(IRISH INDEPENDENT, August 28th, 2015)
For prospective home owners, it’s fair to say Swords, in north county Dublin, is the kind of place one ends up in rather than aspires to. But it’s also a place you will most likely come to love.
Yes, the traffic can be a drag and parking in the Pavilions shopping centre at the weekend is a killer, but it still feels like a town. It’s got a partly-restored castle looking out over the main street; the infrastructure is good; employment is high; and the positive community spirit is often remarked on.
It also has a very young demographic, reflected in a buzzing night life and it being a hot bed of young soccer talent, especially.
The location is great too. Beside Dublin Airport, easy access to the M1 and M50, great bus service to town (especially the excellent Swords Express using the port tunnel) – even if they’re still waiting for that Metro rail link – Malahide and the seaside just across the way and all sorts of places to bring the kiddies, like Newbridge House, Demesne and Farm, and Ardgillan Castle and environs.
Fingal’s county town and administrative centre, founded in the 6th century by St Colmcille, is 13km from Dublin city and is bordered by the rivers Tolka and Delvin. The River Ward, which rises in Meath, also flows west to east through the centre of the town, before turning north and flowing into the Broadmeadow River, which borders Swords to the north.
The population has mushroomed (42,738, according to the 2011 Census, as against 11,200 in 1981) and the western side of the town is mainly residential, with the neighbourhoods of Applewood, Rathbeale and Brackenstown to the north of the Ward and Knocksedan, Rivervalley, Rathingle and Boroimhe to the south.
But with its many historical buildings, including the restored Swords Castle at the northern end of its fine broad main street, and St Colmcille’s Church and Round Tower (75 feet high) not far away, it has managed to retain its character.
The main business and industrial areas are located to the east of the town centre, along the R132 dual carriageway. These include Balheary Industrial Park, Swords Business Campus, Swords Business Park, and the thriving Airside campus (Business Park, Retail Park and Motor Park). The neighbourhoods of Seatown, Holywell and Drynam are also to the east of the town core.
Not that Swords hasn’t had its issues. Despite having 12 primary school and four secondary establishments, several schools are oversubscribed and research is advised.
The same Pavilions shopping centre, located centrally and with a massive Penneys actually fronting on to the main street, has drawn business life away from the northern end of the main street and the highest preponderance of fast food joints in the country per head of population has seen the town recognised by the online doctor service Treated.com as the fast food capital of Ireland.
Main Street has, however, recently been boosted by British pub chain JD Wetherspoon taking over the Old Borough Pub, and the opening of the Empire superpub at the castle end.
The Wright venue on the Airside campus, is a purpose-built nightclub which holds up to 700 over three floors, and has become the night spot for North Dublin.
Luckily, such a young population has more than pubs, fast food outlets and nightclubs to look to for entertainment. Swords is the home of Fingallians, stalwarts of the Dublin GAA football club scene, and it and St Finian’s, on Glen Ellan road, are always on the look out for young footballers, hurlers and camogie and women’s football players. St Colmcille’s in Holybanks does not have a juvenile section.
Junior soccer is really big also. Swords Celtic, in Balheary, fields four Leinster Senior League sides and over 30 schoolboy/girl teams in the NDSL Leagues. Other notable clubs are Rivervalley Rangers (19 teams – four senior AUL and 15 schoolboy); Swords Manor, on Brackenstown Road (15 teams, one for girls under 15); and Swords Rovers, playing at Balheary Park.
In 2012, Swords was named the third best town in Ireland to live in, according to survey conducted by Retail Excellence Ireland, which interviewed 16,000 residents and business owners in 100 locations around the country.
The survey took into account safety, retail, dining, entertainment, events, car parking, overall attractiveness and what it termed family friendliness.
Swords Castle, which also houses Fingal Tourism, is now open to the public and well worth a visit. Built as a summer palace for the first Anglo-Norman archbishop of Dublin, John Comyn, around 1200, it is unusual in that the perimeter wall of 305 metres is far larger than normal for an Irish castle.
The castle grounds and pretty adjoining park, on Bridge Street, recently hosted the annual Swords festival and the castle grounds’ offer a natural amphitheatre which will make a splendid venue for gigs and festivals.
Archbishop Comyn liked to keep a close eye on things in this life as well as the next and had his own constable resident in the castle’s northern tower. The constable and his henchmen ensured a steady trickle of taxes and tithes in the form of money, grain and livestock from the parishioners, adding up to an estimated €3 million per annum in today’s money.
The constable was empowered to hold court and even to pass the death sentence. For this purpose he had a gallows outside the town on the Brackenstown Road.
Dubious leasing practices during the 1500s led to a decline in the value of the archbishop’s properties and Swords castle soon fell into ruin. It was in private ownership for centuries before being purchased by in 1985 by Dublin County Council.
They have restored the Archbishop’s Chapel and the Constable’s Tower to what they think they looked like when first established. The chapel with its stained glass windows and tiled floor, following patterns from the period, are impressive, even if the gargoyles in the carved wooden gallery look suspiciously recent!
Swords Castle Digging History, a public archaeological dig, will take place from August 22nd to September 11th. The recent surprising discovery of 17 bodies beneath the gatehouse reveals that despite being around for over 800 years the castle it has yet to give up all its secrets.
Swords Estuary, east of the town, is popular for walking and jogging. Across the Estuary is an area known locally as The Black Bridges, where wild Swans gather all year round. Children and parents often come here to feed these birds with bread. It’s also a popular spot for cycling and walking as little traffic uses this road.
Another park is located between River Valley and Brackenstown, known as ”Ward River Valley Park” and covers over 200 acres.
There’s a swimming pool in Applewood Village and the Skateboard Park on Balheary Road is also popular.
Dublin Bus 41 (frequent), 33, and 102 (to Sutton train station) and the Swords Express rapid bus link to the city centre.
According to Andrew Corry, of Corry Estates, the market has picked up over the last six to nine weeks after much uncertainty due to the Central Bank’s new mortgage lending criteria.
Three-bed family homes in newer estates like Boroimhe, Ridgemount, and Holywell are moving well, he says. Here you will get a three-bed semi for between €250,000 and €300,000.
At the higher end of the market, a large four-bed detached house in Highfield, just behind Lord Mayor’s Pub off main street, won’t leave you much change from €500,000, with a three-bed semi around the €350,00 mark
In the mid-range, a good four-bed roomed house in Glen Ellan will set you back just over €400,000, while in Holywell or Boroimhe, you will pay between €200,000 and €280,000 for a three-bed family home, depending on condition.
A two-bedroomed townhouse in Castleview, for example, would go for around €200,000.
There are always people looking to buy in Swords but although the Ridgemount estate, looked after by Morton and Flanagan, has sold well, in the longer term, there are infrastructural improvements needed before larger are planning permission will be obtained. Flynn and Associates has 13 Sandford Wood, a four-bed semi for €399,00; Corry Estates is asking for €260,000 for the three-bed end-of-terrace 3 Holywell Avenue; while Sherry FitzGerald Blanc has priced the three-bed semi 28 Berwick Grove at €279,000.
- The wonderfully eclectic JCs supermarket, a great range and always good for a bargain
- The Pavilions – everything from Supervalue and Dunnes to Argos TK Max and Zara and the 11-screen Movies@Swords cinema
- Aer Lingus Sport and Leisure Association (ALSAA) complex which includes a bowling alley, swimming pool and eight-land athletics track
- Traffic and parking, especially at the weekend
- Schools oversubscribed
- Too many takeaways, not enough good restaurants