In his latest Blast From The Past, our #1 historian Gary Acheson charts the origins of Greystones’ answer to the Hollywood Hills – the mighty Blacklion.
Home to poets, philosophers, dreamers, schemers and Lidl. And Fiona Roche’s Pharmacy, of course.
The origins of the name itself are said to derive from the Irish Bealach an Laighean, which translates as The Way of Leinster or Leinster Way. This being the route that the 12th century King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, used to flee from Rory O’Connor, the High King Of Ireland.
At least, that’s what the Christian Brothers drilled into Ciaran Hayden. Hopefully, the only thing.
Take it away, Gary…
Possibly the oldest surviving structure in Blacklion has its roots in the Black Lion Inn – which gave the area its name. The earliest written reference to it goes back to a mention of a meeting between the Sheriff and a Mr. Fairbrother at the inn in 1765. At the time it was positioned on the Great Road between Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford – the only route for coaches to travel on then. Its location by a stream gave water and pasture for the horses.
Newspaper advertisments from the 1790s show that the inn was being run at that time by Catherine Hickey.
The shifting of traffic to the new coach road through the Glen of the Downs in the early 1800s probably killed the coaching inn business at Blacklion.
Saunder’s Newsletter 8th Mar 1793
These are today two conjoined buildings. Facing them from the road, on the left is what’s now the Blacklion Pet Hospital; on the right, with its gable end facing the road, is a relatively low two storey building with the upper course of windows almost tucked up under the eaves.
Most of the back wall of the smaller building is used as the lower part of the side wall of the Pet Hospital giving the appearance the the buildings overlap where they join.
The smaller building is typical of vernacular farmhouses and dwellings that could date to as early as the 1740s. They were built usually of locally-quarried coursed fieldstone. Examples of this type of construction are visible in many of the surviving stone farmyards in North Wicklow. (I grew up in a similar building that dates from that era.)
Some maps may show how the site evolved over time. The Ordnance Survey from the late 1830s show the smaller building in place. To its south and joined at a right angle is another structure of similar footprint forming an ‘L’ shaped complex. This must have been the rooming and possibly stable block of the Black Lion Inn.
The O.S. map from the 1890s shows the site had been further built out and is much as we see it today:
The Pet Hospital has a classically influenced symmetrical facade. Overall plain treatments of windows and eaves are combined with a slightly projecting gabled central door and upper window. A single cornice runs above the ground floor unifying the front and side elevations.
Today if you look from the side, it clearly shows that the back and front are two separate structures. The roof is two piles separated by a valley. The back block is narrower and slightly taller, its roof half-hipped and the positioning of the windows more irregular. The front block is broader, the roof the full-hipped and the window courses regular – even including a blind window on the gable end to preserve symmetry.
So – the early ‘L’ shaped structure’s south wing may have been heightened before or during the construction of the last element; the classically facaded block that now faces the road.
I’d love to see a survey by a historical architect to see how much of my speculation holds up.