Howth ( HOHTH; Irish: Binn Éadair, meaning 'Éadar's peak') is a village and outer suburb of Dublin, Ireland. The district as a whole occupies the greater part of the peninsula of Howth Head, which forms the northern boundary of Dublin Bay.
Howth has been settled since prehistoric times, and features in Irish mythology. A fishing village and small trading port from at least the 14th century, Howth has grown to become a busy and affluent suburb of Dublin, with a mix of suburban residential development, wild hillside and heathland, golf courses, cliff and coastal paths, a small quarry and a busy commercial fishing port. The only neighbouring district on land is Sutton. Howth is also home to one of the oldest occupied buildings in Ireland, Howth Castle.
Howth is located on the peninsula of Howth Head, which begins around 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) east-north-east of Dublin, on the north side of Dublin Bay. The village itself is located 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Dublin city centre (the ninth of a series of eighteenth century milestones from the Dublin General Post Office (GPO) is in the village itself), and spans most of the northern part of Howth Head, which was once an island but now is connected to the rest of Dublin via a narrow strip of land (tombolo) at Sutton. Howth is located in the administrative county of Fingal.
Howth is at the end of a regional road (R105) from Dublin and is one of the two northern termini of the DART suburban rail system. Dublin Bus also serves Howth with route 31 and its variants the 31a and 31b. Previously the 88 bus operated around Howth Head operating as a replacement for the Hill of Howth Tramway.
Howth, in addition to its fishery harbour, hosts a substantial marina, and a seasonal boat service to the uninhabited island of Ireland's Eye.
The Irish name for Howth is Binn Éadair, meaning Éadar's Peak or Hill. In Old Irish, the name is recorded as Etar, which was first plundered by the Vikings around 819. One of the possible origins of the Irish name is from Étar, wife of one of the five Fir Bolg chieftains who is reported to have died at Howth.
The name Howth is thought to be of Norse origin, perhaps being derived from the Old Norse Hǫfuð ("head" in English). Norse vikings colonised the eastern shores of Ireland and built the settlement of Dyflinn (one of two settlements which became Dublin) as a strategic base between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.
After Brian Ború, the High King of Ireland, defeated the Norse in 1014, many Norse fled to Howth to regroup and remained a force until their final defeat in Fingal in the middle of the 11th century. Howth still remained under the control of Irish and localised Norse forces until the invasion of Ireland by the Anglo-Normans in 1169.
Without the support of either the Irish or Scandinavian powers, Howth was isolated and fell to the Normans in 1177. One of the victorious Normans, Armoricus (or Almeric) Tristram, was granted much of the land between the village and Sutton. According to the historian Samuel Lewis:
In 1177, Sir Amorey Tristram and Sir John de Courcy landed here at the head of a large military force, and totally defeated the Danish inhabitants in a sanguinary battle at the bridge of Evora, over a mountain stream which falls into the sea near the Baily lighthouse. This victory secured to Sir Amorey the lordship of Howth, of which his descendants have continued in possession to the present day, under the name of St. Laurence, which Almaric, third baron, assumed in fulfilment of a vow previously to his victory over the Danes near Clontarf, in a battle fought on the festival of that saint. The territory of Howth was confirmed to Almaric de St. Laurence by King John....
Tristam built his first castle overlooking the harbour and the St. Lawrence link remained until 2019 (see Earl of Howth). The original title of Baron of Howth was granted to Almeric St. Lawrence by Henry II of England in 1181, for one Knight's fee.
Howth was a minor trading port from at least the 14th century, with both health and duty collection officials supervising from Dublin, although the harbour was not built until the early 19th century.
A popular tale concerns the clan leader and sometime pirate Gráinne O'Malley, who was rebuffed in 1576 while attempting a courtesy visit to Howth Castle, home of the Earl of Howth. In retaliation, she abducted the Earl's grandson and heir, and as ransom she exacted a promise that unanticipated guests would never be turned away again. She also made the Earl promise that the gates of Deer Park (the Earl's demesne) would never be closed to the public again, and the gates are still open to this day, and an extra place is set for unexpected guests during formal dinners in the dining room.
In the early 19th century, Howth was chosen as the location for the harbour for the mail packet (postal service) ship. Construction began in 1807. One of the arguments used against Howth by the advocates of Dún Laoghaire was that coaches might be raided in the badlands of Sutton (at the time Sutton was open countryside). However, due to silting, the harbour needed frequent dredging to accommodate the packet and the service was relocated to Dún Laoghaire in 1809, after £350,000 had been spent on Howth. George IV visited the harbour in August 1821.
