South Dublin’s Rocky Shore


-1 Shankill to Killiney.

Right now, we are caught in something of a bubble, constrained to our particular bailiwick. But bubbles are the thinnest of membranes, we can see with our minds and soar with our imaginations. Often, we can find paradise on our doorstep. Living along the east coast is a boon in many ways. The view is an ever open doorway, unlocking life’s treasure chest. The sea is a conduit for our dreams and adventures, a balm on life’s troubles and constraints. The sea alone, this side of space, coats the orb on which we balance, and the means, this side of flight, by which we can traverse it.

I find myself hugging the coast. Wicklow and Dublin are my usual stomping grounds. That’s a good stretch of coast from the Boyne estuary and Drogheda to the Avoca River and the port of Arklow. I’ve written recently on Drogheda (Counties Louth and Meath, I know), Malahide, and Swords. Howth and Raheny await my attentions. Here, I intend to map out the joys of Dublin’s south coast.

I was recently atop Bray Head, and the view looking north is an inspiration. From soul to sole; the plan formed for a good walk, or series of walks, from Shankill along the sea shore to Killiney, ascending to the Vico Road and on to Dalkey, then downhill via the Metals to Dun Laoghaire. Then, or another time, pick a way back along the rocky shore via Bullock Harbour, Dalkey and the Colliemore, returning by the Vico to Shankill.

2017-01-21 10.36.46Shankill (from the Irish ‘old church’) is Dublin County’s southernmost town. It has a population of just over 14,000, Dublin’s suburban expansion transforming what was once a small village. The bridge at the north end of the Main Street, the old Dublin Road, crosses the now defunct Harcourt Street Line, 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. Today, this route provides the Dartline commuter rail service from Greystones to Howth and Malahide in North Dublin. 

A long suburban road falls from the bridge towards the beach, passing Shankill Dart station on the way. Shankill beach is a thin strip of shingle slung below low, rapidly eroding cliffs. I parked at Corbawn Avenue, just north of the entrance to the beach and, with the sun on my back, hiked along the playing fields to gain the pathway leading down to Killiney Strand.

Killiney Bay

Killiney Bay has excited comparison with the Bay of Naples, and though such comparisons are often strained, on a glorious day such as this you can see the connection. The bay is framed to the south by Bray Head and the Sugarloaf Mountains, attractively conical peaks the larger of which gives a passable imitation of a volcano. The names of the roads mirror the conceit: Vico, Sorrento, Capri and San Elmo. Above, Killiney Hill stands sentinel, crowned by its obelisk. The craggy coast is clad in woodland and expensive villas, this is the address for the rich and famous.

Snaking along the lower reaches of the headland, the Dartline hugs the coast to Dublin. The views it offers of the bay are worth the fare, in spades. Strand Road runs the far side of the track, a connection between the high road and Killiney Dart Station. At the southern end is Holy Child College, a fee paying Catholic secondary school for girls founded in 1947. It is run by The Society of the Holy Child Jesus, an international community of Roman Catholic sisters which was formed in England in 1946 by Cornelia Kennedy.

Born Cornelia Peacock in Philadelphia in 1809, she married an Episcopalian minister, Pierce Connelly with whom she had five children. The couple converted to Catholicism, but Pierce pushed on towards the priesthood. Cornelia took vows of permanent chastity and in 1847 became a nun. but a long and bitter legal dispute with her estranged husband followed. He, ironically, had grown jealous of her attachment to the faith.

For all her sorrows, the order Cornelia established was run along the lines of the Jesuits and encouraged its students to express themselves through Art, Music and Drama. In that respect, they encouraged a glitterati of artistic alumnii: writers Eavan Boland and Maeve Binchy amongst the best known.

Reverend Sisters, I remember were it yesterday

standing young and green before the wisdom age and your black habits wrought

The sisters also fostered the talent of a trio of girls: Alison Bools, Clodagh Simonds and Mary White, together known as Mellow Candle. In their mid teens they put together demo tapes and in 1968, aged just fifteen, they cut their first single Feeling High in London. As with much of the band’s work, commercially it disappeared without trace. Two years later, Alison, at art college, and Clodagh, returned from a sojourn in Italy, or perhaps just Vico Road, reformed Mellow Candle augmented by two guitarists. 

Reverend Sisters I remember everything you see

all your words and teaching left some imprint on my memory

though I’m sad it had to be this way

as you said we change with every day

Reverend Sisters though I hate to say it

now the veils are lifted from my eyes and I can see

Reverend Sisters/Mellow Candle

Mellow Candle

These merry pranksters went on trips around the bay, played in the company of Doctor Strangely Strange, Thin Lizzy and Horslips, and signed with Deram records. The fully electric quintet that cut their only album, Swaddling Songs, comprised the twin female vocal with Clodagh on keyboards, guitarist Dave Williams who married Alison at a ragged Lizzy stadium gig, ex-Creatures bassist Frank Boylan and drummer William Murray. Swaddling Songs is a gem, a shining example of music transcending genres and time. In its own time it was completely ignored. 

I was one of a handful who bought it, as fans do, but weirdly it attained cult status two decades later and is now a collectors item. Mellow Candle’s music is unclassifiable. When ascribed genre, they were often labelled folk-rock, or Celtic-rock, neither being particularly accurate. They were a genre unto themselves: Breton sea shanties, renaissance music, choral, folk, and prog rock in a joyful collision – baroque and roll perhaps; their sound poised forever on the event horizon in some other universe.

I suppose, life and school in such a locale would tend to lead the soul towards all things maritime and wild. One can imagine Simmonds out on the strand, or bathing off shore. My younger self tended a lot towards such imaginings, but dreams can come true. 

