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History of Earlscliffe House

In 1995 and again in 2018, during the hottest summers in many years, the Eastern Hillside next to Earlscliffe experienced devastating fires. These fires cleared a significant portion of gorse and bracken, revealing the remnants of 'lazy beds,' rows of potato cultivation that likely dated back over a century. Interestingly, not too long ago, the land at Earlscliffe was used for cattle grazing, providing sustenance for the local residents.

Earlscliffe house, constructed around 1844/5, predates the Great Famine (also known as the Great Hunger) and sits atop the hillside, offering breathtaking views of Doldrum Bay in the townland of Censure (Seinséar). When it was originally built, there were only a few other houses in the vicinity. However, the construction of the railway connecting Howth and Dublin in 1846 along with better roads leading to the harbour led to an increase in local housing density.

Presumably intended as a summer retreat for its inhabitants, Earlscliffe house primarily offered its residents unparalleled vistas of Dublin Bay. Additionally, it granted them access to bathing in the nearby seawater. Until the mid-twentieth century, much of the land surrounding the house was utilized for farming purposes.

Throughout its history, Earlscliffe has seen various owners, beginning with possibly Alderman Cornelius Egan, and later including notable figures such as Royal Navy Captain William Bunbury McClintock, Trinity's Provost John Pentland Mahaffy, the Very Rev. C.T. Ovenden, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, and Margaret Gough, daughter-in-law of Lady Gregory. Other notable residents include Dr. Ella Webb, Sir John Lumsden, and the grandson of William Martin Murphy. The timeline extends to the era of Dr. David Robinson and his family, as well as the subsequent efforts of the Robinson and Foley families to preserve Earlscliffe as a world-renowned horticultural haven.

Within the following pages, you will find a concise history of both the house at Earlscliffe and its gardens, chronicling its construction, ownership, and transformation over time.

• 1844 to 1864 - Cornelius Egan •
• 1864 to 1878 - Bunbury McClintock •
• 1878 to 1896 - The Knox family •
• 1896 to 1901 - John Randal Plunkett •
• 1901 to 1922 - John Pentland Mahaffy •
• 1922 to 1924 - CT Ovenden •
• 1924 to 1927 - Robert Rooney •
• 1927 to 1930 - Dr Ella Webb •
• 1930 to 1945 - Sir John Lumsden •
• 1945 to 1949 - William Martin Murphy •
• 1949 to 1950 - Lily Margaret Graham Gough •
• 1950 to 1952 - Stanley-Clarke •
• 1952 to 1961 - Woods •
• 1961 to 1969 - Knowles •
• 1969 to today - Robinson & Foley family • 

* The Great Famine (Irish: an Gorta Mór) or the Great Hunger was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It is sometimes referred to, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine, because about two-fifths of the population was solely reliant on this cheap crop for a number of historical reasons. During the famine, approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%. [Source Wikipedia]

** Earlscliffe house is in the townland of Censure (shown in orange below), but part of the gardens to the east are actually in the townland of Howth.

The Townland of Censure
Howth, Co. Dublin. The Townland of Censure is shown in Orange.
Disclaimer. Parts of the data found in these history pages are derived from sources currently available on the internet. In researching the previous owners of Earlscliffe, certain assumptions have been made as to the validity of this internet data. If you believe that some of this data is inaccurate, please contact  .

This page was last updated on 27-Jul-2023 .