Norris Davidson

Ladies enjoying a game of croquet at Donard Demesne
Simon Curthoys
Norris Davidson
Simon Curthoys

Donard Demesne was the home for many years to the renowned documentary maker Norris Davidson.

Born in Dublin in 1908, James Norris Goddard Davidson, was the son of a barrister-at-law. We know him as the owner of Donard Demesne which he inherited from his maternal grandmother i.e. Goddard.  The Goddard family owned Donard Demesne for 400 years.  His father was from Northern Ireland. Travelling by tram from Terenure to Poulaphuca he visited the house often as a child and fell in love with it.  In Dublin, the family lived at Thornfield and later in Howth in a house which is now Sutton Park school.

Rowing for sport

As a young child he attended Alexander school and Earlsford House School in Dublin.  Like a lot of young boys of his class he was later educated away from home at boarding school and Norris was sent to Portora in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh.  He didn’t especially like Portora and said he was hopeless at sport.  Following his time there he attended Cambridge university to study English.  He was editor of the University paper and became a good friend of journalist Alistair Cooke.  While at university he found his sporting strength and became a keen rower and a Cambridge blue.  Cambridge Blue is the colour used by the senior university teams and must include a win against Oxford university.  This was a source of great pride to the young student.  After graduating, he moved to London and rowed for the London Rowing Club.

In London he began to learn the skills of film and radio documentaries.  He then returned to Dublin to work on a documentary for the Great Southern Railway.  With the outbreak of World War II, Norris joined the Irish Naval Services.

He joined Radio Eireann in 1947

After the war,  he joined Radio Eireann in 1947 as a screen writer.  He also began to present the annual Wexford Opera Festival for radio.   He produced radio documentaries about the Irish Mail Boat;  Ninette de Valois – an internationally known ballet dancer born at Baltyboys House near Blessington; and opera singer Margaret Burke Sheridan.

By 1961 he was head of the RTE screenwriting department.  In the 70s and 80s, he produced TV programme e.g. The Legend of Seals;  Irish waterways;  Lighthouses; the rebuilding of the Birr telescope and My Own Place.  The latter series had an episode dedicated to Donard.

Village Life

Norris loved living in the village of Donard and was involved in the production of a play by the local players and performed in the local school hall.  He also loved to be at home for Halloween to hand out treats to the local children.  He was a quiet, shy man who made his name being on radio and then at the other side of the camera.

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