Malahide: A brief History

Casino Thatched Cottage Malahide

Paddy's Hill, overlooking Malahide Estuary, is the earliest evidence we have of a habitation site in the area C.6000 B.C. The Fir Domhnainn are also reputed to have settled here, where they remained "fishing and fowling" for a few hundred years.

Tradition has it that St. Patrick visited the locality in 432 A.D. The Vikings landed in 795 A.D. and the Danes were resident in 897 A.D. McTurkill, the last Danish King of Dublin retired to Malahide in 1171, from whom the Normans took over in 1185.

The modern name Malahide ( Mullagh h-Ide ) probably derives from this time, meaning the sandhills of the Hydes, a Norman family from the Donabate area. From the 12th. Century onwards, Malahide developed around the Talbot Castle. In 1547, it was described as one of the chief haven towns of Ireland because of its very safe harbour. At the turn of the 19th. Century a small village had developed; coal, slate and timber was imported; Yellow Walls cotton mill and Killeen Terrace ribbon factory were in operation; the local Talbot Bank issued 25,000 bank notes and Malahide was justly proud of its coalyard, sawyers factory, steam bakery and saltworks.

In 1831, the total population was 1223 of which 90 labourers were each earning 15 pence per day. In the 1880's cod liver oil was being exported to England and the Scott's Emulsion trademark of a man with a huge cod on his shoulder is said to have been modeled on a Malahide fisherman. In the latter part of the 19th.Century with the advent of the railway, Malahide became a tourist resort and a residential town.

In 1914, it was described as a genteel ghetto for disengaged West Britons. In the 'twenties the buses came and croquet was played alongside the Band Garden on Sundays. In the 'thirties there was greyhound racing at Gaybrook while many Malahide men earned 11.5 pence an hour in the building of Dublin Airport. But the greatest change of all came in the 'sixties when Malahide became attractive to speculative builders and Malahide's first housing estate, Ard-Na-Mara came into being in 1964.

Since then, though the population has mushroomed in a major way, Malahide Village has still managed to retain an old-world elegance about it.

St Sylvesters Well

As with most historical topics many view points exist, and so with the holy well in Malahide. Some historians hold that the well got its title from the Pagan Sun-God Silvanus. Others prefer to relate the well's origins to a Bishop Silvester of St. Patrick's time. It should also be borne in mind that the Normans, being very proud of their French origins, may have dedicated the well to Pope Sylvester 11, the first French Pope of the 10th Century.

Saint Sylvesters Well

Saint Sylvesters Well

The well is often referred to, locally, as the Sunday Well, from the fact that the water is said to have first appeared on a Sunday, but this may have resulted from the similarity of the name of the Fir Domhnainn, one of Malahides earliest inhabitants and that of the Irish name for Sunday Dia Domhnaigh. The Well has also been called Our Lady's Well possibly because of the association of Our Lady's Feast with the 15th August, on which day patterns used to be held at the well. John Rocque's map of 1756 indicated the position of the well, but, unfortunately, does not give it a title. We do know that the present Church of St. Sylvester takes its title from the well and not vice-versa.

Customs associated with the Well

We are aware that many sacred fish are associated with holy wells and, here in Malahide, up to the close of the 1890's, an eel was inserted into the waters of the well to purify it.

The water of St. Sylvester's well was also "well" known for its medicinal properties and is reputed to have cured a wide variety of diseases and afflictions.

Wells, in general, were known to be the haunts of spirits, who could prove to be propitious, if remembered, but were very vindictive, if neglected. Holy wells, like St. Sylvester's, are approached from the Northern side, then moving east to west, in imitation of the diurnal motion of the Sun.

When Christianity came to Malahide it did not destroy the heathen customs associated with the well, but rather absorbed and incorporated the established traditions.

The Malahide Well, like many others, became associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a patron was held there regularly on the 15th August. On this date the well was decorated and the statue of the Blessed Virgin was decked with ribbons. There is a theory that the statue used was Our Lady of Malahide, associated with the Oak panel carving of the Assumption in Malahide Castle. During the Patterns, the well was circled seven times, while reciting a special prayer or rann. At these 15th August patrons, worshippers gathered from many miles distant.

In the olden days public baptisms took place at St. Sylvester's Well. The system was that of triple immersion. Today the receptacle for the water used in baptism in Christian Churches is frequently eight-sided because eight is the number of re-birth - many wells were octagonal for the same reason.

But, back to the Malahide Eel. Eels have always been associated with magic e.g. an eel will not die before sunset: and eel skin makes a lucky belt for the wearer: horsehairs will turn into eels, juice or soup of the eel is a cure for stomach cancer etc.

The custom of releasing an eel into the well water could also be a folk remedy for keeping the water pure as the eel will eat all the grubs, crustaceans, mites, flies, nympha and all aquatic insects which would otherwise contaminate it's purity.

Some of the information on this page was provided by the Historical Societies fantastic and indepth website, for further information on the history and heritage of Malahide we recommend you visit the Malahide Historical Society Museum in Malahide Castle, and their website:

You can contact the Society by emailing: