HOWTH, a sea-port, post-town, and a parish, in barony of COOLOCK, county of DUBLIN, and province of LEINSTER, 9 miles (N. E. by E.) from Dublin City; containing 1706 inhabitants, of which number, 797 are in the town.
This parish, which is situated on the northern shore of Dublin bay, was anciently called Ben-na-dair, from the number of oak trees by which the promontory was covered ; and at one period had the name of Dun-Crimthan, from its being the residence of Crimthan, an Irish monarch, who distinguished himself by his powerful assistance in opposing the progress of the Roman arms in Britain. It was laid waste by the Danes in 819. O'Melaghlin, a native chieftain, in an expedition against those invaders, in 1012, ravaged the surrounding country ; and Murtogh O'Brien, with his army from Munster, obtained here, in 1086, a signal victory over the people of Leinster. In 1177, Sir Amorey Tristram and Sir John de Courcy landed here at the head of a large military force, and totally defeated the Danish inhabitants in a sanguinary battle at the bridge of Evora, over a mountain stream which falls into the sea near the Baily lighthouse. This victory secured to Sir Amorey the lordship of Howth, of which his descendants have continued in possession to the present day, under the name of St. Laurence, which Almaric, third baron, assumed in fulfilment of a vow previously to his victory over the at Danes near Clontarf, in a battle fought on the festival of that saint. The territory of Howth was confirmed to Almaric de St. Laurence by King John, and is now the property of Thomas, 28th Baron and 3rd Earl of Howth. In 1313, during the contested supremacy of the sees of Dublin and Armagh, Jorse, Archbishop of the latter see, came to this place, and privately by night carried his cross erect, as far as the priory of Grace Dieu, within the province of Dublin, in assertion of his precedency; but he was encountered by the family of the Archbishop of Dublin, who beat down his cross and drove him out of Leinster. In 1534, Lord Thomas Fitzgerald planted his cannon on the hill of Howth, to batter the ships entering the bay of Dublin with forces to reduce him to submission. In 1575, the celebrated Grana Uile or Granuwail, better known as Grace O'Malley, on her return from a visit to Queen Elizabeth, landed here and proceeded to the castle ; but indignant at finding the gates closed, as was the custom of the family during dinner-time, she seized the young heir of St. Laurence, then at nurse near the shore, and carried him prisoner to her own castle in Mayo, whence he was not released till after much negotiation, and only upon condition that when the family went to dinner the castle gates should be thrown open, and a cover laid for any stranger that might arrive ; a custom which was scrupulously observed during the lifetime of the late Earl. Previously to the formation of Kingstown harbour (Dun Laoghaire), this was the station for the Dublin post-office packets, and the most usual place of landing and embarkation between the English coast and Dublin ; and on the 10th of August, 1821, his late Majesty Geo. IV. landed at the pier on his visit to Ireland. The town is built on the side of Howth hill, extending along the northern extremity of the hill; and consists of one principal street, and a few neat dwellings, and a spacious hotel of modern erection; the total number of houses, in 1831, was 154, inhabited principally by fishermen, who employ more than 50 boats in the fishery, chiefly for the supply of the Dublin market. The harbour, constructed at an expense of nearly half a million sterling, consists of two piers of stone; one extending 1503 feet in a right line from the shore, and continued in an obtusely angular direction 990 further to the north-west ; and the other extending 2020 feet to the north-east, to meet the return of the former, leaving between their extremities an interval of 320 feet as an entrance into the harbour, which comprises an area of 52 statute acres. These piers consist of large masses of rock quarried from the hill above, resting on foundation blocks of red grit-stone from the Runcorn quarries in Cheshire. they are faced on the sides with hewn granite from the opposite side of Dublin Bay, and are from 170 to 200 feet broad at the base, 38 feet high, and from 80 to 85 feet wide on the summit. This great work was undertaken by Government under an Act of the 45th of Geo. III. ; it was commenced in 1807, and completed in two years under the superintendence of the late John Rennie, Esq., affording employment to nearly 700 men. Nearly one-third of the harbour is dry at an ebb and two-thirds at low water; in the deepest part, near the entrance, there is not more than 10 feet of water. it is, therefore, as a safety harbour, ineffectual in bad weather for vessels drawing more than 9 feet of water, though it was valuable as a station for the Holyhead packets, to which it afforded a facility of sailing at all times. Since the application of steam to navigation, the