At a summer gig in the summer of seventy one, Mellow Candle played support to Thin Lizzy in Blackrock Park. The park made a natural amphitheatre sloping down to a pond, with the bandstand an island in the water. Not being ones to hold back, and it being a glorious day, the girls plunged into the water for the finale and formed a pre-Raphaelite tableau of bathing nymphs. But then, on such a day, who could resist the urge to join them? So, here’s to swimmin’ with Clodagh Simonds.


Pity the poet who suffers to give

sailing his friendship on oceans of love 

strange harbour soundwaves break out of his reach

love is a foreigner to the queen of the beach 

The Poet and the Witch/Mellow Candle 

Rainy Night in Ripley Hills

Ripley 1

Where Killarney Road reaches its apex, a copse of fir trees guards an ancient stone marker, Saint Saran’s Cross. This mystery-laden oasis atop the hill is surrounded by a modern housing estate called Fairyhill. On the falling eastern slopes is another estate, Ripley Hills, which I call home. It was built in 1983 beside two grand houses of the nineteenth century, which were curiously conjoined: Rahan and St. Helen’s. Rahan House was once the abode of writer Arthur Conan Doyle. During his stay he developed an interest in the supernatural and wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies.

Rahan and St Helen’s were destroyed by fire shortly after I took up residence nearby and I witnessed the sad event from my rear window.  They took their mysteries with them, and their only vestige is a calm green space in Ripley Court. While the urban environment continues to grow, the landscape continues to give. Fabulous views of Bray Head and the Sugarloaf Mountains are always a reward for a walk around Ripley Hills and environs. The estate itself, sylvan and landscaped is a suburban pleasure too. I have been there long enough to witness it beneath blue skies and blankets of snow. But in the dark of night, with rain falling, it is sometimes more magical still.

Something’s gotten hold of my heart

Keeping my soul and my senses apart

Something’s gotten into my life

Cutting its way through my dreams like a knife

Turning me up and turning me down

Making me smile and making me frown

You know the feeling you get when the rain is falling and falling and you stand to look up into it and feel yourself rising up until you reach that point of equilibrium where the rising spirit and the falling water are as one, poised together in endless stasis. A moment like that, held in the sodium glow of the streetlamps, is what this painting is about. Trying to capture it, I reached for a palette richer and more varied than my dark blues and greys. 

Something’s gotten hold of my hand

Dragging my soul to a beautiful land

Something has invaded my mind

Painting my sleep with a colour so bright

Changing the grey and changing the blue

Scarlet for me and scarlet for you

Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart, was written by Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook and was a hit for Gene Pitney in 1967. Born in 1940, Pitney was a singer songwriter who first achieved fame in the early sixties with movie theme songs. Perhaps his best known hit was the intense narrative Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa, a Bacharach David song in1963. His songwriting credits include Hello Mary Lou which was a hit for Ricky Nelson. In 1989 Pitney scored again with Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart in a duet version with Mark Almond. He died in 2006.

In a world that was small

I once lived in a time there was peace with no trouble at all

But then you came my way

And a feeling unknown shook my heart, made me want you to stay

All of my nights and all of my days

Climbing Bray Head

B.Woods Aug20

Bray Head is the defining geographical feature of the town. Rising sheer eight hundred feet from the Irish Sea, the headland is capped by a large stone cross, erected for the Holy Year of 1950. The headland is a sizeable upland area. Its ridge consists of five or so mounds of exposed quartzite, like the knuckles of a fist. While the cross marks the headland, the summit is a couple more humps inland. 

The climb to the Cross is a must for visitors, and a regular pastime for locals. The route from the seafront is steep, though the incline can be tempered by zigzags through natural woodland. A longer but more gradual climb runs from the junction of the Southern Cross and Greystones Road, adjacent to Bray Golf Course. 

B.Golf Aug20

The lower entrance, through the gates, makes for a lovely start through dense deciduous woodland. Dappled green and umber, but allowing the occasional patch of sunlight through, this is a cool and mesmeric way to disguise the climb. Merging with the golf course path, the incline hardens, but compensates with fabulous views over the Sugarloaf Mountains, to the Wicklow Mountains beyond, with Bray’s urban landscape leading down to a blue sea, and South County Dublin’s rocky bays and inlets leading the eye on to the distant city. 

B.View Aug20

At the top of the path there’s a short, stiff clamber over rocks just above the treeline before the path resumes. Another option, is to veer right for a longer, smoother ascent, with some wonderful rugged scenery above the manicured golf course. Emerging from the scrubland, there’s a smooth path leading up to. the Cross. The headland offers dizzying views over ocean, coast and townscape, framed by the majesty of the Wicklow Mountains. 

B.Cross Aug20

The hummock is often thronged, but often not. People come and go, and you can linger as long as you like to get the best from the experience. And there’s a surprisingly large expanse of wilderness up here to explore, or just to be away from it all. We take the path towards the stile, but leave it to ensconce ourselves beneath the second knuckle in, and sitting on grass with the rock guarding our backs, relax for a while and bathe our eyes with sunshine and the blue and glinting Irish Sea.

It doesn’t take long before I feel a song coming on.

Somewhere beyond the sea

Somewhere waiting for me

My lover stands on golden sands

And watches the ships that go sailing

La Mer was written by Charles Trenet, a homage to the view of the Etang de Thau, a lagoon he passed on the train between Montpellier and Perpignan in the South of France. Jack Lawrence’s Anglo version gives a romantic twist to the descriptive thrust of the original. It was a major hit for Bobby Darin, which is how I know it. It features on his 1961 compilation, the Bobby Darin Story, the oldest, probably, and most bedraggled album in my collection.

B.Sea Aug20

Somewhere beyond the sea

She’s there watching for me

If I could fly like birds on high

Then straight to her arms I’d go sailing.