On the 26 July 1914, 900 rifles were landed at Howth by Erskine Childers for the Irish Volunteers. Many were used against the British in the Easter Rising and in the subsequent Anglo-Irish War. Among the members of the Howth branches of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan who participated in this event were the well-known writers Padraic Colum and Mary Colum. Members of both the Howth Volunteers and Baldoyle section of the Irish Citizen Army participated in the Easter Rising in Dublin city and in Fingal. A strong local branch of Sinn Féin developed in the area and there was considerable local involvement in both the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War.
The harbour was radically rebuilt by the Office of Public Works in the late 20th century (a documentary was done on the much-delayed project in 1986), with distinct fishing and leisure areas formed, and the installation of a modern ice-making facility. A new lifeboat house was later constructed, and Howth is today home to units of both the RNLI (lifeboat service) and the Irish Coastguard.
In 2019, Howth Castle and its demesne, including Ireland’s Eye, were sold to Tetrarch Investment group, with an element of the site close to the demesne gate immediately sold on again for development, to Glenveagh Properties.
Howth Head is one of the dominant features of Dublin Bay, with a number of peaks, the highest of which is Black Linn. In one area, near Shielmartin, there is a small peat bog, the "Bog of the Frogs". The wilder parts of Howth can be accessed by a network of paths (many are rights of way) and much of the centre and east is protected as part of a Special Area of Conservation of 2.3 square kilometres (570 acres), as well as by a Special Amenity Area Order.
The peninsula has a number of small, fast-running streams, three of which run through the village, with more, including the Bloody Stream, in the adjacent Howth Demesne. The streams passing through the village are, from east to west, Coulcour Brook (falling to Balscadden Bay), Gray's Brook or the Boggeen Stream (falling to the eastern end of the harbour), and Offington Stream (passing under Findlater's to the western side of the harbour). Other streams are met along the cliff walks, including the Whitewater Brook, with a tributary in a sunken area of plants and ponds, and then the Balsaggart Stream.
The island of Ireland's Eye, part of the Special Area of Conservation, lies about a kilometre north of Howth harbour, with Lambay Island some 5 km further to the north. A Martello tower exists on each of these islands with another tower overlooking Howth harbour (opened as a visitor centre and Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio on 8 June 2001) and another tower at Red Rock, Sutton. These are part of a series of towers built around the coast of Ireland during the 19th century.
More than half of Howth Head, and of the Howth area, totalling around 1,500 acres, is subject to a Special Amenity Area Order, a provision of Irish law designed to protect areas of natural beauty or biodiversity. Prepared by the local authority, after a consultative process under a community environmental process known as SEMPA, and formally proposed by Brendan Howlin as a minister, the order was developed in cooperation with a unit of Trinity College Dublin. It was made in 1999, and confirmed in 2000, and is subject to 5-yearly reviews, the most recent having been conducted in 2015. At the time of its making the majority of the lands covered formed part of the Howth Estate, with the other significant landowners being developers Treasury Holdings (85 hectares) and Gerry Gannon (33 hectares), and Howth Golf Club (48 hectares). The Council stated that the order was needed to protect the environment of the designated area by restricting development there, while recognising the need "to encourage tourism-related developments in the remainder of Howth."
The SAAO area runs from the vicinity of Bottle Quay northeast to Muck Rock, east to the reservoir at Balkill, east and south around the Loughoreen Hills and Black Linn, then to the Summit, turning north along the line of the Coulcour Brook, then taking in a narrow part of Howth village, including the Martello Tower and East Pier, and Ireland's Eye. It also covers a network of over 20 km of designated footpaths and rights of way, and it was stated that "all existing scenic views and prospects from the entire length of public footpaths and roads in the area are to be protected."
Fingal County Council explained the need for the order, noting that between the 1940s and the present day "Howth has been transformed from a rural area to a suburban extension of Dublin city" and that its natural or "semi-natural" areas had shrunk from over 70% to around 40% of land area, while highly developed areas had risen from 14% to 30%.
As a semi-isolated area, Howth's flora and fauna have been studied in some detail, and a Flora of Howth, for example, was issued in 1887.
Howth Castle, and its estate, at least part of which is known as Deer Park, are key features of the area. On the grounds of Howth Castle lies a collapsed dolmen (portal tomb), known locally as Aideen's Grave. Corr Castle also previously formed part of the estate.
