Bray Seafront Evening

Bray Sfront art

At the start of the 19th century, the recreational and romantic potential of the sea was just being discovered. Up till then, such benefits it gave were seen as limited to its harvest of food and its use as a transport route. Mostly it was regarded as an unpredictable menace; a source of storms, piracy and invasion. This is illustrated by the fate of Bray’s two Martello Towers, constructed in 1804 during the Napoleonic Wars. One, positioned at sea level  midway along the seafront, having fulfilled its original purpose was destroyed by storm some eighty years later. The other, atop a mound at the north end of the seafront, repelled Bonaparte but was occupiedin the 1990s by another diminutive general, Bono. It survived. 

Meanwhile, the Romantic era recognised other qualities of life by the seaside. esides health and wellbeing, the spiritual and aesthetic drama of seascape and shore would increasingly inhabit the human perspective.

Bray, remote and battered gatepost at the southern end of the Pale, attracted romantic and prosperous souls to its dramatic combination of mountain and coast. By the mid 19th century, the expanding town was being connected to the city of Dublin to the north by rail. The town’s population grew as did the seasonal tide of visitors. William Dargan, the railway entrepreneur, undertook the ambitious conversion of Bray into the ‘Brighton of Ireland’. Amongst his plans was the development of the seafront. The Esplanade, almost a mile in length, was laid out with a Promenade to the base of Bray Head. Constant flooding resulted in the construction of the sea wall, with the Promenade on top, in the 1890s. The Harbour was completed at the end of the century, separated from the Esplanade by Martello Terrace.

1 Martello Terrace features in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist. Joyce lived here as a child. Longtime resident, former Government Minister Liz McManus, reckons it may also have inspired the phrase found in Ulysses: the snot-green, scrotum tightening sea.

In this view we look south along the length of the Esplanade. The Harbour and Martello Terrace are behind us. A foursome heads out on, or continues, a night out. Just ahead, to the right, is the Silver Strand Amusements, formerly the Fun Palace, setting for my first Bray short story: Coda. To the left is the Sealife Centre, with the lights of Butler and Barry’s Bar and Grill. Further on, the bright lights glow and beckon revellers to the nightspots: The Martello, the Porterhouse and Jim Doyle’s. This is where stories begin, of sex and drink and rock n roll.

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Budapest-3

 

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The Danube cruise I’ve booked is a simple no frills trip, ideal for the solo traveller. We do get a shot of vodka, or soft drink for the more sombre. I elbow my way to the aft viewing deck. The soundtrack is good, with enough classic rock zest to enliven the night. We set off down the Danube through a city of light. Yes, I could have stayed on deck forever, float on a river forever and ever. I steeled myself against the unlikelihood of receiving another drink, bathing my eyes in the nocturnal lightshow. Palaces appear to float on air where Buda rises to the West. Bridges, ablaze with light, span the dark honeyed mirror of the river, from the heights of Buda to the flatter land of Pest, just as magically aglow with its swarming boulevards and towering domes. 

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We soon glide past an architectural highlight that tops and tails the tour.The Parliament Building is one of Budapest’s signature landmarks. A sublime confection of spires and facades gathered around an impressive central dome. It was designed by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl in the Neo gothic style. Completed in 1904, Stendl would never see his finished masterpiece; he went blind at the turn of the century and died in 1902. 

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After that, there’s still more spectacle, and a constant buzz of sublime delight suffuses the deck. It feels like a sightseeing tennis batch, head constantly swivelling to catch the next spectacle. We pass beneath the four main bridges: St. Margaret’s, Chain Bridge, Elizabeth and Liberty. And back again. Returning to our dock after an hour afloat, there was a firework display farther up the river, which somehow seemed less spectacular than it must have been.

I walk home by Bajcsy Zsilinszky Utca, much easier to pronounce than spell. It’s a long walk on a wide boulevard, terminating in Deak Ter. Saint Stephen’s Basilica is near my destination. Budapest’s twin landmark with the Parliament Buildings, the summits of each reaching the same height of 96metres .

