Douglas
– A short history

By Paul
Sheehan (1997)

The name Douglas is an
anglicisation of the name given to the river or rivulet: “Dubhghlas”
(now Dúghlas) meaning “dark stream”. It is a combination of two words
“dubh” and “glaise”. “Dubh” means “black” and “glaise”, “glais” or
“glas” means “a little river”, and is often used to give names to
rivers and subsequently to townlands. The usual anglicised forms are
glasha, glash or glush, which often appear in compound Irish placenames.

Douglas has been described (1845) as “a chapelry and village
in the parish of Carrigaline, barony of Cork, 2 1/2 miles south-east of
the City of Cork. It presents that singularly beautiful contour and
richly embellished dress for which the whole tract along the lower
River Lee and especially between Cork and Passage is celebrated, and it
possesses a profuse powdering of villas and gemming and embroidery of
gardens, shrubberies and villa demesnes”. Douglas was first mentioned
in the year 1251. In the mid-seventeenth century the area consisted of
a small number of large farms or estates. It had a total population of
308 people of which 33 were English.

With the
advent of the sail-cloth industry in 1726, flux being the raw material,
Douglas began to take shape as a settled village community. The
Donnybrook Mills (1726), Lane’s Corn and Hemp Mills (1845), O’Brien’s
Brothers (St Patrick’s Woollen Mills, 1882), Conroy’s Rope and Twine
Mills (1892) provided much needed employment for the people of Douglas
and outside areas. They attracted, in the early days, Huguenots such as
the Bernard and Pollock brothers from Belfast, as well as skilled
workers from Northern Ireland and Scotland. Douglas ropes and sails
were used by the British Navy in the war against Napoleon.

With the passage of time some of the mills ceased production but the
two “giants”, Donnybrook and St Patrick’s, carried on through good
times and bad. In the world-wide recession of the nineteen-seventies
these two mills were forced to shut down, bringing an end to a
tradition that lasted for two hundred and fifty years.

A few big houses existed in the greater Douglas area – most were owned
by wealthy farmers and landlords. Sir Hugh Lane, famous art collector
and connoisseur was born in Ballybrack House (still lived in today). He
was killed in the torpedoing of the liner the Lusitania off the Old
Head of Kinsale on May 7th, 1915. Many other big houses have given
their names to the surrounding areas, the best examples being
Donnybrook (House), Castletreasure (House) and Grange (House). Although
these houses have disappeared today to be replaced by modern dwellings,
the folklore connected with them still lives on in the lives of some
Douglas people. Many smaller houses, most of them related to the old
textile industry, still exist, the most well known being “Scotchies
Terrace” in Donnybrook, built to house the Scottish workers in the
mills.

From these humble beginnings Douglas has
now become a vibrant village and comes very close to Bishopstown as
Cork City’s most thriving suburb. Housing estates now spread out from
the village centre like strands in a spider’s web. I have heard the
population of Douglas estimated at 20,000+. The “village” now possesses
two huge shopping centres and a new five-screen cinema. The Donnybrook
and St Patrick’s Mills buildings have been renovated and reopened to
house a large number of different, small business units. Douglas
village has four pubs (relatively low for an Irish village!) and
numerous restaurants, including a branch of the world-wide franchise
McDonalds. The parish of Douglas has become so large that a second
Roman Catholic church was built. St Patrick’s Church (1991) on
Rochestown Road joins the “old church” of St Columba’s (1814). St
Luke’s Church of Ireland church was finished in 1889.

Douglas is still growing. Building is taking place wherever planning
permission is granted and houses are keenly sought after. Overall it is
not bad for a little village.

(One
of our History teachers, Mr Jim Maddock, adds the following)

Douglas is situated 5 km south east of Cork City (population 136,000),
the second city of the Republic of Ireland. Originally a small village
which grew up around its two large textile mills, today Douglas is a
thriving modern suburb of 20,000 people.

The name
derives from the Gaelic Dubh Ghlas, meaning Dark Stream, which still
flows through the village and is an estuary of the River Lee on which
Cork City is built.

Huguenot refugees from France
were responsible for introducing the textile industry in the eighteenth
century. The great mill at Donnybrook, which still stands today, at its
peak produced sails for the British Royal Navy. A second mill was built
in the nineteenth century and together they provided much employment in
the area. Today both mills have been converted to other commercial uses
but many of the original stone cut houses and cottages of the former
workers are still to be seen in Douglas.

Given
its pleasant location amid the rolling green pastures overlooking the
river, not surprisingly, Douglas also had quite a number of “big
houses” which belonged to the prosperous landlords and merchant princes
of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These big houses were the
second main source of employment for the people of Douglas. Sadly,
today, many of them have disappeared to make way for more modest modern
housing developments.

Together with two churches,
a school and a number of ‘essential’ public houses, this was the
village of Douglas, population approximately 500, until well into the
twentieth century. Our school was built in 1968 to cater for a growing
population as Cork City began to spread outwards.

The past 25 years have seen dramatic changes in Douglas, which haven’t
been to everybody’s liking. A new shopping complex built in 1972
heralded the beginning of rapid economic development, followed by an
amazing spread of house-building, new roads, a second shopping complex,
a new cinema and a proliferation of restaurants.