Vancouver at Night


Vancouver is on the same latitude as Ireland and suffers nominally the same marine temperate climate. It rains, man, it pours. The city is set on a peninsula against a dramatic backdrop of snow capped peaks. 

Vancouver began to form in the 1860s around a sawmill. Nearby, a bar was established, thirsty work after all, by a certain Jack Deighton. Deighton earned the nickname Gassy Jack for his voluble espousal of any worthy cause in the growing city. He died in 1875 and his body lies in an unmarked grave, but there’s a statue to him on Water Street standing atop a beer barrel. The surrounding area is still known as Gastown.

In 1870 the expanding settlement became known as Granville, honouring Granville Leveson Gower, who was the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was incorporated as a city in 1886 with the arrival of the trans continental railway, and named Vancouver. This was for George Vancouver who, a century earlier, had explored the coast from Alaska to Oregon with James Cook.

The name Granville persists in one of the city’s main streets. Granville Street has been the centre of the city’s entertainment area for over a century. Theatre Row developed with such major theatres as the Orpheum and Vogue. There were also amusement arcades, pawn stores porn shops and strip joints. Granville Street boasted the world’s largest display of neon signs in the 1950s

While much of Downtown gleams new, Granville Street remains a shabby but seductive slice of fifties Americana. Glorious old film theatres jut into the street which is low-end shopping by day and thronged with rough edged nightlife after dark. And there are bars, bars and more bars. It’s still thirsty work.

It’s ten years back that I visited Vancouver. Granville Street at night is the sort of wonderland I like. Edgy, but never dull. This scene, looking north, features the Orpheum and that neon nirvana for which the area’s famed. Across the road Dublin’s Calling, and I’ve got a thirst that’s raging. Slainte.

In Killruddery Woods

Kilruddery woods

From our last stop, the Bus Stop, Killarney Road makes for the M11 to the southwest. The road to the left is officially known as Oldcourt Park, but known locally as the Soldiers Road.  It runs alongside the ravine carved by the Swan River. Lost amongst the trees, the ancient tower house of Oldcourt Castle looms above, forever beyond reach. The river slithers through Wheatfield, past Swiss Cottage, across the Boghall, up to Southern Cross and on to Killruddery where the brook drains off Giltspur, or the Little Sugarloaf. 

These lands south of Bray were granted to Walter de Riddlesford, one of Strongbow’s loyal adventurers in the invasion of 1169. The large demesne is centred on Killruddery, the Church of the Knight. The Brabazon family came into ownership of the estate in the early 16th century through William Brabazon, Lord Justice of Ireland. The title Earl of Meath was granted to his great-grandson William in 1623. Killruddery House had to be rebuilt following destruction in the Cromwellian wars of the mid century. The current building is largely an 1820s reconstruction in the Tudor revival style. The original gardens remain. Designed by the French gardener Bonet, they are a unique example in Ireland of seventeenth century design, haunted with an exquisite Gothic gloom. Classically inspired additions blossomed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The house and gardens are a popular attraction, with coffee shop, farmers market, garden centre and regular music and art events. There’s an adventure playground and Ireland’s largest obstacle course. Best of all are the walks through the estate, beyond the walls where nature wrestles amiably with farmland and forest. I have variously met friends and strangers, no one at all, amiable vikings and post apocalyptic hippies (these later visions being on film set).

I recently took a path less travelled on the borderline between Killruddery and Belmont. In natural woodland on a sunny day there’s a tangible frisson in the air as light and dark dance with uninhibited abandon, together all alone, but for me. This acrylic is unusual for me in the choice of palette, which is very, very green.

But most of all I miss a girl in Tipperary town

and most of all I miss her lips as soft as eiderdown

again I want to see and do the things we’ve done and seen

where the breeze is sweet as shalimar and there’s Forty Shades of Green 

This song became such an iconic evocation of the Emerald Isle that it is presumed to have originated here. In a way it did. Johnny Cash wrote the song when touring Ireland in the late fifties. Once, after performing the song, a fan thanked him for his respect in singing a grand old Irish traditional air.

Bus Stop


Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say

Please share my umbrella

Bus stops, bus goes, she stays, love grows

Under my umbrella

All that summer we enjoyed it

Wind and rain and shine

That umbrella we employed it

By August she was mine

From the Swan River, Killarney Road keeps rising until it tops Fairyhill. Small estates line  the road, most dating from the nineteen eighties. The 145 bus route takes an unexpected right turn at Killarney Lane and the stops before the junction are mine. Across the road, the Nurseries lie beyond a triangular green planted with a copse of silver birch and sycamore. On this side, the western, the footpath runs continuously from the town to the M11. The covered bus stop here is a morning refuge for northbound commuters, whether heading for Bray Dart or Dublin. The 145 connects as far as Huston Station via the N11 and Dublin City Quays. I usually hike to the Dart on my northbound excursions, but the bus has its own consolations. More quaint and communal, and the serpentine route gives a scenic tour of south Dublin. There’s an intimacy too in the bus stop mythology. At least, that was the experience of my generation back in the day. The anticipation, the tension, the longing; and that was just for the vehicle. Love might also blossom, in wind and rain or shine. 