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Saint Stephen refers to Hungary’s first king who ruled from the start of the second millennium until 1038. Stephen forged a unified kingdom in the Carpathian Basin that is regarded as the genesis of the modern state. His espousal of Christian doctrine and custom ensured his kingdom was acknowledged throughout Europe where paganism was in terminal decline. While anarchy followed his death, order was eventually restored and Stephen was elevated to sainthood. A cult arose around his relic: the Holy Dexter, or right hand. This has been around, to put it mildly, but after many centuries of sojourn at last came to rest in his eponymous Basilica in 1950. 

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I return to visit the Basilica in the hot glare of noon. The huge Neo-Classical building was begun in 1851 and took over fifty years to complete. It was designed by Miklos Ybl (1814-1891) who was the country’s leading architect, also the designer of the Hungarian State Opera House nearby on the grand avenue Andrassy Utca. The majesty of that particular building was denied me by the curse of scaffolding, to which I was particularly prone on this trip. 

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The Basilica awaited in all its sun-blasted glory. The facade is framed by two slender bell towers, with the dome towering impressively over all. This is accessible, either by lift or by stairs. After yesterdays exertions I take the lift, leaving me with a short few steps spiralling within the dome before bursting out into raging air at the cupola. Dizzying views from the top whiten my knuckles; it is the vertigo of paradise.

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Back on terra firma, I take some time to recover my nerves with a cool beer, or two. Budapest can be just as beautiful from the ground and I stroll aimlessly for a while, which is an essential pleasure in any city. Ever decreasing circles as I find myself back at base camp. The Jewish Quarter is just south of Karoly Utca, cramped and busy with plenty of informal bars. The Jewish community thrived here from the 19th century until the 1940s. Though decimated by Holocaust and Exodus, a small Jewish community survives. They can enjoy the legacy of happier times with the largest Synagogue  in Europe with room for over three thousand souls. Designed in Byzantine style by Ludwig Forster of Vienna in 1851, there is a Jewish museum onsite.

I don’t want to wait anymore

I’m tired of looking for answers

Take me to some place where

There’s music and there’s laughter

Budance

Darkness falls and the carnival is in full flight at Deak Ter. At the arcades off Karoly Utca, the beat pounds on. I’ve found my favourite bar, usually quiet, counter service where I perch at a barrel adrift from the river of life flowing past. They do Italian food here too, good for a light evening bite. Where the two main pedestrian thoroughfares meet, there’s an ad hoc dance floor, where tyro movers and shakers try out their latino steps and the panoply of Ballroom skills. It’s borderline chaos, sex with a smile, fun for all within its ambit, whether participant or passer through. Just watch me now, heel to heel and toe to toe, a few too many on board, just a few steps from home.    

I’ve woken up in a hotel room

My worries as big as the moon

Having no idea who or what or where I am

Show me my silver lining

First Aid Kit My/Silver Lining

Birdhouse With Blossoms

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I took a photo of the Birdhouse, garlanded in flowers, late last summer. You’ve seen the monochrome version, appropriate for the season that was in it. This is the finish I originally intended.

Reviewing the original photo, I noticed for the first time that my two canaries were both in it. Sadly, and weirdly, on completion of the painting there was only one. So, something of a paean to love. Were I to travel through and beyond the birdhouse, and keep on going, I would eventually come to the Canary Islands. It is the point of origin of these distinctive birds, though the name for the archipelago is taken from the Latin for dogs, the canine species.

 I have been to Tenerife and Lanzarote and the Portuguese island of Madeira. They seem somehow fabulous; fabled pinnacles of land in the immensity of the ocean. They are surely the seeds of such myths we fashion; of Atlantis and Tir n nOg and Hy Brasil. Yet, here I am in my own back yard, painting flowers and spinning yarns. Some of our more exotic destinations are right here.

Oh let me go, where the blue flowers grow!

(Where the Blue Flowers Go, by the Cujo Family, is an appropriate themesong for this voyage through Bray and beyond.)

Budapest – 2

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Day in Buda and a Night Cruise.

After a seriously long sleep, I have a late morning light breakfast on the balcony. Tuesday is to be a full day with extensive exploration of Buda and a river cruise. First though, a fraught walk to Chain Bridge, running into building works and having to walk back through dusty construction site in 25 degree heat ending up where I began back at Deak Ter. The plaza at Chain Bridge is also difficult to negotiate; but hey, what’s the rush?

