Lucan in the 1700s

Ladies and gentlemen of comfortable means could think of nothing more delightful than taking a few days at the Lucan Spa. The young came to dance until dawn, mothers to assess marriage prospects for their daughters and the cultured to set up their easel on the riverbank and paint the elegant bridge, in the style of Mrs Delany. Other well heeled citizens came to seek cures in the spa waters, as one wit put it: ‘having once been good livers they now had bad livers’

The medicinal qualities of the spa were discovered in 1758 and Lucan, a pretty village in a wooded valley, where the Liffey met her tributary, the Griffeen, came to prominence. For Dubliners, the journey from the city, along the lower road and across the Lucan bridge was a delight in itself. High wooded slopes loomed on either side with elms, oak and ash shadowing the road and at the bottom of the dell the Liffey ran along, here and there broken by a mill weir which produced pleasing cascades of water. In places, the river, littered with large masses of stone, was shallow enough to cross. 

Having arrived and perhaps set up in one of the boarding houses on The Crescent, (‘How like Bath it is,’ they exclaimed) the tourist could walk southwards a little towards a dun, in the garden of the celebrated Mr. Gandon and visit the caves he discovered. Sit on the charming thatched seat near the deep well set in hewn stone and drink the mineral rich waters, or wonder at the boiling spring. Even the eight wheels of Mr. Blair’s iron mill had a certain charm, as did the paper mill, and the acres under glass promising sweet summer fruits.

Those at the top of the social pyramid gathered in villas set in manicured gardens on slopes overlooking the Liffey where they rubbed shoulders in the grand dining rooms of Earls and Lords with European socialites such as Swiss Austrian portraitist, Angelica Kauffman. As the popularity of the resort grew, day trippers arrived in their thousands each weekend with transport for a few pennies available from Carlisle Bridge for those not lucky enough to have a carriage.

One summer day in 1794 traffic over the bridge and into Lucan was recorded: 55 coaches, 29 postchaises, 25 noddies, 82 jaunting cars, 20 gigs, 6 open landaus, 221 common cars, 450 horsemen and thousands of pedestrians. However, fashion being fickle, Lucan fell from favour. By the mid 1800s the carriages no longer lined the bridge, the daytrippers tickled their fancy elsewhere, the doorbells of the cosy coffee shops tinkled less often, the big house became institutions of the state and Lucan faded into the anonymity of any other suburban Dublin village.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 21st August 2013