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.

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13 Comments

  1. Michael O'Driscoll

    Great article again,thanks.Lived 4 doors from ‘Guard Brown’ and used to chat to him (then retired) when running to the post office each morning as a 5 year old,past Dr Nelsons and Twomeys!

  2. I was just wondering if Castlenock was home to Mercers School. My late mother and family came from Ireland. After her junior school years in Summerhill it was onto a school called Mercers. Where she was a boarder.

    • Hi John,
      The Morgan and Mercers schools were in Castleknock but have been demolished since the sixties. The extracts below may be of interest to you.
      Regards,
      Jack

      (Church of Ireland Parish notes)
      Christian Funeral and Burial:

      On 9th June at St Brigid’s Castleknock: Frances (Fanny) Coates (died 6th June 2003), late of Church Avenue, Blanchardstown, and formerly of Mercers and Morgans School, Navan Road.
      May she rest in peace.

      In Memoriam: Frances (Fanny) Coates (23rd July 1913 – 6th June 2003)

      Fanny Coates, at nearly 90 one of the oldest and most popular residents of our parish, died peacefully in James Connolly Memorial Hospital, on 6th June; her nieces and nephew-in-law and the Rector and the Curate were at her bed side. Born in Mullingar in 1913, at an early age Fanny and the whole family (of 5 girls and 3 boys) moved to Castleknock when her father took up the job of gardener and grounds man at the (former) Morgans and Mercers School on the Navan Road, living in the school Lodge. A close family, they all became an integral part of the fabric of the school, working as cooks and on the maintenance of the school, and in Fanny’s case as gatekeeper. Pupils and staff alike held the family in great esteem – even this year Fanny was still getting visits and letters from former staff, including a former Headmaster. Fanny also worked at the Kraft margarine factory, and she and her sisters were at the heart of the local community of Castleknock and of the parish. Extremely regular church attenders, they continued living in the Lodge (even after the death of their parents) until the 1960s when the school closed.

      (Thom’s directory in 1869)
      In addition to the parochial school, there are two by the side of the canal, one for boys, maintained by a bequest from the late Mr. Morgan ; and the other supported out of the produce of lands devised by a lady named Mercer, and yielding a rent of more than £750 per ann., vested in trustees, by whom 50 girls are maintained, clothed and educated.

  3. Hi Jack

    So many thanks for your most welcome post and information which was most helpful.

    Fancy the old school gone!! My late Ma would cheer.
    Regards John.

    J

  4. The houses in Pecks Lane actually in Park Villas were built for thoes who server in the British Army during the great war, I was born in the house that my Grandfather moved into in Pecks Lane and my mother still lives there at the grand old age of 97. He was a serving solider during the war. Guinness workers were a later addition to the list. They were also built before beach park. There are a lot of factual inaccuracies in this article.

    • Aidan Driscoll

      How nice to hear from you Paul. Great memories of St Declans And Peck Lane. Wish you and family all the best, how time flies, best Wishes Aidan O Driscoll

  5. Tried and tried for many years without any real success to find others who suffered as boarders at Morgans School for me back 1952 as an 8 year old !!,both my older brother and myself due to family circumstances were enrolled.
    many years later decided, needed to face my demons and tried to find more about the school, Since amalgamating with Kings hospital I did find the bursar at K.H to be of some help ,he was, however, most reluctant to comment on the conditions, treatment of students, however, did conceded that others had expressed similar memories , understandably other x borders he had spoken with were reluctant give out any personal info , shame as would to correspond .

    Unsure if I’m correcting in sending to this site, if no sincere apologies.

    Alan Inglis
    Tamborine Mountain
    Qld 4272
    Australia

    • Hi Alan
      No problem connecting with this site and if you find out any more about the schools please keep us informed.
      Btw, how did you come across the site? I’ve noticed I have been getting hits from Australia on a regular basis.
      Regards,
      Jack

      • G’Day Jack ,

        Just NOW reading your reply going way back 2017 ,never realised there were so many comments re Castleknock and Morgans in particular.
        Unsure if this will and when will reach you .Some memories of Morgans prefer not to write ,comment on this site .

        More than happy ( in fact welcome ) to tell you more and you to decided as to put in this site not a problem.
        As to others in Australia viewing interested to know .

        One that I know of still alive and kicking is Leslie Gaw ,he a day boy ,lives in Dublin .

        Hopefully you receive .
        my email asking5@optusnet.com.au

        Regards
        Alan

  6. I was a boarder from 1939 to 1942 at Morgan’s School where Mr Commiskey ruled with a rod of iron. Mercer’s School was next door and the only sight or contact we had was in the local church when we attended morning & evening services on every Sunday. I am 90 years old now and during my lifetime have benefited greatly from the education received at Morgan’s.

  7. Peck’s Lane older houses were built after WW1 for ex-servicemen.
    “homes for heroes”
    https://reynoldshistorycastleknockblog.wordpress.com/author/reynoldshistorycastleknockblog/

  8. I was born and reared (mostly) in Castleknock. Although not of the “vintage” (born early 70’s) of some of the posters here, I very much appreciate the article and find it fascinating reading.

    I will correct on one small point, in that I believe Mercers (or Morgans) schools were not actually demolished until the ’70s. I used to wander over (up to no good) to them after football in Russell Park.

    I always recalled being confused when some of my friends speaking of the place, argued about calling it Mercers or Morgans. It seems that both names are correct. So many thanks for clearing that up for me.

    Also fantastic to hear of some people who actually attended and to hear of park villas. Great stuff. Thanks to all contributors.

    Thanks again.

    Carl

  9. Just sharing memories of Castleknock with my sister I found this discussion. We lived a few doors up from Aidan and Michael O’Driscoll on Beechpark. We were there at what was then No. 24, from about ‘54 to ‘64, I think, if failing memory serves accurately. It was a really beautiful village, the old hand pump as we walked to the canal, Sweeney’s little sweet shop and on to the Tolka. The Navan road is a bit busier now, apparently.
    My brother and I sat with often frozen ears in wintertime waiting for the first of two buses to O’Connell’s Schools, on the wall outside the ‘Protestant’ school. The old cottages faced us and even in our childhood we appreciated the character they gave to the village.
    In tragic circumstances, lockdown has afforded opportunity to reminisce. Lives changed so slowly then that family names are associated in memory as landmarks.I have lived in England for almost 50 years and have new memories now but they are all important The Beatles cover it in In My Life;

    There are places I’ll remember
    All my life though some have changed
    Some forever, not for better
    Some have gone and some remain

    Thanks for the memories

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