Under These Hills

Dundrum is an Anglicisation of a Gaelic place name meaning ‘the Fort on the Ridge’. In the eleventh century it became, like so many other Dublin townlands, part of the Norman fortifications of the city. The castles which were built — and Dundrum had one of them — stood as a line of defense against the raids of the Wicklow clans who marauded in at night to attack the new invaders. By the nineteenth century, the small Norman township had become a sober village. It appears briefly in advertisements in 1820 promoting the excellence of goat’s milk and styling itself as a spa resort offering a rest cure near the mountains. In 1813 a morning newspaper carried the notice for Meadowbrook House, on a street just around the corner from the house we would buy: ‘The second whey season having commenced, Ladies and Gentlemen are respectively informed that there are a few vacancies in the house’. By the end of the nineteenth century the village was acquiring other things as well — putting on the darkness as well as the light of that prosperous century. Behind the main street was a private asylum — a large house hidden by leafy trees. Elsewhere, life was more normal. The grocery shops sold smoked bacon and homemade butter.Two small tributaries, the Swan and the Tinnehy, flowed together at the edge of the village and with enough force to power a paper mill which made bank notes. Mill cottages were set down at the edges of the water. More importantly, above the shops, asylums, houses and cottages ran the Harcourt Street Line, a train service that was gone by the time we got there. Until the nineteen-fifties, Dundrum must have continued in that way – looking like so many other neighborhoods a few miles from Dublin. A mixture, like so many others, of graceful seclusion and hard, practical daily life. A long main street. Some shops. The shadows and leaves of poplars and rowans and mulberries shielding it from any appearance of busyness or stress. A quiet, forgotten neighbourhood. But already a noise was beginning, just out of earshot. The noise of a new Ireland.

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