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. 

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Walkinstown’s Musical Roads – 3

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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 

Granada – Sacromonte 2

 

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Floating back down to Granada, down to the Darro River, the sky hardens, then turns brittle in the waning light, and falls whitely on the city. I seek sanctuary from the cold. Bar La Riviera is hidden down an alley east of the Gran Via, not far from the Cathedral of the Incarnation. It is crowded at the bar and I feel I am in a normal pub. The man serving, according to house custom, asks which complementary tapas I want. Distracted, I say no gracias. A terrible hush falls over the bar, easing into some scornful laughter and pointing. The mystified barman evaporates, while I try to make myself invisible at the corner of the counter.

La Riviera

I get into a conversation with an English woman, well travelled and canny enough to have lost her husband in a nearby hotel. She wonders if I, as a Catholic – me being Irish and all – can explain the local cult of the Virgin. I wonder don’t they have virgins in England, but address the question all the same. I was at a Holy Week parade in Malaga, part of the crowd sucked in by its hypnotic magnetism. The solemn thump of the music leads us on step by step as the Brotherhood carry their towering floats, or tronos, from the port through the city centre to the Plaza before Teatro Cervantes. One tronos is of the Christ and the other, typically more exuberant, is of the Virgin. In part it brought me back to distant days as a child participating in the May Day procession, one of a multitude of child brides and grooms carrying the colours of the Virgin, the blue and white matching the brisk sky and streaming blossoms of Spring. The plain streets of Walkinstown sang and all roads led to the red brick monolith of Our Lady of the Assumption, all in the glass bubble of a perfect day. 

Oh Mary we crown you with blossoms so gay

Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May

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Holy Week, Malaga.

But this Andalusian devotion is a stronger manifestation of the spiritual flame; adult and profoundly solemn, yet infusing everyone with a communal joy.  If we didn’t have this, we would need to invent it. Caught in the austerity of a Free State, we might have sacrificed something in the public manifestation of shared spirituality. Passion is also a tender flame. 

The Teatro Cervantes recalls another ancient, or early modern devotion. Cervantes is well commemorated throughout Andalusia. In Granada a barrio to the south of the city centre is named for him. His writing pervades the entire Spanish consciousness. As with Shakespeare and English, he is central to Spanish.

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Teatro Cervantes, Malaga

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in 1547 near Madrid, where he died in 1616. But he had a peripatetic life, his boyhood spent wandering Spain with his family, the father Rodrigo being a barber surgeon.Exiled from Castile, in his early twenties he travelled to Italy where he absorbed the art of the Italian Renaissance.

In 1570 he enlisted as a soldier in the Spanish Navy and served at the Battle of Lepanto, where the Holy League inflicted defeat on the Ottoman empire. Returning to Spain, he was captured by pirates when bound for Barcelona and spent five years as a slave in Algiers from 1875. Back in Spain, he worked as an accountant and tax collector to support his writing. A bankruptcy in Andalusia saw him wind up in jail in Seville for a few months. He put the imprisonment to good use. It was there that he conceived of Don Quixote-which was published in 1605.

Don Quixote is regarded as the first novel in the modern sense, and has become, after the Bible, the most translated book in the world. Its influence is immense and global. The human character is carved from the words, Don Quixote, hopeless and heroic against the backdrop of hostile reality. Meanwhile his long suffering squire, Sancho Panza, can speckle the red soil with spitfulls of caustic wit. It seems so modern because humanity is so permanent. Cervantes embodied his own maxim, that the pen is the language of the soul

Granitelite

Granada by night.

Meanwhile, our musicians and writers have not been so remembered in Irish street names. Though in Walkinstown, where I grew up, some fame is secured for the creative heart. In the Melodies estate, with nineteen streets named for musicians and composers, one street there is named for Michael Balfe, whose fame owes something to Cervantes. Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) was born in Dublin, son of a violinist and dancing master. When his father died he took his precocious musical talent to London. Deciding to pursue the career of an opera singer he travelled to Italy for tuition between 1825 and 1835. He returned to London and quickly achieved success as a composer. In 1843 he wrote The Bohemian Girl based on a Cervantes story, La Gitanella, from Novellas Ejemplares, the Exemplary Novels. 

