Enniskerry Book review

Enniskerry village, June 1848, Sir George Hodson RHA
NLI (from Enniskerry: archives, notes & stories)

This collection is a successor to Michael Seery’s Enniskerry: a history (2011), and developed out of subsequent discussion on the http://www.enniskerryhistory.org/ website. Contributors include academics, local historians and Enniskerry residents, and a glance at the table of contents reveals an impressively wide range of topics. These include ‘Estate management at Powerscourt, 1847-1857’, ‘18th-century surveys of County Wicklow’, ‘The Moncks and Charleville Estate’, and ‘Killegar Church’, as well as details of licensed premises in the area in 1890, the Carnegie Library in Enniskerry and the petty sessions at Enniskerry Courthouse. Other contributions record the stories of individuals, such as local curate and diarist Rev Ernest Whelan, photographer, artist and author (and something of a cuckoo in the Powerscourt nest), Lewis Strange Wingfield, Mary Josephine Wogan, who nursed James Connolly as well as the wounded of WW1, and Eleanor Grant Robinson (‘Robbo’), who found a more decorative use for the flowers left by mourners in the nearby graveyard. Other articles offer memories of 1940s childhoods in the area, while some charming anonymous verses hark back further still, to a ‘sunny, breezy afternoon’ in September 1901, a trip, by jaunting-car, to the ‘magic valley’ of the Dargle, and what sounds like the most sumptuous of teas:

            Hot scones, delicious jam, hot tea,

            And dainty pats of yellow –

            Could cream more like to nectar be?

            Could butter taste more mellow?


As the editor promises, this is a volume which can be read systematically or dipped into to discover nuggets of information. Inevitably, among the more than sixty items listed, every reader will focus on their own area of interest, and my personal favourite is Michael Seery’s reconstruction of the life of the redoubtable Widow Dixon. Using a variety of sources, most notably the Guardian Minute Books of the Powerscourt Estate, he has uncovered details of the otherwise obscure Mrs Dixon’s character and family life as well as the fluctuations in her economic status. Persevering, ‘honest and industrious’, Mrs Dixon clearly was – she was also, as a postscript reveals, a generous and tolerant neighbour, who allowed the local Catholic community free use of her barn for their services at a time when no Catholic church existed in the area. In a final twist, the author records that a well near the site of her house is still known as Dixon’s Well, prompting reflection on the interaction between local lore and archival research.

Mention should be made of the very many attractive illustrations, which include family snapshots, as well as early photographs, prints and sketches – the cover, from a 1913 postcard of the village, is particularly striking. In my view, however, the most impressive feature of this volume is the value which it attaches to the careful use of primary sources. All those consulted have been meticulously noted, and several of the shorter pieces specifically draw attention to archives containing material whose possibilities must excite any local historian: these include, for example, the Taylor and Skinner map of 1777, the 1840 House Book for Enniskerry, the Board of Education files in the National Archives, the 1853 Valuation of Powerscourt, and the 1641 Depositions. In this regard, as well as in its interesting and varied content and its excellent production values, this is a publication which demonstrates the potentialities of local history research, suggests a multiplicity of future lines of enquiry, and is an valuable addition to the body of work on Wicklow history generally.

Available at Kennedy’s of Enniskerry or through http://www.enniskerryhistory.org/ , price 17.50 euro paperback.


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