passage from Howth harbour to Holyhead (Wales)is effected in 7 hours on an average, whereas the packets often took 18 or 20 hours in crossing from the old station at the Pigeon House, in the mouth of the harbour, and during the winter season they were occasionally detained for several days. The entrance to the harbour, however, has been so much choked up by the drifting of the sand, that the government packets now sail from Kingstown, and the harbour is chiefly used by small vessels, and boats employed in the fishery. It is situated on the north side of the promontory in the sound between the island of Ireland's Eye and the mainland; on the east pier head is a lighthouse, displaying a red light and on the western pier head are two small lights; at the upper end of the harbour is a martello tower, by keeping which between the two pier heads by day, or at night by keeping the lights between the S. and S. by W., the entrance is safely effected. The entrance into the Sound is through two channels, each about half a mile long, one at the eastern and the other at the western extremity of Ireland's Eye ; the eastern channel is bounded on each side by ledges of rock, extending respectively from the south-eastern extremity of the island, and from the pier ; and the western channel by a sandbank under Howth on one side, and a ledge of rocks extending from the north-western extremity of the island on the other.
The parish comprises about 1772 statute acres, consisting principally of eminences about 578 feet above the level of the sea, and forming a rocky peninsula which constitutes the northern boundary of Dublin Bay. Its general aspect is that of rugged sterility; but from its elevation it affords many extensive and interesting views from the road to Dublin, which is one of the best roads in the country, extending from the city to the pier head.
- On the left are seen the mountains of Mourne stretching far into the sea, at a distance of about 40 miles ; off a fine sweep of coast is the green island of Lambay ; and immediately beneath, the picturesque island of Ireland's Eye, with the castle, park town and harbour of Howth in the foreground.
- At a short distance is Puck rock, rising abruptly from the sea, and apparently wrested from the mainland by some convulsion, and cleft into two parts, near the summit of one of which is a representation of a human figure of colossal stature.
- From a bridle road leading to the summit of the hill is a fine panoramic view of the bay of Dublin, with the numerous seats and villas on its shores, backed with the Dublin and Wicklow mountains.
- In proceeding towards Sutton are seen the rocks called the Needles, the conical summit of Shell Martin, and, just below, the hill called Carroc-Mor, on which is a signal post communicating with the Pigeon-House in the bay.
- At the eastern extremity of the hill to which the road leads is the old lighthouse, now disused, its great elevation rendering it liable to be obscured by hanging mists; and on a small peninsulated rock at the southern extremity, called from its verdure the Green Bailey, a new lighthouse has been erected, displaying a bright fixed light with reflectors, 110 feet above the level of the sea, and visible at a distance of 17 nautical miles in clear weather.
The promontory consists chiefly of clay-slate and quartz rock frequently alternating, and sometimes blending into an appearance of grauwacke; the strata display singular gradations of colour, from pale yellow to red and purple of a brownish hue, and from a greenish white to lavender. Porphyry is found on the south side, and limestone on the western side near the base ; iron, copper, and lead ores leave been found, with manganese and arsenic pyrites. Potters' clay of good quality abounds on the townland of Sutton. The blue limestone, which bears a fine polish, and the porphyry, which is white and red, are sent coastwise to Wicklow and Arklow, and in working the quarries, blue marl and Irish diamonds are prevalently found.
- The Castle, the seat of the Earl of Howth, is an embattled structure, with a square tower at each end ; opposite the left wing is a detached castellated edifice, forming a large archway. The hall, extending the whole length of the building, is decorated with ancient armour and weapons, among which is the two handed sword used by Sir Amorey Tristram in the battle of Howth ; there are also many portraits, among which is one of Dean Swift, in his robes, in which is introduced, in a suppliant posture, that of Mr. Wood, whom he had by his satirical writings deprived of a patent for circulating a copper coinage in Ireland. All the state apartments are similarly spacious ; and in one is a painting of the abduction of the young heir of St. Laurence by Grace O'Malley ; the bed in which Wm. III slept is still preserved.. The demesne is richly wooded, and includes a spacious and well-stocked deer park ; many parts present very beautiful views ; and in the gardens are hedges of beech, 20 feet high and 6 feet thick.
