Thursday, August 24, 2017


From Clontarf to Killiney
Watson's Nurseries - 1884 to 1967

Click on any image for a larger version

In the Dublin City Library and Archive, on 23 August 2007, Bernadine Ruddy, President of the Old Dublin Society, gave a well researched talk on Watson's Nurseries, in the presence of Watson family members.

This is a topic which has not been fully researched up to now.

For example, in my Google searches relating to it I came across this suggestion: that it was called watsons after someone called Mr Watson was murdered there.

Fake news indeed, but enough to provoke a researcher into doing the job right. I'm not sure if Bernadine was aware of this suggestion but her talk will certainly put it to bed in short order.

Bernadine Ruddy

Actually she told us that her initial interest was in the original Watson's Nursery in Clontarf (1884 - 1912) and that she ended up in Killiney (1912 - 1967) purely as a result following the nurseries' move southside.

The Clontarf site of 13 acres eventually became too small for the business but there was no room for expansion. Then in 1912 the 148 acre Kilbogget Farm out Killiney way came up for sale and Watsons jumped at it. The transition took some eight years so it was 1920 before the new nurseries were up to speed.

I should lay one controversy to rest here before I'm dragged into it.

Bono lives in the townland of Killiney, which is within the area of the old Township (subsequently Urban District Council) of Killiney, which, in turn, is within the old civil parish of Killiney.

Watsons is on Kilbogget townland, which is not within the townland of Killiney nor within the old Township of Killiney, but it is within the civil parish of Killiney.

So the description of Watson's Nurseries Killiney is perfectly legitimate. Watson's Nurseries Ballybrack is not. So there.

The original William Watson came over from Scotland but he didn't seem to have had any horticultural training. Apparently Scottish gardeners were much in demand in those days as they were very well trained and could turn their hand to many different aspects of horticulture. Some of these were employed by Watsons.

The nurseries thrived and were held in very high regard. Their produce, apart from supplying the traditional home market, began to be substituted for former imports and was itself exported, mainly to the UK.

By the mid 1960s, with the onset of economic expandion, the price of land in the area rocketed and the Watsons eventually decided to call it a day.

The nurseries' land was sold to Gallaghers builders who then built what is known today as the Watson estate. At least the housing development preserved the Watson name for posterity.

In the QáA which followed the talk it emerged that there were former employees of the nurseries in the audience and we got some anecdotes from them.

It appeared that women from the city centre had become entitled by right to come and pick shamrock at the nurseries, no doubt in the run up to St. Patrick's day, and a lot of them turned up to claim their prizes.

One man in the audience identified himself as having done a paper on the nurseries for the Foxrock Historical Club some time back (Thomas Ruddock?) and Bernadine gave him credit saying she had read it and drawn on it for her talk.

It reminded me of the time I was giving a talk on the military history of Killiney Bay in which the Laughlinstown Military Camp figured. For that aspect I had drawn heavily on an essay by Kevin Murray in the Dublin Historical Record. Kevin turned up for the talk and identified himself in the audience. I was in, quick as a shot, to give him full credit for the material I had used.

[l-r] John, Laura & Colin Watson, Rosamund & Patrick Smith
All direct descendants of William Watson except Laura who is married to Colin.

I was thinking about the nurseries on my way into the talk and it struck me that, despite it being on the route of my paper round, I had no recollection of ever delivering papers there.

After the talk I learned that the family had actually lived in Fortlands on the Killiney Hill Road so if they had got papers delivered that would have been on Maurice O'Connor's route.

Guess who lives in Fortlands now?

The Edge.

In fact three of the U2 four live in fairly close proximity in Killiney.

Fortunately I had left by then for my native Northside.

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