The Dart Player of Temple Bar

Dart Player1

Dublin’s Temple Bar is a small enclave bordered by the Liffey, Westmoreland Street and Dame Street. The main drag is a cramped, erratic thoroughfare beginning at Fleet Street in the east, on into Temple Bar and finally as  Essex Street meeting Parliament Street at the western extreme.

Fleet Street, when I first knew it in the sixties, was where you got the bus. It was crammed with waiting busses and passengers, diesel fumes and cigarette smoke, steam rising from raincoats as the sun split the louring clouds. Too narrow and decrepit for its purpose, growing even more narrow as busses shimmied westward through Temple Bar, it was earmarked for development. A great bus terminal would arise to serve the metropolis, and this windy, cobbled backwater would be swallowed in the smog of time. 

Dublin was old and grey, even on a summer day and, like every generation before and since, it was my generation would blow the cobwebs away. Flower power was planted and the Dandelion sprouted by Stephen’s Green. The bees swarming into the hollowed core of the city causing such hives of activity as the Project Arts Centre. I snuck off school many’s the afternoon for the smell of patchouli oil and other exotic substances and a stroll around the Project gallery to gaze in awe at the creations of Fitzpatrick and Ballagh and others. 

The Project would migrate to the neglected quarter of Temple Bar in the early seventies. The Granary, just around the corner, was the early flowering of the Health Food Shop. Not far away was the Alchemist’s Head, a shop for all the comic book guys. In seventies Ireland, such flowers were weeds, but weeds will always proliferate. I used wander the cobbled streets, linger in the music shops, antique shops, the stamp collectors place on Fownes Street, in the shadow of the emerging hulk of Stephenson’s Central Bank, haunt the Project for plays by Sheridan and late night gigs.  

But Temple Bar was doomed, the spaceships of seventies commerce circling ominously. And then it all changed, changed utterly. The growing community of hippies and ne’er-do-wells somehow convinced our esteemed leader, Charles J Haughey, that there was merit in the madness of the crumbling slum. Thoughts of WAAMA no doubt, Flann O’Brien’s Writers, Artists, Actors and Musicians Association, might fit with the denizens, and Charlie was after all a patron of the arts. Thus, reprieve, and the Great Bus Station in the sky went off to orbit another planet. 

Temple Bar has been proposed as many things, principally as Dublin’s cultural quarter, its Left Bank. It is also the night life focus, the funzone for wining, dining and dancing till dawn. And it even has residents to participate or complain about the whole damned thing. Overpriced, overcrowded, noisy and hokey it might be, but it is also real, full of all the variety, quirk and charm you need in a city centre. 

I pass through when I can, hopefully stopping at a watering hole en route. The Palace at Fleet Street is my favourite. A rael olde Dublin pub, narrow, high ceilinged with darkened wood interior and a well established literary theme. It plays host to the Flann O’Brien festival on the first of April. Flann the Man, who also gave us Bloomsday.

Further in, there’s plenty of boozers and eateries. Take your pick. In this painting, I’ve chosen the Hard Rock Cafe, a good joint for burgers and beer, with a good rock soundtrack to boot, as you would expect. In this painting, I’ve paused between courses, or pints, to gaze out onto Fleet Street. There’s a tattoo parlour across the street, and the tattooist, between customers, is practicing his skills on a dart board. There’s something quite still and serene about that, I think, all going unnoticed in the midst of the madding crowd. I was thinking of calling it The Dart Player.

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One Night in Shankill

Shankill

Shankill is Dublin County’s southernmost town. It has a population of just over 14,000, most moving in over the last forty years around what was once a small village. The bridge at the north end of the Main Street (Dublin Road), crosses the defunct Harcourt Street Line, which closed in 1958. This was the original rail connection between Bray and Dublin in 1854. A little later, the coastal route pushed through to Dun Laoghaire and on to Westland Row. This is the surviving route, running all the way north to Belfast and south to Wexford. It provides the  Dartline electrified commuter rail service from Greystones to Howth and Malahide in North Dublin.  

Until the M11 bypass in 1991, Shankill lined the main road from Dublin to Bray. It’s still a busy route, but more pleasant with enhanced village life. Once past the village Main Street an avenue of trees forms a green tunnel from Woodbrook to Bray and the Wicklow border. The village trees are endangered by a recent public transport plan which, whatever its practical benefits, could have dire consequences for the visual amenity. 

For this painting, I’ve stopped on the southern carriageway of the Main Street, heading home from Dublin. Our Ford Focus seems blue in the glare of the green traffic lights behind me. Across the road the main glow of lights marks Brady’s Pub. In the dark is the Street Food outlet, best viewed by day with a lively sidewalk scene. Bernardo’s chipper is out of frame. A couple of pedestrians wander between pub and chipper. Decisions, decisions. A bus heads into the distance towards Bray. 

