(IRISH INDEPENDENT, October 16th, 2015)
“There are quite decent suburbs, I am sure,
O Rathmines is not so bad, or Terenure,
O we’ve heard of spots like Inchicore,
But really don’t know where they are;
For, thank heavens, we are living in Rathgar.”
— From ‘Thank Heavens We Are Living In Rathgar’, written by Harry O’Donovan and sung by Jimmy O’Dea,
Catch the YouTube video of this delightful 1930s ditty in full and you will note the sneery sarcasm of the mock upper-crust delivery. It’s far from Darby O’Gill – perhaps O’Dea’s most famous cinema role – and indeed far from Rathgar the old-time actor and comedian was reared. For even then this leafy southside suburb of Dublin was one of the city’s most desirable addresses, and just as surely a prime target for the city’s begrudgers.
That’s Rathgar for you: it’s less a question of do you want to live here than of much do you want to live here. How much in that you will have to pay through the nasal cavity for that high end D6 address.
Property supplement aficionados will have noted the €3.2 million price being asked for all 5167 sq ft of the splendid detached mansion that is 52 Orwell Road.
That is the highest of the high end, but a nice Victorian pile on Kenilworth Square, or a large place on Orwell Road, or maybe you would prefer Highfield Road, will set you back well over a million. Mid-range, maybe a more modern but still large domicile on Coulson Avenue, will still cost you anything from €600,000 to €800,000.
That’s Rathgar for you, from the Irish Rath Garbh, or “rough ring fort”, about 3km south of the city centre, and the name of which has been in use since the 13th century and described the area bounded by the river Dodder to the south and to the north by the river Swan.
The village remained a rural idyll into the 19th century when much of the land was under cultivation and used by market gardeners and dairymen to graze their cattle.
This rustic past is commemorated in names like Highfield, Ashgrove and Oaklands.
Rathgar’s urbanisation actually came on the coat-tails of neighbouring Rathmines, with the creation of the Rathmines Urban Township in 1847.
It attracted Dublin’s middle classes, who sought a safe and healthy rural environment to set up homes that were still close enough to the city to commute by foot or carriage.
Highfield Road was laid out in 1753, and this made the development of Rathgar, as we now know it today, possible. Zion Church and Christ Church were built in the 1860s, by which time Rathgar was a sizeable community.
The housing stock largely comprises red-brick late Georgian and Victorian era.
One of the main schools is the co-educational High School (primary and secondary), which moved to its Zion Road location from Harcourt Street in 1971, after being founded in the 1950s by members of Dublin’s Jewish community, and there is also Stratford College on the same road.
Today, Rathgar is a pleasant residential area, with Rathgar Road, its main artery, leading to the village centre. It is bordered to the north by Rathmines, to the south by the Dodder, to the west by Harold’s Cross Road, and to the east by Upper Rathmines Road.
Despite the area being largely residential and so close to the city centre, Rathgar has still managed to retain its village feel, with the likes of the award-winning Rathgar Book Shop, right in the heart of the village, and its welcoming coffee shop, and the well known Gourmet Shop, with its authentic interior displaying enticing food goodies and fine wines, offering cosy familiarity and atmospheric intimacy.
The village feel and cosiness is only reinforced by a stroll down Rathgar Road, with its two wine shops, O’Brien’s and the Vintry, and two family butchers, Donovan’s and Byrne’s.
Speaking of the Gourmet Shop, which attracts foodies from far and near, journalist Helen Rock captured its unique charms wonderfully when she noted: “Where else in Dublin can you buy a single nutmeg or cinnamon stick, while shopping for eggs, marmalade oranges, home-made coleslaw, a perfect Wicklow cheese, a six-pack of refreshing Liomanata, a bottle of best malt or Blandy’s Madeira, organic raisins, Gentleman’s Relish, pickled walnuts, great chocolate and custom-made hampers?”
Thank heavens for it, say all those living in Rathgar.
Rathgar Tennis and Bowling Club is on Herzog Park, off Orwell Road, and it has 10 all-weather floodlit courts, a new practice wall and clubhouse. There is an extensive junior coaching programme and new members are welcome, as the club caters for all ranges of ability from beginners to big-serving budding Roger Federers and Serena Williamses.
Rathgar Hockey Club is a mixed club based in the grounds of the High School, and plays on sand-based Astroturf. Four women’s teams are fielded, as well as three men’s teams. The women’s teams are full but they are still looking for goalies!
If it is your vocal chords you would rather exercise, the Rathgar and Rathmines Musical Society are well into rehearsals for their production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, on in the National Concert Hall from November 10th to 14th. Keep track of local notices for details on auditions.
Food and drink
Foodies are spoiled for choice in Rathgar, with everything from quality take-aways like Thai establishment Kanum, on Orwell Road, to restaurants such as Howards Way, on the same road, which offers an Early Bird service all evening from Wednesday to Sunday. Indian restaurant Mehek, run by husband and wife Raj and Aman on Rathgar Road, has already attracted quite a following since opening in 2012. Established favourites like the Butler’s Pantry branch on Rathgar Road and Beckett and Bull, on Rathgar Avenue, continue to do well.
The Butler’s Pantry also holds regular demonstrations in the Miele Gallery, CityWest, under head chef Niall Hill. Tuesday is streak night in Beckett and Bull, with two prime sirloin steaks with all the trimmings currently at €34.95 per couple.
Coman’s pub is an institution in these here parts, and you will find everyone there from business people to students in its various distinct areas and heated smoking section. The snug is great and their bar food is not bad either. The Rathgar, once known as the 108 because of its number on Rathgar Road, has been completely refurbished without losing any of its charm.
Numerous Dublin Buses serve Rathgar, including the 14, 15s, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 49 and 83.
Again, as one might expect, the area is well served by schools, including the aforementioned 750-pupil High School (most famous ex-pupil poet WB Yeats) and the fee-paying Stratford College. There is also Rathgar National School, which has 95 children and is of Methodist patronage, on Rathgar Avenue; St Peter’s Special School, on Orwell Road, and St Michael’s House Special School, on Grosvenor Road.
According to Susan Turley, of Turley Property Advisors, the market has been quite giddy recently, after a slow enough summer. While acknowledging the 1.6% fall in prices announced by Daft.ie for Dublin, including D6, in year on year terms, she predicts a 10% increase in prices by the year’s end here.
Bushy Park, Orwell Road, and Kenilworth and Brighton Squares would be the higher end, with prices of over €1 million common enough for a large home here. Properties on Highfield Road or Coulson Avenue would fetch anything from between €600,000 and €800,000, depending; a 2-bed bungalow on Highfield Grove was asking €365,000, and a two-bed apartment on Terenure Road East was recently looking for €325,000.
Turley has the imposing 52 Orwell Park mansion for €3.2 million; Lisney has four-bed semi 47 Kenilworth Square at €895,000; while Knight Frank has placed 13 Rathgar Villas at €595,000.
- Restaurants, pubs and amenities top class
- Good schools
- Solid, quietly affluent, so not for those preferring a more bohemian buzz.
- Footpaths and roads in some areas surprisingly in need of overhaul
- Lack of public seating and no community festival