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Visiting Howth, 2001

Cliff House, 2001 ©

My Irish heritage is centred in the coastal village of Howth, nine miles north east of Dublin city.  The village sits on a hillside overlooking its busy fishing harbour and marina with Ireland's Eye and Lambay Island not too far out to sea.

Despite its proximity to the bustling city of Dublin, Howth has largely managed to maintain the peace and charm of a fishing village.  It is a beautiful place. The hillside walks offer unsurpassable views that vary daily "dependin' on the weather".  The locals take good advantage of being able to buy fresh fish daily from West Pier and the healthy supply of taverns and pubs are warm and welcoming.

I first visited Howth (and Ireland) in April of 2001.  I had known for many years that my McKenna ancestors were living in Howth at the time my great-great grandfather James McKenna and his brother John left Ireland for Western Australia in 1841.   During my visit I hoped to be able to confirm the sketchy information I had and learn more about my family's history.  In the brief week I spent in Dublin I was able to do both and at the same time I became unexpectedly attached to the village James once called home.  I will always be grateful to Jack McKenna (now deceased) and to Ruth & Joe Lawler for their hospitality, generosity and help during that visit.

On my first day in Howth I located the grave of James' parents, John & Elizabeth (nee Griffen), in the small cemetery tucked away behind "Renaissance House", which once served as the Parish Church, in Church Street.  The Church of the Assumption was built in the late 1800's.

The inscription on their headstone presented me with several great-great aunts and uncles of whom I had previously had no knowledge. In that small burial ground on a cold spring evening in Howth, I truly felt I had come home.  There were several other McKenna graves nearby, all of which Jack assured me are related. 

Later in the week I returned to transcribe all of the legible headstones in the cemetery.  The transcriptions can be accessed via the link from the Howth Home Page.

I learned from Jack that the McKenna history in Howth goes back about six centuries.  Jack's home, Cliff House, has been the McKenna family home for the past 350 years. It sits high on the Hill overlooking the village with commanding views of the Harbour and Bay.   We spent a wonderful morning chatting with Jack at the Lawler's B&B in Main Street before struggling to keep up with him on the walk up the hill to Cliff House.  But it was certainly worth the effort.  It's difficult to describe the feeling of knowing that you're literally walking in the steps of your ancestors.

From Jack I also learned that the McKennas have a long history as publican's in the village (those that know me well have suggested that fact explains a great deal).  With that in mind we felt obliged to visit each of the establishments with which the family was once connected to sample the local pint.

The Abbey Tavern is a popular pub, famous as the birth place of the "Dubliners" and for its traditional music sessions.  We were grateful for its warm open fires when we called in on our first day in Howth, largely due to the fact that our luggage had failed to follow us immediately and we were without jackets on a very cold Dublin day.

The Baily Court Hotel in Main Street, built about 1812 as the Royal Hotel, was once the point of departure and arrival for mail to and from Howth.  The Cock Tavern is located in Church Street near the ruins of the Abbey almost directly opposite the Big Blue Restaurant which was once the Hope Tavern.  All were at one time owned or run by members of the McKenna family and are still going concerns today.

The fact that the McKennas were publicans was fortunate from a research point of view in that they are often listed in old Trade Directories.  I have gathered extracts from the Dublin Almanac & Thoms' Directories for Howth and surrounds as well as other sources for various years spanning 1814 to 1922 in the hope of compiling a chronological record of the village and it's people.  Those records can be accessed from the link on the Howth Home Page.   I hope someone else finds their family.  If you have any records or material I can add I'd appreciate hearing from you.

In the meantime, if you have the good fortune to visit Dublin, be sure to take the DART from Tara Street Station to Howth, pick up some fresh fish from Nicky's Plaice on West Pier, sample the smoked salmon at Wrights, have lunch at the "Bloody Stream", have dinner at King Sitric, call in at the Abbey Tavern for a pint, go for a wander on the hill to take in the magnificent views - and say g'day for me.