According to P.W. Joyce, the name arises from Baile Breacain [sic], which literally means "Brecan's Town". Brecan is a common medieval first name and there are several other Brackenstowns in Ireland. There is also a possible link to the local Bracken River, in which case the name could derive from breicín, meaning "little trout".
Many locals however have traditionally felt that Baile Brigín means "Town of the Little Hills", due to the relatively low hills that surround the town.
The town's name could be derived from the word brecan, as the area was part of a Medieval kingdom known as Brega, populated by a tribe or clan known as the Bregii, and the aforementioned River Bracken.
There is no consensus about when the foundation of the town occurred, other than there may always have been a small settlement of fishermen, weavers and some sort of agricultural trade post.
An 18th century traveller described Balbriggan as "... a small village situated in a small glin [glen] where the sea forms a little harbour – it is reckoned safe and is sheltered by a good pier. The village is resorted to in Summer time by several genteel people for the benefit of bathing."
Balbriggan owes its rise from a small fishing village to a place of manufacturing and commercial importance to the local landowner and eminent judge George Hamilton, Baron of the Court of Exchequer (Ireland), who, in 1780, introduced cotton manufacture, for which he erected factories. He also greatly improved the harbour by building the pier, which was completed in 1763.
Lewis's Topographical Directory of Ireland, from 1837, refers to Balbriggan as follows:
According to Ware, a medieval annalist, a battle took place at Balbriggan on Whitsun-eve, 1329, between the combined forces of John de Bermingham, Earl of Louth (who had been elevated to the 'palatine dignity' of the county) and Richard, Lord of Malahide, and several of their kinsmen, and the forces of local rival families, the Verduns, Gernons and Savages, who were opposed to the elevation of the earl. In this event, the former, with 60 of their English followers, were killed.
William III camped here after the Battle of the Boyne, in July 1690.
Balbriggan was the location of the 19th century Smith's Stocking Mill, which made stockings as well as men's "Long-Johns" called Balbriggans. These are often mentioned in John Wayne films – 'he put his balbriggans on' – and both Queen Victoria and the Czarina of Russia also wore "Balbriggans". Balbriggan's strong textile connections also include the linen & cotton manufacturing of Charles Gallen & Company, who in 1870, purchased the existing weaving mill and associated facilities built by Baron Hamilton. The firm became famous as the finest linen weavers in Ireland and had custom all over the world. They were also suppliers of linens to the Vatican, Embassies of Ireland and the US, and fine hotels worldwide. The business continues today from another location as the old mill in the town centre has been redeveloped.
The assault on the village's population by the British Black and Tans based in the nearby Gormanston military barracks on 20 September 1920 was one of the more infamous acts of the Irish War of Independence. This event, known as the "Sack of Balbriggan", resulted in the destruction of 54 houses and a hosiery factory, and the looting of four public houses. The attack received much international attention due to Balbriggan's position close to foreign news correspondents in Dublin. A subsequent delegation from the United States pledged to rebuild thirty homes in the village and a local factory. Other deaths followed during the war, most noticeably those of Séamus Lawless and Sean Gibbons who were bayoneted to death by the British forces on 21 September 1920. A plaque on Bridge Street in the town commemorates their murder.
Location and access
Balbriggan is 32 km north of Dublin city, in the northern part of the traditional County Dublin. It lies on the Belfast–Dublin main line of the Irish rail network. Commuter rail services serve Balbriggan railway station, which opened on 25 May 1844 and closed for goods traffic on 2 December 1974. It is estimated that about 2,200 commuters use the station every working day.
The town is also located next to the M1 motorway (the section known as the Balbriggan Bypass), which was completed in 1998. Prior to this, the main Dublin-Belfast road went through the centre of the town, with major traffic congestion on a daily basis.
It is the most northerly town in Fingal (although the village of Balscadden lies further north within the county), and is situated close to Bettystown, Laytown (County Meath) and Drogheda (County Louth).
Balbriggan experienced a population boom in the early part of the 2000s as a result of the large demand for housing within the wider Dublin region. The population has increased as a result, with hundreds of new homes being built.
The River Bracken, also known as the Matt River, which flows through the town, once formed a lake known locally at "the Canal" or "Head"(of water). The water was sluiced through a canal and tunnels down to the Lower Mill where it turned a waterwheel to drive the cotton manufacturing machinery. The retaining wall of the reservoir collapsed in the 1960s and the area was reclaimed through land-fill in the early 1980s to create a public park.
