The Story of Stillorgan
E.H. LEWIS-CROSBY, B.D.
Precentor of Christ Church Cathedral and Rector of Stillorgan.
The Story of Stillorgan
By the REV. CANON E. H. LEWIS-CROSBY.
In considering- the story of' Stillorgan we should do well to divide its
history into periods determined by the political and religious events of the
times. There is the Celtic period, there is the Anglo-Norman period, and there
is the period from the landing of William III. to the present date.
Of the Celtic period we have scanty records.
There were two churches dedicated to St. Brigid in what is now the
southern portion of Co. Dublin—Stillorgan and 'Fully. The dedication at
once suggests a connection with the Monastery of St. Brigid’s, Kildare. In
the early days of Christianity in Ireland there were no Parishes as we now
know them. The system of Diocesan and Parochial boundaries is an
imported system. It was introduced from Continental Christianity about 50
years before the English came to Ireland, and under Anglo-Norman influence
became finally rooted in Ireland. The spiritual work of the Scottish or Celtic
Church was done through the Monastic system. The Monasteries sent out
their emissaries to found other Monasteries or Chapels in connection with
Monasteries—e.g., the church at Carrickbrennan (Monkstown) was a Chapel
maintained by the Monks of St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin.
The churches so founded by Monasteries invariably took the name of
the original founder of the Monastery. What more likely than that the
churches of Tully and Stillorgan owe their origin to the famous Monastery
of St. Brigid at Kildare, and that St. Brigid’s, Kildare, was responsible for
the work of the ministry in these places. With regard to Tully, there is an
old tradition that eight holy men came from Tully, which was anciently called
“ The Hill of the Bishops,” to visit St. Brigid at Kildare, and were miracu-
lously provided with refreshment. This tradition probably has behind it the
background of the fact that Tully was a church or Monastery in close connec-
tion with St. Brigid or her Monastery at Kildare.
With regard to Stillorgan, we have the remarkable circumstance that
in the thirteenth century, and probably at a much earlier period, the clergyman
in charge of Stillorgan was ex-officio Treasurer of St. Brigid’s Cathedral,
As there was St. Brigid’s Church in Stillorgan, so I think there must have
been a holy well dedicated to St. Brigid. There are two possible wells that
may claim the honour—one in the field adjacent to the present Rectory and
the other close to The Grange, Stillorgan. I am inclined to award the prize
to the well near the Rectory and Church.
In Mr. Austin Cooper’s notebook it is stated that in a visit to Stillorgan
Churchyard he found a stone slab with concentric circles similar to a slab at
present to be seen at old Tully Church. This points to an early date for St.
Brigid’s Church. It is worthy of note also that there is an older name for the
district. The original name was probably not Teachlorcan nor Stacklorgan,
but Athnakill or Acranakill. This would seem to show that the Church of St.
Brigid was there before the name Teachiorcan arrived.
The name Stillorgan is a Danish or English corruption of the word
Teachlorcan, ” the house or Church of Lorcan,” or Laurence. Who was
this Laurence whose memory is kept alive by the name Stillorgan? Some
say that he was an Irish Chieftain, and point to a grave discovered at
Stillorgan Park in 1716. Others connect the name with a greater Laurence
—St. Laurence O’Toole. If this be so the name Teachlorcan did not come
into use till just before the Celtic period ended. It is interesting to conjecture
that the famous Laurence O’Toole, who came of the Royal family of the
O’Tooles, whose seat was near Kildare, and who is reputed to have been
baptised in the old font still shown at Kildare Cathedral, erected a house
near to a church which had become dear to him because it bore the name
of his Patron Saint, Brigid of Kildare.
Of the Stillorgan of the days of the Scottish or Celtic Church no remains
exist except the landscape, the churchyard, the well, and the fields. Lorcan’s
“ house,” wherever it stood, has long ago perished. The site of St. Brigid’s
Church still remains, the only ancient religious site in the neighbourhood, with
the exception of St. Nahi’s, Taney, that still has a House of God standing
upon it. Tully, Kill-of-the-Grange, Carrickbrennan, Rathmichael, and
Kilternan are ruins, with their modern successors some distance away. Upon
the sacred site of St. Brigid, Teachlorcan, the worship of Almighty God is
still celebrated, and now, some eleven to thirteen hundred years after its
foundation, the prayers of God’s children ascend hence to the Heavenly
If we want to picture Lorcan’s house of those days we must picture it
as a cottage of wattles and mud, true to the tradition of Brigid, who per-
mitted no luxury for her clergy in housing or in food.
St. Brigid’s house was probably of stone, a small building upon part of
the site of the existing church, about the size of St. Kevin’s Kitchen,
Glendalough. The nearest approach to what it was is to be seen in the ruins
of Killiney Church or the ruins on Dalkey Island, which are amongst the
oldest church ruins in South Dublin.