Walkinstown’s Musical Roads – 5

 

Shaneposter

A sting for the Alan Ladd western, Shane, from Jack Schaefer’s book, announced my pending arrival. Shane is Coming, Shane is coming, Shane is here! My mother claims this was a signal element in my Christening. My father opts for the more Nationalistically appropriate association with the rebel prince of Tyrone, Shane O’Neill. I will take both. They made a film of the fictional Shane of the Wild West, which I witnessed in the local cinema, an eery experience of identification and dismay at hearing my own name whispered hugely in the crowded, dark auditorium. I was being talked about and not being talked about. I was the hero in buckskins and the outlaw dressed in black. I was the star and I was dying at sunset. Nothing like seeing your life written large on a silver screen. Our metaphysical lives were being told beyond the aural dimensions of old. Images, from distant alien sources were painting new pictures for us. The picture house in question was at the far end of Bunting Road, central to the short stub of Harty Avenue.

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Bunting Road

There many venues in Dublin 12 in the fifties. Suburbs are suburbs and have long functioned as dormitories, particularly where, as with Walkinstown, there had been little or no village nucleus prior to development. There was the Moeran Hall and there was the cinema, the Apollo. Since Apollo is the Greek God of music, the name was wisely chosen. He was also leader of the Muses, and God of poetry and light. All one might require of a cinema, so. The Apollo hosted the occasional variety show with bird warblers, yodellers, hypnotists and the like. For the most part though it was Movies, Movies, Movies! The Saturday afternoon matinee was a riot of screaming kids, acting out every action scene on the way home; a swift torrent of noise flowing up Bunting Road towards the Scheme and Greenhills. All those magnificent films: The Searchers, The Magnificent Seven, The Longest Day, The Haunted House, a jumble of Westerns, World War Two drama and British farce. The cartoons kicked off with Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker, romantic interludes were lustfully whistled and booed, there were the folley-n-uppers, and action heroes of such sartorial elegance as Batman and Robin. Action scenes demanded audience participation which often developed independent of the silver screen.

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Harty Avenue, looking towards where the Apollo used to be.

Within the walls was mayhem. Willie the bouncer ran as tight a ship as was possible; a ship of riotous pirates all the same. Willie was The Man. In truth, he was no more than a few years older than us, a wiry youth who modelled himself on Elvis. Elvis had been a cinema usher too, back in Memphis in the early fifties, with long sideburns and oiled back hair. Not a redhead like Willie. Willie did have the occasional horde of girl screamers though. Much famed for breaking up a fight in the girls toilet, his intrusion provoking an exodus of screaming pre teens. In the retelling, his name didn’t prove too helpful to his cause.

More mature fare beckoned as we turned into teenagers towards the later sixties. The Apollo was moving towards the light. There was the weirdly perverse 2001 – A Space Odyssey with its booming opening of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, and that  incongruous cosmic dance to Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube. I remember darkening stubble on my upper lip to bluff my way into the Graduate. Then there was Woodstock. I was fourteen or fifteen when the film came to the Apollo. Already, the cordite scented Rock of the late sixties had entered our blood. Our big brothers and sisters had Beatlemania, and the Rolling Stones. The Monkees were our teenybopper treat. Then came Flower Power and Freaks, free festivals of music and love. Drugs were a few steps down the road. These happy, hairy people were powered by more than a cup of Irel and a bottle of stout. They weren’t passing around Woodbines. But, the music was the message, after all.

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Henry McCullough

The only Irish performer at Woodstock was Henry McCullough, guitarist with Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. Cocker was a mover and shaker, literally, in the British Blues Boom. Always a fiery performer, he was renowned for his throaty voice and his unique, spastic air guitar. At Woodstock, he performed the Beatles’ I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends.

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,

I will try not to sing out of key.

I get by with a little help from my friends!

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Alvin Lee with his iconic guitar Big Red.

Another Blues Boom light, Alvin Lee of Ten Years After actually had a guitar. In the nighttime climax of the movie, Lee launched into the frenetic finale, I’m Going Home, a headbanging celebration and a trip down the memory lane of good old time Rock n Roll. And then a divine spirit materialised from the Purple Haze to play us out. Jimi Hendrix coaxed magic from his upside down guitar. Excuse me while I kiss the sky! This was a different planet altogether.

All those kids screaming their way home from the Matinee in the fifties were playing Batman or Cowboys ’n’ Indians in their heads; ten years later they were playing air guitar a la Joe Cocker, reliving the solos of Lee and Jimi Hendrix, dreaming of Rock Stars and the seductive release of sound and substance.

For years thereafter, passing down the gloom of Walkinstown Avenue, a regular tableau unfolded. With smog softening buildingd and streetlights, cloaking loitering figures in dangerous mystique, young men walked meaningfully, guitar cases slung across shoulders or held by the handle; Prohibition Era gangsters making for a hit.