On the northern edge of the town, the small Bremore River comes to the sea just beyond the Martello Tower.
The town is coastal and has a sandy beach. It was at one time a holiday destination for people from Dublin city.
Balbriggan is also the location of a Sunshine Home which aims to provide a holiday to underprivileged children from the Greater Dublin area. The home is operated by the Sunshine Fund, a unique branch of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul which provides week-long summer breaks for children aged 7 to 11 from disadvantaged parts of Dublin, Meath, Wicklow and Kildare. The purpose-built home has hosted these holidays since 1935, with over 100,000 young people having passed through their doors.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has located a passport production facility in Balbriggan. There is also a proposal to relocate the Drogheda International Seaport to the Bremore Port area to the north of the town. Local development bodies expect that the proposed Bremore Port and orbital motorway projects as well as the existing M1 motorway and Belfast – Dublin railway are major draws to prospective companies with large logistical sectors hoping to expand or set up in the Fingal area.
Balbriggan Town Hall served as home to Balbriggan Town Council until the council's dissolution in 2014.
Over the Easter 2008 weekend precast engineering company Techrete moved their production facility from Howth to Stephenstown Industrial Park with their head office set to follow.
Buildings of note
- Balbriggan Market House is a 5-bay two-storey building dating from 1811.
- Balbriggan Carnegie Free Library, built c.1905.
- National Irish Bank building, Drogheda Street, built c.1885.
- Balbriggan Court House, built c.1844.
- Balbriggan Railway Viaduct, built c.1843.
- Loreto Convent, built c.1905
- St. Peter and Paul's Church, built in 1842 (Gothic Revival style).
- St. Georges Church, built in 1813 (Gothic Revival style).
- Lighthouse, built in 1761 and listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) with reg. nr.11305017.
- Bremore Castle, built in 14th century and later deteriorated, it has been restored by the Parks Department of Fingal County Council and the Balbriggan and District Historical Society.
- Balbriggan also has a Martello Tower which was built by the British during the Napoleonic Wars.
In 2011, approximately 31% of the town's population is classified as being non-ethnic Irish, with about 12 per cent being of black background. The population of the town and its environs rose to a figure of almost 23,000 in 2015.
Balbriggan has a number of primary schools, including:
- St. Molaga's National School
- Ss. Peter and Paul National School
- St. Teresa's National School
- Gaelscoil Bhaile Brigín, an Irish-language school for 4–12-year olds, opened in 2006
- Bracken Educate Together National School, located near the Gaelscoil
- Balbriggan Educate Together National School, located in Moylaragh
- Scoil Chormaic Community National School, located in Moylaragh
- St. George's National School, a Church of Ireland school
The town is also served by two primary schools located nearby but outside the town proper:
- St. Benignus National School, Balscadden
- St. Oliver Plunkett's National School, Balrothery
There are five secondary schools in the town:
- Ardgillan Community College (opened 2009)
- Bremore Educate Together
- Loreto Secondary Balbriggan
- Balbriggan Community College.
- Coláiste Ghlór na Mara, an Irish-language secondary school.
Ardgillan Community College was closed abruptly in October 2018 after adverse fire safety findings. Problems were identified, and are being found, are other schools built by the same Dungannon-based company, Western Building Systems.
Fingal Adult Education Service Fingal Adult Education Service  offers numerous adult education courses both full and part-time.
Balbriggan and District AC is the local athletic club, with members starting at 6 years old in Little Athletes, and competing from 8 years old up to senior and masters level. The club is all-inclusive and has runners at every level.
O'Dwyers GAA is the local Gaelic Athletic Association club which was founded in 1918. The club operates a "skills camp" on a Saturday morning for five- to eight-year-olds, indoors during winter. The club plays football at U-8 (mixed), U-9 (mixed), U-10 (mixed), U11(mixed), U-12 (boys) and U-14 (boys). Girls football is played at U-13, U-14 and U-15. Hurling is catered for ages U-8 (mixed), U9 (mixed), U-10 (boys), U-12 (boys) and U-14 (boys). There is a juvenile camogie team, aimed at girls aged 10/12 years old. At adult level the club has one football team competing in AFL5 and the Dublin Intermediate Football Championship and one Junior hurling team (AHL9) and currently fields juvenile hurling and football teams from U-7 to U-18. There are two adult male football teams that play in AFL5 (Junior 1), AFL11N, a Junior Hurling team (AHL5) and a Div 2 Ladies Senior Team.
