A Brief History of Donnybrook

Donnybrook Cemetery

The name Donnybrook is derived from the Irish name Domhnach-broc, which means the church of Broc. Broc was one of the seven daughters of Dallbronach from Deece in County Meath. She is mentioned in two manuscripts by Aengus the Culdee, a chronicler from the monastery of Tallaght (now a suburb of Dublin). The manuscripts are preserved in the Book of Leacan, which dates from the latter half of the eighth century. Broc is said to have founded a convent on the banks of the River Dodder in the first half of the eighth century. The site of her convent is now occupied by the Donnybrook Graveyard (pictured left; pictured below left is the cemetery entrance). The graveyard is adjacent to the local garda station, and there is a bus stop directly in front of it on Donnybrook Road (buses 10 and 46A stop there). Danny Parkinson in his book on the graveyard (see Books and Articles about Donnybrook for this and subsequent references to the literature about Donnybrook) writes (p. 20) that when the graveyard was cleaned up recently, a granite base for a wooden cross dating from the eighth or ninth century was found, confirming the fact that the graveyard is indeed the site of St. Broc's ancient convent.

Cemetery entrance

In common English usage, though, the name Donnybrook is associated not with St. Broc, but rather with violence. The Oxford English Dictionary  defines a donnybrook as "a scene of uproar and disorder; a riotous or uproarious meeting; a heated argument." This meaning of the word arose because of the rough antics associated with Donnybrook Fair, which was held from medieval times up until the nineteenth century, traditionally beginning on August 26th and running for 15 days. The fair was established by a royal charter granted by King John in 1204. In 1778 one writer complained of the effects of the Donnybrook Fair: "How irksome it was to friends of the industry and well-being of Society to hear that upwards of 50,000 persons visited the fair on the previous Sunday, and returned to the city like intoxicated savages." (Freeman's Journal  31 August 1778, as quoted in The Humours of Donnybrook p. 35). The fair was certainly popular, but from the early nineteenth century onwards, there was a concerted effort by the forces of sobriety to bring about its demise. Fergus D'Arcy has proposed the theory that the decline of the fair was "the cultural consequence of class formation in Dublin" ("The decline and fall of Donnybrook Fair," p. 17). The elite class, concerned with promoting and maintaining an image of respectability, exerted pressure through the institutions of church and state to suppress the fair.

Donnybrook Church

A new Catholic church was erected in 1866 on the south bank of the River Dodder, overlooking the fair grounds. It was dedicated to the Sacred Heart in order to atone for the sins of Donnybrook Fair. Pictured here is the church as it appears today (14/01/01 - it was extended in 1928); the bell tower was shortened from the original plans, as you can see by comparing this photo with the architect's drawing (1866) - click here. The church was designed by Pugin and Ashlin and was built of granite with Bath stone dressings at a cost of £6,000. It was dedicated by Dr. Paul Cullen, the Cardinal Archbishop, on 26 August 1866. Two years later, Donnybrook Fair finally closed for good, bringing to an end some 650 years of annual revelry. Its name lives on in an Irish traditional tune, also known as The Joy of My Life (thanks to the Ceili House Band of Redlands, California for putting this tune on the Web, along with links to some recordings of it). For another account of the history of Donnybrook Fair (on something called "Irishcop's Unofficial Garda Homepage"), click here, where you will find a nice reproduction of an official police order (dated 1860) to abolish the fair.

Bective RFC grounds

Donnybrook today is a peaceful, prosperous inner suburb of Dublin. A local supermarket is named Donnybrook Fair (at 89 Morehampton Road, and yes, you can buy alcohol there), and in 1973 Donnybrook Fair was restarted as a fun community celebration held each June. The violence and disorder which gave the fair and the village a bad reputation are long in the past. The original fair grounds were converted in 1881 to the playing grounds of the Bective Rangers Rugby Football Club (pictured left), and remain in use for this purpose today.

St. Broc's religious community was a short-lived establishment. Viking raids, beginning in 795 and leading to the political supremacy of the Scandinavians over the local Celtic population from 950 to 1100, likely eradicated Broc's convent. A gruesome artifact from the Viking era was found in Donnybrook in 1879, when a burial mound containing the remains of 600 to 700 bodies was unearthed by workmen who were digging foundations on Seaview Terrace. Examination of the burial mound revealed that the bodies were Celtic and ranged in age from young children to old men. The mound may represent the final resting place of Celtic inhabitants murdered in a savage Viking raid. (For more on the discovery, see the articles by Frazer and Hall in Books and Articles about Donnybrook.)

Cemetery wall

After the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland in the late twelfth century, the English proceeded to impose Roman methods and doctrine upon the native Irish church. Sometime between 1181 and 1212, St. Mary's Church was dedicated by Archbishop Comyn of Dublin; the site of the church was almost directly in the centre of Donnybrook Graveyard, and the church continued in use (latterly by the Church of Ireland) until the 1820s. Today all that remains of it is a small section of wall. Between the Reformation and 1787 there was no Roman Catholic church in Donnybrook. In 1787 a chapel for Roman Catholic use was built beside the Church of Ireland's St. Mary's Church; it too was called St. Mary's, Donnybrook. The wall of this church is also visible in Donnybrook Graveyard today; it is the wall dividing the graveyard from the garda station (pictured left). St. Mary's Roman Catholic church remained in use until it was replaced by Sacred Heart in 1866; in 1931 the site was sold to the Board of Works and the garda station was built.

There is still a religious house near the Donnybrook Graveyard, but it is not Broc's convent, nor either of the two St. Mary's churches; it is a more recent establishment, belonging to the Irish Sisters of Charity. The Donnybrook convent of the Irish Sisters of Charity was created in 1837, when Mother Mary Aikenhead purchased Donnybrook Castle, a large house with extensive grounds, and moved her Magdalen Home from Townsend Street to these new quarters. Mother Mary Aikenhead died on 22 July 1858 and her remains are interred in a small crypt on the grounds of the Donnybrook convent.

An earlier institution is the Royal Hospital Donnybrook, located at the end of Bloomfield Avenue, which runs off Morehampton Road. The first surviving records of the hospital date from 1771, but its origins date back to 1743 when, at the initiative of The Charitable Musical Society of Crow Street, a Hospital for Incurables was established. The hospital moved to its present location in Donnybrook in 1792. Today it primarily provides long-term care for elderly people who are chronically sick or disabled. For more on the history of this institution, see the detailed account in the book by Helen Burke [Books and Articles about Donnybrook], written to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the hospital, or visit the hospital's web site.

About 7000 people are buried in Donnybrook Graveyard. It is not known when the earliest burials took place; there are four seventeenth century headstones and doubtless many other burials took place during that century and earlier, but the earliest burial record in the parish registers is dated 1712. "The graveyard was finally closed for burials in 1880 except for later burials confined to 45 families named in the closure order. The last burial was in the name of Amy Ryder in the year 1936 ... So ended an historic and interesting phase in the history of Donnybrook and its graveyard, in which were buried Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Huguenots." (Danny Parkinson, Donnybrook Graveyard, p. 23; see in Books and Articles about Donnybrook). Among those buried in the graveyard are Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (1699-1733), the architect who designed the Irish Parliament House (now the Bank of Ireland headquarters), on College Green opposite Trinity College. The entrance gate to Donnybrook Graveyard is locked; if you are interested in visiting the site, the key is available from local resident Danny Parkinson, 73 Donnybrook Manor, tel 283 9513.

Famous people who have lived in Donnybrook (though they are not buried there) include the prolific novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), who lived at 6 Seaview Terrace (adjacent to the above-mentioned Viking-era grave) for five years in the 1840s while working for the post office. John Boyd Dunlop, who invented the pneumatic tyre, lived at 46 Ailesbury Road (now the Belgian ambassador's residence). The explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922), who wrote of his antarctic explorations in The Heart of the Antarctic (1909) and South (1919), lived at 35 Marlborough Road. Eamon de Valera lived at 23 Morehampton Terrace at the time of his marriage in 1910. The poet Patrick Kavanagh (1905-1967) lived at 122 Morehampton Road early in his career. Flann O'Brien (1911-1966; his real name was Dr. Brian Nolan; his other pseudonym was Myles na gCopaleen), a journalist with The Irish Times and the author of At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) and other humorous books, lived on Belmont Avenue. The playwright and social critic Brendan Behan (1923-1964) lived at 5 Anglesea Road.

A Brief History of Donnybrook: Donnybrook events from the eighth century to today.
Books and Articles about Donnybrook: Where to find more information about Donnybrook.
Restaurants, Shops, Services, and Places to Stay in Donnybrook: A list of public establishments in Donnybrook.
Donnybrook Public Directory: Street addresses and phone numbers of public establishments in Donnybrook.