2km history: You Are Now Entering Free Rathmines

Harold’s Cross marker

By now we’re all very familiar with our immediate environments and our walking routes. One little featue around Kimmage, Harold’s Cross and Rathmines that you could easily miss are these curious little markers, noting ‘Township of Rathmines – 1847.’

The transformation of Rathmines in the first half of the nineteenth century was remarkable – what was described as a “poor and obscure” village in 1820 was a “beautiful and rather large suburb” by 1844.

1847 witnessed the emergence of Rathmines as a Township, one of several in nineteenth century Dublin. The timing should not be overlooked, with 1847 entering the collective memory as Black 47, the single worst year of the single worst event to befall Ireland. Moments of crisis – including outbreaks of cholera in subsequent years – no doubt influenced the decision to move for some in a worsening city.

Beyond the canals – but close enough to the city to profit from it – Townships were essentially local municipalities. Initally, a Township was responsible for its own sanitation, but in time local councils took on a whole host of powers and provided a wide variety of services. Rathmines township had its own Fire Brigade for example, one of its stations now the MART studio behind Rathmines town hall. Perhaps the greatest symbol of its municipal independence was the magnificent town hall, designed by Sir Thomas Drew in the 1890s. Its clock – though in fine working order today – is still known to local wits as “‘the four-faced liar”

Rathmines Township had a population of about 10,000 people at the time of its establishment, but it was expanded in time to include Rathgar too. As Maurice Curtis notes, the Township came to encompass “Harold’s Cross, Ranelagh, Sandymount and Milltown.” The markers in Kimmage – one outside Supervalu on Sundrive Road and one on the Lower Kimmage Road – are a reminder it stretched this far, too.

The Townships were regarded by many as the flight of the middle class, from a city of intense and worsening poverty between the canals. They also represented a political flight too, leaving Dublin Corporation with less of Dublin to represent, and a local Urban District Council elected in the Rathmines Township. Rathmiens UDC had a strong Unionist political presence, while the late ninteenth and early twentieth centuries would witness the emergence of an increasingly nationalist Dublin Corporation. There were numerous Sinn Féin councillors elected in the years before the 1916 Rising in Dublin Corporation, including Seán T. O’Kelly.

By the time of the 1901 Census, almost 32 percent of the population of 383,178 resided outside the municipal boundaries in one of nine suburban townships. It took the Local Government (Dublin) Act of 1930 to bring the Township of Rathmines and Rathgar back under the administration of Dublin Corporation. Still, these markers are little reminders of a different time that we pass every day.

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