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 and is by far 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

And I hunger and thirst enough, for company and sustenance, that I call another. The barman fixes me with a steely eye, daring me. I order skewered pork, as though it were so familiar that I had almost forgotten. I was rewarded in minutes, the steaming tapas carried aloft through the bar, the whole pig on a forest of spikes on a golden field of french fries. They don’t do things by halves. 

Hannigans

It is only a short sashay to the Irish Bar in the City of Grenada, where I plan to have a digestif. Hannigan’s Irish Bar is remote from the complementary tapas that are de rigueur everywhere else. Here I can sit in splendid isolation, and contemplate the sound and stories that permeate the city. In truth, there is a very good music mix, so that sometimes it seems to follow the song that has just occurred in my head.

Rain Alley

Wending my way home to Plaza de los Campos, the snow has turned to rain. The streets glisten. Assassins shimmer in the alleyways, hats aslant and opal eyed. They drift like vapour through the nightlife crowds, settle in silence in darkened doorways, watching, waiting for their time to arrive. 

Your elegy, Grenada

is spoken by the stars

which from the heavens

perforate your black heart.

 (Federico Garcia Lorca)

Granada – Sacromonte 1

AL 19 Glife

A place of dreams, where the Lord put the seed of music in my soul.

(Andres Segovia)

Granada is a name so rhythmic it positively strums. Strung beneath the glistening peaks of the high Sierra Nevada, it has long balanced on the fulcrum of Europe and Africa. Here, the stones are alive, the streets and spires straddle the Medieval and the Renaissance, the Gypsy tangos and strums, the poetic knight tilts at shapeshifting windmills.

The fabulous castle overlooking it all, the Alhambra, dates from the Moslem kingdoms of the high Middle Ages. At the start of the Early Modern, the Reconquista returned the city to the Catholic faith. Before, during and after all those upheavals, Granada has been the focal point of travellers who have left their dust of cultural diversity in the stones, in the air, in the rivers of the town.Little wonder that the guitar is said to have been born here.

The weeping of the guitar begins, 

The goblets of dawn are smashed,

Useless to silence it.

(Federico Garcia Lorca)

Plaza

Plaza Nueva is my base camp. It merges into the Plaza de Santa Ana. A step beyond the modern city centre, it distends with eerie vagueness into the cramped ravine of the Darro River. The winding way to the Alhambra begins near the Fontana del Toro. A drink from its waters has magical qualities. Drink once and you will return forever. I have had my day there, in the soft redness of the Alhambra, that lasted forever and never and within my formation. This day I will walk along the clefs and staves and the surging river, carried forward note by note to the Sacred Mountain.

Darro1

Climbing up from the Darro River, through the bleached alleyways of Alcaibin, the houses melt into an ancient silence. The winding streets flirt with Surrealism, the hush of desertion somehow expectant. I sense the outskirts of paranoia, cross diagonally a deserted square beneath an abandoned church, pause enigmatically with a smouldering Gitanes to notice a slice of the Alhambra between the shuttered Moorish villas. At last the route regains its connection with all other routes. Footfall swells, the whine of mopeds rises and a car is glimpsed. The road meets a t junction, where I turn steeply upwards by way of Cuesta del Chapiz. 

AL 22 Alca

At the apex of a punishing climb, the road veers right at a taverna, El Rincon del Chapiz. A gnarled tree and an eccentric statue preside over the small terrace. Here, the city of Grenada abruptly ends, and morphs into an ancient hilltop village, houses scattered like pearls on the steep hillside. Across the Darro ravine, the Alhambra and Generalife shimmer in the afternoon haze, while ahead the distant Sierra are snowcapped beneath the virgin blue sky. I choose to be lost in this view: red gold palaces set in viridian, purple mountains with their sharp white summits, the blue sphere of the relentless sky. 

El Chapiz

The transition from urban to bucolic is a volte face of all the dialogue transacted this day in the city. The history, the fabric, the setting still run, but parallel, their projections and perspectives distorted. The Sierra Nevada hem the horizon which seems close enough to touch. If you sense a breath descend it may be from the Puerto del Suspiro del Moro where Granada’s last Moslem ruler, Mohammad XII, Boabdil, looked back in anguish at the Alhambra, exhaling that famous final sigh. This was the pinnacle of the Reconquista, in the year 1492, when the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile took Granada and the modern idea of Spain took shape. 

