BRAY, a market and post-town, and a parish, in the half-barony of RATHDOWN, county of WICKLOW, and province of LEINSTER, 14 miles (N.) from Wicklow (by the sea road), and 10 (S. E. by S.) from Dublin; containing 3509 inhabitants, of which number, 2590 are in the town. This place derives its name, originally Bré or Bree, signifying a “hill ” or “headland,” from the precipitous promontory of clay slate and quartz, called Bray Head, which rises immediately on the south of the town to an elevation of 807 feet above the level of the sea, and from the singular indentation of its summit forms a well-known landmark to mariners. The manor, or lordship, of Bray, with all the territories of the O’Tooles, was granted, in 1173, by Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, lord-deputy, to Walter de Riddlesford, one of the earliest of the Norman adventurers, to be held of the Crown by three knights’ service, to be performed at Dublin. This grant, together with the seigniory of Castledermot and extensive privileges, was confirmed to him by John, Lord of Ireland, who subsequently granted him an annual fair to be held at Bray, with free warren and other privileges.
Among the earliest notices of this place is the record of a grant of a burgage, with a portion of arable land, to the abbey of St. Thomas, near Dublin, by the same Walter de Riddlesford, whose estates, on failure of male issue, were at his death divided between two coheiresses; and in 1215 the abbot of St. Thomas obtained a grant of all the lands held by Walter de Riddlesford in fee, in the town of Bray, at a yearly rent of 3 and a fine of 60 marks. The town was frequently assailed by the mountain septs of the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles, to whose territories it was contiguous, and who, on the 16th of April, 1316, destroyed the castle; but they were on the same day attacked and defeated by Edmond Le Boteler. A fierce conflict took place near the town, in 1402, between these septs and the citizens of Dublin, headed by John Drake, their provost, on which occasion, according to Ware and Camden, 4000, but according to Hervey de Marlbrigge, 400 of the former were slain. At the dissolution of the religious houses, the possessions of the abbey of St. Thomas were granted to Sir Thomas Brabazon, whose descendant, the Earl of Meath, is the present proprietor in fee of the greater part of the town.
The town is situated on the Dargle or Bray river, which here forms a boundary between the counties of Dublin and Wicklow, and after passing under an old bridge of five arches, connecting the portions of the town which lie on different sides of it, falls into the sea a little below this place. That part of the town which is on the Wicklow side of the river consists of one long street of irregularly built houses, at the head of which are two smaller streets, one branching off on the left, from which the lower road to Wicklow is continued over the hill of Windgates; and the other on the right along the road to the glen of the Downs, and together containing about 450 houses. That part which is in the county of Dublin is called Little Bray; it forms part of the parish of Old Connaught, and contains about 230 houses and cottages, and 1168 inhabitants. The houses in both are in general neatly built, and the town has a cheerful and interesting appearance; it is neither paved nor lighted, but the road is kept in good order.
The surrounding scenery is exceedingly romantic, and combines with its short distance from Dublin to render this place a favourite resort during the summer season for seabathing. A number of thatched cottages of great neatness, and containing, exclusively of offices, from three to eight rooms each, have been appropriated to the accommodation of visiters, to whom they are let furnished at rents varying from £40 to £50 and more for the season. The hotel and posting-house, conducted by Mr. Quin, jun., is fitted up with every regard to the superior accommodation of families and visiters of the highest respectability; hot and cold sea water baths may be had at all hours without delay, and the house has long been a favourite resort of parties on excursions of pleasure, and of wedding parties to spend the day in festivity and in the enjoyment of the beauties of the surrounding scenery. A spacious gravel walk, half a mile in length and perfectly straight, has been made from the rear of the hotel through the private grounds to the sea, forming a beautiful promenade, and commanding fine views. On the Dublin side of the river a race-course has been formed and races are held annually.
The trade, exclusively of what is requisite for the supply of the town, consists principally in the importation of coal, timber, slates, and limestone, in which two vessels of 70 tons each, one of 50 tons, and one of 25 tons, belonging to the place, are regularly employed. There is a very extensive brewery, with a malting store, capable of producing 300 barrels weekly; and near the brewery is a large flour-mill. The small haven is very incommodious, having a bar at the entrance, and only eight feet of water at spring and five feet at neap tides: from a change in the channel of the river, an outer beach has been formed, which breaks in some degree the violence of the sea. A plan for its improvement was suggested by the late Mr. Nimmo, who proposed to construct a pier of about 30 perches in length at the mouth of the river; but it has not been carried into effect. The river abounds with excellent trout, which are taken in great quantities and sent to Dublin and different parts of the country, and even to London.
The market is on Tuesday and Saturday, and is abundantly supplied with provisions of every kind of the best quality. Fairs for friezes are held on Jan. 12th, May 4th, Aug. 5th, and Nov. 12th, and are attended by all the Dublin dealers; and fairs for cattle are held on the 1st of March, May, and July, Aug. 15th, Sept. 20th, and Dec. 14th. A constabulary police force has been stationed here, and also in Little Bray, the old castle in the latter having been fitted up as a barrack. A coast-guard station has also been fixed here, forming one of the five that constitute the district of Kingstown, to which use a martello tower near the mouth of the river, in which four guns are mounted, has been appropriated. There is also a martello tower on the strand near Bray Head, occupied by a private of the artillery. Petty sessions for the division are held in the school-house in Little Bray, every alternate Saturday; and the Earl of Meath, as lord of the manor of Kindlestown, holds a court here by his seneschal every month. By an inquisition taken in the reign of Charles I. it appears, from various records, that the town had been in times past incorporated and endowed with many privileges.
