Recollections of Castleknock

This article was sent to me recently by John McLaughlin and was taken from the St Brigid's    GAA web site

Some personal recollections of Castleknock in the 1950s and St. Brigid’s GAA……by Frank Russell

Castleknock today is a sprawling urban area with large and small houses, its own Churches, secondary schools, smart restaurants, pubs, and shopping centres, population increases since the 70s and, importantly for those who live there, a relatively easy commute through the Park to jobs in the city and beyond. But, it wasn’t always like that.

In the 1950s, Castleknock was an even smaller villageScreenHunter_516 Mar. 25 19.57 than Blanchardstown, one which we students got the bus from to attend various Secondary schools in the City (there were no day schools for boys or girls in Castleknock or Blanchardstown at the time). Besides Mc Kenna’s pub (now called Myos), there was the Protestant Church, Browne’s petrol station, Molloy’s shop (now Con’s Florist) with its bookies at the rear, the Post Office and assorted red brick houses and cottages on the Main Street, with Twomey’s bungalow and Dr Nelson’s surgery just off it.

ScreenHunter_517 Mar. 25 20.11It was to the Protestant Church that, in 1942, the remains of Lord Holmpatrick DSO, MC, were borne on an open “scotch cart” pulled by horses from his estate at Abbottstown (photo of Abbotstown House on left). Even the Catholic National Schools closed that day in respect, as Parishioners of all creeds and classes filed behind the cortege. But, as I’ve been told by a young participant that day, Catholics could only go as far as the Church gates and no further! Even the Boy Scouts were told to wait outside the wall. Those were the times that were in it, I guess! Towards the city, on the right, was the Castleknock Dispensary (which served Blanchardstown, as well), located beside the traffic lights at the present day Auburn Avenue. Besides it, in turn, was the Dispensary Doctors residence and the Castleknock Rectors house and one or two other big houses. There was no Georgian Village then or “Millionaires Row”…. just fields. Further on, to the left, was Pecks Lane, then a quiet side road, with Seagraves imposing farm house at its end, at the Navan Road junction.

On the Peck’s Lane itself were nice artisan houses with their big gardens built originally, I think, for Guinness workers. Mick Hartford, probably the longest serving musician in the venerable St Brigid’s Brass Band, lived in one and the Donnelly family of lovely girl’s fame in another. Across the Lane was Jack Fagan’s solitary bungalow backing onto fields. Jack was the ESB meter reader for Castleknock and Blanchardstown. He went about his business on a bike, with a thick ledger strapped to the rear carrier. When he called to read our meter, he would also have a cup of tea and a chat with my parents. So much so that I would wonder how he ever got time to read all the meters in the area. I needn’t have wondered, the ESB bills always arrived on time!

Other than that, the area was, by any definition, rural, with the Race Course (a place of steady employment for those in the tiny villages of Castleknock and Blanchardstown, Mrs. Peard was the Manager), training stables and farms dominating from the Phoenix Park gates all the way to Clonee and spreading outwards towards Dunsink. There were two National Schools (NS), the Catholic one is now a small apartment development at the Beechpark Avenue traffic lights. Beechpark Avenue was the site of the first housing development in modern Castleknock in the late 40s, early 50s. Guard Brown, from the  Blanch station, was one of the first to move in there. The houses leading towards the school from the Blanchardstown direction on the left followed later, by Finns yard.

The Protestant school is still in the same place on the Main Street. Mr Allen was headmaster of the Catholic NS where my brother Paul took up his first teaching post in 1961. There was already a strong Brigid’s tradition in the school even at this early stage. There was a great banter between Brigid’s club mates from Castleknock NS and Blanch NS football teams when we regularly played, with most School underage matches in those days, hurling or football, were played in the “15 Acres”, beside the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park. To get there every Saturday morning, we took the bus or walked to the Park Gates and walked to and from the 15 Acres in all weather and played a match in between! We were lucky to get a bus, as motor cars were few and far between then.

Both Blanch NS and Castleknock NS were a natural source of boys who went on to play for St Brigid’s in higher grades (the 1958 Dublin Intermediate Championship winning team nearly all came up through the Primary Schools League system), Castleknock NS had similar progression for its boys and many went on to play for St Brigid’s with great distinction, including Aidan Brown and the McCarthy brothers, Liam, Noel and Brian. All these lads were sons of Gardaí living in the Castleknock area at the time. Other Castleknock St Brigid’s stalwarts were Patsy and Malachy Prunty, whose father was a market gardener, with land beside the Morgan Schools down to the railway line (I can remember going there for parsnips and turnips on cold winter mornings).  Their older brother, Fr Tony, also played with St Brigid’s before he went to Africa as a missionary priest. He was so good that I heard him being described as being “in the Mick O Connell mode of catch and kick”. I think he may have been the Monaghan midfielder of his time.