The Musical Roads did not, so far as I know, yield more fledgling musicians or music stars than other more prosaically named estates. Amongst my classmates were a Frank(ie) Vaughan, and a John Lennon. Others included traditional musicians Eamon Lane and Sean O’Connell. Dublin 12 has produced an interesting spectrum of talented musicians. Fifties opera singer Dermot Troy, singer of modern folk, Rita Connolly, and that most musical ghost, our very own shadow of Jimi Hendrix, Philip Lynott. I wonder will he merit a road in his capital being named for him anytime soon. I don’t see why not.

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Statue of Phil Lynott outside Bruxelles in Dublin.

In the later forties

When Diddy Levine lived with Eunice King,

He gave her the ring that she wore.

See Philip Parris Lynott, caught improbably in a sepia snap, walking the streets of Crumlin where he came to live as a child, in the fifties. All those genes jiggling there, just bursting to get out, and delivering something that is eternally the black man’s Blues, and quintessentially Irish too.

Inheritance you see,

Runs through every family,

Who is to say what is to be,

Is any better.

Over and over it goes,

The good winds and the bad winds blow,

Over and over, over and over and over …

Thin Lizzy lit a fire for a generation of Dubliners. As Beat merged with Blues Boom, a new strand of Rock was forming, merging American roots with localised experience. Kids in Dublin’s suburbs in the sixties were well in tune with this. Frank Murray, who grew up on Crotty Avenue, was one, becoming an important contributor to Dublin’s river of sound. Late in the sixties he saw a group called the Black Eagles play the Moeran Hall. Lead Eagle was Phil Lynott. They became friends and Murray went on to manage Thin Lizzy and, later the Pogues. Murray was a main mover behind the recording of Fairytale of New York, that perennial Christmas favourite from the Pogues and Kirsty McCall.

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Frank Murray (right) with friend Declan Collinge on Crotty Avenue.

Christmas in Walkinstown is depicted in Youtube video: The Apollo Gang. Here Murray and friends ham it up, Beatles style, on a snowblown day in 1965 on Harty Avenue, to the refrain of the Animals’s House of the Rising Sun. This song must find a soft spot in the hearts of Walkinstown gangs. Our own crowd, hanging around the Cross, also used it, amending the lyrics to suit. There is a house in Walkinstown … to begin with, and becoming more unprintable thereafter. Yes, it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy, and (thank) God, I know I’m one.

Walkinstown’s Musical Roads – 4

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Walkinstown Library

Go far enough east along Cromwellsfort Road and you reach Crumlin. At the junction, the Submarine Bar was seen as Walkinstown’s last outpost, though Crumlin and Kimmage might have said the same. Now defunct, I’ve slurped from silver cups there, the Sam Maguire and the League of Ireland trophy, courtesy of schoolfriends Kevin Moran and Gerry Ryan, of Dubs and Bohemians fame. The road name derives from Oliver Cromwell, who stalked the area between here and Drimnagh Castle back in the mid seventeenth century. Before gaining the art deco joys of the crossroads, one last turn at Moeran Road leads back to the Melodies.

First thing you see is Walkinstown Library, giving its name to this subsection of the area. Lured in by the music, you stay for the words. Situated on a green island on Percy French Road, the library opened in 1961. A third of the stock and premises was devoted to children. My first attempt to borrow was a giant atlas, which I horsed to the desk like a surfer hitting the wave. The librarian kindly, but firmly, pointed out the tag For Reference Only, explaining I could not take it home. Well, feck that for a game of cowboys, I thought. I would, in time, borrow many books, mostly a diet of Blyton, Biggles and Bunter, the very British fare available to children then. Richer veins of storytelling followed, according to the prompts of siblings and peers, teachers, parents or simply whims. From Emily Bronte to Kurt Vonnegut, and a fair few manifestations of Brian O’Nolan, I’d keep on keeping on. One group of stories, set in song, was already well established in my soul, the writer’s name graces the road on which the library stands.

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Percy French in Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan.

If Moore was seen as the Bard of Ireland, Percy French was more for the plain people. Born in Roscommon in1854, he studied at Trinity College and it was there that he wrote his first major song: Abdulla Bulbul Amir, for a men only event called a smoking concert. Ah, those were the days! As many an artist has found, a work sold cheaply is as good as stolen and French was long denied credit for the song. 

RTE were fond of spinning Brendan O’Dowda’s album of Percy French favourites and Abdulla was a standout for me. For some reason I sided with the Russian, Ivan Stravinsky Stravar. It is he who strode arrogantly into town to tread on the toe of his foe and ignite a colourful duel; although the tale ends tragically for both. A cautionary tale on the excesses of male pride.

They fought all that night neath the pale yellow moon,

The din it was heard from afar,

And great multitudes came, so great was the fame

Of Abdul and Ivan Skivar.

French was in his thirties before going full time as writer and entertainer. His songs, often comic and with a twist of satire were easily taken to heart by the public, but there is a solid and genuine core to his work also. He captures universal human qualities, all the fun and foibles, giving us more than just a picture of a bygone age. He is at his best in the Mountains of Mourne, where there is something of a sadness, and certainly a beauty, in the simplicity of the emigrant’s view of an alien world, and the deep longing for the simpler land, and fairer lass, he’s left behind.

Oh Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight

With the people here working by day and by night,

They don’t sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat

But there’s gangs of them digging for gold in the street.

The narrator keeps a promise to his girl back home, informing her of the latest fashions in London. Perhaps he notices the beauty of the girls a bit much, to begin with. The beautiful shapes nature never designed, their lovely complexions “all roses and cream”. But then:

If of those roses you ventured to sip,

The colour might all come away on your lip.

So I’ll wait for the wild rose that’s waiting for me,

Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. 

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Errigal Road, Drimnagh

Drimnagh, with its roads named for mountains, pays tribute to the Mournes. Moeran Road, meanwhile, is named for Ernest Moeran who was London born, though his father was Irish. This connection led him to Ireland in the 1930s. He settled in Kenmare, County Kerry, finding the landscape there a profound influence on his music until his untimely death in 1950, as building continued on the Musical Estate. The Moeran Hall, on the Crumlin Walkinstown border, became the main venue for dances and gigs as the youth population boomed in the sixties. Amongst the talents that burned brightly, if briefly there, were local band The Black Eagles, fronted by a certain Philip Lynott. More of that anon.

Where Balfe Road ends, a meandering road takes up the journey east. Viewed from the air it vaguely resembles a lute, and is named for John Dowland, top lutenist in Shakespearean days. Dowland’s place of birth is unknown, but it was probably Ireland. He dedicates his work From Silent Night to “My loving countryman Mr John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin, Ireland.” Dalkey has been claimed, though it’s disputed.

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Colliemore Harbour, Dalkey

He studied in Paris from 1580 where he converted to Roman Catholicism, which may have been a factor in him being passed over at Elizabeth’s court. He took his talent elsewhere, travelling in Germany and Italy to great acclaim. He was dubbed the English Orpheus. In 1598 he gained a position as lutenist to the Danish Court of King Christian IV for a fabulous salary. Dowland may have dabbled in espionage. He was tapped up by English Catholics plotting to overthrow the Protestant Elizabeth. Accusations of his spying for the papacy were denied. He wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, the Secretary of State, pledging loyalty to Queen Bess. 

He was a friend and contemporary of Shakespeare, and it is inferred that his knowledge of the Danish Court was used by the Bard in Hamlet. Christian was notoriously fond of the sauce, and at Shakespeare’s Elsinore, the gloom laden prince opines of the courtier’s tendency to “keep wassail”. Some have even found an eerie similarity between Colliemore and Elsinore as described in the play. I’m taken with the giddy scenario of Will setting sail for Colliemore Harbour, there to team up with his good mate John to trade gossip and sink some Carlsberg down at the Queens. In truth, it’s more likely they met in London, where Dowland lived from 1606 having been dismissed by Christian. Then, as with Shakespeare, he gained favour at the court of King James I (James VI of Scotland).

As a formative influence on the guitar, Dowland’s lute playing and compositions have been revived by such as Julian Bream and Sting. Sting’s Songs from the Labyrinth gives a good account of the music of the man, exquisitely lachrymose for the most part, but also of great energy and wit. Sting cites him as the first example of the archetype of the alienated singer songwriter. You might also say Dowland was the first guitar hero, a rock star who left Dalkey to seek fame and fortune, the reverse of the current procedure. There’s a plaque by Sarah Purser at Sorrento Park, at the very edge of my map of Dublin. It has been defaced, further deepening the mystery. But in Dalkey and Walkinstown, this great musician’s name lives on.

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John Dowland, by Sarah Purser

Flow My Tears was his most famous piece, evoking the bittersweet gloom of the exile. There is perhaps a pre echo of the Beatles, Blackbird, in mood and lyric. 

Flow my tears, fall from your springs,

Exiled forever let me mourn,

Where nights blackbird her sad infamy sings,

There let me live forlorn.

He died in 1626 and is buried in London. 

Walkinstown’s Musical Roads – 3

Castle Horse

Drimnagh Castle CBS  on the Long Mile Rd.

Home is where the heart is. Home is the streets and fields where we played. Out there in the newly named suburban segment of Dublin 12, it was mostly tar and cement. We could make out the gentle curves of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains way down south past Tallaght, but the idyllic scenery and rollicking country fairs singing from our street signs were more our parents baggage then our own. 

