Monday, 2 March 2015

Newbrook House – an abandoned
Georgian gem in Rathfarnham

Newbrook House has a history going back over 250 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

It was encouraging at the weekend to see the restoration work on Laurelmere Lodge in Marlay Park is almost completed, and the once tumbledown cottage known to generation of children as “Goldilocks Cottage” has received a new lease of life.

But sometimes I wonder whether we truly cherish our architectural heritage in this part of south Dublin. For example, I have written in past about the sorry state of the 18th century “Ely triumphal arch” built on the banks of the Dodder by the Loftus family of Rathfarnham Castle.

On my way back from Marlay Park on Saturday evening, I noticed the sad state of neglect of Newbrook House, an interesting small Georgian on Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.

Newbrook House is on the market as part of the larger site once associated with 'Merchant Meade Builders Providers. The site covers 0.63 ha (1.56 acres) on a prime location fronting Taylor’s Lane, with 80 metres road frontage.

Because Taylor’s Lane is a newly aligned road, linking the suburbs of Sandyford with Knocklyon, Firhouse, Edmondstown and Templeogue, the selling agents suggest the house and site should be of interest to developers, nursing home operators, or potential owner occupiers, subject to planning permission.

But Newbrook House should also attract the attention of local historians and conservations. Newbrook House, is a two-storey detached residential house with an internal area of about 67 sq m (1,798 sq ft).The house dates back to the mid-18th century, when Newbrook House and neighbouring Kingston were built as part of Newbrook Mill on Taylor’s Lane.

The paper mill and manufacturing business that was carried on for many years was started in the mid-18th century by John Mansergh, who died in 1763.

The Manserghs, originally from Barwicke Hall, Yorkshire, came to Ireland in the mid-17th century, and the properties they acquired included Ballybur Castle, which belonged to the Comerford family until the Cromwellian confiscations in the 1650s.

In the 18th century, there was a large number of mills in the area around Rathfarnham and Whitechurch on the banks of the River Dodder and the Owendoher River. Each of these mills had a mill pond and they were fed by the same mill stream, which was taken from the Owendoher River at Edmonstown. The Newbrook stream enters the present site and could still be developed as an attractive feature in any future development of the house and the site.

At the beginning of the 19th century most of them switched to cotton and wool and later to flour mills. However, extensive paper manufacturing continued to be carried on for many years at Newbrook Mill under the name of the Mansergh family until 1846.

The McDonagh family then lived at Newbrook House for most of the Victorian period and ran Newbrook Mill until 1897 as John McDonough & Sons.

James McDonagh, JP, who was a magistrate for Rathfarnham, lived at Kingston House, which has since been demolished but it is remembered in street names nearby. His sons Richard McDonagh, also a Justice of the Peace for Rathfarnham, and Thomas McDonagh lived at Newbrook House.

However, Newbrook later returned to the Irwin family, and from 1901 to 1935 the mill was operated by Sir John Irwin, who lived in Newbrook House.

Soon after Irwin moved into Newbrook, a poem was published in 1904 referring to Newbrook House. ‘The Palm Tree on the Dublin Mountains at Newbrook, Rathfarnham’ was written by Ameenah (Emily) Lincoln, a celebrated Victorian convert to Islam, who lived in both India and Liverpool, and was published on 13 July 1904 in The Crescent, the weekly magazine of the Liverpool Muslim Institute.

She says “Newrbook’s master is good and kind,” and describes how he mourned the death of a palm tree he had brought form India to be planted in his house in Rathfarnham, only to mourn its death in the harsh Irish winter:

In the emerald isle, on a mountain side,
There grew a stately palm.
I saw it in its towering pride,
And I said, “Oh friend, salaam!”
How came you to this climate cold
Where the sun is seldom seen?
Do you miss his reflugent rays of gold
When our winds blow sharp and keen? …

Now, Newbrook’s master mourns the palm,
Its beauty he’ll ne’er forget.
And I for it now write this psalm
To testify regret.


Although Irwin’s mill benefitted from harnessing the power of local streams and rivers, he wrote a letter to The Irish Times in 1925 opposing the planned hydroelectric station on the Shannon at Ardnacrusha. This was the major infrastructural project of the first decade of Irish independence, but it was seen by some as a grandiose waste of money, as Irwin’s letter shows.

He argued that “national capital which is urgently required for housing, road improvement, harbour development and arterial drainage” was about “to be diverted to force a risky enterprise which, in any event, would be more efficiently established upon commercial lines with necessary State supervision.”

He added: “Such an hypothecation of public money and national credit at this moment would be an act of extreme folly ...”

But Irwin’s days at Newbrook were numbered. Newbrook Mill was extensively damaged in a fire in 1942 and it was demolished later.

Later in the 1940s, Newbrook was born Edward ‘Ned’ Meade who founded the business Merchant Meade. He was a natural entrepreneur, and the business continued until at least the 1990s.

The site and Newbrook House are now on the market. I hope that is not yet another historic house that is at risk in this part of south Dublin.

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.

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