Continuing with schools, there were, however, three Secondary boarding schools in the Castleknock area, the co-located Morgan and Mercer Schools, now a settled Travellers housing site opposite the entrance to Tom Russell Park and Castleknock College, on the Chapelizod Road out of the village. Because they were boarders, none of the boys played on any local teams and, so, contributed little if anything to the development of games or sports facilities in the general area. Or so it appeared to me at the time. However, in fact, there were some “contributions” forthcoming, if indirectly, one that I well remember from the 50s and the other from the 70s. Every year, usually towards the end of the school term in May, my father, the Blanch NS Headmaster, would dispatch me up to Brother Michael in Castleknock College with an empty sack (the same one used for carrying the team jerseys to matches). Brother Michael, was a tall legendary man known and recognised well beyond the College for his friendly waves as he cycled around on his big black bike. He even made it as far as Blanch, betimes! What Br Michael had was the discarded rugby football boots of the departing boarders, which for some unknown reason they left behind, much to our benefit. It was my job to fill the sack with them and this, in a good year, necessitated a second trip from Blanch (if there was space, I also brought home a lump of dripping from the kitchens for my mother). These boots were then laid out back on the Club floor and given to whatever bootless player turned up in time to collect. They didn’t last long. I remember that there were few actual pairs of boots, mostly lefts and rights. I often wondered where their matches were! Regardless, under the “first come, first served” rule, I retrieved a pair of boots from the College that lasted me for years. These boots were always in good condition and were eagerly sought by us lads from Brigids.

In the 1970s, long after the Morgan Schools had closed down and the boys there moved via the Kings Inns at Blackhall Place to Palmerstown, the farsighted St Brigid’s Management Committee, realising that the “Priests Field” behind the Church in Blanch was not purchasable and also too confined for any further development (the new National School in 1956 was built on a part of it), went ahead and negotiated the purchase of the Morgan Schools 10 acre sports ground  and so began the modern chapter of the St Brigid’s Club development. This sports ground was mostly used for hockey and was as level as a billiard table. By coincidence, Johnny Stewart, a great friend of my fathers and a Club Chairman and subsequent Honorary President, lived beside these grounds when he married (where the all-weather pitch is nowadays). Among the huge attendance at the official opening of this new ground in 1979 was Micheál Mick Scanlon, then the Headmaster of Caragh Lake NS, near Killorglin, Co Kerry.  Mick was an assistant teacher in Blanch NS in the 40s and early 50s, recruited by my father for his teaching skills, no doubt, and with a few footballing skills thrown in for good measure! Mick was one of three St. Brigid’s players who won the Junior All Ireland in 1948 for Dublin (how a Kerryman got on the Dublin team was probably down to the fact that his Headmaster in Blanch NS was also Chairman of the County Board at the time). With him from Blanch on that famous day was Micheal Wall and Jimmy O’ Brien from the Mill Road. A young Kevin Heffernan also togged out for Dublin that day and got “a very good game, son” report from my father. High praise, indeed, from the schoolmaster. (I’m indebted to my older brother, Fr. Tom OFM, for this unique recall, he actually heard it being said!).

While sport was clearly a growing activity in Castleknock in the 50s, there was one area being catered for since the 1920s and that was tennis in Castleknock Lawn Tennis club. The club, to us, was “over the high bridge” at the 12th lock (where the original Castleknock Railway Station and Donnelly’s Railway House pub were located) and was of no great local interest. Except, that is, when, in the 50’s the Club ran a “record hop” every Saturday night and it suddenly became of great interest to us in Castleknock, Blanch and beyond. The Castleknock hops popularity was second only in my memory to the Glasnevin LTC hop, which was commonly known as “the Nevin”. This place was jammed every Saturday night and, in the era of jiving and rock n roll, it was a wonder that anybody could actually move on the floor.  While wildly popular, it was an awkward place to reach from Blanch or Castleknock and even worse to get home from….unless you had a bike!

The growing GAA connection in Castleknock took another turn in the 70s when Myo O’Donnell, the then owner of  “Myos” pub (he bought from McKenna’s in the 60s) told me a story about my father which certainly comes under the heading of its a small world!. He told me that my father, Tom, was his National School teacher in the South Galway village of Peterswell in the late 1920s. A great hurling friend of my father there was Jack Sherry, he said. Jack went on to open his famous pub in Clarinbridge, which bears his name to this day. Peterswell school had been my fathers first teaching post on graduating from St Pat’s Training College in Drumcondra before he returned to Dublin for good. Myo remembered him well and his attempts to get hurling going in Castleknock and Blanchardstown. History doesn’t relate on his achievements there but, my father, a modest Clareman who once turned down a nomination for President of Cumann Luaithchleas Gael, would be pleased to know that his great work in developing the GAA at National School, Parish and County level, would be commemorated by the magnificent GAA Grounds in his name at the beginning of the Five Furlong straight in the Park Racecourse.


*The author, Commandant Frank Russell, Retd., Air Corps, is co-Founder of the LARCC Cancer Centre based  in the  beautiful grounds of the  Franciscan Friary, Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath.