Development at Tibradden

Development on Tibradden Road. DLR Co Co. Application D16A/0955.

I’ve often been asked: ‘what happened to those fields you wrote about in Crocodile? The short answer is that in the past few months, a lot has happened in the fields bought by Bernard MacNamara, and sold on by NAMA in late 2015. Over Christmas, the new owner busily pursued unauthorized development, building a road across the field, through the wood along the River Glin, and widening access onto Tibradden Road. The enforcement section of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown have asked him to ‘regularise’ these developments, but meanwhile work continues to change this nineteenth century landscape.

In the fields immediately adjacent, Stillorgan RFC have lodged a planning application with DLR Co Council for the construction of a new club facility in the fields on the hill side of Tibradden Road. The development will consist of: a 2 storey clubhouse including changing rooms, meetings room, storage and ancillary facilities (463 sq m), an outdoor viewing terrace, 3 no. playing pitches, floodlights for pitches 1 +2; associated car park with 60 spaces and coach parking, on site water treatment system, all associated site and development works.

These fields are currently zoned B ‘for the protection of agriculture and the promotion of rural amenity.’ This development will threaten the viability of our farm adjacent to the site. Tibradden’s fields are immediately adjacent to the site to the south and west. Over the past twelve years, we’ve pursued an environmentally friendly farm policy, and have erected new bat and bird boxes, planted native species of trees, protected wildlife corridors and field margins, protected species-rich pasture.  The result is that hares, sparrowhawks, several different bat species, pine marten, hedgehogs and red squirrels have returned to our farm.  The extensive excavation works destroying the existing capillary drainage,  the removal of hedgerows required by this development, the provision of floodlights, the application of chemical insecticides and fertilisers to maintain the 3 pitches, the influx of cars, players, spectators, dogs and noise, never mind the threat to livestock with every kick over the posts: all will adversely affect our ability to farm this land, as outlined in Crocodile.    

If you have visited Tibradden and have concerns about the impact of these developments on ‘the last unspoilt valley landscape in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown’, please consider making a submission to the planners in DLR Co Co. The deadline is tight – Wednesday 1st February. Online objections can be submitted here: DLR County Council – making an objection

Pic 1 – Tibradden Road – junction of bus and car at proposed entrance to site.

Pic 2 – Tibradden House, arrow indicates location of pitches.

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Hair by Nigel

A Fine Day, Thank God.


Kim and Ivor watch on as Alan (white sheep) and Nigel (black sheep) demonstrate their shearing skills this evening. Nigel defected from Vidal Sassoon to win the All Ireland Shearing Championship this year. His 2015 cut for the summer season can be seen fetchingly modeled by two prize ewes:



Ivor and I took the dogs over to the Ladies’ Meadows this afternoon.  We were there only a short time when Padraig’s familiar truck arrived, driven by his son, Chris. His brother, Seán, greeted us: “We’ve to get rushes for the school.” Unfortunately there is no shortage of rushes in the Ladies Meadows. Armed with an enviably efficient, long-handled, petrol-tanked, hedge-trimmer, we all went over to gather rushes into big black refuse sacks to be left into Edmondstown School for making St. Brigid’s Crosses. “Did you make them when you were there?” I asked Chris, but he couldn’t remember.  I told them how it used to be the logo for RTE and just as it seemed incredible that the state broadcaster had once adopted this religious icon for its own brand, Chris pointed to the clump of rushes at his feet. “These have been cut already”, he said. Indeed, several clumps had been briskly cut in recent days.  The children of Edmondstown will have enough rushes to thatch a small shelter after they’ve made their crosses, and should any other primary schools in Dublin 16, want to expand into cottage industries, I think there are enough rushes in that field to satisfy everybody.  But I felt curiously pleased to think that at the end of a cold January, someone had bothered to go out with hedge-trimmer or scythe, and found a clump to cut and take home to weave the spongy stems over and over in preparation for Lá Fhéile Bhríde.

