Saturday, 28 March 2015

Stretching my legs and my imagination
with memories of old houses and names

Ely House, Rathfarnham … in the past it has been Ely Cottage and Ely Lodge, but was it the dower house of Rathfarnham Castle? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I had an interesting walk this morning [28 March 2015] from Churchtown along Nutgrove Avenue to Rathfarnham Village, and then along Butterfield Avenue, before continuing on home. Along the way, as I stretched my legs, I stopped to look at two interesting houses that have managed to survive the changes and developments of recent decades.

Ely House stands at the beginning of Nutgrove Avenue, close to the junction with Grange Road and Rathfarnham Wood. Ely House stands in no grounds of its own and is so close to the traffic on busy Nutgrove Avenue that it takes a leap in my architectural imagination to think of how it has managed to survive as all else around it changed so much.

In the past, this house was known as Ely Cottage, and then as Ely Lodge. It is likely that the historian Weston St John Joyce was mistaken when he was giving an account of nearby Nutgrove House, which is long-gone, and identified it as the dower house of Rathfarnham Castle.

Nutgrove House was also known as the White House, which may explain the name of Whitehall Road, but it was never part of the Ely estate at Rathfarnham Castle. Local historians now seem to agree instead that Ely Cottage or Ely Lodge was the dower house of Rathfarnham Castle.

The Loftus family of Rathfarnham Castle had given the name Ely Lodge to a new elegant house they built on Ely Island in Lough Erne, west of Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, when they abandoned Rathfarnham Castle in the 1830s. Ely Lodge in Co Fermanagh later passed to the Grosvenor family, Dukes of Westminster.

The name of Ely Cottage may have been changed to Ely Lodge after the Loftus family moved out of Rathfarnham Castle in the 1830s. Certainly, Ely Cottage or Ely Lodge stood within the boundary of the Rathfarnham Castle estate, and by the 1880s a family named Dunne was living in Ely Lodge.

Nutgrove Avenue was widened and extended in the 1960s to link Rathfarnham and Churchtown, which explains the peculiar corner on Grange Road at this junction. The old, quiet, tree-shaded avenue was swept away, along with the narrow lanes on both sides. By then, Ely Lodge was in a bad state of repair, but it was restored in the late 1970s and is now known as Ely House.

After stopping to buy the Guardian in Rathfarnham Village, and having a double espresso in the Studio Café, I continued on along Butterfield Avenue, once known as Butterfield Lane.

Butterfield House … once the home of John Hely-Hutchinson, but did Robert Emmet live here? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In the late 18th century, Butterfield House on Butterfield Lane was the home of the Right Hon John Hely-Hutchinson (1724-1794), MP for Taghmon, Co Wexford, Prime Sergeant of Ireland, and later Provost of Trinity College. Hely-Hutchinson donated the Fair Green to Rathfarnham Village in return for a high wall being built around his property. His eldest son Richard Hely-Hutchinson (1756–1825), was an ardent advocate of Catholic Emancipation became Earl of Donoughmore. In 1815, John’s fourth son, Augustus Abraham Hely-Hutchinson (1766-1834), married Catherine Maria Burke of Birr, a great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Comerford and Peter Burke.

Butterfield House has been identified by most historians as the house once rented by Robert Emmet, although there are two other contenders for this identity: Old Orchard House and Washington House.

In order to avoid being arrested before his rebellion, Emmet rented the house in Rathfarnham in April 1803 under the name of Robert Ellis and lived there with Dowdall, Hamilton and others. Their meetings here were attended by Michael Dwyer and his supporters from the Glen of Imaal.

Emmet’s housekeeper was Anne Devlin, whose father Brian Devlin ran a nearby dairy farm. On the night of 23 July 1803, after the rising had been abandoned, Emmet and his party returned to Butterfield Lane but later in the night moved into Brian Devlin’s house, where they remained a few days.

When a military party arrived at Butterfield House to search for Emmet, they found Anne Devlin alone in the house, they questioned her about Robert but got no satisfactory answers.

Forty years later, in 1843, when Anne Devlin was old and feeble, she identified the house and pointed out the bedrooms occupied by each person. The house appears on the Ordnance Survey that year, and in the 1850s is listed in both Thom’s Directory and Griffith’s Valuation as the home of Charles M. Dunn. In 1876, it was the home of Richard Marlowe.

Butterfield House was renovated and partly altered in 1900, and by 1911 it was the home of a Mr J M’Entagart, proprietor of the Empire Restaurant in Nassau Street, Dublin.

The lower portion of the house was extensively damaged by fire in 1952. But it has since been restored and is now the offices of the Irish Pharmacy Union as well as containing a number of apartments.


Oakdown Road … is it Br. Ócadún or Bóthar An Mhulláin Darach (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I ought to mention that at the beginning of my walk I came across yet another tortuous example of trying to render English-language street names into the Irish language.

Two weeks ago, I wrote how I was perplexed to notice that close to Christ Church Cathedral “Werburgh Street” (not Saint Werburgh Street, note), has been rendered in the Irish language as Sr[aid] Barbra [sic], and that neighbouring Upper Exchange Street, off Lord Edward Street, which apparently is in both Dublin 2 and Dublin 8, has been rendered in Irish on one sign as Sráid an Mhalartáin Uachtarach, or Street of the Upper Exchange, and on another as Sráid Iosóilde Uacht or Upper Isolde Street.

This morning in Churchtown I noticed that Oakdown Road is Br. Ócadún and just a few steps away, on the same street corner, by the same house, it is also Bóthar An Mhulláin Darach. Who decided to transliterate Oakdown as Ócadún? – it seems preposterous. As for Bóthar An Mhulláin Darach – could it really mean “the Road of the Notorious Oak”? Perhaps someone, somewhere, is working out how to turn Nutgrove Avenue into the Irish equivalent of “Bewildered Grove Avenue” and Butterfield Avenue into “the Avenue of the Field of Kerrygold.”

If you think I am stretching my imagination too far, then remember how, in JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo tells Gandalf: “I feel … thin. Sort of stretched … like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Some of our translators seem to have taken it on themselves to stretch and spread things too far when it comes to street names, both in the inner city and in the suburbs.

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