Newtown Great Paper Mill, founded early in 19th century, and when in full work, employed over 600. Behind are the remains of Newtown Little Paper Mill, which had been operating since at least 1757.

Further up the road is Tibradden where there is a stone where Daniel O’Connell gave an address to the locals as they celebrated an annual day of pilgrimage in 1843. Also situated here is Tibradden House, which was constructed in 1859 as a wedding present for Mary Davis, whose descendants occupy the house today. Close to the summit of Tibradden Mountain is a 4000-year old chambered cairn. It was excavated in 1849 by the Royal Irish Academy who found a stone-lined cist containing a pottery vessel and cremated remains.

In nearby Killakee, the building now known as the Hell Fire Club was built around 1725 as a hunting lodge by William Conolly. The house as built had a parlour, drawing room and hall on the upper floor. On the ground floor was the kitchen, off which were the servants’ quarters. Members of the Irish Hell Fire Club, which was active in the years 1735 to 1741, used Mount Pelier lodge as a meeting place. The club’s activities at the lodge is often associated with a black cat. By 1799, the house was found to be in disrepair and today, the building is maintained by the state-sponsered company Coillte. Also nearby was Killakee Estate, which is talked about in a previous article on this blog.

18th Century Drawing of the Hell Fire Club

18th Century Drawing of the Hell Fire Club

On the northern slope of Mount Pelier, just below the ruins of the Hell Fire Club, lies the house now known as Orlagh. It was constructed in 1790 and was sold to the Augustinian Order in 1872. Eoin MacNeill was given refuge and slept in the college for the first few days of the Easter Rising. Famous visitors to the house include Patrick Pearse and Daniel O’Connell. Today, it is a retreat and conference centre run by the friars. In a field opposite is a famous well of the area that was unveiled in 1920. Crowds of people came to the opening, which included a drum band and banners.

Finally in the parish of Cruagh we find Woodtown. With a history dating back to the 16th century, it is home to two historic buildings; Woodtown Park and Woodtown Manor.  Woodtown Park was built around 1700 as a farm house. In 1896 the Reverend Walter A Hill started a school here that was the first boarding school in Ireland which kept boys only up to the age of thirteen. It was once a residence of the MacNeill family and it is believed that final plans for the 1916 rising were drawn up here. On the opposite side of Woodtown Park is Woodtown Manor. Believed to have been built around 1720, an 1806 map of the Woodtown demesne shows the estate to have consisted of 132 acres, including a deer park.

John McManus

cruagh cover anon

This is an extract from John McManus’ book The History of the Parish of Cruagh: An illustrated account from the 6th to the 20th century which can be read in full on his website.


Haunted Happenings at Killakee

On the Killakee Road, across the road from the site of Killakee House, the former home of the Massys, are the steward’s house and stables. This House was built around 1765 by the Conolly family of Castletown as a hunting lodge. In the early part of the twentieth century, the house was visited regularly by George Russell , George Moore, W B Yeats and Katherine Tynan. It is said that Countess Markievicz recommended the house to men on the run from British forces, because its unexpected stairways, leading to convenient exits, made it an ideal hide-away. The Conolly family also built the nearby infamous Hell Fire Club.

 Steward's House Killakee 3

During the 8th Baron Massy’s tenure the house was the residence of his steward, Maurice Fox. Following the loss of Killakee House by the Massys in 1924, ownership of the steward’s house passed to Miss Margaret Fox, his daughter. In 1968 the complex was purchased by the O’Brien family and developed as an Arts Centre and tea-rooms. On April 29th 1970, the Irish Independent reported that Mrs. O’Brien, who had just spent two nights on her own in the house, had been terrified by noises each night, that her dogs were howling, “a weird howling, as if they were scared out of their skins”, and had discovered a great deal of damage throughout the house despite no evidence of a break-in. The O’Briens had experienced a number of mysterious happenings in the house since they moved in, in 1968.