At the south-east corner of Howth Head, in the area known as Bail(e)y (historically, the Green Bayley) is the automated Baily Lighthouse, successor to previous aids to navigation, at least as far back as the late 17th century. At the end of the East Pier of Howth Harbour are the Howth Harbour Lighthouse, built in the 19th century and no longer in service, and the pole-mounted light which replaced it.
In Howth village are St. Mary's Church and its graveyard, overlooking the harbour. The earliest church on this site was built by Sitric, King of Dublin, in 1042. It was replaced around 1235 by a parish church, when that function was moved from the church on Ireland's Eye, and then, in the second, half of the 14th century, the present church was built. The building was modified in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the gables were raised, a bell-cote was built and a new porch and south door were added. The St. Lawrence family, of nearby Howth Castle, also modified the east end to act as a private chapel; inside is the tomb of Christopher St Lawrence, 2nd Baron Howth, who died in 1462, and his wife, Anna Plunkett of Ratoath.
Also of historic interest is a building known as The College or The Old College, on Abbey Street which was primarily constructed in the late 15th of early 16th century but also with earlier medieval elements.
Drumleck Castle on a promontory in the Censure area of Howth was formerly on the Record of Protected Structures but removed as there were no structural elements remaining above ground to warrant retention. Alternative protection remains under the National Monuments Acts 1930-2004, as a Record Monument RMP Ref No. DU019-007.
Howth remains an active centre of the fishing industry, one of Ireland's "tier 2" fishing ports, with some processing performed in the fishing harbour area, and some boat maintenance. There is a State Fisheries Centre, including an ice-making plant, and a dry dock.
The area is active commercially, with a range of retail and leisure outlets, including multiple restaurants and a post office, although the nearest supermarket is at Sutton Cross and the nearest filling station in Bayside. Howth forms part of the area of the Howth Sutton Baldoyle Chamber of Commerce.
Howth, having once held at least seven hotel, five still as of 1990, saw the last, the Deer Park Hotel, on the Howth Estate, close in April 2014, although the premises continued to trade as a bar, and base for the Deer Park golf courses and a 'FootGolf' course. The area has multiple bed-and-breakfast establishments, and Airbnb hosts. The nearest operational hotel, The Marine Hotel (formerly the Golfers Hotel and the Strand Hotel), is located at Sutton Cross, approximately 2.5 km from Howth harbour. Other hotels that have closed include The Howth Lodge Hotel (formerly the Claremont Hotel), The Baily Court Hotel (formerly The Royal Hotel), The Saint Lawrence Hotel, Sutton Castle Hotel (part of its grounds were located in a remote part of Howth), the Waverley Hotel on Kitestown Road (burned down in the 1960s) and the Asgard Hotel (formerly The Dalriada Hotel) on Balscadden Bay. The Asgard hotel was famously owned by Phil Lynott and operated by his mother Philomena Lynott when it burned down in 1982, later being replaced by apartments.
Large numbers of tourists visit Howth annually in order to avail of the views from the summit, to walk the piers, and to taste locally sourced seafood.
Howth is a common area for birdwatching and sailing, and is also popular with anglers. Fish like cod and ray can be caught from Howth's rocky shore marks. Sea mammals, such as seals, are common sights in and near the harbour. It used to be popular to feed the seals but authorities banned the practice for a variety of reasons. Birds seen regularly include razorbill, guillemot, fulmar, kittiwake, cormorant, stonechat, linnet, whitethroat, yellowhammer, skylark, wheatear, swallow, house martin, peregrine, buzzard and kestrel.
Howth is also a destination for cyclists, joggers and hill-walkers alike, particularly on weekends. One attraction is the six-kilometre long Cliff Path Loop. The loop walk takes about two hours to complete, is rated with an easy to moderate difficulty, and begins and ends at the Howth DART [Railway] Station. Another common walk is the original Cliff Walk to Red Rock in Sutton.
Howth was within County Dublin from the introduction of the shire structure by the Normans, and within North Dublin rural district from its creation under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. In 1918 Howth became a separate urban district with the consent of the Local Government Board for Ireland and despite the opposition of North Dublin rural district council. In 1942, it was transferred to Dublin county borough, with Dublin Corporation superseding the urban district council. In 1993, it was removed from the city and assigned to Fingal County Council, the successor north of the River Liffey to Dublin County Council.
Howth sits within the Dublin Bay North electoral constituency for Dáil elections, and the Dublin constituency for European elections.