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Notes on Adamstown (Baile Adaim), County Dublin

Thomas and Bell Adam of Adamstown Castle, with Bell looking curiously familiar. Illustrated by Derry Dillon.

Stories of Adamstown Castle, the Lucan Formation, the Great Esker Highway, Charles II’s saviour, aviation pioneer Darby Kennedy, 1798 icon Napper Tandy and how the Duke of Leinster dug the Great Southern and Western Railway line.



The Working Duke


In 1844, the golden age of the railways commenced when the Duke of Leinster came to a field beside Adamstown Castle and dug the first sod of what would become the Great Southern and Western Railway line.[1] According to a contemporary, ‘His Grace, amid the loud cheers of the assembled crowds, took off his coat, and, in his shirt sleeves, with the skill and good-will of an able workman, dug up six sods, which he threw into a wheelbarrow, and rolled off to some distance. A country fellow, turning to one of his companions, said, with the utmost glee, that he would now die happy, as he had seen a duke working like any man.’


The King’s Saviour


Backweston House, north-west of Adamstown station, was once the residence of Sir Bryan O’Neill, who came to prominence as a Royalist supporter in the English Civil War. In 1642, he helped prevent King Charles I from being captured by the enemy at the battle of Edgehill. [2] O’Neill was honoured for his service and made a baron. Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he was granted a licence to export wool from Ireland to France. His son became a prominent judge in Dublin but his allegiance to the doomed Jacobite cause left the family in ‘the direst extremity of poverty and misery.’


Aviation Pioneer


Weston Aerodrome was founded in 1937 by Captain Darby Kennedy, a colourful figure who became Aer Lingus’s first chief pilot. He founded a flying school at Weston, now the Leinster Aero Club, from where he taught private clients how to fly in a de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane. Between 1946 and the late 1950s, he also offered chartered flights from Weston to the UK in a biplane. Weston Airport, as it is known today, was the location for aerial combat fights in war movies such as ‘The Blue Max’ (1966), a box office smash for which Darby helped George Peppard learn how to fly. Darby, who died just short of his 102nd birthday in 2016, is regarded as one of the great pioneers of Irish aviation.


Napper Tandy


Tandy’s Lane, north of Adamstown railway station, is named for the Tandy family who once owned several houses and a farm in this area. Their most famous son was Napper Tandy, a radical Dublin merchant, who co-founded the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and others in 1791. Wanted by the authorities, he subsequently fled to the USA. Described as ‘a dark, yellow, truculent-looking countenance, a long drooping nose, rather sharpened at the point,’ his portrait was painted from a drawing by James Petrie.

In oral history records in the Dúchas Schools Collection, Napper Tandy is recorded as reading the newspaper to Lucan villagers near the turnpike. He created ructions during Gandon’s building of the Custom House (see here), but this seems to be before Gandon became owner of Canonbrook House on the Newlands Road outside Lucan.

In 1798, Tandy landed with a small force on the coast of Donegal to assist the United Irishman, only to learn that the rebellion had already been defeated. He was captured but released at the personal request of Napoleon. He died in Bordeaux in 1803. Napper Tandy is Cockney rhyming slang for brandy.


The Great Highway


The adjoining parish of Esker is named for a long ridge of sand, gravel and boulders left by meltwaters at the end of the glacial period 14,000 years ago. Being on relatively dry, elevated land, the ridge formed part of an ancient highway known as ‘An tSlí Mhór’ (The Great Way) that ran between Dublin and Galway. In 123AD, two rival kings are said to have agreed that this sequence of ridges should form the dividing line between their kingdoms. [3]

In Anglo-Norman times, the parish of Esker was one of the four Royal Manors of Dublin.[4] The curtilage of the manor can be seen beside the Chinese Gospel Church on Esker Road. The Court Book of Esker is held in Marsh’s Library in Dublin.


Adam Family Values


Adamstown Castle was once the most prominent building in the small parish of Aderrig, meaning ‘the red ford’. [5]It stood about 1km east of Adamstown railway station on a site now occupied by Lucretia Tiles and Kilsaran Concrete. Like the nearby tower house at Finnstown, it was critical to the defence of an area known as the Pale. The castle, which was painted by Gabriel Beranger in 1775, was built for the Adam family, for whom the townland was also named. During the Tudor period, this was home to Thomas Adam, a ‘stout English yeoman’, who was buried alongside his wife Bell in the churchyard at Esker in 1556. [6] Prehistoric and medieval surface finds have appeared in the ploughed field around the castle – all logged officially with the National Museum – while Helen Farrell, Chair of the Society for Old Lucan, told me she found fragments of glazed medieval floor tiles at the site, indicating it had significant wealth during the late medieval period.[7]

See image at and].