With the arrival of the Normans under Strongbow in Ireland, Stillorgan
entered upon a new phase of its history. The Normans were big men, big in
their deeds and big in their ideas. Some of their military exploits in Ireland
read like fairy tales. But they not only won remarkable victories by the
sword; they were also great builders. This was especially true with regard
to the churches of Ireland. Though they shed much blood, they as a rule
sought to uphold and strengthen the Church. Possibly like many since, they
thought they could thus atone for their evil deeds. Most of our ancient
Cathedrals in Ireland are the result of the conception that the Anglo-Normans
had of what a church should be.
Celtic Christianity in Ireland was characterised by small churches such
as we see at Kill-of-the-Grange, Glendalough, or St. Dolough’s. Even the
Cathedrals of that time were small buildings. Under the Norman regime there
were erected great buildings such as we see in Christ Church Cathedral, St.
Patrick’s, and St. Canice’s, Kilkenny.
It was at this time that we first have mention of Stillorgan in history.
A Norman Knight named Raymond Carew had bestowed upon him the lands
of Stillorgan. He built his manor and his bawn. He had his mill beside
the stream. These buildings were, no doubt, near where the Church stands.
His property extended to Blackrock. This eastern corner of it, which was
called Argotin, he gave to the Monks of St. Mary’s Abbey, who lived close
by at Monkstown. He was keen that St. Brigid’s Church should be well
maintained. In T217 he made a grant to the Priory of Holy Trinity of lands
at Stillorgan, and gave the Prior the right of appointment to the Incumbency
of St. Brigid’s Church. Thus began the connection between Stillorgan and
the Priory which lasted long after the Prior and his Monks had their place
taken by the Dean and Chapter of Holy Trinity, or Christ Church Cathedral,
as it is now usually called.
But the advent of the Anglo-Norman to Ireland, though it brought new
status to Stillorgan Parish, also brought special dangers and sore trials.
While some of the native Irish remained on the land in the employment of
the English settlers, the main body lived in the Dublin and Wicklow Moun-
tains. Thence they made incursions time and again on the cultivated districts
of South Dublin to lay hold on whatever they could. The long story of
Stillorgan and the neighbourhood between the coming of the English and the
days of William III. is largely a story of daring raids, and measures taken
to repel them. The settlers protected themselves as well as they could by
building castles. Within the castle walls were driven, upon the sign of danger,
their docks and herds. There were famous castles at Carrickmines, at Monks-
town, at Merrion, at Stillorgan, and other places. The work of tilling the
soil was done amid constant danger. Like those who rebuilt the walls of
Jerusalem under Nehemiah, they had to use the sword and the trowel together.
Yet agriculture improved under the new regime. Some of the Monks who
came from England taught new ideas concerning tillage. The Monks of St.
Mary’s Abbey had a famous farm at Monkstown, or Carrickbrennan. Those
of the Priory of Holy Trinity had their model farm, their Grange, at Kill-of-
the-Grange, or Clonkeen. Later the farm was carried on by the Dean and
Chapter of Holy Trinity under a Seneschal or Steward and acquired the
name by which we know the district now—Dean’s Grange, the Dean’s Farm.
At Stillorgan, in the fortified Manor House, during this period there lived
in succession the Hacketts, who succeeded Raymond Carew; Sir John Cruise,
Robert Derpatrick, John Leyhenan, Richard La Cumbe, and the Plunketts
of Rathmore. At the end of the 16th century James Wolverton came to Still-
organ. He devoted himself to the improvement of his property there and
in Co. Wicklow, and became possessed of much substance. He died in 1609.
The Wolvertons held Stillorgan Manor House or Castle till almost the time
of the accession of James II. The house, which was strengthened and
enlarged by them, was then the largest in the district, with the exception of
the Castle at Monkstown. It was surrounded with extensive slated offices
and gardens, while not far off a mill stood by the stream hidden from view
by an orchard and grove of ash trees. The population of the district was
very sparse. It probably did not number 100 souls. In the year 1660 there
* were in Stillorgan and Kilmacud Parishes only 20 dwellings, Stillorgan Manor
with seven hearths, another house with two, and 18 cottages.
What about Stillorgan Church during this period ? We cannot picture it. We know that the churchyard had a wood round it, and may conjecture that the church, till it fell into ruins, was larger that in Celtic times.