Tibradden Gate Lodge 2015: Nominated for an RIAI Award and Available to Rent!

Voting is open till 17th June for the RIAI People’s Choice Awards and we’re delighted that the gate lodge at Tibradden is up for a gong. Will and Marcus of Donaghy & Dimond deserve full credit for designing such a welcoming and airy space. R&U Builders also deserve special mention for their dedication in seeing the project through, as does our friend and neighbour, Gerry Farrell, who brought great skill to bear on our slow-drying, home-grown, cedar timbers. If you’d like to vote, here’s the RIAI link:  Go to “Gate Lodge”

On the other hand, if you’d like to live here, the 3 bedroomed lodge is currently available to rent (on an annual lease) from July 1st. We are looking for a family who might enjoy being in the countryside and yet so close to the city (Dublin 16), ideally for over a year.

You’ll find full details here: Tibradden Gate Lodge on Daft

Thanks, as ever, to Mr. Evers for the pics.

Interior of the extension showing the use of Tibradden’s cedars throughout. That’s the master bedroom down beyond the bathroom.
This is the gate lodge at Tibradden where the Kirwans used to live. It’s a bit of a tardis now that Rostyk has finished building a whole new house behind it, designed by Will Dimond and Marcus Donaghy.
So here’s the open plan kitchen with the light flowing in. There’s a wood-burning stove just off to the right.
And this is the longer shot, showing the door to the back garden. Up above that sofa is a large mezzanine space with a view of the Hellfire Club for those who ascend the ladder.
And this is the cortene steel roof that is rusted by design with the cedar wood cladding at the rear of the extension. Grasses by Mt. Venus Nursery.

St. Thomas / MacNamara lands for sale by NAMA

It comes as a jolt, if not a surprise, to see the fields below Tibradden finally put on the market by NAMA, advertised as ‘a greenfield site’ through Jones Lang Lasalle. Our negotiations with Bernard MacNamara over these same fields and the potential purchase of some of our land are recounted in The Crocodile by the Door. 99.4 acres at Kilmashogue are for sale, to include Featherstone’s Golf Club, Clubhouse, and more pertinently, the five fields immediately below the Lawn at Tibradden. Although zoned B, ‘for rural amenity and the promotion of agriculture’ in the last Dun Laoghaire / Rathdown County Development Plan, the brochure points out that:

“Rathfarnham has seen considerable development of Residential family homes to include Woodstown, Hunterswood and Stocking Wood being the more recent developments.”

There are still sheep and cattle grazing these fields; it is still bucolic, with the mature woodland planted in the 1860s along the banks of the Glin River by Thomas Hosea Guinness, stretching seamlessly into the demesnes of Marlay Park, St. Enda’s, Rathfarnham Castle and Bushy Park. You can see these woods for yourself on the aerial photograph here:

The brochure is not pitched at farmers – though if anyone wishes to propose an agricultural partnership in South Dublin, I’m all ears. And so, we will have to see whether the renewed interest in building Affordable Housing Schemes in Dublin, that swift back-door through the planning process, will stimulate interest and gain any purchase on the 2016 Dun Laoghaire / Rathdown Development Plan. It feels like we don’t have long. More anon.

This lime tree bower . . .

This lime tree bower . . .

A large cock pheasant has just squawked its rusty way into this view. I’m trying to finish the last scene of a new short story, set on the no. 68 bus from Camberwell Green to Holborn. It’s near midnight and at the bus-stop, there’s a boisterous crowd spilling out onto the street. To bastardize WBY:
“How can I, that pheasant standing there,
My attention fix
On South London’s brawling politics?”
Now back to bus-iness.


We had just got through Heritage Week when Kim decided we should put up the tent.  Colin stoically obliged and pitched it in the Lawn beside the gate into the stream.  For four nights the sounds of Kim and Ivor sleeping peacefully and the late summer rush of traffic on the M50 kept him awake. Each morning, they trooped in, while I was still in bed.  Colin looked more and more haggard.  My excuse was that the tent, which admittedly is a large tent, has two cramped sleeping compartments best occupied by one person (or two very small people).  And Colin was reporting claustrophobia already . . . so it seemed like the best solution was for me to stay in the house with Jo, and provide dinner to cook or reheat on the camp fire.

