The town of Blackrock together with its eponymous surrounding suburb covers a large area on the south side of Dublin city. Blackrock is bordered by the Irish Sea in the form of Dublin Bay to its north easterly side, with the townlands and village of Monkstown to the south east. The boundary moves both westwardly and northerly past the encircling areas of Monkstown, Deansgrange, Foxrock, Stillorgan, Mount Merrion and Booterstown where Dublin Bay is once again reached.
Blackrock, while it never had a harbour, was historically a tiny fishing village with boats pulled up on the strand. The populace more than likely took advantage of the piscine bounty teeming in Dublin Bay on their doorsteps. The village began to be developed only in the 19th century following the installation of the Dublin-Kingstown Railway which gave Blackrock a station, and the subsequent passing of the Towns Improvement Clauses Act 1847, even though a settlement there has been mentioned from medieval times. The Blacktown Commissioners were formed in 1853, and finally the Blackrock Town Hall was built in 1865.
Blackrock, some hundreds of years ago, was variously called Newtown-at-the-Black Rock, Newtown on the Strand by the Black Rock, Newtown Castle Byrne, or simply Newtown, so that “Blackrock” is simply an abbreviation of one of its ancient titles. For example, in a 1488 Act of Parliament, the town was mentioned as Newtown. The old name still survives in Newtown Avenue, and Newtown House. It was thus distinguished from Newtown-in-the-Deer-Park, as the little village of Newtown Park was then called as it was built in the Deer Park belonging to Stillorgan House, or Castle (now Newtownpark Avenue).
Blackrock is named after its local geology – a limestone calp rock formation found in the area of Blackrock Park. The formation is buried under the park these days, following quarrying during the building of the railway – the first ever commuter line and the third oldest in the world. However, some of the rock can be seen on the Booterstown side of the pond. When wet, the rock appears black, thus giving us the name Black Rock. This rock was heavily used in 1834 along the track of the railway, particularly for wall cappings between Williamstown and Blackrock and can also be seen in the walls of the train station at Blackrock. In Dublin, St. Marys Chapel of Ease on St. Mary’s Place, known locally as the Black Church, is constructed using the same limestone calp.
The Rock Road, which forms the south-western boundary of the park, is said to form part of one of the oldest roads in the country, having been part of the ancient Slíghe Chualann constructed by the High King of Ireland several centuries before St. Patrick, to connect Tara with what is now southern Dublin and north-east Wicklow. The road may have facilitated the O’Toole and the O’Byrne clans in their raids on the neighbourhood of Dublin.
In 1787, the Blackrock road was such a common place for highway robberies that, in an attempt to put an end to these crimes, Lord Viscount Ranelagh convened a local meeting at Jennett’s Tavern in Blackrock. At the meeting, it was resolved, “That we will give a reward of £20 to any person who will apprehend and prosecute to conviction any person guilty of a robbery upon the Blackrock-road, from Dublin to Dunleary, Bullock, Dalkey, Rochestown, Cabinteely, and Loughlinstown”. In 1826, Rev. George Wogan, the curate of Donnybrook, was murdered in his house in Spafield Place near Ballsbridge. Later on, during the evening of his murder, two bandits were caught for highway robbery on the Blackrock Road, confessed to the murder and were hanged.
Blackrock had a beach that was a popular bathing place until the construction of the railway close to the shoreline. The space between the shore and the railway created an area that flooded with seawater at high tide. This created a salty marsh similar to that emerged at Booterstown marsh, but the one at Blackrock and Williamstown smelt dreadfully and was a huge irritant to locals living beside it at the time. Eventually, the marsh forced the Blackrock Town Commissioners to fill the area in and create a park. The park, which stretches from Blackrock to Booterstown (encompassing Williamstown), was created in the early 1870s, and its granite gates at the main entrance once belonged to a house called Vauxhall. The gardens at the entrance were part of the gardens of the old house.
The Williamstown Martello Tower (tower number 15) in the Williamstown part of Blackrock Park was built between 1804–1806 as a result of the threat of a French invasion under the direction of Napoleon Bonaparte. The tower was built out of local stone, as both a gun emplacement and a signal tower – flags were used as the primary means of signalling. The tower was a link in the chain of Martellos stretching around the Irish coast. It was, as it still is, between two extant towers – no.14 at Seapoint and no. 16 at Sandymount – and would have been surrounded by seawater at high tide as it was built in the inter-tidal beach area. The tower became isolated from the sea when the construction of the railway took place, but seawater still flowed into the area at high tide. It wasn’t until the filling in of the area to form the Blackrock Park that the tower ended up on dry land. That part of the tower which is visible today is actually the first floor as the ground floor is buried underground. (See separate page on this tower)
Blackrock had been a popular bathing place for both locals, and people from Dublin. Following disruption during the building of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway when access to the shore was interrupted, public baths were provided by the railway company in 1839 and were built beside the Blackrock train station. A special train ticket also permitted entrance to the baths. In 1887, the baths were rebuilt in concrete with a large gentlemen’s bath and a smaller ladies’ bath. In 1928, the Urban District Council bought the baths for £2,000 and readied them for the Tailteann Games. The baths, with their 50 metre outdoor pool and diving boards together with their 5 metre and 10 metre diving platforms, were well known for their swimming galas and water polo and could accommodate up to 1,000 spectators – many of whom came to watch multi times Irish champion and local hero Eddie Heron whose complicated aerobatics plummetting from the topmost platform enthralled the crowd.
The decline in the use of the baths started in the 1960s when indoor heated swimming pools started to appear. Dún Laoghaire Corporation closed the Blackrock Baths in the late 1980s, and by 1992, due to lack of maintenance, parts of the baths were dismantled. They have since been sold to developers Treasury Holdings. In 2013, the baths were demolished due to safety concerns following a routine inspection by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It was found that the diving platform had been significantly corroded and detached from the pool base.
The Blackrock bypass was built in the late 1980s and was opened on 24 March 1988. The bypass has played a great part in relieving the heavy traffic pressure on the town and is part of the N31 which joins the harbour at Dun Laoghaire to the national Primary Route network. A noticeable artistic feature of the bypass is the striking sculpture known as “Blackrock Dolmen” (1987) by Rowan Gillespie.