03 March 2013

As shutters come down and shops close, is Terenure a dying suburb?

The Crossroads at Terenure ... over the decades, Terenure has learned to live with change (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

There was a popular but apocryphal story among journalists and photographers that a photographer was commissioned by the Property Editor to go to Terenure and take a photograph of Floods.

It was in the day before mobile phones, and the photographer eventually found a phone in a pub in Terenure and rang back to tell the picture desk: “There’s no floods in Terenure, it’s a bright sunny day.”

“Where are you calling from?” asked a bemused voice at the other end.

“From a pub in Terenure.”

“And what’s the name of the pub?”

“Just a moment,” said the photographer, “I’ll ask the barman.”

He interrupted the flow of conversation to ask: “What’s the name of this pub anyway?”

The amplified conversation could be heard back in the newsroom as the barman asked nonchalantly: “Why?”

“My boss wants to know.”


Floods was up for sale, and the Property Editor was running a feature on the passing of a suburban landmark.

Getting used to change

Parts of the original Terenure Castle and Terenure House are incorporated into the buildings of Terenure College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Over the decades, however, Terenure has been used to name changes. Floods is now Brady’s. The Eagle House had been Vaughan’s, and before that was the Eagle House too. Roseana had long become Leoville before the Synagogue was built on the site. Frankfort gave way to the Terenure Laundry and then the Sunday World. The name of the Classic Cinema is almost forgotten. Even the village itself was known as Roundtown for a long time before it was gentrified as Terenure in 1868 at the behest of the Shaw family of Bushy Park House.

The name of the former Classic Cinema, on the site of a former tram station, is almost forgotten (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Change is a fact of life. Life changes, streetscapes change, names change. But, through all the changes, Terenure has survived. Now, however, the question needs to be asked: are Terenure and the other Dublin suburban villages dying slow and painful deaths?

Part of Terenure’s problem in preserving its village identity while living with change is that Terenure has no single local authority. Although much of Terenure lies within Dublin City, some parts are in South Dublin County, and Terenure is spread across three postal districts – Dublin 6, Dublin 6W and Dublin 12.

A recent development

Terenure’s businesses and residents are trying in preserving its village identity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Terenure takes its name from the Irish Tír an Iúir, “the land of the yew tree.” But the present heart of the village is clustered around a crossroads that only developed after a new road from Rathgar crossed the road from Harold’s Cross to Rathfarnham in the 19th century.

The crossroads attracted shops, pubs, banks and housing, and made the new village an ideal terminus for the new trams. At one time, there were three tram depots here: for the No 15 tram in Terenure Road East; for the No 16 tram in Rathfarnham Road; and the terminus for the Blessington Steam Tramway on Templeogue Road.

James Joyce’s mother, May Murray, was born in 1859 in the Eagle House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a tram terminus, Terenure is mentioned by James Joyce in Ulysses. Joyce knew Terenure well: he was baptised in Saint Joseph’s Church on 5 February 1882, and his mother, Mary Jane (May) Murray, was born in 1859 in the Eagle House, a pub owned by her father, John Murray. The pub still stands at the crossroads, although signs inexplicably claim the pub dates from 1916.

Clustered around a castle

However, the original village of Terenure was located not at this junction but a mile further west at Terenure Castle, where Terenure College now stands.

King Henry II granted the lands of Terenure and Kimmage in Rathfarnham to Walter the Goldsmith (“Aurifauber”) in 1175. But the lands reverted to the crown within 40 years, and King John granted Terenure, along with Drimnagh and Kimmage, to the Barnewell family in 1215.

The Barnewalls continued to live in Terenure until 1652, when their lands were confiscated by Cromwell and leased to a Major Elliott. Terenure then had a population of 20, with a castle and six dwellings, including a mill, but there was no village of note.

After the restoration, Charles II granted Terenure, Kimmage and the Broads to Richard Talbot (1630-1691), Earl of Tyrconnel. In 1671, Major Joseph Deane, a former Cromwellian officer, bought Terenure from Talbot for £4,000. Deane, who was MP for Inistioge, Co Kilkenny, rebuilt Terenure Castle as Terenure House, and his family held the property until the 1780s, when Terenure House was leased to Robert Shaw and much of the lands at Terenure were sold to Abraham Wilkinson.

Robert Shaw was descended from Captain William Shaw, who was granted lands in Co Kilkenny and Co Cork after the Battle of the Boyne.

Shaw rebuilt part of Terenure House. His son, also Robert Shaw (1774-1849), married his neighbour’s daughter, Maria Wilkinson of Bushy Park in 1796. Her father, Abraham Wilkinson, had bought Bushy Park in 1791 and by then had acquired much of the Terenure estate. When Maria married young Robert Shaw, her father endowed her with a dowry of £10,000. He also gave Bushy Park to the happy couple, and they moved in there from Terenure House, which Robert had inherited.

In 1806, Robert Shaw sold Terenure House to Frederick Bourne, who owned a stagecoach business. The Bournes lived there until 1857 and during their time Terenure House was known for its landscaped gardens, extensive glasshouses and a wide variety of trees.

Terenure House was bought by the Carmelite Order in 1860, and there they founded Terenure College, a secondary school for boys.

A generous dowry

Bushy Park House passed to the Shaw family by marriage in 1796 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meanwhile, the Shaw connection continued, with the family living in the other great house in Terenure, Bushy Park, across the road from Terenure House.

Bushy Park House was originally owned by Arthur Bushe of Dangan, Co Kilkenny, who built the house in 1700. The house was known first as Bushe’s House, but when John Hobson bought the house in 1772 he changed the name to Bushy Park, possibly after Bushey Park in London.