That’s the way the whole thing started

Silly but it’s true

Thinking of our sweet romance

Beginning in a queue

In this acrylic, we approach the bus stop after a heavy shower. The sky is clearing and the surface below us glares painfully, but beautifully. At the junction, the Oldcourt is off to our left, and the nearby right turn heads towards the Ardmore Film Studios on Herbert Road. Ahead, the Killarney Road weaves steeply upwards through a portal of oak trees towards Ripley Hills, and the apex at Fairyhill, crowned with its stand of pines.

Every morning I would see her

Waiting at the stop

Sometimes she’d shop

And she would show me what she’d bought

Other people stared

As if we were both quite insane

Someday my name and hers

Are going to be the same

Bus Stop was written by Graham Gouldman who would later form 10cc. He credits his father with starting  the lyrics from Graham’s own idea. Getting started is the thing. “It’s like finding your way onto a road and when you get onto the right route you just follow it.” A bit like Killarney Road, then. Bus Stop was the breakthrough US hit for Mancunian group, The Hollies, in 1966. I heard it on my first long playing album Hollies’ Greatest Hits (Parlophone) which I got for my thirteenth birthday. 

Kings on the Roof

Kings 2020

You’ll know me, that I mostly write on travel, posting that topic with photographs and the odd painting. History, art appreciation, personal reflections and music are all part of the mix. But there’s another me that writes fiction. Again, personal reflection and travel are part of the mix, sound and vision too. It’s a different world, but which is real or ideal I can’t say. This is something that happens every seven years or so, and it’s happening again. My latest collection of short stories, Kings on the Roof, is about to go live. Published by Forty Foot Press, it has eleven stories drawn from all across my universe. The title story is set around Dublin’s Amiens Street, with Sheriff Street Sorting Office and Cleary’s Pub beneath the railway bridge featuring. An extract from this story appeared in the second part of my series, Dublin’s Circular Roads. 

… back then when everything seemed possible, even there in the Sorting Office, in the bowels of that clanking beast, amongst the trolls and elves of the workaday world. We’d climb onto the high gantry and up the fixed ladder to the roof, Alex, the Bishop and I. We were kings of the world up there, with Dublin spread out beneath us, above us only a rippling sky.

There’s an autobiographical element to this story, as I worked in Sheriff Street with the P7T in the late seventies. A more mythic Dublin features in The Secret Lover of Captain Raymondo D’Inzeo. Set in the sixties in the Liberties, the narrative includes fanciful versions of Marconi, the Easter Rising, the Theatre Royal and the magnificent Italian showjumping team winning the Aga Khan. There were extracts in part eight of Dublin’s Circular Roads. 

Just past Cassoni’s I see the car, a red Alfa Romeo with the roof rolled down. Graciano is at the wheel, la Contessa Rossi languishing in the passenger seat.

   “You,” she says, “you have set your sight on the Captain. You are good. A young girl with well turned calf. But would he set his cap for you, the Captain? In all probability. He can acquire what he likes.”

   I can’t think what to say. “Will Italy win the Aga Khan?” I stammer.

   La Contessa puts her head to one side, like a bird looking at a worm. When she speaks, it is not by way of a reply. “I see your man there. He is within your reach. Don’t take me wrong for, believe me, we both have love in our hearts. And yes, we will win.”

Meanwhile, a more recognisable Dublin appears in the stories A Man Walks into a Bar and the Black Moon. Both are contemporary but, suspended in their own gothic fog, drift to and fro in time. The cover illustration is realistic enough, based on a photographic time exposure of city traffic at College Green, Dublin’s dizzy fulcrum. Both the acrylics painting and prose featured on this blog about two years ago. 

… this is the beating heart of Dublin. Whenever you stand there, you will experience the rattle and hum of the city. The song it makes is of all the songs that have been sung here, all the words written and spoken, the history of centuries and recent seconds. At night I find it something special, intimate in its inkiness, dangerous and comforting in that non stop firefly display. Stand and watch the lights of passing traffic going everywhere, fast, at the same time. That’s city life.

Kings on the Roof is published by Forty Foot Press, and is available on Amazon.