History of Blackrock

 Blackrock, some hundreds of years ago, was variously called Newtown at-the-Black Rock, Newtown on the Strand by the Black Rock, Newtown Castle Byrne, or simply Newtown, so that “Blackrock” is simply an abbreviation of one of its ancient titles. Blackrock was historically a small fishing village, which began to be commercially developed only in the 19th century.Blackrock is named after the local geological rock formation to be found in the area of Blackrock Park.  Most of it is now buried under the park.  The rock itself is a limestone calp that when wet appears black, this giving the name Black Rock.  For the construction of the railway in 1834, the rock was extensively used for the wall cappings between Williamstown and Blackrock and can also be seen in the walls of the train station at Blackrock.

Blackrock’s golden age started in the 17th century when Anglo-Irish aristocracy began to build a number of stately homes in the area, overlooking Dublin Bay and wealthy Dubliners followed, turning the small coastal village into a popular seaside resort in the 18th century. You can still see the once impressive Georgian terraces on Carysfort Avenue and, to a lesser extent, on Newtown Avenue. Blackrock’s fortunes changed dramatically in the 1830s, when the new railway line cut the village off from the seaside proper. The once magnificent sea views were spoiled and rich Dubliners rattled past Blackrock towards new hotspots further down the coast, like Dun Laoghaire and Bray.  Blackrock turned somewhat bohemian in later years attracting writers such as James Joyce, who lived briefly on Carysfort and Flann O’ Brien, who lived on Avoca Terrace.

Blackrock Railway Station

THE Dublin and Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) Railway was the first suburban railway in the world.  The line began operating in 1834 and was built by ‘the Father of Irish Railroads’, William Dargan, an engineer from County Laois.

The idea for the railway arose from proposals by the merchants of Dublin to link the city with Dún Laoghaire Harbour, because the levels of silt at Dublin Port meant that large ships could no longer dock there and instead called at Dún Laoghaire.  The line ran from Westland Row (Pearse Street) to Seapoint and shortly after was extended to Dún Laoghaire.  Blackrock Station opened on 17 December 1834.

Blackrock Park

Blackrock used to have a natural coastline which ran along the Rock Road. This disappeared when the train line was built in 1834 making the space between the road and the track into a marsh. Before the line was built, the locals used the beach as a bathing area.

It should be said that this marsh area was the cause of local nuisance, as even though water would flow in and out with the tide, it was not enough to wash the area out. This made the marsh very unpleasant to the nose. It was later decided by the Blackrock Towns Commissioners to fill in the area and construct the Blackrock Park in 1873.  The granite gates at the main entrance once belonged to a house called Vauxhall and the gardens at the entrance were part of the gardens of the old house.

In 2007, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council published plans for the conservation and development of the park.  The plans include extensive redevelopment of the course of the Priory River, as well as refurbishment of several of the buildings within the park.  Improvements have gradually been carried out, most noticeably the renovation of the band-stand.

Blackrock Town Hall

The Town Hall in Blackrock was built in 1865. This followed on from the establishment of the Blackrock Town Commissioners in 1853. The commission had been formed as a result of the ‘Towns Improvement Act’ and included Monkstown and Booterstown within the jurisdiction. The building cost more than was originally intended and £1,500 had to be borrowed to complete it. The total cost was £3,500 and an extension was added to the building in 1880.

The town hall was part of a façade of buildings, five in all, which included the library and schools and the facades of the buildings are highly ornate.  The Carnegie library was constructed in 1905 and was the centre-piece to the long façade of buildings.  Andrew Carnegie provided a grant of £3,000, although again the project went over budget.  Today Blackrock Library and Blackrock Further Education Institute occupy this site.

Martello Tower

The Williamstown Martello Tower in Blackrock Park was built between 1804–1806. When the tower was built, it would have been surrounded by sea water at high tide as it was built in the inter-tidal beach area. The tower became isolated from the sea when the construction of the railway took place, but sea water still flowed into the area at high tide. It wasn’t until the filling in of the area to form the Blackrock Park that the tower was to be on dry land. That part of the tower which is visible today is actually the first floor as the ground floor is buried underground.

Blackrock Baths

The Blackrock baths were provided for by the railway company in 1839 and were built beside the Blackrock train station.  A special train ticket also permitted entrance to the baths. In 1887, the baths were rebuilt in concrete with a large gentlemen’s bath and a smaller ladies’ bath. In 1928, the Urban District Council bought the baths for £2,000 and readied them for the Tailteann Games. The baths, with a 50-metre pool, were well known for their swimming galas and water polo and could accommodate up to 1,000 spectators.

Eddie Heron lived in Sandycove and is known for his achievement as 36 years undefeated Springboard and Highboard Diving Champion of Ireland. A plaque commemorating him is on the railway bridge that crosses over to the baths.

The decline in use of the baths started in the 1960s when indoor heated swimming pools started to appear. Dún Laoghaire Corporation closed the Blackrock Baths in the late 1980s and by 1992, due to lack of maintenance, parts of the baths were dismantled.  They have since been sold to developers Treasury Holdings.  In 2013, the baths were demolished due to safety concerns following a routine inspection by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It was found that the diving platform had been significantly corroded and detached from the pool base.

Blackrock in the early 20th Century

Brian Mac Aongusa describes in one of his publications how in the first half of the 20th century, Blackrock was just a village or small town.  It was prosperous and stratified in a very interesting way.  It contained varying population groups engaged in light industrial, agricultural and domestic labouring who lived in small houses and cottages of the major roads.  In contrast, a large and more affluent population inhabited substantial houses on the outskirts and along the seafront.  In the immediate hinterland of Blackrock were two large farms owned and managed by Catholic religious orders.

The predominant culture of Blackrock and its hinterland was Anglo-Irish Protestant and the focus of attention was directed towards London rather than Dublin.  There were no fewer than eight places of worship, with three of them Church of Ireland – segregated by class and doctrine – one large Roman Catholic, one Presbyterian, one Methodist, and one Plymouth Brethren, together with a gospel hall.  The major shops in the village operated within a Protestant culture and employed only those of their own religious persuasion.  They were mostly customers of Ulster Bank.  Similarly, the smaller shops owned by Catholic traders employed their own co-religionists and dealt mainly with the National Bank.

Blackrock in the later 20th Century

The character of Blackrock and of its wide hinterland began to change rapidly after the end of World War 2.    As fuel restrictions were relaxed, motorised traffic increased and horse drawn drays and carts were gradually replaced by lorries and vans.  The methods of food distribution changed and more pre-packaged good began to appear in shops.  Employment dropped in farming because of these changes and this was reflected in the sharp decrease in the population of the rural communities from Stillorgan to Cabinteely.

Blackrock became less of a focal centre due to the greater availability of private cars, which allowed people to travel and shop more widely and so gradually reduce their dependence on the local village.   A related major change was brought about by the total closure of the tram service in July 1949 and its replacement by a new service of modern double deck buses that encouraged many people to travel and venture further afield.  An interesting factor that had a big influence on Blackrock Business was the fact that many former Blackrock residents who had served in the British Forces in World War 2 did not return, having been killed or resettled abroad.   This absence disproportionately affected Blackrock’s business community and its future entrepreneurial development.

Blackrock Today

Having suffered quite badly in the recession, Blackrock is now back on an upward trend with a very energetic Blackrock Business Network leading the way.

Blackrock boasts a unique combination of seafront beauty, a rich literary & transport history, modern commercial spaces, a broad retail mix, a variety of residential options, superb local schools and a wealth of green open spaces.  It has a well-connected, youthful, professional, family-friendly environment that creates a great place to live, work, visit and enjoy.

Blackrock has two shopping centres, the Blackrock Shopping Centre built by Superquinn in 1984 and the Frascati Shopping Centre created by the Roche family some years later.  The Frascati Centre is currently being redeveloped, with the size due to almost double, and these works are due to be completed by the end of 2018.  There are also plans to redevelop the Blackrock Shopping Centre and to completely demolish and rebuild Enterprise House, home to the Zurich Insurance Company.

There are many high street finance branches, including AIB, Bank of Ireland, EBS, Ulster Bank and the Blackrock Credit Union. Permanent TSB closed their Blackrock branch in March 2010 but retain their administrative offices on Carysfort Avenue.

The Blackrock Market was set up in 1996 just off Main Street and has a range of independent and artisan shops who sell all sorts of items like bean bags, candles, stamps and coins, second hand books and antiques. In recent times, a number of new, mainly ethnic restaurants have established themselves in the Blackrock Market and are highly rated.  The Jewel in the Crown is the Heron & Grey restaurant which was awarded a Michelin Star in the 2017 Michelin Guide.

Other notable landmarks are the Blackrock Clinic, Blackrock College, Sion Hill College, Newpark School and Smurfit Business School.

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