Journal Volume 1992

Old Greystones and Ancient Rathdown (continued/9)

Towards the end of December 1838 Eugene O'Curry visited on behalf of the Ordnance Survey ‘the little village of Greystones' (58) but he didn’t state, no more than did Samuel Lewis the previous year, how many dwellings or residents there were, or how the fishermen fared. It's only when we consult the Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1844 - 45 that we get any precise information on this point. Here's a short extract from the Gazetteer:

GREYSTONES. a headland, and a fishing village. ... A quay and a breakwater on the north side of the headland were planned by Mr Nimmo ... but ... (the plan) has not, we believe, been adopted. A great number of row-boats employed in the fisheries must here be hauled on shore when the wind blows from any point between north and east-north-east. Though the inhabitants of the village are only a coast-guard party and the families of 5 or 6 fishermen, the number of fishing craft belonging to the place amounts to about 3 half-decked vessels with 18 men, and 31 open sail-boats with 186 men (59).

So there were some two hundred fishermen scattered over this area immediately before the famine. And only five or six of those lived in what was slowly coming to be recognised as the 'village' of Greystones. In 1846 parliament passed an 'Act to encourage the sea fisheries of Ireland by promoting and aiding with grants of public money the construction of piers, harbours and other works' (60) but as far as Greystones was concerned the act might as well never have gone on the statute book.

The people of north-east Wicklow were hard-hit during the famine, especially, as Professor Freeman records, in and around Kilcoole and Newcastle (61). But as long as the harvest of the sea could be gathered in, the fishermen of Greystones and their families wouldn't want. The next decade saw the dawn of a new era.

Before we move on from the great famine to that new era of development, expansion and comparative prosperity in the little Greystones community I want to say a few words about the ancestral language. Daniel Corkery (1878-1964), teacher, professor, artist, thinker and writer, wrote that the scourge of Black '47 fell mostly, almost entirety indeed, on the country's four million of Irish speakers. 'After '47 what struck the visitor was the unbroken silence. That silence overtook the language' (62).

I've been asked a number of times both here in Greystones and in various parts of the island of Ireland, especially in Gaeltacht districts during my years as an itinerant broadcaster, when the Irish language died out in County Wicklow. In the absence of firm evidence it would be idle to speculate when Irish ceased to be the everyday language of this area, which was, as you've seen, on the fringe of the Pale. Donn Sigerson Piatt, MA (1905-1970), as a young man did a study of Gaelic dialects of Leinster. In his findings published in 1933 he had this to say under the heading of ‘19th century: Wicklow':


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