Find path to Chain Bridge at last where I buy my Budapest Card off a garrulous student type. Cross the bridge amidst a throng of excited tourists. The Danube below swarms with traffic, and it’s blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue! Chain Bridge was built in 1849 and was the first bridge to link the cities of Buda and Pest, facilitating their unification. Two massive stone towers emphasise the sense of fortification and provide functional support for the suspension chains. The effect is formidable and beautiful, even more emphatic at night with its illumination.

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Grab a beer in a self service pavilion beside a tiny park and try to chillax. Not an easy feat in this city. After a queue, I take the funicular up to the castle. This attractive old world transport is a pleasant sidestep from the crowds, and fabulous views of Pest unfold as the wood and brass carriage soars towards the Castle. 

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Buda Castle is a complex of Baroque palaces including the National Gallery, the Palace itself, and the History Museum. There are spectacular views of the city from the terrace in front of the National Gallery. I have plenty of time to enjoy it as I settle in for a half hour queue.

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The Gallery has a visiting Frida Kahlo show, and very good it is too. Which is just as well as the Renaissance section was closed. A pity that the art of Budapest was not there for me. The Museum of Fine Arts in Pest had been completely closed for renovation for some years but was scheduled to reopen in late summer. But on the eve of departure I learned that its reopening had been further deferred. The National Gallery is a fine building and I enjoyed what art I did see, an interesting selection of national art from the 19th and 20th centuries.  

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Leaving the Gallery I head west to find the Matthias Fountain. This is named for the 15th Century King Matthias Corvinus who initiated major construction at the Castle. He was an early advocate of the Italian Renaissance, becoming a major patron of the arts and science in Hungary. He became something a folk hero amongst Hungarians, and was said to wander amongst the peasantry in disguise dispensing justice.

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City walls spread out from the Castle to embrace the ancient city of Buda. Looking east over the Danube gives the classic view of teeming Pest, most popularly enjoyed from the pretty Fisherman’s Bastion. The view from the western walls show an entirely different town from Pest.The walk along these ramparts is tree-lined and relaxed with lovely views of populated hills. Dog walkers, strollers, joggers and auld lads on benches (me included) give it an old village atmosphere. 

Lords Street (Uri Utca) is a long winding street of medieval buildings forming the spine of the old walled town. Orszaghaz Utca, running parallel, has a few hostelries and I stop for a meal and drink in one with a sun kissed terrace. Chicken and chips is even less exciting than it sounds, though I spend a pleasant hour in the falling sunshine. Old Buda is very quiet after the tourists depart. Thronged by day, it mellows after five. 

Budatower

The Church of St Mary Magdalene is at the end of Lords Street in Kapisztran Ter. Dating to the 13th century, it lies in ruins since WWII, but the impressive medieval tower still stands, ancient and adrift of the church that spawned it. Buda Tower, as it’s known, has one hundred and seventy steps to take you to the top. I climb it because it’s there and it takes some notional credit off my Budapest Card. Might have taken some days off my life too. In this heat after a busy day, I am reduced to a crawl to gain the summit. The lurching couple at the top seem oblivious to my arrival. As I collapse in a pool of sweat, they give a lively interpretation of The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, together all alone above the magic city. Hey, get a turret! 

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I exit the Old Town by Vienna Gate and the road falls steeply away below the walls. I meander through an urban residential area with little to detain me. Reaching the river near Bethany Square, the metropolis is abuzz again. Trams trundle along the waterfront. Beyond  on the Pest shore, the spectacular Parliament Buildings dominate. The square is busy, its most notable sight being the Baroque Church of St. Anne. I stop at a relaxed outdoor bar, where a local clientele relax over drinks and snacks. I hope to time things right for my Danube trip. It grows dark so time is tight. I grab a tram along the river to Saint Margaret’s Bridge.

Budanite

You’re my river running high

Run deep, run wild

The walk takes me across the tip of St. Margaret’s Island. The bridge is long; the river’s wide; I cannot swim over. It’s a longer walk up to the designated dock, and I’m practically the last on board. I get a spot on the aft deck and we set off promptly. It is one of the best river trips ever.

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I, I follow, I follow you

Deep sea baby, I follow you

I, I follow, I follow you

Dark doom honey, I follow you.

(I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li)

Budapest -1

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The Danube does look blue from the air, sinuous and sensual, the main artery of Central Europe. Down there, Budapest glistens in the morning sun, its dream-laden domes floating above a millennium of urban development. The Celts, the Romans, the Magyars and the Turks have all ruled. Today it is the capital of Hungary, a city of almost two million people.

With Budapest, you get two cities for the price of one. Buda, on the West Bank of the Danube, is hilly and ancient. The old town is well delineated around its hilltop fortress, a typically medieval town spilling down ancient, winding streets. Pest, on the eastern side, is built on flatter land. This is the Enlightenment power city of Empire; grand wide avenues lined with palaces, everything on a massive scale, the layout geometric and modern. It seethes with life, traffic, trams, pedestrians, cafe and bar society with an urban beat. The two parts merged as one city in 1873.

Budapest airport is hectic and dull in the early morning. Take a quick bus into the city centre. It’s cheap and direct, easier than I anticipated. Late August approaching noon, and it’s hot, hot, hot in the traffic miasma of Deak Ter. I have to kill a few hours before check-in. I put into an Irish Pub nestled under a high archway through tall modern blocks. It’s called Publin. The waitress is pleasant and keeps steins of local brew coming. Pint’s about €2.50.

IMG_3871This, I find later, marks the outskirts of Pest’s fun precinct which centres on a couple of extensive pedestrianised arcades, fitted within the city block west of Deak Ter and south of Karoly Utka, It consists entirely of eateries and drinkeries. There’s good life here after dark, though strictly modern.

Town Hall Apartments are on Karoly Street. This is a busy narrow street with shopping, fast food, convenience stores and the like. Stalled traffic, queues, passive smoking, hip hop, shouting and sirens are a feature. I quite like it. My room is at the back of the large apartment block, so it’s nice and quiet. The balcony enjoys, or suffers, permanent shade. I welcome it. There’s a pleasant urban garden beneath, otherwise I’m hemmed in by walls, some balconied, some plain. To one side a slit of sky is provided by an older three story block. Apartment towers rise to my right with balconies attractively lit at night.

Having attempted to crash, after one fitful doze, I reckon I might as well press on till midnight and make a full twenty four hours of it. I step into the sturm und drang of Karoly Utca and on to Deak Ter.

Buda Deak

Deak Ter is really two squares. Deak itself is a transport hub, to put it mildly. Bus, tram, train and car traffic converge with the junction of two mighty auto thoroughfares and all the attendant pedestrians you could imagine. Elizabeth Square is something of a continuation, heading towards the river, and provides similar recreational escape to a carnival. There’s a funfair with ferris wheel to calm a soul down, kiosks and snack bars and a strip of crowded parkland to lounge around in. I head towards Vaci Utca, a couple of blocks on. This is a pedestrianised zone but still abuzz with foot traffic. Vaci Utca itself, is a long and winding road heading eastward, somewhat the equivalent of Grafton Street, with more emphasis on the elegance of boulevardiers and cafe society. 

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Next, I make for the River and find myself twixt two bridges, Chain Bridge, the original bridge connecting Buda and Pest and Elizabeth Bridge, which, when built in 1903, was the longest suspension bridge in the world. A tramway runs along the riverfront and there’s something about the scale and energy of this setting, the impressive bridges connecting Pest with the hills and palaces of Buda across the mighty river, all suspended in the cocoon of evening, that imbues me with the certainty that I stand at the centre of Europe.

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Nearby, I put into the Panoramic riverfront restaurant where Anton is my genial host. I’m regaled by a band of Gypsy musicians as I sip a brew in the setting sun. The meal was Goulash, both tasty and generous, with melt in the mouth meat and potatoes of great taste, lemon and coriander, I’d guess. My Gypsy serenaders return. They have chosen to pester only me, leaving others unmolested, but I’m so moved, in truth probably tired and emotional, that I buy their cd; even accepting their insistence that they’ve run out of change for my proffered six grand, nearly 20e. Kinda loved it. In truth, I struggle to get rid of money in Budapest which is very cheap. I fork out forty euro or so for a Budapest pass card the following day, but possibly only mine three quarters the value of it on trams and towers. I feel Ive earned my sleep, certain it will come. First though, a navigation of the music channels and a glass or two of wine. Something plays which resembles a strange melange of Irish Rock, Hip Hop and House. A suitably mad mix for the city I’m in.

Budakaroly

So wake me up when it’s all over

when I’m wiser and I’m older

All this time I was finding myself

And I didn’t know I was lost.

(Avicii/Aloe Blacc)

Dublin’s Circular Roads – 12

Baggot Street to Grand Canal Docks

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The clock winds down. From eleven to twelve marks the last hour of the day, the last month of the year. It’s been a long day spent circling Dublin. It has taken about a year to write, often revisiting, refining the reflections harvested on that first sweep. I stroll the Grand Canal again between Luas Line and Dartline in that long Indian Summer just gone. Things change in a year. New buildings rise, old ones fall. The tallest building along the canal, Fitzwilton House, a thirteen story skeletal tower from the sixties, was demolished in October. Meanwhile, the eastern extreme of the canal sees taller buildings growing taller by the year.

A friend once lent me the quote: to the young man the city is old, but to the old man it is young. If I’m not quite the tattered man upon a stick, the rising city of stone and glass is gleamingly new. But the city is always organic: stone, steel and glass, flesh and blood, individual and somehow collective, creating and devouring itself in time. 

 I am the man walking in impossible slow motion through the surging river of commuters. The song I sing is both aching and exultant.

Look at me standing

Here on my own again

Up straight in the sunshine

And I need a friend, Oh, I need a friend

To make me happy

Not stand here on my own

No need to run and hide

It’s a wonderful, wonderful life

No need to hide and cry

It’s a wonderful, wonderful life

by Black (Colin Vearncombe)

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After Baggot Street bridge, the Canal enters a quiet stretch. The main thoroughfare has drifted away from the waterside, off towards Beggar’s Bush. Walkers, joggers and wading birds stroll the towpath, enjoying calm water and the shade of trees. Across the canal modern apartments and restaurants stand close to the waterside. Here, on the north bank, Georgian terraces line the road as far as the Pepper Canister Church. We view it from the back where it seems somehow remote from the city centre. Mount Street Upper flows quietly around the church’s island. As Mount Street Crescent it slips across a modest bridge to exit the city.

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Farther on, Mount Street Lower is a broad city thoroughfare of redbrick Georgian terraces. Broad and somewhat dour with a stern business profile. Modern offices line the route to Grand Canal Street. Beyond, the highrise South Docks is growing again after the hiatus of the economic crash of 2008. 

O commemorate me where there is water,

Canal water preferably, so stilly

Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother

commemorate me thus beautifully

Where by a lock Niagarously roars

The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence

Of mid July.

(Patrick Kavanagh)

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The towpath ends as the canal burrows into the once industrial docklands. To the right, the road heads into Dublin 4. High Temple of this fabled locale is the football stadium at Lansdowne Road. Revamped spectacularly at the turn of the century, it forms a giant glass cake to celebrate the new era. Its northern periphery bows respectfully to Havelock Square as citizens of this city of a million people don’t expect to be overshadowed by tall buildings. The effect is somehow quaint, incongruous as the old Mock-Tudor pitchside clubhouse swept away in the modernisations. 

The home of Irish Rugby is currently witnessing a golden age. My father took me to internationals back when pickings were slim, and players less so. They were the days of Tom Kiernan, Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride. Then there was that enigmatic all rounder, A.N. Other, who somehow could never make it onto the field, despite regular programme promises.

It is soccer’s adoptive home also, hosting internationals from the mid seventies replacing decrepit Dalymount. Nearby the docks gave birth to Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers. Shelbourne were formed in 1895 and originally played in Havelock Square now in the shadow of the stadium. In 1906 they became the first team outside of Ulster to win the Irish Cup, beating Belfast Celtic in the final. In 1921, during the War of Independence, Shelbourne were refused a home replay having drawn a cup match against Glentoran in Belfast. Along with Bohemians and St. James’s Gate they broke away to form the FAI. The associations have, almost uniquely in Irish sport, remained separate ever since. Neither Shelbourne nor Shamrock Rovers have lingered in these parts. Rovers followed the Dodder River to Tallaght via Milltown. Shelbourne moved North of the river, playing out of Tolka Park in Drumcondra.  

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We hang a left which brings us townwards. A few yards on is Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital. Patrick Dun was born in Scotland but lived his professional life in Ireland. He accompanied William of Orange to the Battle of the Boyne and was elected to the House of Commons in 1692. When he died in 1714, he left lands in trust to the Royal College of Physicians. The estate proved more prosperous than anticipated and by the end of the eighteenth century the College determined to start a teaching hospital. The hospital was founded and named in his honour a century later. Closing in the 1980s, it is now used for civil marriage ceremonies. A copy of the painting Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic Burton presides over couples being wed. Romantic perhaps, though the last embrace of Hellelil and Hildebrand is something of a cautionary tale of doomed love. The building was designed by Richard Morrison and completed in 1808, Its granite neo classical facade looking rather grand in the utilitarian environs of Grand Canal Street.

Across the road the Treasury Building is an impressive modern structure on the site of Boland’s Bakery, founded 1874. Boland’s was occupied by a group of rebels led by Eamon De Valera during the 1916 Rising. De Valera was captured and sentenced to death but thanks to his American birth and a global outcry over the previous fifteen executions, he dodged the bullet. Dev was president of the revolutionary parliament, the first Dail. When Fianna Fail secured a majority in the 1932 election, he assumed leadership of the country in a peaceful transition from Ireland’s first independent leader, WT Cosgrave. Architect Sam Stephenson, notorious and controversial modernist, designed a factory on the site in 1951. This in turn was rejigged as the Treasury Building twenty years ago, Stephenson’s skeletal frame clad in more glistening postmodern raiment. It recently housed NAMA, the Bad Bank, with Google poised to pounce.

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Becky Morgan’s is an attractive watering hole, its cheerful floral exterior a welcome relief from the dour environs; very much the oasis in the desert. The front porch is perfect for a pint and a lungful of robust city air. The pub faces down Macken Street, slicing through an industrial nineteenth century landscape to the city quays. Tall folk like us must crawl beneath the impossibly low railway bridge before the city emerges again in all its towering crystals. At Pearse Street, a right turn leads to Grand Canal Dock where Dublin’s most modern development is concentrated.

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These Docks were first developed in 1796 connecting the sea port with the inland waterways. By the middle of the nineteenth century the immense project had been superseded by the railways. Milling, baking and some other industry persisted, but by the middle of the twentieth century the area was largely derelict and poised for redevelopment in the 1980s. In its heydey, the area was Danteesque: mountains of black coal for the Dublin Gas Company, tar pits and scrap yards. Bottle factories, iron foundries and chemical factories pumping out fumes and noise. The Gasometer rose two hundred and fifty feet (82m) above the inferno, forming Dublin’s major landmark for sixty years from1934. It was constructed in Nazi Germany and stood at the junction of Macken Street and the quays.

This doomed dockland formed the gritty backdrop for many a 1980s rock video. U2 in particular, ensconced in their studios at Windmill Lane, slummed their way into a new rock chique. Regeneration began in earnest in 1990 with a major decontamination project on the old gasworks site. Today the name Silicon Docks has been applied, referring to the concentration of high tech companies such as Google and Facebook.

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Google occupy the Montevetro Building which at sixty seven metres is Dublin’s tallest building, for now. Its stripey spine nails the southeastern corner of the Dock. To stand on MacMahon Bridge is to stand on the cusp of time. The first bridge here was built in 1791 and known as the Brunswick Bascule. There have been five bridges in all, the first four being drawbridges of one sort or other. The current structure of 2007 is a handsome cantiliver fixed span bridge. Though fixed, I like to imagine it as a drawbridge, each raising like the blink of an eye. The concrete tower of Bolands Mills shimmers one afternoon and a glass tower rises from its own reflection to take its place. The Gasometer tilts and disappears, smoke funnels implode, the red gasometer is stripped to its skeleton to grow new flesh of glass apartments. Against a gale from Irishtown, I cup my hands to protect the flame, and looking up see the world rebuilt anew.

