The first railway in Ireland opened between Westland Row, Dublin, and Dunleary in 1834. It was also the first commuter rail line in the world. When the line opened, there was a station at Merrion, which opened and closed four times before finally shutting in 1935. Williamstown also had a station but it only lasted a short time, until 1841. The present Sydney Parade station is in Merrion, while Booterstown station has been much improved since it reopened in 1975.
Williamstown is the village that was moved from one side of the Rock Road to the other. In 1906 and 1907, Blackrock College was in the middle of a big expansion. The houses and pubs of Williamstown were on the Blackrock College side of the main Rock Road, so they were all demolished. The houses were rebuilt, along with one pub, on the opposite side of the road. The pub has long since gone, but the houses are still there.
Booterstown was once entirely agricultural, renowned for its rich farming land. Its original name derived from the produce created, Butterstown, and this name lasted until the end of the 18th century. In those days, virtually the only building in the district was Booterstown Castle, which was incorporated into St Mary’s house, built in the 18th century and still there.
The original Roman Catholic chapel or Mass House in Booterstown was built in 1686, while the parish dates even further back, to 1616. The present Church of the Assumption on Booterstown Avenue was built close by this site in the early 19th century and opened in 1813, so that it’ s one of the oldest Catholic church sites in Ireland. The church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, on the Merrion Road, is far newer, having opened in 1953, eventually becoming a parish in its own right. The then Catholic Archibishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, Insisted that the new church should have a fake round tower built beside it. The new church replaced the so- called ‘tin church’ that had been opened in 1940. During the Second World War, local people were able to grow fruit and vegetables on allotments beside the church.
The Rock Road, which is the main road through Williamstown and Booterstown, is one of the five oldest roads in the country. It was originally called the Slíghe Chuluan, and linked Tara in Co Meath, the seat of the high kings of Ireland, to what is now Co Wicklow. The road was constructed about 2, 000 years ago. Nowadays, not only is the Rock Road one of the oldest in Ireland, but it’s also one of the busiest, with huge volumes of traffic every day.
The Old Punch Bowl, at the foot of Booterstown Avenue, is the oldest pub in the district, dating back to 1779. Gleeson’s pub, also in Booterstown Avenue, was once Murphy’s traditional pub and grocery store. It was bought in 1954 by Frank Gleeson and the latest expansion by the Gleeson family on the site is a boutique hotel. The Merrion Inn, on the main road at Booterstown, was burned down in 2012, but was rebuilt and reopened the following year.
Merrion has long had an insecure existence, as many parts of it are incorrectly claimed by Sandymount. Seamus Heaney, the world famous poet who died in 2013, lived for many years on the Strand Road in Merrion, and he added to this myth by always saying that he lived in Sandymount.
Leon Ó Broin, who for many years was the Secretary of the Department of Posts & Telegraphs, as well as being a well- known writer, was the man who pushed hardest in the 1950s for Ireland to get its own television service. It started in 1962 and is now part of RTÉ. He lived for many years in Booterstown Avenue and his son, Eimear, became an orchestral conductor with the RTÉ orchestras.
French missionaries founded what eventually became Blackrock College, in 1860. The college went on to become one of the most prestigious- and expensive- fee paying secondary schools in Ireland. Many students went on to become well-known, such as Bob Geldof, founder of the Boomtown Rats. The college is also renowned for sports, especially for rugby, having produced many Irish rugby stars. Blackrock College still has a Catholic ethos, while St Andrew’s College, which moved to Booterstown in 1973, is a co-educational day and boarding school, noted for its international ethos. It has students from some 40 countries around the world.
One of the world’s greatest tenors, Count John McCormack, who had been born in humble circumstances in Athlone, spent the last years of his life, during the second world war, in an elaborate house, Glena, on the Rock Road in Booterstown. He died there in 1945.
By Hugh Oram