Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Dublin, Donnybrook – False Trails Beggars

The usual explanation of the place name Beggars Bush is that it was a haunt of highwaymen or beggars. However, the record of Beggars boush in 1573 undermines these later explanations at Dublin, Donnybrook. Many historical works on Dublin give this. I believe they are examples of the tendency to adopt restrospective romantic explanations.

There is no evidence in 1573 for beggars. It is almost a century before the first plans for a workhouse in Dublin were projected, after the Lord Deputy and Council had complained of the great number of beggars in the city in 1669. If it was not a use of a common phrase but was referring to woods where beggars lurked, why was it not Beggars Woods? At some time after 1763 but before 1780 John and Samuel Robinson set up a high class linen and cotton printing mill in the area.

There are reports in numerous histories of Dublin of beggars hiding under bushes, which are given as the explanation of the place name. Even if the existence of the beggars is correct none are early enough to explain the name. It is likely the link is a reverse association of the place name with the (supposed) activity as also happened at Godmanchester, Huntingdon.

  • Francis Elrington Ball, A History of the County (Dublin, 1902) Chapter 1, says, in connection with the development of Ringsend as a port in the 17th century, “At the time of the establishment of the Commonwealth, Rings-end was almost surrounded with water, which spread on its western side over the low ground between Irishtown and Beggar’s Bush, at that time a wood, and a great resort of robbers.”
  • Weston St. John Joyce, The Neighbourhood of Dublin, (Dublin 1920) says that the “ancient titles” Beggars Bush and Baggotrath were no longer used, though the place name was current. Referring to the eighteenth century Joyce says “the whole district at that time being in a most lawless state, and burglaries and highway robberies of almost nightly occurence” to the extent that the inhabitants would not venture out after dark unless armed. Joyce is reproduced almost verbatim by CRDS, and in a website for primary students (see link).
  • Joyce appears to have used The Story of Dublin, by D. A. Chart (J. M. Dent & Co., London. 1907) which says:

Lying immediately inland from the coast, though no longer designated by their ancient titles, are the localities formerly known as Beggarsbush and Baggotrath, now almost entirely merged in the suburbs. In the old print of Dublin Hay, already alluded to, which appears to have been sketched from a position somewhere near the present Haddington Road, the origin of the name of Beggarsbush is clearly shown, for there, prominently in the foreground, is the bush under which the beggars of that day used to find a temporary shelter before descending on the metropolis. Three beggars appear in the picture, two of them – man and a woman – of tattered and disreputable aspect, are standing up, looking towards the city, and apparently in consultation as to the route to be pursued in their campaign. A third, of more placid temperament, is reclining at ease in this arboreal beggars’ rest, and to all appearances, waiting, like Mr. Micawber, for something to turn up.

Many of the worthies who used to avail themselves of this friendly shelter were doubtless, when opportunity offered, highwaymen, as the neighbourhood had acquired an evil reputation in this respect, and numerous robberies are recorded in the newspapers of the time as having taken place there.

In the print referred to, not one building of any description is shown between Beggarsbush and Ringsend, the intervening space being open country through which the Dodder flowed over a wide tract of waste and slob land. Judging by the relative positions of the various objects in the picture, the original “bush” must have stood a little to the north of the modern Beggarsbush Barracks . . .

In the early part of last century down to about 1820, or thereabouts there stood in a field at the spot now occupied by the north-eastern corner of Beggarsbush Barracks, an old vaulted building in ruins, covered with a dense growth of ivy, nettles and brambles, called Le Fevre’s Folly, which was utilised as a refuge and point of reconnaissance by highwaymen, robbers and smugglers, then abounding in the neighbourhood, as the ruins commanded a view along the five roads radiating from this point .. .

An interesting illustration of the danger of old-time travelling is furnished by the name of an old barracks to the north of Northumberland Road. It is called Beggarsbush, the bush which harboured the “sturdy beggars,” who solicited alms by day and demanded them at the pistol point after dark.

See Dublin Donnybrook – False Trails – Prints. Chart is clearly referring to the View, although this does include buildings below Beggars Bush, albeit a little north of the direct line to Ringsend, and any such buildings would be hidden by the “bush”.

I have not been able to check the “newspaper reports” referred to by Chart, but they would be too late to prove any source for the place name.

  • There is a further variation on this theme in Pat Liddy, Dublin, be Proud (1987) p.55 where, under Beggars Bush Barracks it says:

A main approach to the city once cut through the lands of the Earl of Pembroke with the sea on one side and the great estate on the other. It carried considerable traffic mainly comprising the well-to-do, business and officialdom. In the hope of receiving offerings beggars and vagrants congregated in the wooded area, which eventually became known as Beggars’ Bush.

Although I would not seek to compare my knowledge of Dublin’s history with the author it seems, in the absence of any sources, to be a development based on Chart, Ball and/or Joyce.



Moylan, T. K., Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars, Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 1, No. 2, June 1938, pp. 41-49

Ada K. Longfield, Linen and Cotton Printing in the Eighteenth Century at Ballsbridge, Dublin, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 89, No. 531 (Jun., 1947), pp. 156-159

Posted: May 30th, 2011 | Filed under: Places, Speculations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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