Sacroalham

Now I stand on Sacromonte, the sacred mountain. This was the haven of the Gypsy, when first they came to Granada in that same year, 1492. They hollowed caves from the soft rock, out here on the periphery. The culture that flowered fed the rivers of the new Spanish identity, a step beyond the rationalist identities of western Europe. And a stepping stone, also that year, to the American continents across the pond. These first rooted in our consciousness with the expedition of Christopher Columbus, an Italian in the service of the Catholic Monarchs. The popular conception of the world was limited. After Columbus, European isolation would fade. 

Sacro3

The term, Gitanos, is synonymous with Gypsy, derived from Egyptian. According to popular myth, they came from Egypt but are, in fact, Romany, an Indo-Aryan group from northwest India. Romany identity has persisted through half a millennium, with its bloodline and culture, but there is much disparity between their far flung settlements. In Andalusia, Gitanos are particularly immersed in local culture, to the point that they’re seen as embodying quintessential Spanish traditions, with Flamenco to the fore. Flamenco, the form of music and dance, derives from a synthesis of Moorish and Christian influences, Jewish folk music and dance, infused with the Oriental spice of the Gitanos. Itself an illustration of a particular social and emotional stance, from Flamenco springs those rhythms of sex and seduction, sorrow and grieving, suffusing the Latin world from Valparaiso to Valencia

Sacro2

In Andalusia there is little to be gained by dissecting its identity. It is more than the sum of its parts, a rare blossom that could only grow in this red soil, from such scattered seeds. Yet, here is a culture that is not perplexing, not a thing to be admired within a hard carapace. It has travelled well, it is well known. Here is something we all understand, whether or not we have done it yet. Here is something we know of the human condition. We are all Gypsies, spinning like dandelion seeds through the air. I have travelled, dipped a toe in different oceans, felt the heat of the desert, the swell of mountain and the cool air of forests. Through all of that runs the constant soundtrack of the music of Christian, Moslem, Gypsy and Jew.

I heard your voice through a photograph

I thought it up it brought up the past

Once you know you can never go back

I’ve got to take it on the otherside

Sacro1

So I sit on a wall in sunshine cold, amidst glare of white houses and sauntering travellers and do nothing. Inside I’m spinning slowly, breathing every song I’ve ever heard. I feel I should do something, enter a museum, buy a souvenir, take out my sketch book and submerge in the quirky scenery. I think of other things, returning to that bold truth, that here was first fashioned the guitar. 

Antonio de Torres (1817-1892) was a carpenter by trade. In his twenties he came to work in  Granada where he learned the craft of guitar building. He returned to set up shop in Seville and in 1850 began to develop the guitar which we recognise today. Torres’s guitar was symmetrical, larger and lighter than previous instruments. Their distinctive sound and greatly improved volume made de Torres’s guitar the standard from which modern guitars derive.

How long, how long will I slide

Separate my side

I don’t, I don’t believe it’s bad

Slit my throat, it’s all I ever …

(Otherside, Red Hot Chilli Peppers)

In its shape the guitar is a key to unlock the secrets of sound. More suggestive still, the guitar is personified as woman. My Graphics maestro at Rathmines College in the seventies was Martin Collins. One evening our class gathered before a still-life assembled by Martin: a guitar, a wine bottle, a bowl of fruit. As we set about our task, he hovered, waiting to pounce with advice. One unfortunate was having difficulty. Martin’s voice boomed through the hush: “A guitar is like a woman. You cradle her on your lap and stroke her.”

Sacromir

In the Art of Spain it is a signature motif.The paintings of Picasso and Juan Gris pay homage to those curves, sinuously evoking its music and mood. With grapes and fine wine, its shape settling in city and skin, with a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork. From Andalusia to New York, Troubadours have trooped with guitar slung rakishly over shoulders.

 Lovers, fools, thieves and pretenders, and all you’ve got to do is surrender!

(The Waterboys)

, 

Andres Segovia, Hank Williams, Bo Diddley, Paco de Lucia, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix towering over the close of Woodstock, a beautiful ghost. The muse has manifested her reflection too: Gabriela Quintero, KT Tunstall, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde. Joan Osborne. In cherry red or ebony, sunburst finish or sultry blue, this is the emblem of our time.

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.