The parish abounds with interesting and strikingly diversified scenery, and is embellished with numerous seats and pleasing villas. Kilruddery, the splendid mansion of the Earl of Meath, situated about one mile south of the town, was erected in 1820, on the site of the old family house, from a design by Mr. Morrison. It is an elegant structure, in the later English style of architecture; the entrance is under an octangular tower crowned with a cupola in the centre of the north front, opening into a spacious hall, in which are tastefully displayed several suits of armour and various warlike instruments brought from foreign countries; the saloon, drawing and dining rooms, and other apartments are richly and tastefully embellished and furnished in a style of costly magnificence.
The demesne, which comprises more than 900 acres, is richly wooded, and is bounded on one side by the little Sugar Loaf mountain, and on the other by the rugged heights of Bray Head; in the pleasure grounds is a circular sheet of water surrounded with a fine hedge of beech, 20 feet high, through which are several entrances; and not far from it is the theatre, a quadrangular area enclosed on three sides by tiers of seats, and in which plays were formerly acted. Shanganagh, the residence of General Sir G. Cockburn, is described in the article on Rathmichael. Bray, Head, the seat of G. Putland, Esq., is finely situated near the foot of the promontory of that name, in a well-planted demesne of about 650 acres: the mansion is a chaste and elegant structure of the Tuscan order, with an embattled roof, from which are obtained extensive views of mountain scenery and of the sea; from the drawing-room antechamber is a noble conservatory of polygonal form, erected at an expense of £5000, and containing a fine collection of the most choice and rare exotics; the pleasure grounds and gardens are laid out with the greatest taste and kept in the finest order, presenting one of the principal attractions in this truly picturesque and much frequented part of the country.
There are numerous handsome villas situated in grounds tastefully laid out and commanding very fine views: the principal are St. Valorie, the residence of the Hon. P. Cecil Crampton, third Justice of the Court of King’s Bench; Springfield, of Alderman West; Fassarow House, of H. Crampton, Esq.; Old Court, of Major Edwards; Rich View, of Capt. Kettlewell; Fairy Hill, of P. W. Jackson, Esq.; Killarney Cottage, of — O’Reily, Esq.; Vevey, of the Misses Weldon; New-Court, of Mrs. McMahon; Fairy Hill (Bray), of J. Quin, Esq.; Prospect Cottage, of C. Tandy, Esq.; Riversdale, of C. La Grange, Esq.; Le Valle, of Miss Draper; Fassarow Cottage, of Capt. Sitwell; Navarra, of Mrs. Brady; and Glenbrook, of J. H. Brush, Esq.
The living consists of a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough; the rectory is in the patronage of the Crown; and the vicarage, which has been from time immemorial united to the vicarage of Old Connaught, is in the patronage of the Archbishop. The tithes of this parish amount to £230, and of Bray, Old Connaught, and Rathmichael (which last was separated from the union in 1826), to £430.
The church, a plain building with a small spire, situated on the verge of an eminence overhanging the river, was erected in 1609, and enlarged, by aid of a loan of £1020 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1818. There is no glebe-house: the glebe comprises nine statute acres of excellent land. In the R. C. divisions this parish is the head of a union or district, comprising also the parishes of Powerscourt, Kilmacanogue, and part of the parish of Delgany, and containing three chapels, situated respectively at Bray, Kilmacanogue, and Castletown: the chapel at Bray is a spacious and handsome edifice, erected in 1833, and embellished with an altar-piece presented by General Sir G. Cockburn. There is a place of worship for Presbyterians. There are two national schools; and a school, in which more than 100 children are clothed and educated, is supported by Mrs. Putland: in these schools are about 120 boys and 220 girls. An infants’ school, held in a spacious building erected in 1829 by the late Viscount Powerscourt, is supported by private contributions; and there are also three pay schools, in which are about 57 boys and 25 girls, and a Sunday school.
A building, originally intended for a barrack, has been converted into an hospital for cholera and fever patients, with a dispensary, erected by a grant from the Association for the Suppression of Vice and individual subscriptions. In Little Bray is a neat range of building, erected by subscription, part of which is used as school-rooms, and part as a savings’ bank for the parishes of Bray, Delgany, and Powerscourt. A provident society was established in the town in 1832; a loan society has been lately instituted; and a manufactory of flax and wool is supported entirely by Mr. and Mrs. Putland, in which more than 40 poor women are employed; the materials, when wove into linens and linseys, are distributed gratuitously among the poor of the neighbourhood. One-third of the produce of an estate in the county of Longford, bequeathed to the parishes of Bray, Delgany, and Powerscourt by F. Adair, Esq., and amounting to about £60 per annum to each, is distributed among the poor.
Besides the remains of the castle at Little Bray, there are the ruins of two others in the parish; one in the grounds of Old Court, consisting of a tower, with some fragments of the walls. Near these is a rude pyramidal block of granite, on which are some faint traces of ancient sculpture, which, from a print taken before it was so much mutilated, appears to have represented the sacrifice of a ram; on the top of it is a cavity apparently designed for the reception of a cross.
The remains of the other castle, at Fassarow, which was demolished by Cromwell, are not in any way remarkable; coins of William have been found near them, on the road to Old Connaught, where is an ancient cross with a rudely sculptured representation of the Crucifixion. Under Bray Head are the ruins of an ancient chapel, 40 feet long and 18 feet wide; it is built in a north and south direction, with a circular-headed window at each end, and the doorway on the east side; and near the glebe land is an ancient burial-ground. On levelling a bank of sand near the sea, in 1835, to make an approach to the demesne of Mr. Putland, several human skeletons of large dimensions were discovered, lying regularly east and west, with a stone at the head and another at the feet of each, but which crumbled into dust on exposure to the air; several Roman coins of the Emperor Adrian were found at the same time, and are now in Mr. Putland’s possession. There are medicinal springs in the grounds of Kilruddery and Old Court.