In 1791, he sold Bushy Park to Abraham Wilkinson, who was buying up the lands around Terenure. Wilkinson presented Bushy Park to Maria and Robert Shaw when they married in 1796. Shaw was an MP for the rotten borough of Bannow, Co Wexford (1799-1800), and voted against the Act of Union. Later, he became an MP for Dublin (1804-1826) and Lord Mayor of Dublin (1815-1816). He became Sir Robert Shaw in 1821 when he was made a baronet.

Bushy Park House is a Georgian house that once had two avenues – a longer one leading from the house along the present Rathdown Park to Rathfarnham Road, and a shorter avenue leading to what is now Fortfield Road.

When the Shaw family sold Bushy Park to Dublin Corporation in 1953, the council developed a public park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When the new Templeogue Road opened, it divided the Shaw estate in two and a new village grew up at the crossroads. The second baronet, Sir Robert Shaw (1769-1869), built the Circle Cottages that gave the name Roundtown to the new emerging village.

One of those cottages, Harmony Cottage, was given to the impoverished widow of one of Shaw’s distant cousins: Frances Shaw was the daughter of the Revd Edward Carr, Rector of Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny, and her grandson was the Nobel playwright and author, George Bernard Shaw.

In 1868, the Shaw family changed the name of Roundtown to Terenure, to recall their former home at Terenure House which had now become Terenure College. The family maintained its connections with Bushy Park until they sold the house and grounds to Dublin Corporation in 1953. The city council turned part of Bushy Park into a public park but then sold the house and part of the grounds to the nuns who founded Our Lady’s School.

Landmark buildings and shops

James Joyce was baptised in Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, in 1882 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Terenure’s landmark buildings today include Saint Joseph’s Church, where James Joyce was baptised, and Dublin’s main synagogue, which is on Rathfarnham Road. Rathfarnham Church of Ireland Parish has its parish hall across the road, but surprisingly the Victorian church authorities never built a Church of Ireland parish church in Terenure.

Terenure Synagogue was built on Rathfarnham Road in 1953 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Last month, in an advertisement for its futuristic supplement on life in Ireland in 2023, The Irish Times predicted a “new Luas Pink Line … now operational from the University of Terenure to the new City View complex at the peak of the Wicklow Mountains” – complete with signs in Chinese. But, while tram numbers 15 and 16 have been inherited by the bus routes serving Terenure, the Luas never came to Terenure.

Bank branches and building societies have closed their doors and pulled down their shutters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In recent years, bank branches and building societies have closed their doors and pulled down their shutters. Vacant lots on every street add to the sense of abandonment and neglect on many corners of Terenure.

Vacant lots add to the sense of abandonment and neglect on many corners of Terenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part of the circle of cottages that gave Roundtown its name can still be discerned behind the former Rathdown Motors, which closed before Christmas with the loss of 18 jobs. The vacant site is an eyesore but is being marketed as “an iconic location profile... ” In that Irish Times supplement last month, Frank McNally wrote of his annoyance at the word “iconic” being used for “everything that’s even slightly famous.”

Part of the circle of cottages that gave Roundtown its name can still be discerned behind the former Rathdown Motors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Around the corner on Rathfarnham Road, concrete blocks dripping with rust are blocking the padlocked gates at the site of the former Terenure Laundry, Sunday World and Terenure Printers.

Concrete blocks dripping with rust are blocking padlocked gates on Rathfarnham Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Throughout the village, there are estate agents’ signs and frosted shop windows. Yet there are new signs of hope as new businesses try to set up each week, confident that Terenure has a future. In recent weeks, alongside the long-established Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai and Irish restaurants, new Persian and Japanese restaurants have opened, as well as a new bookshop.

New signs of hope and new businesses include a new bookshop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although a new Tesco supermarket has opened where Slattery’s pub, Terenure House, once stood, some of the traditional shops survive in Terenure. Although a vegetarian, I am often in awe at the imagination of two butchers in the village offering real meat and telling customers exactly what’s on offer, from crocodile steaks to kangaroo. There is no cheap horse meat here posing as cheap beefburgers.

Imagination in a butcher’s window in Terenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Shops like these are being squeezed out of our suburban villages by landlords demanding higher rents, and by the sort of supermarket chains that sell cheap meat labelled as beefburgers.

Recently, the former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy described the rise of supermarkets and the closure of small shops as “part of progress.” Asked by BBC Radio 4 if seeing boarded-up shops made him sad, he said: “It does … but people are not made to shop in supermarkets, they choose to shop there.”

Higher rent demands and the “progress” of multinational supermarket chains are squeezing local shopkeepers out of our suburban villages. When they shut up shop, it is difficult to find new tenants. In a decade or two, we may be left wondering why we allowed suburban villages like Terenure to fade away before our eyes.

Terenure has a variety of restaurants and cafés (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This essay was first published in the March 2013 editions of the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory).


Maeve Kennedy said...

I know this comment comes months after the article - but I am sad to see that Nolan's the lovely food shop with charming staff is closed. I suppose the advent of Lidl a minute's walk away had something to do with it.

Patrick Comerford said...

And so many other shops too Maeve, including good newsagents and cakeshops. The banks have left eye-sores everywhere. But the Bookshop is great addition, and the Persian restaurant Anar is delightful.

Anonymous said...

Have you any information on the "FORGE" beside the Library.
I recall it as a child back in the '60s and was fascinated by the blacksmith and shoeing of horses.

Anonymous said...

Yes - I remember the forge and the two ladies who lived in the cottage nearby. I think they were sisters. Also Mr Ford trying to keep order in the sweet shop in days when the counter was higher than me! Happy Days.