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Dunville Lights

Dunville Avenue is a street with a past. It’s not just a thoroughfare with retail outlets, and yes, it does not stop at Morton’s, it goes all the way from Killeen Road to Mima’s (No 1 Dunville Avenue).

Dunville Avenue makes an entry into history on the 1816 map  (see below) where it is called Dunville Place. Oakley Road was called Dunville Lane. Belgrave Avenue was a mere footpath at the time. No 39 seems to have been a masonic girls school[1], although evidence for this is rather uncertain (see note).  No 39 is listed as a protected structure.[2]

Taylor map of 1816

Taylor map of 1816


A mere 21 years later, the Ordnance Survey of 1837 shows that things have somewhat changed, the Holy Trinity Church  (1828) has been built at the end of that footpath. Seemingly it was nicknamed the “Black Church” because it was made of a local limestone that turned black when it rained. This architecturally distinctive church probably deserves a write-up all to itself. By 1837, a number of houses have appeared on each side of the road where Morton’s now stands, and is forming up to and even beyond what is now Killeen Road, although above Killeen road remains pretty rural. This is at the same time that some large houses are starting to appear nearby in what will be Belgrave Square. For a really interesting read of the beginnings of Belgrave Square, please go to Elizabeth Smith’s article at http://www.belgrave-residents.org/history/belgrave-square/beginnings-of-belgrave-square


Ordnance Survey map 1837

Ordnance Survey map 1837


Seventy-five years later, just after the turn of the 20th century, Dunville Avenue and surrounding streets have pretty much taken their modern shape. The census of 1911 gives an idea of who lives on Dunville Avenue at the time, the tram has been servicing the street already since 1872, As a suburban street it has its “share of civil servants (Stephenson), clerks (Miller) and accountants (Campbell). However, it was also home to a diverse collection of people including a singing teacher and her two daughters, one of whom was an actress (Florae) a cinematographer operator (Edwards), students (Percival) and a 68-year-old single woman who said she was of no religious persuasion and refused to divulge any information on the matter to the enumerator (Harvey).”[3]



In 1913[4] the electoral roll lists an occupant of some fame running a grocery shop and post office at 13 Dunville Avenue.  According to Thom’s, George Dempsey ran that business at least 1894 – 1919 whilst also teaching on the North Side at Belvedere College. George Dempsey[5] was one of James Joyce’s teachers and the model for “Mr Tate” in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. To continue the Joycean them, let us add that the connection with Joyce extends one house up from Dunville Avenue at 36 Belgrave Road. As it happens, the head of one of the three households in occupancy at the time of the census in 1911 was a certain Alexander Keyes who according to literary research was one and the same Alexander Keyes who earns a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses in relation to an advertisement for his business as a “tea, wine and spirit merchant”. (Keyes ran a business in Ballsbridge, where he is recorded with his household in the 1901 census, before moving to live in Rathmines.)[6]


But there was more to come. The last farmland was given up to the builders in the 1920s and 1930s, long after the end of the Edwardian building boom led by the Plunkets and others. Only then was the development of Dunville Avenue completed.


Architecturally, Dunville Avenue is more modest than its adjacent street. That gives it the quaint charm of a rural village with its vividly coloured smaller shop fronts, and terrace houses with relatively speaking modest-sized front gardens.


 Think of Keegan’s launderette (blue), Peperina (yellow), Rosalin’s retro sign which gives us a taste of Americana, the big ice cream cone outside The Best of Italy for that sea-side feel, and even the do-overs have remained in line with the traditional postcard Ireland feel of the street. (The Hardware Shop, The Best of Italy, Helen Turkington).


On a personal note, we moved into No. 62 back in 1993, and the house had been rented by Sheila Kennedy and her husband who had been teachers at the Rathmines VEC, and were ardent Irish speakers.  We were told that people used to come to No. 62 to ask them to write letters for them. They rented the property from its construction in the mid-1930s to their deaths in the early 1990s.


Rosalin's sign


Although there aren’t too many red-brick houses on Dunville Avenue, it is worth noting that many buildings (houses and shops) are protected structures numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 31, 33, 35/37, 39, 41, 43, 47, 49.[7] Of note is Rosalin’s sign, the oldest neon sign in Dublin[8]. Rosalin’s opened in the 1930’s as a newsagent, and its reputation went all the way to Hollywood since the owner’s daughter is Ros Hubbard[9], a talent spotter named after the name of the shop, who set a casting agency. It was she who discovered stars like Colin Farrell, Kate Winslet, etc. I remember Rosalin’s when Molly, mother of Kevin who still lives next door, was helped by larger than life character Bridie. Denise took over the shop in 2001 and made sure that you could still buy the paper and sweets amongst other more luxurious goodies. The shop closed last March due to the pandemic, and we can only hope that it pops back into our lives again soon.


Another protected structure is the Dunville Pharmacy protected shop front, featuring a type of green glass called Vitrolite[10], which was invented during the Great Depression. It was used in the first half of the 20th Century in Art Deco. The pharmacy was a butcher shop before, Reinhardt Pork Butchers, as I am told, and the pharmacy on Dunville was previously located in Xpert Dry Cleaners (No 27), run by Mrs Kelly, but wait …. Wasn’t Dunville dry cleaners located at No 21 before that! ?



