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Raheny (previously spelt as Rathenny, Ratheny etc.), has been the name of this district for many centuries (it was noted re. 570 A.D. as Rathena). The name comes from the Irish, Rath Éanna (or Rath Eanaigh), meaning "the Fort of Éanna". This referred to an old fort in the middle of the village, which overlooked the stream known as Skillings Glas (now the Santry River). Traces of the rath, which ran from the vicinity of the ruined church of St. Assam in the middle of the modern village to that of the Scout Den, have been found even in recent decades. Éanna was probably a local chieftain (Ireland had a very localised government in early times, with a local chief often set up as a rí tuaithe, a lesser variety of king, giving allegiance to greater kings, at provincial and even sometimes national level). Raheny, with a coastal location, fresh water, forests and level fields, the defensible hill with river defence and quarryable limestone and the accompanying caves, would have been quite an attractive base for an early community.
As with many places, the early recorded history of Raheny is tied to religious activity (the boundaries of the civil parishes in most of Ireland actually reflect old religious districts), the religious settling in or near existing communities, and this is reflected in old Church documents. Unfortunately land records available today are not detailed and it is not always possible to be sure who held or shared exactly what land.
St. Assam, the patron saint of Raheny, appears in lists of saints over the centuries, with a feast day of April 27th, but detail is lacking. Spelt Sanc. Aazanus, St. Ossan or St. Assan in the past, this shadowy figure may be the same as St. Ascicus, first Bishop of Elphin (an ancient Diocese in the Roscommon area), may have been an early disciple of St. Patrick and may have been a worker in brass.
Through the second Millennium
In after years, Raheny came under the influence of the religious foundations off the coast, much of it at times being part of the territory subject to the monastery (founded by St. Nessan) on Ireland's Eye.
In 1014 the famous Battle of Clontarf was fought and the lands of Raheny formed part of the battle area, though not a central one. The main battle line ran from the Tolka for about two miles towards Howth and tradition places a command post here, perhaps at the site of the old fort, with its shielding river. There would have been fierce fighting towards the coast, especially around the Naniken/ Maryville boundary.
In 1039, territories thought to be Portrane, Baldoyle and (possibly) Raheny were in the possession of the King of Dublin and in 1040, Anlave, Danish King of Dublin gifted them to Donat, first Bishop of Dublin (the traditional Church, chiefly Celtic, already had a Bishop at Glendalough, whose territory encompassed Dublin). The Parish of Raheny came into being between 1118 and 1156, a period in which the loose Celtic Christian system of religious communities (often mixed) and communal worship was replaced with a more formal Roman-style structure.
Raheny and Strongbow
In 1171, a Dane called Gill Mololmoa (Gilcolm) was in possession of lands in Raheny but in 1172, after the Norman invasion, he was set aside by Earl Strongbow and the lands given to the knight John de Courc(e)y (some records show Vivian de Cursun), whose relatives (the St. Lawrences) held Howth and who also held a grant of the Province of Ulster (if he could actually gain possession of it in the name of King Henry). The latter grant caused dissent among the Normans in Ireland but the knight did take a foothold in the North, until King John had him arrested by the de Lacys (Lords of Meath and builders of the still standing Castles of Trim, Dunsany and Killeen). de Courcy's son, also John, succeeded as Lord of Rathenny and Kilbarrock but was murdered by the de Lacys in 1208.
Abbeys and Priories
In 1177 or 1178, King Henry confirmed St. Mary's Abbey in its possession of some lands at Raheny and in 1179, Pope Alexander III declared all of the Ireland's Eye holdings, including Church lands at Raheny, to be within the newly elevated Archdiocese of Dublin (which was founded as a Danish entity, most of the Dublin region having been within the native Diocese of Glendalough, as noted above). These lands were chiefly vested in the Priory of the Most Holy Trinity (which became in due course Christ Church Cathedral). In 1185, the Priory exchanged some Raheny lands for grange lands mostly comprising Kilbarrack (the area from the boundaries of Raheny to those of Howth) from St. Mary's Abbey. This St. Mary's holding was affirmed in 1189 by King John and Pope Clement III and again in 1307 by Pope Clement IV. There are also references to these holdings in 1296. There may have been further exchanges in the early 1200's and it seems clear that the main land-holders in Raheny for some period from then on were the monks of St. Mary's Abbey.
Howth and Country Life
Later holders included the St. Lawrence family, Barons and later Earls of Howth, who, by the 1600's, controlled most of the broad Raheny area, though some only on lease from Christ Church. While their main residences remained on the Howth peninsula, they had houses in Raheny also. For many years, Raheny slipped through history as a quiet country village and fertile farming area, with several estates and a modest population, mostly engaged in agriculture and supporting activities. In this period, Raheny was well outside the actual city of Dublin (which did not extend much beyond a mile north of the Liffey), though from sometime in the Middle Ages parts were within the official City, under the jurisdiction of the Corporation. To mark this, the Lord Mayor, Sheriff, Aldermen, Burgesses and others would "Ride the Franchises" each year in a sort of moving festival (on old Lúnasa, August 1st).
By two hundred years ago, there were two villages in the district, the main one, Raheny (in the Country), lying in the vicinity of the current village centre and the second, smaller settlement, Raheny by the Strand, about a half mile in the direction of Howth (to the west of the area known as "Blackbanks"). There were a number of "big houses" and their lands, most notably the Guinness estate of St. Anne's. By 1851, the main village had 49 houses and 295 people (interestingly, a report of c. fifteen years earlier shows over 600 people, while today the district has over 20,000 people).
Raheny did not begin to grow rapidly until after World War II, when, beginning with parts of the lands of St. Anne's, housing estate construction commenced. However, the area was fortunate in that the buildings, road layout and green space provisions were less dense than has since become the norm, leaving a feeling of space about Raheny and helping it maintain its "leafy suburb" identity.
Raheny continues to grow today, but slowly, with some estate construction and new commercial buildings each decade; it has remained an attractive place to live and work.
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