History Articles

Placenames around Blessington.
Tulfarris or Tulach Fearghusa (Mound of Fergus). The mound is situated between the 10th and 12th fairways on Tulfarris Golf Course.
Ballyward House. Ballyward meant the residence of the defenders. Old soldiers were often posted here to help defend the lands of the Pale.
The Manor House at  Kilbride.
Crosschapel in the townland of Crosscool Habour. Designed by a pupil of the famous Pugin, this Church is highly regarded locally.

The ancient Celts were rural people and very much in tune with their natural surroundings. When referring to places they would use such terms as ; carraig - a rock, ath - a ford, dair - an oak tree, cnoc - a hill, abha - a river, mullach - a summit, coill - a wood, sliabh - a mountain, gleann - a glen, and so on. Man made objects were also of great importance to them. Thus; rath or lios - a fort or enclosure, baile - a house or hamlet, buaile - a booley or cabin used by shepherds during the summer grazing period. Remember St. Patrick as a boy minding sheep on Sliabh Mish in Co. Antrim. Animals were sometimes included, for example Rath na Bo - the enclosure of the cows, or Doire na Muc - the oak wood of the pigs, on which is sited Michael Dwyer`s cottage.The Red Lane so called because of the blood shed there.
The Christian era brought its own powerful influence to bear on Irish placenames. Many saints, monastic sites and hermitages are remembered. In our area we have Cill Bhride - the cell or church of St. Brigid, or one of her followers, and Cill Malum - the cell of Malumna. The religious settlement at Burgage was of very considerable importance. The ancients well understood the importance of a good water supply and their wells were given saints` names in an effort to invoke divine intervention perhaps. The names of St. Patrick and St. Brigid we hear most often, but older residents, especially in the vicinity of Lacken, remember St. Boden`s Well, now sadly under the all consuming waters of the lake. The Island of Saints and Scholars was ill equipped to meet the savage onslaughts of the Vikings who plundered and pillaged at will . Especially vulnerable were monasteries on the coasts, or on major waterways. Our area was not particularly targeted, but, nonetheless, we have a few reminders of that era. The name of our county, Wicklow, is of Viking origin. As is Arklow and Rathtorkyll. The last name means the Fort of Torkyll. This man was a Viking King of Dublin whose sway extended as far as Blessington it would appear.
Next to exert influence on our province were the Normans. They brought culture, organisation and efficiency with them. They were interested in conquering only the fertile lowlands, ignoring mountainous areas, which included most of our county. Even to-day we can still see the great Norman castles that were constructed in Counties Meath, Kildare, Dublin, and of course Kilkenny, where it was said three languages were spoken in the middle ages, namely Gaelic, English and French. We have, however, some places named after them. For instance Brittas from the French 'Bretache' meaning a temporary stockade. Also Burgage meaning a borough or town. What Burgage was known as in pre Norman times does not seem to have been recorded. The 'pile' known as Three Castles was, of course, built during the Norman era., probably by the Fitzgeralds. Instead of three separate castles as the name would suggest, the likelihood is that there was just the one castle with three distinctive parts. It was built strategically near the ford over the river Liffey much used by the mountain-dwelling raiders, the O'Byrne and O'Toole families. Its garrison would curtail the activities of the hardy hill men and so protect the rich lands of Counties Kildare and Dublin. Many a prize herd of cattle was rustled across the ford into the sanctuary of the Wicklow Hills, however, despite their best efforts. At one time protection money was paid to the invaders in an attempt to keep them at bay.
The "Pile" of Three Castles - Baile na dTri gCaislean. An outer bastion of the Pale, used mainly as a garrison.Next to hit West Wicklow were the English and Scottish settlers, mainly during the 17th Century. Again, like their predecessors, they stuck to the lowerlands. Much of the land around Blessington, while marginal, was still worth colonising. And so, many old Gaelic names in our area were dropped or Anglicised. Many new names were created, often using the names of the new owners such as ; Russelstown, Dillonsdown, Edmondstown, Wolfestown, Piper's Hall, Hempstown, Punchestown, Walshestown et cetera. Also popular were descriptive farming names such as Haylands, Old Paddocks, Deerpark, Blessington Demesne, Red Bog, Furry Hill and so on. Great changes were wrought by the newcomers. Farms were fenced off and fields enclosed. Drainage was improved by digging dykes to make ditches. On top of the ditches were sown quicks to keep in sheep and cattle, and also to provide shelter. Rows of trees such as oak, beech and Scotch fir were sown. Later on would be constructed large country houses, with their walled gardens, stables and out houses. Improved breeds of cattle were introduced from the sister island. Farming methods generally were better.
Meanwhile, up in the foothills the old Irish held on tenaciously. They viewed the new arrivals with suspicion and enmity, who spoke a new language and had strange ways. As long as they paid their rent they were relatively unmolested, and so their placenames remained as they were since time immemorial. In these areas there is a preponderance of names beginning with 'Bally', signifying house, hamlet or booley.
Such names are; Ballynasculloge, Ballynatona, Ballysmuttan ,Ballynabrocky, Ballyknockan, Ballynastockan and many more. These people reared sheep on the hills, cut turf and farmed their small holdings, eking out an existence as best they could. As land got scarcer they moved up and up until the bare rock would yield nothing more.Baltyboys House. The Boyes family lived in the area since the 16th Century. Elizabeth Smith (the Diarist) and husband Henry built this house in the early 1800's.
Of special interest are the titles Ballinulta (home of the Ulsterman) and Ballydonnel. I read somewhere that these names suggest a Colony of fighting men formerly employed by the Fitzgeralds, and who came from Ulster. Many of these Galloglaigh (foreign warriors- from Scotland often) made soldiering a way of life and were prepared to hire out their services for the best offer.
Some placenames are almost impossible to decipher. One such is Crosscool Harbour. In the 18th Century it was referred to as Crosscold Harbour. 'Cross' most likely meant 'Church Land. Authorities in the past have ventured the Cold Harbour as a place of refuge for travellers. I don't particularly like this interpretation as it suggests a less than warm welcome for strangers. Could it mean more or less as it says? A cold spot. Could it derive from the Gaelic word 'cul' meaning back or end and arbhair meaning corn or arbour meaning a wood? Sometimes new names were designated on similarity of sound such an example is Monaspic (Bishop's Land ). In a lease of the 19th Century an effort to rename it as Mount Aspect was made. Thankfully this name did not persist.
And so to the present day. Over the past number of years we have had a proliferation of estates in and around Blessington. Such names as Rockypool, Westpark, Beechpark, Blessington Abbey, Burgage Manor, Piper's Stones etc. have appeared. We will continue to have the largest influx of people ever into our area, and this will even accelerate with the development of O'Leary's land. Like all those who came here in the past, these too will make their mark and will eventually fit in to make a new and adjusted way of life and become part of what we are. And so the story goes on.

Tulfarris Golf Club by the expanse of Poulaphouca Lake, nowadays more commonly called Blessington Lake. (The Puca inhabited the canern under the falls at Poulaphouca)
Feathered Lane leading from Russborough to Valleymount. Most of which is now under water as is Russelstown House close by.
Under these picturesque waters lies the village of Ballinahown or Baile na hAbhann - the town of the River. People cut turf there.
Jim Corley.
Photos by Jim Corley.