I was born in 1955, in the first flowering of rock and roll. Bill Haley and His Comets had charted with Rock Around the Clock. Elvis was putting the finishing touches to Heartbreak Hotel. Carl Perkins was lacing up his Blue Suede Shoes. It was all very distant from Walkinstown’s Musical Roads. The popular opera of our musical patron saints held sway. 

John McCormack, born in Athlone in 1884, still loomed large in the public consciousness. He was regarded as the Voice of Ireland over the first few decades of the state. He moved from a singer in the Italian Classical tradition to plant a foot in the Irish folk tradition, becoming a peerless interpreter of Moore and French. This was the soundtrack of our youth, as the mortar in the Melodies dried, and the trees first blossomed and sang.

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Statue of McCormack in the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin.

Perhaps McCormack’s wilful folksiness tarnished his reputation as a classical vocalist, but it fuelled his popularity. And the great artist is as much personality and fame as it is quality and depth.His extraordinary voice and charisma earned him a career as a top selling recording artist and international concert performer. He became a naturalised American citizen in 1917. His success funded a rich lifestyle and he had extensive property in the US, Britain and Ireland. In 1928, in recognition of his charitable work, he was awarded a Papal title by Pope Pius XI. Thus he’s often styled Count John McCormack. His repertoire was well larded with religiosity too. He sang Panis Angelicus at the Eucharistic Congress of 1932 for an estimated half a million people. His last big gig was at the Royal Albert Hall in 1938, though he toured and recorded over the next five years in support of the Allied war effort. Finally retiring to a house in Booterstown, looking out on Dublin Bay, he died in 1945.

His avenue runs parallel to Bunting Road. Running north from a cul de sac, it merges with Balfe Avenue and then into Balfe Road East skirting Crumlin’s border. There are two right turns off John McCormack. The first, Crotty Avenue, is named for Elizabeth Crotty (1885-1960) who is the only woman commemorated. She was an Irish traditional musician from County Clare. Born Elizabeth Markham, she married Miko Crotty and established Crotty’s Pub in Kilrush. Her instrument was the concertina and she achieved some national fame through the programmes of Ciaran MacMathuna on RTE from 1951. This was a couple of years after building commenced on the Walkinstown estate, so she must have been a late addition.

The second is Esposito Road, most exotic sounding of the Musical Roads. Surely the sound of the Samba, of Latin Jazz, must permeate the bricks here, dangerous gauchos posing in the laneways. Well, not quite. Michele Esposito was an Italian composer and pianist who spent much of his life in Ireland, regenerating the neglected classical music system. Esposito founded and directed the Dublin Orchestral Society and was Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, dominating the musical landscape from his arrival in 1882 until his death in 1929. His career overlapped with the great resurgence of Irish culture and Nationalism. In 1902 he scored the opera, the Tinker and the Fairy, from Douglas Hyde’s play, evoking a mythical Ireland emerging from the Celtic Twilight.

This little warren of roads also includes Bigger Road, O’Dwyer Road and O’Brien Road.

Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926) was born in County Antrim, the seventh son of a seventh son. He was a lawyer, antiquarian and Irish language revivalist, imbued with rural, De Valeran ideals. A big wheel in the Irish Cultural Revival, Bigger was a mentor of Herbert Hughes in the compilation of Songs of Uladh and Irish Country Songs. Living the life of a colourful laird, Bigger renovated Jordan’s Tower in County Down, which he renamed Castle Shane. This was in honour of Shane O’Neill, a troublesome Earl of Tyrone in Elizabeth’s reign. Shane occupied the fortress in 1565 in a complicated struggle with the MacDonnells of Scotland and the English. Dubbed Shane the Proud, by his detractors initially, though the name stuck with a positive association, he found himself locked in rebellion against the English and ended up with his head on a spike outside Dublin Castle in 1567. This fact filled everyone in my history class with glee at my expense. Perhaps then I decided to dispense with the O’Neill in my name, and become simply Shane Harrison. Meanwhile, Bigger, no musician, got a road named for him in Walkinstown’s Melodies.

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Shane O’Neill Harrison poses as a Laird

Robert O’Dwyer (1862 – 1949), born to Irish parents in Bristol, moved to Dublin in 1897. He taught music at the Royal University of Ireland, a precursor of the National University and conducted the Gaelic League choir. With the spirit of the times, he turned towards Irish Nationalism which found voice in his composition. His three act opera, Eithne, was published in 1909, and vies for consideration as the first Irish language opera. Muirgheas by Thomas O’Brien Butler was a couple of years earlier, as was Esposito’s and Hyde’s the Tinker and the Fairy, though these were first performed in English. 

