The first settlement in the Greystones area was the medieval Rathdown village, which was a laid-out village protected by Rathdown Castle, less than a kilometre north of Greystones Harbour. The barony based on this settlement, the enormous Barony of Rathdown, stretched from Delgany to Merrion Gates in Dublin.
‘Noted fishing place’
The first mention of Greystones appears in a map of Wicklow in 1760. There, it appears as ‘Gray Stones’ (sometimes ‘The Gray Stones’). By 1795 Greystones is described as a ‘noted fishing place’. In 1800 Robert Fraser describes Greystones as having a natural rock stretching into the sea, creating a natural harbour. It was recorded at this time as having three half-decked vessels with eighteen men and thirty-one open sail boats, with eighteen men working the harbour.
When Dr Urwick, a minister of the York Street Congregational Chapel, spent the Sabbath in Greystones, he would conduct a service in one of the cottages, and also preached in the open air at the flagstaff. He described Greystones in 1830 as consisting of “two dozen cottages and a coastguard station”. In 1837 Greystones was described as a small fishing hamlet, with a coastguard station, then located at Blacklion. A harbour was being considered at this time.
In 1837 a school is recorded in Greystones that was supported by subscription. In the 1840s a school was built in Blacklion at the top of what would later be named Church Lane.
Greystones changed dramatically with the coming of the railway. Renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was in charge of building the scenic line from Bray to Greystones. The line was opened in 1855 with the running of a train from Harcourt Street station to Greystones, full of dignitaries. The station opened in 1856.
This was the impetus for the development of the town, with the building of houses on Church Road, Trafalgar Road and Bayswater Terrace (at the harbour) from the 1860s. These roads were laid out by the La Touche family of Bellevue, on land they had acquired prior to 1791, which stretched from Rathdown Upper to where the railway station is located today.
In 1861 Greystones had a population of 238, which had grown to 355 by 1871. By 1881 Greystones had its own Post Office, and two schools. By 1891 the population of Greystones had grown to 516 and had now at least one hotel. In 1910 Greystones had population of 900, of whom two-thirds were Protestant. The Church of Ireland had been enlarged four times since it was built in 1857 in order to accommodate the growing summer congregations.
Greystones had many visitors in the summer period and by 1920 there were at least five hotels. This included the Grand Hotel (later known as the La Touche Hotel) built in 1894.
The first big housing development came in the 1890’s with the building of the Burnaby Estate, located near Greystones Railway Station. It was instigated by Alfred Wynne, the land agent of the Hawkins Whitshed estate, and named after the first husband of Elizabeth Hawkins Whitshed, the noted adventurer and soldier Frederick Burnaby. It was first mentioned in 1880, was completed by 1905, and is one of the first housing estates to be built in Ireland.
Today Greystones has grown from a small seaside village to being declared a town in 1984, to a current population of 18,000. Over-development has unfortunately meant that surrounding villages Killincarrig and Blacklion have been consumed, with Delgany now in danger of the same fate.
Killincarrig was built prior to Greystones and had a working flour Mill, one of Ireland oldest Cherry Orchards and an Elizabethan manor House known today as Killincarrig Castle of which the ruins still stand. It is reported that Oliver Cromwell stayed several nights at Killincarrig Castle. In 1641 Killincarrig Village had a temporary barracks to protect the property of local residents. A brewery was recorded in Killincarrig in 1815.
The village’s local landowner was the Hawkins Whitshed family, who owned the nearby Killincarrick House. This family home was demolished at the end of the 19th century, after the construction of a new house for the Hawkins Whitshed family, closer to Greystones village.
Blacklion gets its name from a coastal road connecting Bray to Wicklow, built by Irish chieftains prior to the Norman invasion, called Bealach Laighean ( the Way of Leinster, Leinster Way).This road was afterwards used by the Normans as a military road.
Blacklion contains what is probably the area’s oldest inhabited house, which is pre- 1760. It was previously recorded as Blacklion Inn, today it is a veterinary clinic, known as Blacklion House.
Blacklion was where the first coastguard station was located in this area, with sweeping views of the coastline. It was at Blacklion that the first RC church in the area was built. It opened for worship in 1867.