The other seats are
- Seafield, that of Col. Crogan ;
- Sutton Abbey, of S. Kildahl, Esq., commanding a fine view of the city of Dublin, with the Wicklow and Dublin mountains ;
- Sutton, of J. Sweetman, Esq. ;
- Carrickbrack, of Mrs. G. Hannington, from which is a view of Dublin bay ;
- Cliffs, of W. S. Bellingham, Esq. ; and
- Rock Cottage, of W. Wilde, Esq.
There is a coast-guard station, a branch from that of Baldoyle.
The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Dublin, united to the vicarages of Baldoyle, and Kilbarrack, together forming the union and the corps of the prebend of Howth in the cathedral of St. Patrick, in the patronage of the Archbishop ; the tithes amount to £231. The church, a neat edifice on an eminence at the entrance of the town, was erected by a gift of £800 and a loan of £600 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1816.
In the Roman Catholic divisions the parish forms part of the union of Baldoyle and Howth ; the chapel, near the centre of the town, is a neat edifice, erected within the last 20 years ; and adjoining it is a school-room connected with the National Board, in which are about 150 children.
A very neat school-house midway between Howth and Baldoyle has been erected for the accommodation of the children of both places, in which there are two good school-rooms, for males and females, it contains about 60 children, and is under the superintendence of the prebendary.
Nearly in the centre of the town are venerable ruins of Howth abbey, originally founded on the island of Ireland's Eye, by St. Nessan, about the year 570, and in which was preserved the book of the four gospels, called the Garland of Howth, which was held in great veneration. The establishment was subsequently removed to this place, and the remains, within an area 189 feet long and 168 feet wide, enclosed by a wall surmounted with graduated battlements, are extensive and interesting.
The enclosure, now a burial-ground, contains the ruins of two piles of building, called the Abbey and the College.
- The former, which appears to have been the church, has a lofty circular doorway at the west end, surmounted by a belfry, to which is an ascent by a staircase on the outside, and consisting of a single massive wall with battlements pierce for the suspension of three bells; the nave, which is 93 feet long and 52 feet wide, is divided into two aisles of unequal length by a range of six-pointed arches, of which three are smaller than the rest, and apparently of later erection than the walls; each of the aisles has an eastern window, and had a separate roof, the gables of which are standing; and at the west end of the south aisle, which is the shorter of the two, is the tower; there is a doorway on the south side, where was formerly a porch.
- Among the monuments is one of marble to Christopher, 13th baron of Howth, and his lady, whose effigies are still entire, erected in 1430, an decorated with sculptured emblems of the crucifixion, and coats of arms ; there is also in this aisle an ancient monument without inscription, apparently to one of the abbots, ornamented with a crosier and cross fleury.
- This church was erected during the prelacy of Archbishop Luke, who succeeded to the see of Dublin in 1228, at the time the establishment was removed hither from Ireland's Eye; the bells of the ancient abbey were recently discovered in the vaults of the castle, where they had lain for more than 200 years, and are now carefully preserved in the hall.
- The College is on the south side of the enclosures and consists of the hall, kitchen, and seven cells, of which some have been thatched and are inhabited by poor families.
To the west of the castle are the ruins of a small oratory, with a bell-turret over the entrance, dedicated to St. Fenton; they are situated at the base of an elevation, on the summit of which is a large cairn.
In a hollow on the east side of the Hill of Howth are the remains of a cromlech, the table stone of which, 14 feet long, 12 feet wide, and about 6 feet thick, has fallen on one side, but is still supported on the other by upright stones, 7 feet high; it is by the peasantry ached "Fin's Quoit' from a tradition that it was thrown into its present position by Finn McCool.
There are some petrifying springs; and ancient coins, spurs, bridles, and implements of war have been found in the parish.