Kim spotted the first one, a spark in the grass.  And next to it was another ladybird, clambering its way up a blade. And then we noticed that the field was full of them, five or six to a square foot.  All were seven-spot which, I think, is the commonest species of ladybird in Ireland.  And so it has continued: this tiny, clown army out on practice manoeuvres high above the city.  In Wexford, a man from Gorey told me yesterday, a factory had to close early as the air conditioning sucked in the insects and speckled the floor red.

We’re all back inside now that the school year has started, listening to the radio, and mindful of those who aren’t.


One effect of the recent sunshine has been to trap the scent of flowers in the walled garden where Oliver and Liat Schurmann run Mount Venus Nursery. The nursery specializes in perennials: those plants that come up and fill out a flower bed year after year. The stock is divided into sections: sun / full-shade / semi-shade and Oliver, Liat or Paul are happy to advise on which are the best co-habitants in any bed or border. As their perennial stock is propagated on site, these plants are hardier than those hot-housed in Dutch polytunnels and imported by Lidl.
In addition to a range of flowers and herbs, you’ll find Japanese maples, climbers, rare shrubs, and this afternoon, I spied this stunning rose. ‘Queen of Sweden’, like its peachier neighbor ‘Sweet Juliet’, has a heady, strong old-fashioned scent, and these two were, according to Oliver, the pick of David Austin’s crop this year. Unfortunately I don’t have the patience for roses, I’m saving my pruning skills for later in life, but I have given one to a dedicated friend. The nursery is now open seven days a week and among the plants I’m coveting in my commitment to an easy gardening life are a tall, creamy white, slug-resilient monkshood, some of the upright nepeta and the airier umbellifers that Liat particularly likes. Jean Bleakney, the Northern Irish poet, wrote well of them too:
” . . . that lacy-leafed jungle of umbellifers
adumbrating each other’s flat-topped inflorescences . . .”
(‘The Fairy-Tale Land of Um’, from The New Irish Poets, Bloodaxe 2004).


I remember the disgust Susie used to save for those summers when silage had to be made from a field cut for hay. There was always the sense that fate had let her down: silage was the crop made by the devil when he caught God napping on a soft day. When the time came to pay the contractor’s bill, I tended to share this view. I can’t remember when hay was last made in this parish. But this evening, Aengus has mown the Nineteen Acres for the first time in decades, and that portion of the field we were to have sold to Bernard McNamara is now a corduroy meadow, the long stems still green and tasseled needing to be turned and turned again so the bright sun and a steady breeze can dry the pile thoroughly. I only learned the other day what a precise task this is, for a hay bale may spontaneously combust if insufficiently dry. I have an early memory of being taken down to Cloragh Yard with my grandmother holding my hand tight when news came that the hay barn there had gone on fire. The corrugated roof had fallen in, and I was roared at when I moved closer to get a better view of the fire brigade dowsing the tall flames, as she tried to comfort Susie about the loss. With the half moon high above Cruagh, and the long cords of grass stretching away from me towards the city, the field this evening seemed better set for Millet’s Gleaners to keep such hell-fires at bay. But that’s mere fancy: I know my better hope is that tomorrow the machines keep working, the thunderstorm holds its shower.

When the Grass is Greener

“I never knew an animal like it for dying,” says my neighbour, gazing at the flock of sheep we’ve just herded down from the summer pastures to be ready for the shearer the next day.  I look again. They seem to me to be in fine condition, all eighty-five ewes and their chubby lambs, but now I fear he has spotted something I’ve missed.