Vincent O’Brien (1871-1948) was born in Dublin and gave his first piano recital in 1885. Shortly afterwards, he became organist in Rathmines Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners before graduating to the Pro Cathedral in Marlborough Street. He initiated the Cecilian Movement in reaction to Enlightenment philosophy and founded the Palestrina Choir in 1898. Such devout Catholicism made him an obvious choice as musical director for the Eucharistic Congress of 1932. He was the first musical director of Radio Eireann, holding the office until 1941. His influence transcended narrow religious affiliation. He was a vocal coach for John McCormack, Margaret Burke Sheridan and James Joyce. The first two would achieve great fame with their singing voice, the third would infuse world art with an altogether different type of voice. Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses unite song and story in a way that effected a transformation of literature. 

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James Joyce – Writer as Revolutionary

What would Vincent O’Brien make of it all? Perhaps he was misguided by Flann O’Brien’s fabulous assertion in the Dalkey Archive, that Joyce lived on happily in hiding, repairing semmets for the Jesuits in anticipation of their favour. But if he looked up from his road, he would see Walkinstown Library loom, repository of books and all the dangerous ideas they hold.

Walkinstown’s Musical Roads – 2

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The Halfway House, Walkinstown Road.

The physical parameters of Walkinstown are not obvious to the lazy eye. But there are signals in the architecture, in the subliminal landscape, and in the nomenclature. At the southern slopes of Drimnagh, the main road crosses the Walkinstown Water and takes its name. Walkinstown Road neatly bisects the area with the private housing to the east and the local authority scheme occupying most of the west. These are known respectively as the Melodies, or Musical Roads, and the Scheme. 

Walkinstown takes its name from a 15th century farmer, Wilkins. Wilkinstown House became established as the local manor and a small village grew around it. The village disappeared during the Famine. The nineteenth century Wilkinstown House lasted over a century before being demolished for a supermarket in 1971.

In the later forties, work began on Walkinstown’s musical estate.. On the far bank of the stream that once defined the village, the back windows of a crescent of houses for long overlooked the paddocks of Wilkinstown House, and open countryside to the Norman tower of Drimnagh Castle beyond. The environs are now subsumed in Dublin’s suburban sprawl. The terrace lies to the west of Thomas Moore Road and is called Hardenbeck Avenue. Carl Hardebeck is one of a handful of foreign born artists honoured in the Melodies. He lost his sight while still a baby, but immersed himself in the river of sound. Born in London in 1869 of German/Welsh parentage, he ultimately came to claim his devotion to “God, Beethoven and Patrick Pearse” and was much honoured as a Nationalist on his death in 1945. 

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Drimnagh Castle

The Musical Estate is entered nearby, where the main road crosses the stream. Balfe Road, in its own sweet way, forms the northern boundary of the estate. From its western extreme it runs uphill as far as Bunting Road, stopping where Mooney’s Field is now a green park. Beyond this expanse, Balfe Avenue takes up the journey east before Balfe Road East draws the border with Crumlin.

Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) was born in Dublin, son of a violinist and dancing master. He was sixteen when his father died and the following year he took his precocious musical talent to London. He was a violinist for the orchestra of the Theatre Royal but decided to become an opera singer and travelled to Italy for tuition in 1825. Ten years later he returned to London and quickly achieved success as a composer. One of his first operas as a composer was Falstaff in 1838, adapting Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. In 1843 he wrote The Bohemian Girl based on a Cervantes story, La Gitanella.

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Teatro Cervantes, Malaga

La Gitanella tells of a fifteen year old gypsy girl, Preciosa, who captures the heart of a nobleman, Don Juan, but to marry her he must spend two years as a gypsy. The story examines the nature of stereotypes, truth and lies. The twist in the tale is that Preciosa had been kidnapped by the gypsies as a child. 

Balfe’s version, with libretto by Alfred Bunn, is rather more melodramatic. It was hugely successful at the time and remains his best known work, in particular the Aria I dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls. Here Arlene, the gypsy girl of the title, recalls her almost forgotten earlier life.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls

With vassals and serfs at my side

And of all who assembled within those walls

That I was the hope and the pride.

The song resonates in Irish music and literature. James Joyce namechecks it twice in Dubliners, in Clay and Eveline, and it also features in Finnegans Wake. It has been performed by Enya, Celtic Woman and Sinead O’Connor.

Balfe died in 1870 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace.

First left off Balfe Road is Hughes Road, forming a regular promontory up in Walkinstown’s north. It brackets Field Avenue, the one street in the capital named for John Field. Herbert Hughes (1882-1937) was born in Belfast and studied with Stanford in the Royal College of  Music, London. He was a music critic for the Daily Telegraphs, but is best known as an arranger and collector of traditional folksongs. With the support of Francis Joseph Bigger, he published Songs of Uladh in 1904. From 1909, his four collections of Irish Country Songs were written in collaboration with poets WB Yeats, Padraic Colum and Joseph Campbell, including such Irish folk classics as She Moved Through the Fair and Down By the Salley Gardens.

She Moved Through the Fair has a haunting melody that seems to chime with every age. The song was collected in Donegal by Hughes with lyrics written by Padraic Colum. A host of Irish and international artists have covered it from John McCormack to the Waterboys, Tangerine Dream to Clannad. In the film Michael Collins it is sung by Sinead O’Connor. The melody is incorporated in the Simple Minds song, Belfast Child.

Down By the Salley Gardens appears as a poem in Yeats collection The Wanderings of Oisin. Yeats remembered snatches of an old song, The Rambling Boys of Pleasure. It was set to music by Hughes to the traditional air The Moorlough Shore

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet

She passed the salley gardens with little snow white feet

She bid me take life easy, as leaves grow on the tree

But I being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

Hughes saw the arrangement of music as an artform on a par with original composition. According to him, the arranger takes the original material so that it is “transmuted into an art song, an art song of its own generation.”

Stanford Green is a wide hemisphere south of Balfe just before Bunting Road. This green and Thomas Moore were convenient football pitches for us as youngsters. As a Chelsea fan, I imagined Stanford as Stamford (Bridge), with me as Peter Bonnetti and my friends as Bobby Tambling and Charlie Cooke. My friends in truth were fans of either Manchester or Leeds United, and the road was named for Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). He was a Romantic composer and a child prodigy who was performing and composing at eight years of age. 

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Charles Villiers Stanford, age 8 and a half.

Stanford studied Classics at Cambridge University, but his devotion to music won out. He went on to study at Leipzig and Berlin, returning to Cambridge as Professor of Music. .He was the founding professor of the Royal College of Music in Kensington, which, by the way, is not far from Stamford Bridge. His pupils at Cambridge included Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst.

George Bernard Shaw praised the Celtic elements of Stanford’s music. His orchestral work, Irish Rhapsodies, incorporated Irish folk songs. He was the first to popularise the Londonderry Air, published in 1855 by George Petrie in the Ancient Music of Ireland, the song originally collected by Jane Ross of Limavady.

Wallace Road leads east off Bunting Road, opposite Harty Avenue. William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865) was born in Waterford. He was a virtuoso on violin and piano and a composer of opera, piano music and parlour songs and ballads. He married at twenty, to a pupil Isabella Kelly, converting to Catholicism for the purpose, and moved to Dublin. In 1835, he took his family to Australia, and three years later left them there. He later spun a colourful yarn that he voyaged the Pacific on a whaling ship. From his arrival in South America he was celebrated as a virtuoso, making his way to New Orleans and New York. In 1845 he composed the first of six operas, Maritana, which was a huge success.

He took American citizenship and a second wife, German pianist Helene Stoepel, in1854. His tomb in London carries the epitaph: music is an art that knows no locality but heaven.

Walkinstown’s Musical Roads

 

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Our Lady of the Assumption

Dublin is a musical city, a storm of sounds. I grew up on the edge of this storm system, in Walkinstown’s Musical Estate, also known as the Melodies. Here, the roads commemorate eighteen musicians and composers, either Irish or connected to Ireland, including: John McCormack, Thomas Moore, Michael Balfe, John Field, Percy French, Edward Bunting and John Dowland.

 Those names came from the perspective of 1940s planners, imagining the songs new residents would sing, gathered in kitchens and living rooms with a bottle of stout or two, and a Woodbine twixt finger and thumb. I can still hear those serenades with their echoes of John McCormack and the recordings of Brendan O’Dowda, Bridie Gallagher and Joe Locke blaring from Radio Eireann on the wireless. 

Ireland’s musical tradition is something we like to flaunt. It was not always so. Myles na Gopaleen (Brian O’Nolan) complained mid century of “this nation of befuddled paddies, whose sole musical tradition is bound up with blind harpers, tramps with home made fiddles, Handel in Fish-handel street, John McCormack praising our airport and no street in the whole capital named after John Field.” There is in fact, since Walkinstown obliged in the later forties. Field Avenue is a small cul de sac terminating around a green at the northwestern edge of the estate where Walkinstown touches Drimnagh.

Field was born in Dublin in 1782 and made his concert debut at the age of nine. Moving to London in 1793 he became one of the renowned concert pianists of his day. Field travelled to St Petersburg, the ultra modern metropolis of its time, the pinnacle of the cultural world. His fame allowed him live the lavish lifestyle of the Rock Star, as we might put it today. He took up residence in Moscow where he died in 1837.

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A painted nocturne.

