THE NAME 'LA TOUCHE,' is instantly recognisable in the Greystones area and can also be found on place names throughout Wicklow and Ireland.
A La Touche Heritage area in the Greystones Library was officially opened last week by Cllr. George Jones, Chairman of the La Touche Legacy Committee.
'This is a very proud day for me,' said Cllr. Jones in his address.
'Since the formation of the committee in 1988 it was always the objective that we would have a permanent area to remember and pay tribute to the La Touche family for their contribution to development of Greystones and Delgany.'
In the 1950s a great house in Delgany, Bellevue, was torn down. The grand country seat was home to a long line of La Touches.
David Digues La Touche des Rompieres arrived in Ireland in the late 1600s, over 300 years previously, in the army of William of Orange.
He liked what he saw and stayed in Dublin where he set up as a successful fabric manufacturer before starting the La Touche Bank.
He speculated in property and grew wealthy, this banker and developer, but was known for being religious, humane, and generous to the poor.
He left the bank to his son David La Touche, who went on to build Bellevue in Delgany, between 1754-76 and at a cost of £30,000. The estate comprised 300 acres, with fine views across the Glen of the Downs and towards the sea. Beautiful gardens were laid out with winding paths and 'extras' built by David and his son,
Peter, when he inherited in 1785. Among these was the Octagon, built in 1766, with a panther on springs, which could be made to jump out at unwary visitors. The house was most famous for its huge glasshouse, built between 1783 and 1793, in which many exotic plants were grown.
Elizabeth, Peter's second wife, was famous as a hostess as well as for her charitable works in Delgany and in Dublin.
She opened an orphanage and school for female children in the grounds of Bellevue, and she supported the children until they were old enough to fend for themselves.
She was also the Chief Guardian of the Female Orphan House on the North Circular Road, Dublin.
It was she who persuaded the aged and infirm Dean Kirwan to preach at the annual Charity Sermon in St. Patrick's Church in 1801.
He feebly explained to the congregation that he was unable to preach, and promptly fainted. His listeners were so overcome that they donated over £1,100 for the orphans, a huge sum for the time.
In 1790 Peter acquired the lands of Upper and Lower Rathdown. It is on these lands that much of modern Greystones is situated.
He set about improving the houses and grounds at Bellevue and Luggala, sparing no expense to make these residences the ultimate in grandeur.
Luggala was his hunting lodge and holiday home set deep in the Wicklow Mountains.
Peter allowed Luggala to be used by 'respectable strangers, wherein the spirit of Irish hospitality, beds, and attendants are provided'.
This tradition of hospitality at Luggala extends to this day under the present owner The Hon. Garech Browne who is also President of the La Touche Legacy Association.
Peter was also known as a generous man. He built the new Christ Church at Delgany in 1789, and he ordered the LaTouche monument in memory of his father, sculpted by John Hickey.
He was active in many charitable activities in Dublin and Wicklow and was a founder member of the Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland.
When he died in 1828, at the age of 95, he directed that he should be buried in the new churchyard in Delgany 'with as little expense as decency will allow.'
An interesting clause in his will directed that whomever should inherit Bellevue in the future would have to reside in Ireland for at least six months each year
or forfeit the inheritance. Peter had no children by either of his marriages, so his nephew, Peter of Marley inherited, but he died two years later.
In 1806 he married Charlotte Maude and the marriage produced 14 children, of whom only one daughter, Eliza, and three sons, William Robert, Ashley and Octavius, married. His eldest son Peter David now inherited Bellevue.
During the famine years it was Peter David who sat on committees in the area endeavoring to alleviate distress. It was during Peter David's time also, in 1854-56, that the railway came to Greystones, the station being built where the La Touche adjoined the Whitshed estate.
With the building of Greystones, the La Touche estate became responsible for the laying out of roads, and they donated land and a sum of £1,500 towards the building of St. Patrick's Church in Greystones.
Peter David died in 1857, and his brother William Robert inherited Bellevue. He remained a director of the La Touche Bank until its closure in 1870.