Kill was separated from Stillorgan by a bog that has since been reclaimed,
but there was probably a rough roadway between the church at Clonkeen
(Kill) and Stacklorcan. Some time early in the 16th century St. Brigid’s
Church seems to have become a ruin. The special care which the Wolverstons
seem to have had for it was a desire, cherished by many Irishmen, to be buried
amid a church’s ruins. With the rebuilding of the church early in the 18th
century their graves disappeared. We have outside the church to-day a tomb-
stone dating from the 17th century. The quaint inscription on it runs as
follows: “ Here lieth the body of Edward Buller, who departed this life ye
1 st of April, 16(91). His wife, Jane Buller, alias Ferrar, caused this stone
to be laid here for them and their posterity.” Edward Buller had occupied
a thatched castle at Laughanstown, the name of the district between' Carrick-
mines and Loughlinstown.
In the time of the Commonwealth we have an allusion to religious work
at Stillorgan. It is recorded that Mr. Thomas Hickes was appointed ” To-
preach the Gospel at Stillorgan and other places in the Barony of Rathdown ”
at a salary of £120 a year—a very large sum for these days. A preacher
implies a place wherein to preach. A local tradition speaks of Cromwell
holding a Prayer Meeting for his soldiers in the schoolhouse at Stillorgan. The
basis of the tradition may possibly be found in the use of the schoolhouse
by Mr. Hickes for his meetings. St. Brigid’s Schoolhouse is probably the
oldest building now in Stillorgan and its neighbourhood, though the present
building may be of later date than Cromwell’s time.
With the 18th century a new era dawned for Stillorgan. The Wolverstons
lost their property. It was acquired about the year 1680 by Sir Joshua Allen,
son of Mr. John Allen, who had come over to Dublin from Holland. Thus
began the long connection which through their descendants, the Carysforts
and the Probys, has continued to this day. Mr. John Allen was a master
builder much sought after by the Earl of Strafford and the nobility, “ very
handsome in person and of great skill in architecture.” He died in 1641,
enjoining his wife to be “ a loving mother to his children and bring them up
in the fear of God and the Protestant Religion.” He was succeeded by his
son Joshua, of whom the Earl of Clarendon said that he was ‘‘ as wise a
man as you could meet with in his profession, and with as clean a reputation
as anyone in the Kingdom.” He became Sheriff, Alderman, and Lord Mayor
of Dublin, and received the honour of Knighthood. With the succession of
James II. he retired to Chester, only to return after the Battle of the Boyne.
He died in i6gi, survived by five out of his fifteen children. He was succeeded
by Colonel John Allen, his son. Colonel Allen took up his residence at
Stillorgan and soon became recognised as one of the leading men of the
county, being its representative in the Irish House of Commons. His three
sons were later elected to the House, which had the unique experience of a
father and three sons together in Parliament. Colonel Allen’s services were
recognised by a Peerage, and he became Baron Allen of Stillorgan and -
Viscount Allen of Kildare. He largely increased his father’s property by the
purchase of the Arklow Estate and of lands at Bullock and Dalkey, all of
which are now known as the Carysfort Estate.
During his lifetime Stillorgan came into much prominence. He had
erected upon the site of or near to the Wolverston Manor a building which
became famous under the name of Stillorgan House, and which remained a
conspicuous feature of Stillorgan till about the year 1880. Let me describe the
house and gardens in the words of Elrington Ball.
“ The house was built with wings containing on one side a miniature
theatre and on the other side the stables and enclosing in the centre a large
“ The gardens, which were so extensive as to cover thirteen acres, were
laid out in the old-fashioned style, probably by an Englishman called Bullein,
who was the principal rural artist in Ireland in the reign of Queen Anne.
They abounded in straight avenues and alleys with curious edgings of box,
carefully clipped yew trees, knots of flowers, topiary work and grassy slopes;
and possibly there may have been, as in Bullein’s nursery, the representation
of a bear hunt or a hare chase cut out in box. Everything was made
on a strictly rectangular line, even to the artificial fishponds, with three of
which the pleasure grounds were furnished. Though rapidly being filled
with rubbish, two of these are still to be seen. These lay to the south of the
house on the other side of an eminence in the undulating surface of the park,
and the approach to them was by means of a curious passage and tunnel
which are built of red brick and were evidently decorated with niches, tablets
and sculptured figures apparently designed on some classic model.
The lands owned by the Allens extended to Mount Merrion on the North
and Blackrock on the East. There was an extensive deer park, which included
the ground now occupied by Carysfort House, Newtownpark Village, and
The first Lord Allen was succeeded by his son, whose wife was more
notable than he. It was probably in his time that the Obelisk was erected
which still stands. It is supposed to have been built in 1727 by Pearce the
architect, who designed the Parliament Buildings in College Green. Pearce
also about 1731 built as a residence for himself a house which is now known
as Tirlorcan Hall and was formerly called “ The Grove.” In the days of
the first two Barons Stillorgan House was the scene of many festive gatherings
where shone Irish beauty, wit and fashion. Their guests included such nota-
bilities as the Viceroy of the day, Dean Swift, the Earl of Kildare, a kinsman ;
the good Archbishop King and a host of others. “ Thither went Mrs.
