The Parish of Esker

Esker (ie: Eiscir, or the sandy ridge) is so called on account of its lands embracing a glacial ridge of sand and gravel running westwards across Ireland to Esker, County Galway. According to the Irish myths of the 2nd century, Conn of the Hundred Battles and Owen Mor agreed the Eiscir Riada (or Esker Ridge) should be the dividing line between their two kingdoms. In Celtic times, Esker formed one of the four royal manors in County Dublin, the others being Saggart, Newcastle Lyons and Crumlin. At the beginning of the 13th century Esker’s principal buildings were a manor house and a small medieval church dedicated to Saint Finian and dating back to perhaps 1100AD.

In the late 12th century, John, Lord of Ireland (who became King of England) granted Esker’s church to the Church of Saint Patrick (later St. Patrick’s Cathedral). The Royal Manor of Esker was subsequently leased to middlemen, amongst them William FitzGuido, the first Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Others of influence in the Esker parish at this point include Sir Thomas Luttrell, granted Luttrellstown Castle by King John in the early 13th century, and Wirris Peche, descended from an old English family, granted the lands of Lucan by Alard Fitzwilliam in 1204. The Peche family built a salmon weir across the Liffey at Leixlip but, by 1327, their Lucan estate was in the possession of Robert of Nottigham, the Mayor of Dublin and ancestor of Lamerick Nottingham of Finnstown. To envision the landscape at this time, one might consider contemporary names such as King’s Meadow, King’s Mill, St. Finian’s Garden and the Ash Park.

Prior to the Henrician Reformation in the mid-16th century, land rents for Esker seem to have been shared between the powerful Fitzgerald family and various religious establishments. In 1536, by An Act of the Irish Parliament, the English crown seized all monastic and church lands in Ireland. These lands were subsequently leased to key figures in the Irish system forming a contractual bond with the Royal House of Tudor that could not easily be broken. By 1540, all monasteries had been closed down and the church lands re-granted to those deemed worthy of royal patronage by the English administration in Dublin Castle. The lands of Esker were leased to private individuals such as Geoffrey Tweddell, a yeoman and soldier who lived at Ballydowd in the 1540s, and Alderman Patrick Browne, a merchant who resided at Kishoge and later built the castle at Irishtown in Dublin City.

Over the next sixty years, the Tudor armies of Henry VII’s children – Queen Mary, Edward V and Queen Elizabeth - secured vast tracts of Ireland for the Crown. Native Irish resistance peaked with the rising of Red Hugh O’Donnell and Hugh O’Neill in what became the Nine Years War (1594 – 1603). Ultimately the decisive English victory over the Irish forces at the battle of Kinsale in 1603 paved the way for the whole-scale colonization of Ireland under the new monarch, James I (and VI of Scotland). The flight of the Earls in 1607 was the final nail in old Ireland’s coffin, with thousands of Irish Catholics fleeing to Europe and resettling in France, Spain and Italy. Their lands were seized and parcelled out to those who had fought for England or invested in the Crown’s War Treasury. During James I’s reign, these new Protestant planters consolidated their hold of the Irish Parliament and began to gradually dispossess and disenfranchise the Roman Catholics.

Land ownership continued to be the principal bone of contention throughout the 17th century. In 1641 the Irish Catholics rose and the Confederate Wars commenced, pitting a fragile alliance of Irish and Anglo-Norman Catholic against the forces of English Protestant Republicanism. Head-quartered in Kilkenny, the Confederate forces produced many admirable victories, including the conquest of north Kildare, but were ultimately unable to sustain the pressure. Following Cromwell’s brutal suppressions of the garrisons at Drogheda and Wexford, a treaty was signed at Cahir Castle in County Tipperary. The collapse of the Confederacy enabled Cromwell to proceed with the confiscation of all property belonging to Catholics accused of complicity in the “rebellion”. These lands were duly granted to soldiers who had fought in his victorious wars against the Royalist forces of King Charles I and the Catholics in Ireland.