The Canal Bridge


Most of the Carboniferous limestone used to build the bridges and locks of the Grand Canal in the 1770s was drawn from the Gollierstown Quarries, just south of Adamstown railway station. The limestone is from what is known as the Lucan Formation, which forms the bedrock of the entire region. A beautiful example is the single-arch Gollierstown Bridge, which carried the road across the canal. Constructed with ashlar piers and dressed voussoirs, the north pier of the bridge has deep rope grooves cut into the side, recalling the days when ponies crossed here. The Gollierstown Quarries, whose bedrock can still be seen, also provided the limestone for the corn and coal stores erected around Grand Canal Docks in Dublin.


Finnstown House, Lucan


See my account of this property here.


Further Notes


  • Samuel Beckett’s childhood home as at Cooldrinagh.
  • Patrick Browne of Backweston (d. 1614), merchant and municipal politician, see here.
  • The Iveagh Trust has built apartments in Adamstown on land designated as one of the first SDZs. See here.
  • Tom Dowling’s Blog –
  • ‘Deaths: Jan. 8 [1880], at 72 Bushfield-avenue, the residence of her grandson J. M. Whitaker, Margaret, relict of J. B. Macfarlane, and daughter of the late James Legge, Esq., Adamstown Castle, county Dublin, aged 85 years. Funeral will leave for Mount Jerome, on Saturday morning. the 10th inst. at nine o’clock.’ Dublin Daily Express, 09 January 1880, p. 1.
  • Kevin Doyle, footballer, here.
  • Pádraic Delaney, actor, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Tudors, here.




With thanks to Helen Farrell, Chair of the Society for Old Lucan.




[1] ‘The directors of the Dublin and Cashel Railway commenced operations Monday for the active prosecution of the works on this important and extended line of railway. The site fixed upon for digging the first sod was near Adamstown Castle, about seven mites from the metropolis, and his Grace the Duke of Leinster intimated his intention to be present on this very interesting occasion. The field in which operations were to be commenced presented animated appearance, for two gaily decorated tents were pitched an early hour, and groups of the peasantry watched with mingled interest and pleasure the arrival of the different persons who were to take a part in the business of the day. At two o’clock the ceremony breaking the ground took place, when the Duke of Leinster walked to the spot, accompanied Lady Jane Fitzgerald, the Marquis of Kildare, Lord O. Fitzgerald, Viscount Chabot, George Carr, Esq., Chairman of the Company, Sir John Macneill, the engineer, Col. T. White, &c. His Grace, amid the loud cheers of the assembled crowds, took off his coat, and, in his shirt sleeves, with the skill and good-will of an able workman, dug up six sods, which he threw into wheelbarrow, and rolled off to some distance. The which the Duke of Leinster displayed elicited the utmost enthusiasm; and country fellow, turning to one of his companions, said with the utmost glee, that would now die happy, as he had seen duke working like any man.’
Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 6 January 1845

See also here and also Illustrated London News, 4 January 1845, p. 11.

[2] ‘On that hard fought field Colonel Bryan O Neill distinguished himself in an especial degree leading on his dragoons rallying them when broken charging again into the serried ranks of the enemy and breaking and pursuing them but never losing sight of the King’s person, for at that critical moment when Rupert’s cavalry had pursued the routed horse of the Roundheads too far and left his Majesty exposed to the fate that befel his predecessor Henry the Third at the battle of Lewes, when in the hour of victory over his barons he was taken prisoner. O Neill was among the small Spartan band that guarded his Majesty’s person. For his bravery on that occasion the honour of an English Baronetcy was conferred on him by his Majesty by the title of Sir Bryan O’Neill of Upper Clanaboy.’ See here.

[3] “The only original pieces of this road in the Finntsown-Adamstown area is “the section which passes St. Finian’s ruins, and a short section on the old road at Balgaddy, between Foxborough and the turn for Earlsfort.”

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.

[4] The others royal manors were Saggart, Newcastle Lyons and Crumlin.

[5] The Parish of Aderrig here.

[6] Adamstown (Baile Adaim) was recorded as Adamston in 1615. It was formerly situated across the tracks by the old Lucan railway station. See F.E. Ball’s account here.

[7] By 1892, Adamstown was being farmed by Luke Dowdall, who died that same year. His son Bernard was a land steward of 22 Upper Diggs Street. (Family here: Other families linked to the Adamstown area include Carberry (1866), Byrne (Freeman’s Journal, 7 May 1879), Monks and Mangan (1916), here.