In many ways the history of Clontarf is a microcosm of the nation’s history in that it deals with the same general headings: Early Celtic period leading to the advent of Christianity and beyond; the Viking invasion followed by Conquest and Colonization; the Georgian / Victorian and pre-modern period, and finally the modern post-colonial period taking us up to present day.
But what is refreshingly different about Clontarf’s history is that it is both a fascinating and compelling narrative from the sound of the first Christian bell, all of fifteen centuries ago, to the roar of the Celtic Tiger. It is essentially a story that cannot be told in a brief introductory piece, but rather in a series of specific subject articles that are all available on this website.
Celtic, Christian and Viking Period
Historical drawing of a Viking ship Clontarf or Cluain Tarbh was of considerable importance to Celtic Ireland because of its fertile plains close to sea level that ever so slightly sloped upwards to higher-level meadows, and meadows in the Celtic period - if cleared of woodland - were frequently as large as 500 acres.
It was also of strategic importance because of its proximity to the sea, and to nearby Dubh Linn (the black pool). Its importance in Celtic times is borne out by the fact that the area had both male and female patron saints in St. Comgall and St. Anne. But the age of Celtic isolation was rapidly coming to an end when as early as the 9th century, raiding parties of Norsemen sailed up the nation’s arteries and plundered what they could.
Many confrontations followed between the Celts and the ‘foreigner’, culminating in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. But the Vikings went on to build structured, ordered urban settlements in Dublin, Cork and Waterford and became integral to the Irish way of life.
Anglo-Normans & Conquest & Colonization
The quest for adventure, land and wealth attracted the Normans with their practised feudal system to these shores. It was a quest that was unquestionably aided by the treachery of the Irish chieftains, notably Dermot McMurrough, who invited them here to gain an advantage over his rival chieftains.
But within a few years of the first landing at Baginbun, Co. Wexford, the Normans had established a foothold over the entire east coast of Ireland. In 1172 the lands of Clontarf were granted to Hugh De Lacy who in turn assigned them to Adam de Phepoe.
Ireland and Clontarf were about to enter a cycle of foreign domination that would take in excess of 700 years to overturn. What followed after the Normans, was a prolonged period of conquest and colonization under which the English controlled every facet of Irish life and denied the Irish native people the natural civil liberties to which they would normally be entitled.
What should be remembered throughout these troubled centuries was the centrality of Clontarf Castle to all that was happening. This was the seat of power under which the local rule of law was administered much of the time. The native Irish living within Clontarf was then a totally disenfranchised people and, during the 18th century when the Penal Laws were in force. These laws, which were mainly intended to victimise Catholics, also applied to Presbyterians (especially in Ulster) and all non-conformist in the country. Members of such religions were restricted from owning property, serving in the army or parliament, and barred from even teaching or running schools, practising law, or holding office in central or local government.
The great orator Edmund Burke described the Penal Laws as follows: "a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man."
The people of Clontarf endured great hardships during this period and in 1641 had their village burned to the ground by the Puritan General, Sir Charles Coote, because he believed they sympathised with the Rebellion of 1641.
Georgian, Victorian Days in Clontarf
By the late Georgian period, some of the Penal Laws had been relaxed and the nationalist people began to regain their naturals lights. Following the granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, Daniel O’ Connell moved onwards with his quest to have the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland repealed.
A monster Repeal Rally was planned for Conquer Hill, Clontarf, on the 8th of October 1843 with in excess of 100,000 persons expected to attend. But the Crown Authorities banned the rally and sent several military regiments into the area to enforce the ban. They also aimed their big guns from the Pidgeon House, across the bay at Ringsend, directly at Clontarf.
Being a pacifist, and fearing consequences for the thousands of innocent people, O’ Connell called the rally off. While the citizens had missed their big day in 1843, they received a modicum of compensation a year later with the arrival of the Dublin - Drogheda railway. This brought a lot of new homes into the area as did the arrival of the Horse Tram in 1890, which was followed by the Electric Tram in 1898.
20th Century Clontarf
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, that great bastion of local rule, Clontarf Castle, was in steep decline. By now a significant portion of the native people appreciated Dublin’s privileged position as the second city of the empire and began to enjoy our links with Great Britain.
But a sizeable minority had become part of the National Awakening and participated in various organisations such as the Gaelic League, the GAA, the Irish Volunteers and in the Literary Revival. Those activities came to a head locally on Sunday, July 26th 1914 when a regiment of The King’s Own Scottish Borderers attempted at the Malahide Road junction to intercept the Irish Volunteers who had earlier that day landed assorted arms from the Asgard in Howth.
An engagement followed with many of the Volunteers diverting up the Howth Road and onto the Malahide Road via The Crescent and Charlemont Road. Many of the local Clontarf Volunteers saw active service during The Rising of Easter Week 1916, and equally many native sons of Clontarf enlisted in the Great War that was ostensibly fought to end all wars.
A New Clontarf and a New Ireland
Following national independence, a prolonged period of economic stagnation followed as the infant state attempted to find its way in a new world. Clontarf became a much sought after suburb of Dublin and gradually new generations of educated young Irishmen and women created a new and more vibrant Ireland.
Clontarf Castle, once the symbol of foreign rule, but now a most popular hotel, has become an integral part of the community and remains a direct link with Clontarf's history over almost a thousand years.