Until we started farming at Tibradden seven years ago, I thought grass was just grass.  But conversations such as these, two pairs of gumboots stalled at a fence, have taught me that a sheep will assess a field with the acuity of an addict raiding a drug cabinet. Insufficient lime in the soil and the grass tastes bitter. Insufficient cobalt and the sheep will pine, meaning they don’t eat and won’t thrive.  Insufficient copper and new lambs suffer swayback, teetering unsteadily on their front legs while the hind ones remain weak. And all it takes is a sniff of the air for a sheep to tell if the grass is worth grazing or if there’s better elsewhere.  We’ve been mending fences in a bid to stop them straying, but it doesn’t always work. Recently I found twenty ewes massed in a scrum against a gate, trying to burst the bolt.  So now I’m all on for diplomacy.

The past hard winter had the Dublin Mountains coloured ochre till late April.  When spring finally came, I ordered sixty tonnes of lime from Carlow to keep the grass sweet to persuade them to stay. “I didn’t believe you could still find fields full of sheep in Dublin 16,” the spreader said, hopping down off the tractor he’d driven from Red Cross via all the back roads to avoid the M 50.  He’s right: it’s getting to be a rare sight.

As each farm disappears, so do the contractors and their shared expertise and labour. The nearest agricultural vet lives in Enniskerry. Sean Cooney who scans our pregnant ewes for single, twin or triplet lambs, farms in Glenealy.  Our shearer is a Wexford man. For agricultural supplies, we drive to Naas or Baltinglass. Our sheep are sold at Doyle’s mart in Blessington of a Tuesday. The nearest abbatoir for our freezer lambs is O’Gorman’s of Castledermot. And recently, the Department of Agriculture cast the decisive vote of no-confidence in our area by moving their branch office from Tallaght to Naas.

All this means that loneliness can be a peril for the South Dublin farmer.  Our farms may face the city, but our livelihoods depend on the rural hinterland beyond the mountains. “You can’t graze the view”, they say round here.  Yet this is the fate, I think sometimes, of those left farming on the edge of the Pale. We work part-time jobs or run several enterprises to keep these fields grazed by wandering beasts that turn little profit from nose to tail.  We watch the skinned pasture grow stemmy overnight to wave in the breeze that funnels down the slopes of Kilmashogue.  The sight of a buzzard being pursued off the premises by irate songbirds is our brief reward, or the early morning glimpse of a hare loping through the tall grass like a hound.

But this isn’t what we speak of when we stand talking at a fence, the other pair of gumboots and mine.  Our shearer knows a man with a cure for the orf, a disease that leaves cold sores around a sheep’s mouth and eyes, who lives beyond Manor Kilbride.  You ring him up and he says a prayer and overnight the blisters on the sheep’s mouths dry up and disappear. It always works for him and it’s cheaper than the vaccine.  “Do you think it would work on Protestant sheep?” I ask.  “It would surely,” he replies.

Why, I sometimes think, chasing our resistant ewes round a sodden field some dank January day, why do we continue to do this? “Because,” my husband says, “it’s become who we are, and it’s how we inhabit the place.” And looking at how each of our bodies has changed, I realize this is also physically correct. His shoulders have broadened under the weighty sacks of ewe nuts he hoiks through the fields.  I’ve lost my waist to two sons and two shelves of recipes and the hours I spend at my desk trying to keep our books straight. It may not be a particularly fair match of consequences.

I lift my eldest son up into the lime tree that stands in our front field. He climbs through its nest of branches to a perch high above me, there better to inhale the heady scent of its tiny green blossom.  “Do you think,” he calls down, “anyone else could have got this far before?” Beyond him, the car ferry has just pulled out from the East Wall and is nosing into the expanse of the bay.  “No love,” I reply, “I think that’s about as high as anyone could ever get.” When he was five, he quietly broke my heart by telling me that when he was older he was going to live in New York.  There’s silence from the tree.  “Do you know, Mum,” he says after a few minutes, “where we live is pretty cool really.” And it is, I think, it really is.

Evening Herald, 2/7/2013.