Clayton in her great coach drawn by six flouncing Flanders mares, which
outlooked everyone else’s.”
The only other house in the vicinity of note in these days was Monkstown
Castle. These two great houses had no compeers in South Dublin.
A daughter of the second Baron Allen married Sir John Proby, who
became the first Baron Carysfort. She inherited the Stillorgan and Arklow
estates. After Lord Allen’s death Stillorgan House was let to Judge Tisdal,
a famous lawyer, who maintained the social prestige of Stillorgan House and
entertained there no less than three Viceroys. The circle of his political
friends was known as the ‘‘ Cabal of Stillorgan.” After Tisdal’s death in
1777 Stillorgan House was occupied successively by the second Baron
Carysfort, Lord Lifford, Nicholas de Fevre, Mr. John Verschoyle, and Mr.
Arthur Lee Guinness.
Meanwhile the lands in the possession of the Carysfort family at Stillorgan
were being gradually let for building. Carysfort House was erected and
Carysfort Avenue made about 1790. Shortly afterwards Stillorgan Castle,
then known as Mount Eagle and now as St. John of God’s, was built. There
subsequently lived the witty “ Henry Dean Grady.” As all his daughters
were given in marriage to Peers, the Castle was nicknamed “ The House
With the advent of the Allens to Stillorgan came a new lease of life to
St. Brigid’s Church. The Archbishop of Dublin of those days was one of the
greatest of Dublin Diocesans. He was a builder of churches and restorer of
ruins. Most of the churches of South Dublin had fallen into ruin in the
terrible days of the 16th and 17th centuries in Ireland. Apparently Tully,
Killiney, Kill, Taney, Kilgobbin, Rathmichael, as well as Stillorgan, were in
ruins. Archbishop King was a personal friend of Colonel Allen’s. They
collaborated to rebuild St. Brigid’s, Stillorgan, about the year 1712. But
though the church was rebuilt the provision of a stipend for a resident clergy-
man foiled the Archbishop’s efforts. The Parish of Stillorgan and Kilmacud
had been united to Monkstown in 1660 and continued to be so for nearly
100 years. Stillorgan depended upon Monkstown for its ministry, as did aiso
Kill, Tully, Dalkey, and Killiney.
The new church was evidently not well built, for in the year 1760 it had
fallen into disrepair. It was restored by the liberality of Lord Chancellor
Jocelyn and other residents in the district. The Parishes of Stillorgan and
Kilmacud were then severed from Monkstown and provision made for a
resident clergyman, the right of appointment being vested in the Dean of
Christ Church. He appointed the Rev. Beather King. The successors in the
cure of souls at Stillorgan have been:—In 1785, Rev. Edward Beatty; in
1815, the Rev. Rawdon Griffith Greene; in 1839, the Rev. James Kelly; in
1845, the Rev. John Grant; in 1856, the Rev. Thomas Sill Grey; in 1872, the
Rev. S. George French; in 1879, the Rev. James Houghton Kennedy, and in
1924 the writer of this paper. The Tower and Northern Aisle were added to
the building in 1812, thus completing the building as it now stands.
Most of the records of the Parish were destroyed in the destruction of
the Four Courts in 1922, when a vast wealth of material for the Irish anti-
The Registers of Monkstown Parish had previously been edited by Mr.
Henry S. Guinness and published by the Parish Registers Society. We have
thus preserved for us the Stillorgan entries for the period that covers its union
Let me conclude the paper with a description of Stillorgan Parish written
by Dr. D’Alton in his history of Dublin in the year 1838. “ The Church is
roomy and in good repair. It has no Monumental decorations, but in the
graveyard are Tombs for the Darleys of Stillorgan, the Golfs (Goughs) Leslies,
Georges of Thornhill, Cornwalls; others to Robert Vance who died in 1810;
Rev. Edward Beatty Vicar of the Parish, who died 1818 . . . and a monu-
ment of the 17th Century to Edmund Buller and his wife, etc. At the entrance
to the Churchyard are Schools for the poor. Stillorgan is a curacy united
with that of Kilmacud, the Union being of the annual value of £181, and in
the gift of the Dean of Christ Church. Near the Church is the Glebe House
with four acres of glebe adjoining. In 1834 the total population of both
Parishes was returned as 2,145 persons”
In 2013 we celebrated the 300th Anniversary of the oldest building in Stillorgan, the Parish church built in 1712. Since then we have embarked on a project to identify other old buildings and to tell the story of the "big house" and the families that lived in them.
If you have information/photos of Stillorgan that you would like to share, please contact us.