This house is certainly part of the great heritage of Dublin’s rural pubs as there has been an inn and coach house here since the 1690’s. This was an inn that has long since echoed to the nostalgic sounds of harness bells and hoof beats as stage coaches and mail coaches came and went, and as dairy maids and ploughmen quench their great thirst and wiped their brows dry at the fall of the day.
For two centuries Sandyford House was a major port of call for travellers and revellers on route to Enniskerry as the main route passed though Dundrum and Sandyford. From 1803 onwards the Chatham Street to Enniskerry Mail Coach - a journey which took two hours to complete - stopped and deposited all mail for the region at the inn, which also served as the village post office for over 100 years.
The premises was in the ownership of the McFarlane family for in excess of 130 years who resided at their family mansion in Moreen. Most readers will recall the family because of their association with the liberator, Daniel O’Connell, and in particular with his grandson, Daniel O’Connell - Fitzsimons, who intermarried with the McFarlane family and for a time lived at Moreen. The O’Connell family enjoyed extensive brewing interests whose products were sold at Sandyford House in this era, although the young O’Connell and his wife resided for much of the year in London where they conducted a milling industry.
By far the most historically stimulating period of the inn’s long history occurred between 1888-1938, although from a turnover viewpoint, the premises may have faired substantially better in the coach house days.
By 1888 the inn was living somewhat in the shadows
of its former glory and the McFarlane family was
tiring of the day-to-day monotony of administrating a
rural and largely agricultural village pub. But an event
occurred at nearby Leopardstown on August 27th of
that year which brought multitudes
of well-dressed gentlemen and ladies to the area,
some riding in elegant horse drawn carriages and
coaches. It was the first Leopardstown race meeting
- an event which to this day has an intrinsic link
with the local village inn. The same association
with horseracing was to play a vital part in the
inn’s social history over the next twenty years.
In 1895 Rose Skehan, who ran the local lepordstown Mart, purchased Sandyford House from the McFarlane family for 500 pounds and appointed her sister, Catherine Mary Lindsay, and her husband, Albert Haine Lindsay, as caretakers of the inn. When Rose died intestate in 1899 the inevitable legal scramble for possession, never much separated for the centre of Irish life, ensued. The Lindsay’s retained possession but in the process borrowed heavily, factors which ultimately forced them to sell, ten years later in 1909, to D.P.Flavin and his new wife, Josephine.
It was a condition of the sale that of the 850 pound which D.P.Flavin paid for the house, only 150 pounds would go to the Lyndasys the remaining 690 pounds when to pay their debts.
During these years Sandyford House’s identity with the ‘Sports of Kings’, surfaced once again through the person of Richard -‘Boss’ Croker who had returned from America to build a mansion and a lavish training complex at Glencairn - current residence of the British Ambassador. Croker had acquired the term ‘Boss’ while ruler of the famed Tammany Hall Society in New York; an organization which had been founded in 1879 as a benevolent society for illiterate immigrants, but quickly became a corrupt power-base of the American Irish. ‘Boss’ Croker presided over its most notorious days, when protection money, extortion, blackmail and an unholy alliance with the Democratic Party was the order of business, and in the process accumulated millions for himself.
He was a frequent visitor at Sandyford House, and was
regarded as a man of the utmost generosity, never
neglecting to buy for the entire house. It must have
warmed the cockles of the Lindsay’s hearts and pockets,
and later the Flavins, when the chauffeur driven
flashy Packard V12, which he had imported from
America, pulled up on the gravel outside the door.
The turnover of the premises soared through the roof for weeks in June 1907 when his horse ‘Orby’ became the first ever Irish horse to win the Epsom Derby. In actual fact, the news of victory was transmitted by telegram directly to Sandyford House - the village post office. The area of Sandyford has always been inundated with spicy ghost stories and tales of the supernatural but on August 28th, 1911 the residents of the homely and sheltered valley must have felt that the end of the world had surely come. On that day there were unusual soundings and strange sightings seen in the sky. It was the first Leopardstown Air Show - an event that was later reasoned and discussed in huddled conspiracies in the snugs of DP. Flilavin’s.
From 1909 until his death in 1937, the masters of the house was DP. Flavin, who bottled his own whiskey - the house still retains some of this stock but the heroine of the show was undoubtedly his wife Josephine who was to enter the history of Dublin publore as the “Window Flavin”. When DP. passed away on December 27th 1937, probably as a result of how the Widow cooked the Christmas goose, one of the heroines of Dublin publore took centre stage. Henceforth the premises would be affectionately known as the “Widow Flavins”, although the name Sandyford House was always above the door.
The Widow is remembered as a wily, witty and charismatic woman who had numerous skirmishes, through never hostile, with the Gardi over her interpretation of the Bona Fide laws and sometimes with the regulars, who had became a little stroppy thought excesses of the ‘Widow’s Brew’.
In 1949 the premises was taken over by Michael
Walsh who had served his time in Humphrey's
of Moore Street. Michael had married the widows's
daughter, Joan, and set about modernizing the
historic inn. In the trade he was regarded as
an enterprising man. having pioneered film shows on
Sunday afternoons; and coin-operated optics. He
was also one of the first Dublin publicans to
introduce cooked chickens to the trade in the days of
Limited Restaurant Certificate”. This was the
successor to the Bona Fide laws which allowed
publicans to open later, as in Bona Fide days, by
offering food to the patrons. He was also the pioneer
of the coloured television in Dublin pubs - for this
many people never forgave him;
In addition to this he found time to work his 120 acres of green fertile land in Sandyford on which now stands The Sandyford Industrial estate. But it is as a successful horse trainer that many people will best remember him, on land which he has rented from the British embassy at Glencairn - former training yard of the ‘boss’ Croker. His most successful horse was the prolific winner Annabeg, who was responsible for many sore heads in the Sandyford area in the wake of her many triumphs. Michael capped off a distinguished career by becoming chairman of the L.V.A. (Licensed Vintners Association) in 1975.
In 1980 the family tradition was enhanced at Sandyford House when successful show jumper Myles Walsh took over the business previously, administered by his father and, before him, his grandmother - the Widow Flavin. Today, the pub is redolent of yesteryear: warm, convivial and chatty; you can enjoy an excellent carvery and cooked lunch. you can wander in on your way to or from the Leopardstown races, but be sure to leave before 12am, for strange sounds of horses are heard on the gravel and strange spirits are said to be abroad in the midnight mountain air.