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05 Jul 2022

Trip Through Time: On which side of the Dundalk 'Ramparts' do you live?

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Trip Through Time: On which side of the Dundalk 'Ramparts' do you live?

About this time of year the old Dundalk Urban District Council used clean the waterway we now know as the 'Rampart Stream' with long poles at the end of which were prongs for pulling out the weeds and deposit the 'spoil' on the banks to be taken away by horse drawn carts.

Much of that stream which runs between the Dublin Road at Ladywell and St. Alphonsus Road has been covered over and that sort of cleansing has not been carried out for many years but, walking along the banks behind the Redemptorist Wall recently, I noticed that there has been some such work carried out during the Covid 19 lock-down.

While this development is very welcome I cannot help feeling that this watercourse, which splits the Town in two, is a disaster waiting to happen in the event of heavy rainfall that is bound to occur! Much of the drainage of the area still flows into this stream and I have not heard of any ecological survey of the stream having been undertaken recently?

Most Dundalk people still call the stream 'The Ramparts' but, in fact, it is not such a geological feature.

You see, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word 'rampart' as 'a broad defensive wall, sometimes with a walkway along the top'.

The word, according to the dictionary, comes from the French 'remparer', meaning 'to fortify' which may give a clue as to how the stream got its name because this line was once used as part of the extended defences of the Town until the walls were pulled down in the eighteenth century!

It was never part of the 'Town Trench' which was dug around the old walled town in about 1458 and filled by tidal sea water from the Castletown Estuary.

This moat was created in the reign of Edward 1V and financed by a royal grant 'to protect Dundalk from the Irish'.

This 'Trench' was filled in when the walls were extended in following centuries but part, in the Wrightson's Lane area, between Bachelors Walk and Yorke Street, survived into he middle of the 19th century.

The stream seems to be much older, as Canice O'Mahony writes in his book 'An Engineer Remembers' - 'Paul Gosling, in his researches into the topography of the Town, (for his book 'From Dundelca to Dundalk') concluded that an artificial water course along the route of the Rampart River was constructed in the later decades of the 16th century'.

Yet older maps of Dundalk indicate that there was a mill race or steam running along this route from much earlier that the middle of the 16th century.

It is refereed to as the 'Mill Race' which served an old water mill run by the monks based in the Franciscan monastery at Seatown.

The present stream may, however, have been deepened and widened to act as some sort of a defensive barrier, from attacks on the south -eastern side of the extended 'Upper End' of the town.

In this period Dundalk was the third largest enclosed town in Ireland, surpassed only by Drogheda and Kilkenny and larger than Dublin.

Interestingly, that part of the Rampart Stream at the bottom of River Lane, according to Canice O'Mahony, was used as a place where the women of that area would take their household clothes and other draperies to wash at a time before the Town became supplied with running water.

Why, however, do older Dundalk people still refer to it in the plural?

Was there originally two water courses or did the original mill stream not run along the present course?

The reason I ask this question is that I can recall that about 70 years ago there was a second body of water on the Marshes side of the Rampart walkway about where the telephone exchange building stands today.

There was also a shallow depression that may have held water between the Athletic Grounds on which Clark's shoe factories were built and the Tennis Club.

I had been told that this other body of water had been constructed to hold supplies in reserve for the Distillery in the event of a drought but I am not sure if this could be correct as I have seen no indication of such 'reservoirs' on survey maps of the period?

I have often wondered also why the stream takes such an abrupt turn, almost at a right angle, at the back of the St. Alphonsus Road houses. Could it have been that the old Mill Race took a different course at this point?

This idea came to me when the late Noel Ross once told me that there was a dispute over the Windmill property because the Mill Stream had originally run on the other side of the structure?

There are lots of other puzzles relating to the old Mill Stream, later to become known as The Rampart, but one thing which I am convinced of is that it is still very important to the Town of Dundalk and will continue to be so for many generations to come!

This stream just about equally divides the modern Municipal Area of Dundalk, both in area and in population. I may be completely wrong but I believe that I can detect cultural differences, and even speech variations, between those who live on either side of 'The Ramparts'!

I was born in the Demesne area but have lived most of my life in the Marshes --- but 'Who am I to judge?' What do my readers think?

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