Santry (Irish: Seantrabh, meaning “Old tribe”) is a suburb on the Northside of Dublin, Ireland, bordering Coolock, Glasnevin and Ballymun. Today it straddles the boundary of Dublin City and Fingal County Council area.
The character of the area has changed in the last 100 years, from a district centred on a large demesne / estate, and later small village, to a modern, rather dispersed, mixed-use suburb. Much of the old village is gone and where there were once fields full of crops, and wild woodlands of all sorts, there are now housing estates, a park, an athletics stadium, a shopping complex, industrial parks and busy roads leading to Dublin Airport. Morton Stadium is now the home to the League of Ireland club - Sporting Fingal - until their permanent home ground is constructed in the Swords/Donabate area. The Trinity College Library has a depository at Santry which holds three million books.
Santry is an anglicisation of the Irish placename Sean Triabh (pronounced Shan-treev) which literally means “old tribe”. Although nobody can be quite sure, the book of Leccan refers to a tribe called the Almanii who inhabited the area, who might have been the source of the name.
During the Viking invasions a number of peaceful Norse farmers moved into the North Dublin area, which proved to be excellent farmland. These Norsemen were famous for their agricultural prowess, crafts and fishing skills. They also brought new pastimes and strange Scandinavian phrases which are thought to survive to today further away from the city. The gregarious, direct, rogueish and outgoing character of the Norsemen may be something that endures with what Dublin people understand as a “Northsider”.
After this time people began to refer to the area north of the River Tolka, including from Santry and north to Swords, Lusk, and beyond as “Fingal”, which translates as “fair-haired foreigner”. The name was confined to songs, poems, folk memory and some antiquarian titles until a re-organization of local government in the 1990s set up Fingal and Fingal County Council.
In the 12th century, the neighbourhood of Santry was plundered by Murcadh Ua Maeleachlain, King of Meath, in revenge for the death of his son at the hands of Mac Gilla Mocholmog, chief of Fingal, who then established his base in Santry.
In 1581 the lands and title of Santry were awarded to William Nugent who then lost it after falling out of favour with the Crown because of his religion. In 1620 the lands of Santry were confiscated from Nugent’s aristocratic but Catholic offspring, the Barnewalls. The Protestant Barry family (originally from Cork) took charge of the estate and tenants and became the Lords of Santry where they remained in title for three or four generations. King Charles II made Sir James Barry, then only a knight, Baron of Santry (for services rendered).
In the mid 18th century, thanks to the black sheep of the Barry family (son of Bridget, nee Domvile), the Lordship of Santry and the House passed to Sir Compton Domville, Bart., (1696-1768).
The mansion was four stories high, in the style of Queen Anne, with high narrow doors and windows like Blenheim House,
resembling on a minor scale Versailles Palace. It comprises a centre and two wings, the latter thrown forward and connected with the main body by covered passages. The square of the front of the house is enclosed with iron gates, and in its midst is a pillar recording the pedigree and death of an Arab steed belonging to the present owner … (Benjamin Adams’ ‘History of the Parish of Santry’, 1884)
One account of the monument to the horse says that ‘Sir Compton Domvile got in a rage with one of his best horses and ordered it to be shot. He rode away to Dublin, but changed his mind and got back just as his order was carried out. He erected this monument in memory of the horse.’ Another account says that for some reason his favourite horse threw him, ‘whereupon he went into the house and returned with a gun and shot it. Later, filled with remorse, he had the monument erected’.
Santry was the scene of violence in the early months of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, when a punitive expedition of Parliamentarians led by Sir Charles Coote mistakenly massacred a group of local farm labourers, who were sleeping in the fields there. Coote had assumed they were rebels preparing to attack Dublin.
During the Williamite war in Ireland, in 1690, the Catholic King James stationed his Jacobite army just to the west of Santry, near Balcurris (now within Ballymun) before setting out to oppose William of Orange at the battle of the Boyne.