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I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad

I got sunshine in a bag

I’m useless but not for long

The future is coming on

(Gorillaz/Clint Eastwood)

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I hike the few yards to the foot of the Millenium Tower at Charlotte’s Quay, blow froth from a beer while Viking ships cruise mirthfully by. Tourists aboard the amphibian keep their eyes peeled lest Bono or the Edge take their smokebreak on the quayside. Meanwhile I preside, in poncho and sombrero, squint into the winter sun and exhale. Across the pond, the Bord Gais Theatre crystallises behind a plaza of neon pines. Designed by Daniel Liebeskind the theatre opened in 2010 and is Ireland’s largest with over two thousand fixed seats. It hosts top West End shows such as The Lion King, Miss Saigon and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. International and local music and dance also feature, most appropriately for this location the like of Swan Lake by the Russian State Ballet and those great Scots; The Waterboys.

The stars are alive and nights like these 

were born to be sanctified by you and me, 

lovers, thieves, fools and pretenders!

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Sneaking along the side of the Theatre, Misery Hill leads back to Macken Street and the end of our journey. The Beckett Bridge lies lyre-like across the Liffey, suggesting a million tunes to play. The circle is complete. Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of circulation back to where we began.

I sit down to write on the eve of my birthday. The end of November, the eleventh month, and the end of the eleventh hour. I was born at the top of Dublin’s premier street, O‘Connell Street, in Dublin’s first established maternity hospital, The Rotunda. The name is sympathetic, is it not? To that most essential condition, to our circular journey. And it was there, just before midnight, in front of a blazing turf fire, my mother gave birth to me. So the story goes.

Here I go out to sea again

The sunshine fills my hair

And dreams hang in the air.

No need to run and hide

It’s a wonderful, wonderful life

No need to hide and cry

It’s a wonderful, wonderful life

Bray Main Street

Bray Main Street

Bray, as a definite built location was established by the Normans under Richard de Clare (Strongbow) in 1169 on lands granted to Walter De Riddlesford. It guarded the fording point of the River Dargle where the town bridge now stands. The location marked the southern extent of the Pale, the area of Norman influence around Dublin. As such, Bray was a frontier fortress, sporadically attacked by native clans from the south: the Byrnes and O”Tooles. The castle was built on the high south bank of the river, but little remains beyond its vague footprint. Stone steps cut into the rock descending to the river are still visible. St Paul’s Church was established to the front of the fortification, the current building dating to 1609 is Bray’s oldest. The manorial village grew along Main Street heading south towards the Kilruddery estate of De Riddleford, now owned by the Earl of Meath, head of the Brabazon family.

This view of Bray looks south along the rising Main Street. The Town Hall at the far end is hidden by the bend in the road. The bridge is directly behind us with St Paul’s and the castle behind us to the right. The Royal Hotel, originally Quin’s, one of Ireland’s oldest rural inns and the courthouse of 1841 are just behind us to the left. Ahead, to the left at the traffic lights, Quinsboro Road leads down to the seafront. The white Art Deco building to the right was once the local office of Dublin Gas but is now vacant. On the left a few doors up, the fluorescent lights signal The Florentine, a pub once known as the Olde Bray Inn. And this is indeed the old centre of Bray, dating back to days long before the coming of the railway in the 1850s.

On this spot, almost eight hundred and fifty years ago, you would be leaving the relative security of Bray’s fortifications behind and heading into the untamed lands of the O”Byrnes of Cuala. You would now be “Beyond the Pale”. On a late Autumn night in 2018, I am heading home to my castle, just over a mile due south, near the brow of a hill where an ancient Celtic cross is planted. Sometimes you can blink and the accretions of history fade. Blink again and the security of neon and petrol return, familiar enough to embrace in the dark.