Balbriggan has five soccer clubs:
Formerly known as Clonard Celtic (founded 1982), this club amalgamated with another club in the area, Balscadden Blues, in the 1990s. Balbriggan F.C. now fields numerous under age teams from under 8s right up to under 18s. The three senior teams currently play in the Leinster Senior League and work has now been completed on their new clubhouse located in Bremore, Balbriggan.
Established in 1945, this club is the most successful in the town. Several past players have received international honours; both Anthony Guildea and Michael Reid were capped for Ireland at junior level. The club has 2 Senior teams playing in the Leinster Senior League and 16 schoolboy/girl teams playing in the NDSL Leagues. The main pitch and clubhouse are located at Market Green, the club also has a fully floodlit main pitch and a fully floodlit all-weather pitch.
Established in late 1999, this club is the newest and probably the smallest in the town. Players hail from Balbriggan, Stamullen, Naul, Drogheda, Skerries, Rush, Lusk and Swords. Currently it consists of a women's (since 2002) and a men's senior team only. The Ring Commons Sports Centre is the club's homeground.
A new and recently founded football club and is the newest club in Balbriggan and it only has a small number of teams.
Note: The last-named soccer club use the Ring Commons sports facilities, which include two soccer pitches, floodlit soccer training areas, an 18-hole Pitch and Putt course, and a rugby pitch, with plans underway to open a further number of full size soccer pitches. The clubhouse includes a large meeting hall, as well as offices, kitchen, changing rooms, toilets, showers and a fully licensed bar.
- Balrothery Balbriggan Tennis Club, a Tennis Ireland member club serving Balrothery, Balbriggan and surrounding areas.
Balbriggan Rugby Football Club  was founded in 1925. They currently field men's and women's teams. The men's team play in the Leinster League, Div.3 and Leinster North East Area League (McGee Cup). The women's team play in Division 2. They also field several underage teams from U7s through to U18s and U20s. The club started the 2007-08 season playing at the new club grounds outside of Balrothery, Co. Dublin next door to North County Cricket Club. The club plans further major developments which will see the building of a clubhouse, new pitches and training areas. On Friday 14 November 2008 the 500 Lux Flood Lighting system was turned on for the first time on the main pitch, soon to be followed by the second pitch. The third full-size sand-based all-weather pitch was opened during the 2009-10 season.
- Balbriggan Cricket Club
The cricket club's home ground is in the 'Town Park', beside the Catholic Church.
Balbriggan Golf Club is an 18-hole parkland golf course, about 30 km north of Dublin city, established in 1945, and redeveloped 2007–09.
Ringcommons Pitch & Putt club was established in 1998 with its own 18 hole pitch & putt course.
Balbriggan is a parish in the Fingal North deanery of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. The parish church is the Church of Ss. Peter and Paul, with Mass available in English and Polish. This church features two stained glass windows by Harry Clarke.
In the Church of Ireland structure, Balbriggan forms part of a combined parish with Balrothery and Balscadden. The parish church, on Church St., is dedicated to St. George.
There is a Baptist congregation that meets at premises on Hampton St.
Pentecostal congregations meet at premises on Dublin Street and Hampton Street.
References in literature
One of the main characters - vampire Cassidy - in Garth Ennis's seminal comic book series 'Preacher' has the fictional biography of being born in Balbriggan in 1900. While not fully established in the comic book series, Cassidy later most-likely became a vampire after being bitten by someone from Skerries.
People of note
- George Hamilton (1732-1793), politician, judge and local landowner, owner of Hampton Hall, who did much to improve the town and harbour of Balbriggan
- George Alexander Hamilton (1802-1871), MP, civil servant and local landowner, grandson of George Hamilton and like him a noted benefactor of the town
- Harry Reynolds (1874–1940), first Irishman to win the world championship in cycling
- Gertie Shields (1930-2015), founder of "Mothers against Drink Driving" and member of the town council
- Trevor Sargent (1960–present), former leader of the Green Party and Minister of State for Food and Horticulture