As a composer Field is remembered for developing the Nocturne. The Nocturne marks a specific shift in composition where the artist explores the light within the darkness. Characteristically meditative, with a moody melody overlaid on a distinctive arpeggio, it takes the listener into a spiritual landscape. Frederic Chopin was a master of the form, becoming its most famous exponent. Like all art, it developed over time into quite different things. James MacNell Whistler’s painted Nocturnes caused outrage at the Fin de Siecle. Now it would seem absurd for any artist in any field not to dally with the Muse after sunset. One imagines Field’s nocturnal inspirations were rather seasonal. St Petersburg’s summers are the White Nights, the sun barely setting and the sky a permanent bell of startling northern hues. Throughout winter, the world’s northernmost great city is clad in a different whiteness, veils of snow and ice turning everything into a winter wonderland.

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Bunting Road

I was raised on Bunting Road, the bisecting avenue of Walkinstown’s Musical Estate. Originally the road didn’t reach Crumlin. From near Walkinstown Cross it runs north, but stopped dead at the ditch bordering Mooney’s Field. As kids, we’d haunt the hedges there, sending up a regular coyote like refrain of the farmer’s name. Moo-oo-ney! Moo-oo-ney! The poor man died at last, leaving the field free for development as playing pitches, while the road pushed through to Crumlin around 1970.

Edward Bunting may seem obscure these days. Yet, as the estate itself flows from Bunting, so does our rich repertoire of Irish music. Born in Belfast in 1773, he was a classically trained organist. By chance he was given the task of recording the music of Belfast’s Harp Festival in 1792. He collected songs directly from the harpists, leading to the publication in three volumes of his book: The Ancient Music of Ireland. This became the definitive repository of Irish music, music which might well have been lost. Bunting helped arrest the decline of the harp as instrument and symbol, and it waxed once more as an icon for the country, synonymous with the very concept of Irishness. Thomas Moore’s The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls is prefigured here. 

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Harty Avenue

 Before the short cul de sac leading to Mooney’s field, Bunting passes Harty Avenue, named for composer Hamilton Harty (1879 – 1941). Born in Ulster, he came to live in Bray, his mother’s hometown, where he was church organist. Taking advantage of the excellent rail service to visit Dublin, he came under the influence of Michele Esposito at the Royal Irish Academy. In 1901 he moved to England and became a successful conductor, ultimately with the London Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s. His last composition was the symphonic poem, the Children of Lir.

Harty Avenue is a short road leading west to Thomas Moore Road. It was Moore who made flesh of Bunting’s bones, and came to be seen as the Bard of Ireland.He was born in Dublin in 1779, in Aungier Street, that edgy thoroughfare flowing south of Temple Bar from George’s Street to Camden Street. Today it blossoms with music venues and Moore’s birthplace is now occupied byJJ Smyth’s Blues Bar.

Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

Though a Catholic, Moore studied at Trinity College before going to London to study law. As an undergraduate he became friends with Robert Emmett although he remained remote from Emmett’s revolutionary group, The United Irishmen. At times he was moved to rabble-rousing polemic in prose and ballad, to the extent that Emmett was forced to tell him to dial it down, such stances garnering unwelcome attention. For the most part, and increasingly in later life, he was more disposed towards constitutional nationalism than armed revolt.

At Trinity, he was introduced to the work of Edward Bunting who had recently released his first volume of Ancient Music of Ireland. Moore was inspired to write lyrics to a series of traditional Irish tunes. The Irish Melodies made his reputation, today they are generally referred to as Moore’s Melodies. 

These songs provided the soundtrack for my childhood with my father’s robust baritone, and my mothers gentle crooning – whether in pram or bed, or of an evening by the fire, on family walks in the neighbouring countryside or drives further afield in an old Morris Minor. Sometimes lingering as the adults limbered up at nightfall, the lyrics and tunes seeped into my memory: Oft in the Stilly Night, The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls, Believe Me if all those Endearing Young Charms and, most memorably, The Meeting of the Waters

There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet

As the vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet,

Oh, the last rays of feeling and life must depart,

Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.

it is not merely a rambling on the wonders of Irish scenery, but that friends, “the beloved of my bosom”, were near.

Sweet Vale of Avoca how calm could I rest,

In thy bosom of shade with the friends I love best,

Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,

And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.

Moore travelled In America in 1803, two decades after the United States had gained independence from Britain. Returning via Canada he wrote The Canadian Boat Song, grafting his lyrics to the stem of a French language song, a haunting evocation of piety and the pioneer life in ancient Acadian days.

He expressed low regard for America, and railed particularly against slavery. Outrage at his stance followed him back to London and culminated in an abortive duel with a literary critic. Lord Byron heaped scorn on him, but later they became close friends. He stayed for a while with Byron in Venice and the poet appointed him literary executor. However, Moore was persuaded to burn the memoirs on Byron’s death, as his family considered them scandalous.

Moore is often considered Ireland’s national bard, capturing the nascent Irish nationalist ethos in poetry and song. There were contradictions in his long life. Though an advocate of Catholic Emancipation, he considered O”Connell a demagogue. His path may have been less heroic than that of his friend Emmett, but its quiet luminosity can’t be doubted. He died in 1852