Saturday, 6 June 2015

Genealogy Saturday: How did ‘Yellow Walls’ get its name?

Many of my ancestors, on both sides of my family, came from a place called Yellow Walls, a townland of about 400 acres situated in Malahide, in north county Dublin.  As you might imagine, my colourful address - ‘Black Raven, Yellow Walls’- often piqued the interest of my young city friends and I was frequently asked where it originated. 

My stock answer and the explanation once believed colloquially was that flax used in a local mill was hung out to bleach in the sun, staining the walls in the area yellow. This is what we learnt as children. But, when I was a child, there were few suitable old walls, only hedges, in the rural townland, so it was the old grey stone walls of a bridge at Barrack Bridge where I imagined the flax had been hung. This made some sense as the bridge was adjacent the ruins of an old mill. Little did I know then, though, this was a cotton mill and cotton would hardly have stained the walls. 

About 1990, when histories of Malahide first appeared in print, I read the yellow hues were caused by hanging textile products, stained with vegetable dyes, on the walls to dry. Presumably, by this time, the history of the mill had been researched, and the flax theory was deemed less likely. However, while vegetable dyes might well have been used in local industry, it raises the question - why did they only use yellow dye, or was yellow a custom of the times? 

The name ‘Yellow Walls’ is seemingly not particularly ancient and the area was not referred to as such during a tithe (land tax) inquisition, held nearby, at Swords, in January 1547.  The 400 acres making up the townland today were surely included in this survey, though presumably under a different designation. So, the name is likely a more recent development. At that time, Malahide was said to have consisted of ‘the Courte de Malahyd and Balregan.’[1]

The ‘Courte de Malahyd’ refers to Malahide castle and demesne, the seat of the Talbot family, who owned pretty much all the land in Malahide, until the twentieth century. Balregan is today situated in far Yellow Walls, at the end of Estuary Road, close to where I grew up. Perhaps the area now known as Yellow Walls was once part of Balregan. 

Estuary Road, Yellow Walls, Malahide, 1982

The earliest mention, so far found, of the name ‘Yellow Walls’ is dated 1762, when the area was reflected on a map drawn by the English cartographer, John Rocque.[2] 

‘Malahide Mills’ was recorded on this map, near what became known as Barrack Bridge. This is the same area where the Talbots later established their cotton enterprise, as well as a military barracks. 

Yellow Walls, Malahide (extract from Rocque’s Map, 1762)

The only other old mills found to have been located in Malahide were tide mills, referred to as the ‘mill that goeth by ebb tides’ in the notes appended to the Down Survey of the mid-1600s.[3] These mills were probably used for milling corn and corn would not have stained the walls yellow, either. Possibly, these were the same mills depicted by John Rocque, a hundred years later. 

My favourite story of how Yellow Walls obtained its name was told by a local boy named Christopher Mahon, my third cousin once removed. In September 1938, when Chris was thirteen years old, he took part in a scheme initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission. Chris had three handwritten essays included in their School’s Collection and they have now been published on the Dúchas.ie website.[4] 

In his essay entitled ‘Local Place Names’, Chris wrote: ‘it is said that Yellow Walls got its name from a public-house that always had its walls painted yellow.’ If such a pub ever existed, it was probably a mud cabin with a thatched roof. It was unlikely to have survived as much more than a distant memory when Chris was a lad, and it is not remembered at all today. 

We may now never know for sure how Yellow Walls got its name, but this seems as good a theory as any other.




[1] William Monck Mason, The history and antiquities of the collegiate and cathedral church of St. Patrick near Dublin, from it foundation in 1190, to the year 1819, (Dublin, 1820), p.79, accessed at Google Books.
[2] John Rocque, A Map of the County of Dublin Divided in Baronies by John Rocque 1762 (Dublin, 1990).
[3] Weston St. John Joyce, The Neighbourhood of Dublin: its topography, antiquities and historical associations (Dublin, 1921), p. 280, accessed at Ask about Ireland.
[4] www.dúchas.ie.

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© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

6 comments:

  1. As a comparative blow in on Estuary Road (28yrs) I really enjoyed reading your piece Dara. Regards, Paula Bradley

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  2. Thanks Paula, looking at the picture you'd never recognise the road now!?

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  3. Great idea to check out the history of the name of the area. There are lots of unusual names out there. In this case you can pick your own. Very interesting.

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  4. Thanks, Colleen, I'm trying to find out when my ancestors might have settled in the area - seems likely it was in the 1780s when the cotton industry was established.

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