The Black Cat of Killakee

The Black Cat of Killakee

Tradesmen, whom the O’Brien’s hired to undertake alterations, refused to stay in the house because of “ghostly” happenings, a freezing atmosphere, and a door that would not remain closed, even with an eight inch bolt in place.  One night, a carpenter saw the door opening to admit an enormous black cat “as big as an Alsatian” which glared fixedly at him and then disappeared. No one believed the story and, even when others saw the cat, the matter was treated as a joke. Some weeks later, when artist Tom Massy was helping with the final stages of decorating, he saw the cat crouched in the hall, its red flecked amber eyes fixed on him. He and another artist friend saw a small crippled man, 3 feet tall standing at the door of the hall and when the men retreated, the small man turned into a cat. When the noises at night made sleep impossible, it was finally decided to have the house exorcised in the early 1970s. Since then, the apparitions have not appeared, but there have been other ghostly happenings and poltergeist-like activity. It is not known if the house is still haunted.

In more recent years, the house became known as Killakee House and was turned into a restaurant but is now a private residence.

Sources: If Those Trees Could Speak by Frank Tracy and Knocklyon Past and Present by Pat Bradley et al.

The Massys of Killakee

by Frank Tracy

The Massy family lineage can be traced to Normandy where they were landowners in the ninth century. In 1066 members of the family, led by Hamon de Masci, were among the Normans who invaded England with William the Conquerer. Hamon de Masci was created a Baron by William and he and his relatives were granted extensive landholdings in Cheshire. Over time, the family surname was anglicised to Massey. Baron Massey established his seat at Dunham Massey near Altringham and thirteen successors, each named Hamon, resided there. Dunham Massey is now in the ownership of the English National Trust and is a major visitor attraction.

In 1649, Hugh Massy, a cavalry commander from Cheshire, was among the Cromwellian forces that landed in Ireland. From the time of his arrival in Ireland, his surname is recorded as ‘Massy’. It is this form of the surname that is used by his descendants. Following the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland, Hugh Massy was granted extensive landholdings in Co. Limerick and built a large mansion at Duntrileague, near Galbally.

In 1776 his great grandson, also Hugh Massy, was created Baron Massy of Duntrileague. Over the years the family extended their landholdings in Co. Limerick and in 1807 they moved their seat to Hermitage, a large estate at Castleconnell on the banks of the Shannon.

Killakee House

Killakee House

In 1826, Hugh Hamon 4th Baron Massy, married Matilda White, a daughter of Luke White, who was said to be the richest man in Ireland. Luke white had extensive landholdings throughout Ireland including an estate of 2,900 acres at Killakee, in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains where he built a magnificent mansion, Killakee house, which he gave to his son Samuel. Samuel White died without issue and the house and estate passed to his widowed sister, Baroness Matilda Massy and through to her son, John Thomas 6th Baron Massy.

John Thomas Massy inherited three large mansions, a shooting lodge, and 34,000 acres of land at various locations throughout Ireland. He lived an extravagant lifestyle throughout his long life and he retained his mansions (and his lifestyle) even after most of his landholdings were sold to tenants under various land acts. By the time of his death, aged eighty, in 1915 his estate was heavily indebted. After his death the family derived income for some years from selling off the contents of the various great houses, but eventually ran out of money. In 1924 the 6th Baron’s grandson, Hugh Hamon 8th Baron Massy, was evicted from Killakee House. Having declared himself ill and taken to his bed, he refused to vacate the house and was carried by the bailiffs from the house and deposited on the public roadway at the nearest estate gateway (now the entrance to Timbertrove on the Killakee Road). Killakee House was taken over by a bank in lieu of debts and, unable to find a purchaser, it was sold for its scrappage value and demolished in 1941.

Beehive Cottage where the 8th Baron Massy lived for his last 34 years

Beehive Cottage where the 8th Baron Massy lived for his last 34 years

Following the eviction, the bank reluctantly permitted the family to take possession of a nearby vacant three roomed gate lodge, Beehive Cottage. Hugh Hamon, 8th Baron Massy and his wife, lived in this cottage for 34 years until his death in 1958. His son Hugh Hamon (Hughie), joined the British Army in 1941 and saw action in WWII. He married an Irish woman and set up home in England where they raised a family of four sons and a daughter. The family of Lord Massy of Duntrileague are now ordinary people living ordinary lives at various locations in England where they have finally achieved that level of anonymity that we all know as normality.

Frank Tracy is the author of the history of the Massy family, If Those Trees Could Speak: the Story of an Ascendancy Family in Ireland, available from branches of South Dublin Libraries or to download from Source. You can listen to Frank speaking about the Massy family here. In association with Timbertrove Café, Frank is available to give free guided walks of Massy’s Woods to interested groups. You can contact him by email at