Celts, vikings and Normans
The name Dunlavin probably means the ‘Fort of the elm trees’. In Celtic times, the area was on the border between North and South Leinster and was the scene of many battles. Later on, the Vikings invaded and this led to a significant battle reputedly being fought in the Dunlavin region in c.999 A.D. at a place called Glen Mama.
The forces of Brian Boru marched on Viking Dublin and the Viking King of Dublin, Sitric, brought his army out to meet with Brian’s. The armies met at Glen Mama, which has been located in a valley between Brewer’s Hill and Lemonstown near Hollywood. Glen Mama was a huge battle by the standards of the time and Brian Boru’s Irish forces won a great victory over the Vikings. Sitric’s younger brother Aralt was killed in the battle and is reputedly buried in Crehelp.
The Dunlavin area also witnessed many battles after the Norman invasion of 1169. The Normans controlled the lowlands of Kildare and the uplands of Wicklow were the territory of Gaelic clans such as the O’Tooles and the O’Byrnes, who held out in the mountains until the late 16th century.
The First Village
The original village of Dunlavin probably centred on Tournant Moat, a large mound near the modern village. However, repeated attacks on the area from the clans in the Wicklow Mountains meant that the old Tournant-based village was in decline by the late middle ages. When Wicklow was finally shired as a county in 1606, this original village was practically defunct and the lands around Dunlavin passed into the hands of the Sarsfield family. However, more violence in the mid seventeenth century meant that these lands changed ownership again and the Dunlavin area was acquired by the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, Launcelot Bulkeley, who passed them on to his nephew, Sir Richard Bulkeley.
The Second Village
Sir Richard Bulkeley dreamed of creating a new village on his Dunlavin lands and had built a small settlement by 1664. However, it was his son, also called Sir Richard Bulkeley who made the dream of a new village a reality. In 1689 he set about enlarging the hamlet, which was meant to become a university town. The university idea came to nothing, but the village grew as a market centre and flourished during the eighteenth century.
At the end of the eighteenth century, Dunlavin village was ripped apart by the execution of 36 men on the fair green. These men were mostly local yeomen, but they were also suspected of being United Irishmen. The executions set a new example of hardline Loyalist tactics and marked the beginning of the 1798 rebellion both in the Dunlavin area and in Wexford, where news of the Dunlavin massacre was one of the causes that prompted the rising.
Even after the main rebellion failed, Michael Dwyer and his rebel band held out for five and a half years in the Wicklow Mountains, using the upland part of Dunlavin parish as a base for their operations. Dwyer eventually ended his guerrilla war in December 1803 and was transported to Australia in 1805, where he eventually died in 1825.
In the year of one thousand, seven hundred and ninety eight
A sorrowful tale, the truth unto you I’ll relate
Of thirty six heroes, to the world they were left to be seen
By a false information they were shot on Dunlavin Green.
At length, brave Michael Dwyer, you and your trusty men
Are hunted o’er the mountains and tracked unto the glen
Sleep not, be watchful; keep ready blade and ball
The soldiers know you’re hiding out tonight in wild Imaal
As the nineteenth century progressed, Dunlavin recovered from the violence of the 1798-1803 period. The population continued to grow, but there was a significant amount of poverty in the area. When the famine struck in 1845, the failure of the potato crop meant death for many of the poorer local residents. During the period 1845-1851, about 25% of the population of the village simply disappeared. This was a huge loss and is comparable to some of the worst losses in the west of Ireland. The famine was not confined to areas west of the Shannon—Dunlavin suffered too.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Dunlavin’s population continued to decline, but the village stabilised too. The railway arrived in 1885 and continued to serve the town well into the twentieth century. The land war ensured that the landlord system vanished and Dunlavin’s Canon Donovan was to the fore in the National movements from 1884 to 1896.
During the twentieth century, Dunlavin came through a rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War and the village saw bad times and hardship before things improved in the late twentieth century and the town became suitable for commuters.