In the Irish Rebellion of 1798 United Irishmen from all over Fingal marched south towards Dublin city but were met by a company of local Yeomanry (government militia) from Santry village and were massacred. The bloodshed was so bad in this action that the area at the Northern gateway to Santry Demesne (now near the Little Venice Restaurant) was known as “Bloody Hollows” for several years after. Later a Royal Irish Constabulary station was located on the site of the present-day restaurant.
Santry Demesne (Santry Court)
Where the new Santry Demesne public park is situated was once a palatial old house and gardens, built in the 1700s. This was once the largest house in North County Dublin and people travelled from far and wide to be received by the owners, the Barry family. Many clues of the house still exist and the park is worth visiting to find the house foundations, front steps, tree avenue and walled garden. A small bend in the Santry River (which forms the boundary of the park today) was widened to create a small pond for the boating pleasure of Georgian ladies and gentlemen who resided at, and visited, the house.
The house fell into disrepair, initially at the turn of the century as the estate proved not to be economically viable but ultimately after the Domville family departed Ireland post-independence in 1921. It came into the possession of the state, who intended to repair it and use it as a mental asylum. This plan was shelved by the start of World War II; the need to increase security around Dublin Airport meant it was used as an army depot, and part of the gardens as a firing range. There are many theories locally about what happened next but it appears as if soldiers of the Irish army caused a fire and the house was severely damaged in 1947, followed by demolition shortly afterwards.
The Swiss Cottages that are still associated with Santry no longer exist. The cottages were built in 1702 by Lady Domville who, after a visit to Switzerland, decided to build 11 Swiss-style cottages for the farm workers and estate staff. Unfortunately 10 of the 11 cottages were demolished due to their dilapidation. While the last remaining cottage still stands in Santry, it is not in its original conception and the building was adapted into an office block in 1984 and today houses a pharmacy. Morton Stadium now stands on the site of what was the gardens at the rear of the house. The only contemporary reminder of the Swiss Cottages is found on the name of a local pub, ‘The Swiss Cottage’.
Santry in the 70s
In 1976 E J McAuliffe, Dublin genealogist, visited the area and described what he saw in a letter of 13 May 1976 to Martin Dunville of Florida, USA. The old village of Santry had gone and all that remained was an old house, bar, shop, and the old church.
‘The wall surrounds the demesne - now grazed by cows - and many fine old trees of an exotic kind remain. The old gate lodge is there but empty, and a new small house appeared near it. After braving the notice ‘beware guard dogs’ I opened the gate, and went to the house, where I met a young lady and told her I was making enquiries for a descendant of the Domvilles. She became immediately most friendly, and told me her name is Mrs Harris, and that she had known an old lady, now deceased, who worked for the Domvilles, who were good landlords, well beloved, and who did much for Santry. Alas, only a few old walls are all that remain of the house, and the monument to the horse has fallen.
‘The old church is well kept, and the small graveyard in which it stands. Here I saw the memorials to Sir Compton, and the old tombstones …’
Public transport comprises a number of bus routes, operated by Dublin Bus:
- 16 - From Ballinteer to Santry
- 16a - From Lower Rathfarnam to Dublin Airport
- 17a - From Finglas to Kilbarrack via Santry
- 27b - From Harristown to Eden Quay - turns away from Santry at the Santry Demesne junction
- 33 - From Balbriggan to Lower Abbey Street
- 41 - From Swords Manor to Lower Abbey Street
- 41a - From Swords Manor to Lower Abbey Street (no return service)
- 41b - From Rolestown to Lower Abbey Street
- 41c - From Swords Manor to Lower Abbey Street
- 103 - From Clontarf Dart Station to Omni Shopping Centre
- 104 - From Clontarf Dart Station to Cappagh Hospital
- 746 - Dublin Airport to Dun Laoghaire
The Metro North line of the planned Dublin Metro which is predicted to begin operation in 2010 will pass through the nearby suburb of Ballymun.