Dunville Pharmacy protected shop front

The ballet of shops is sometimes hard to follow on Dunville Avenue. Take No 29 for example, John Kavanagh had a TV repair shop there until 1994, which became a hair salon, Dunville Beauty Clinic, stayed empty for a bit and then ‘Brechin and Watchorn’ set up a wine shop there…and then moved to No 9, which is now Beechwood Dental. I distinctly remember them running their wine-tasting workshops in the window. For a spell, No 29 was ‘Extend’, a firm of architects. You could almost think Dunville Avenue went dry… Until 1999, Helen Turkington at No 47 used to be Grogan’s off licence/corner shop at the upper end of the street.


Peperina at No 25 was preceded by a number of restaurants, I don’t recall in which order, the Elysium Restaurant, Dunville Coffee Ltd, The Glass Onion, and before all this, a beauty spot Papillon beauty and skincare.


And as for No 23, we have been spoiled for choice over the years. CA Design was once Sandz (a clothes boutique) and the House of Shoes. Our cool friends from Green Beards were once a flower shop, Rushes and Reeds, and before that Dublin Travel Agency. And, of course, we have seen Morton’s expand over the years, the Café at No 19 in 2005 replacing legendary Debbie Dettling’s boutique. No 38 was once O’Neill’s shoe repairs.

The Hardware Store was once Able Glazing, and Tim Murphy’s Autoparts has simply changed location, leaving space for Jim Hatton’s hairdressing salon at No 40, whilst you can find Tim working away on the cars at the back of the lane.


And if we are sick, we do have a GP at No 37, Dunville Pharmacy, and also a physio.


Another feature of Dunville Avenue is that from 1872 to 1959, it was serviced by a train, and of course by the LUAS since 2004, although some of our younger residents may not recall that we had a bridge where now there is only the level crossing.  The tram was just as instrumental delivering customers to Ranelagh and Rathmines way back then as it is now. There is a wonderful story in one of the local history books about a man who was once sick in St Vincent’s Hospital (then in St Stephens Green), whose wife was in the habit of sending their child hurtling down Dunville Avenue with dinner on a hot plate for him, to catch the commuter train on its way back into Harcourt St station, then to run on down to the hospital because she didn’t think the food in Vincent’s Hospital was good enough!  Dunville Avenue is a great little hub with many lovely shops, and a really buzzy area where the footfall is not to be ignored.


Many family-owned businesses know this well. Keegan’s launderette is a family-run business based right beside the Beechwood Luas stop, and has been in operation here since 1969. The Best of Italy, formerly K & C Norton was launched in the 1980’s by brother and sister Caitriona and Ken Norton, and of course world-renowned grocery store Morton’s founded in 1934 was originally a fish and veg shop run by husband and wife Charles and Esther Morton. Here is what Iris Morton (née Bredin) said in a really interesting article in the Irish Times (2004) about the old times in Dunville Avenue: "My grandmother used come down from York Avenue in Rathmines to buy fish and vegetables here," she remembers, "and when I was about eight years old I used come for piano lessons in Moyne Road, just round the corner, and buy 1d sweets from Mrs Tierney in her small, dark shop. Then I would call on my aunt at 41 Beechwood Avenue for hot scones. Mrs and Mr Morton lived in Annesley Park then and by the time I met my husband Albert Morton, he had started in the shop and bought Mrs Tierney's corner shop. That happened in about 1948/49 and I met him in 1951 at a Sandford Parish Dance. It cost 2/6d to get in. The Morton family were living over the shop then and it was well established."[11] The Morton’s family started their expansion when they bought the premises they'd until then rented from Mr Arthur Robinson, who had been a butcher, as well as the next-door-but one corner house - where Mrs Tierney had once sold sweets. Rex Coghlan from the BRA finds it interesting that “the fish counter in the expanded shop is almost exactly where I remember buying fish from both Mr and Mrs Morton (Gary's grandparents) in the then much smaller shop”.





Service-wise, although there is no school on Dunville, we know that of course there are Scoil Bhride, the first state Gaelscoil, and Lios Na NOg housed in historic Cullenswood House on Oakley Road, once the home of Pearse’s school. I am told that the house at that Wigmore Lodge, at the corner of Oakley Road and Dunville Avenue was also a school at the turn of the 20th century.


The lockdown period saw the commercial side of the street buzz with socially-distanced life, with the great weather we enjoyed in March and April, it was good to see that people had a centre with a few benches which brought some distraction to these otherwise rather dull times. Dunville Avenue may be enclaved between the lights of Rathmines, and the quiet elegance of Ranelagh, but it sure is a real village of its own. Let’s hope that these few words have jogged some memories, and if you have pictures or anecdotes to tell about Dunville Avenue be sure to pass them on to the Belgrave Residents Association or myself so that we can start a compendium of archives on the lives and times of Dunville Avenue and its surroundings.






Thank you Rex Coghlan for your help in gathering information.

[1] THE FEMALE ORPHAN HOUSE, APPENDIX I. “Whitelaw’s A History of Dublin, a notoriously inaccurate book, seems to be responsible for the unsubstantiated statement that the Masonic Female Orphan School and the Female Orphan House had their origin simultaneously in Prussia Street, in the year 1790.  I can find (so far as the Masonic Female Orphan School is concerned) no other authority either as to the locality or the date. As to the locality, the old maps and other records of Dublin give no trace whatever of any such place as Domville Lane off Prussia Street. The Masonic School was once, from the years 1809 to 1817, in Dunville Avenue, Ranelagh.”


[2] Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022 Record of Protected Structures - Volume 4


[7] Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022 Record of Protected Structures - Volume 4

Nicholas Simms,
23 Feb 2021, 13:30