Rathgar, like Ranelagh and Donnybrook, remains one of Dublin’s distinctive villages. The documented history of Rathgar began with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century, when the lands of Rathgar became part of the home farm, or grange, of the Augustinian Nuns of the Abbey of St. Mary, whose convent stood at College Green. The name Rathgar has been in continuous use since the 13th century and was used to describe the area bounded on the south by the river Dodder and on the north by the river Swan. The Swan’s course took it past the top of Garville Avenue before, like many of Dublin’s other rivers and streams, it was directed beneath the city.
Six centuries after the Anglo-Norman settlement of Dublin, only one family was living at Rathgar. This was the family of John Cusack, the head of one of Dublin’s oldest and leading mercantile families, who resided at what was known as Rathgar Castle and manor. By the mid-1750s the development of Rathgar became possible with the construction of Highfield Road. Until the 1840s Rathgar remained very much a rural idyll and much of the land remained under cultivation and was used by market gardeners and dairymen to graze their cattle. Names recalling the rural nature of Rathgar are still commemorated by the likes of Highfield, Ashgrove and Oaklands.
The impetus for the development of Rathgar was in fact the development of the neighbouring district of Rathmines. With the creation of the Rathmines Urban Township in 1847, the demand for houses by Dublin’s middle-classes, who sought a safe and healthy environment in rural Dublin and a home that was sufficiently close to the city to commute by walking, grew exponentially.
Today, Rathgar is a very pleasant residential area with Rathgar Road – its main artery – leading to the village centre. It is bordered to the north by Rathmines township, to the south by the Dodder (the Dublin City border), to the west by Harold’s Cross Road and to the east by Upper Rathmines Road. While the area is mainly residential it contains a substantial number of businesses and public services, including schools and major hospitals.