Crossing Morehampton Road

Heading out of Dublin City by way of Leeson Street, we cross the Grand Canal into Dublin 4. This is the main road to Wexford via Donnybrook and the N11. Leeson Street was originally called Suesey Steet, with something of a sleazy reputation. In the early eighteenth century it was renamed for the Leeson family, local brewers and property developers. The Georgian development of the area came towards the end of the century and has come to represent the high watermark of the Neo Classical era. The canal established Dublin city’s southern border a decade or so later. 

Leeson street continues as Upper Leeson Street heading south. The area hereabouts was known as Pembroke, from the estate occupying most of the land. By the middle of the nineteenth century Pembroke had developed into a sizeable middle class suburb. Further on, the village of Donnybrook was famous, or infamous, for its annual fair. First licensed by King John in 1204, the Fair, lasting a full fortnight, came to be regarded as a cauldron of brawling, drunkenness and vice. All the good things in life. As the suburbs seeped into this oasis on the periphery, respectable citizens campaigned against the Fair, and it was finally extinguished in 1855. However, though Donnybrook and environs might have become the home of the great and the good, the pot of Route Eleven continued to simmer.

In this acrylic I am crossing the route where it is known as Morehampton Road. Donnybrook glows in the distance. To the right, the Hampton Hotel was once called Sachs, a name resonating with its notorious nightclub, and weekend jazz sessions. On a Sunday morning, Chris Lamb and the Black Sheep would be doing their thing, when a white Rolls Royce would pull up outside. A heavy set man, black mane and moustache, would alight, steam into the joint and take his place behind the drum kit. Turning the volume up to eleven, he would just as enigmatically depart in a haze of cigar smoke. The Sultan of Rock and Roll. 

The Leeson Strip has never lost its patina of vice. More red brick than red light, but there’s always the whiff of discreet abandon, as notes and aromas waft up from basements. 

Loneliness is a crowded room

Full of open hearts turned to stone

All together, all alone

All at once my whole world had changed

Now I’m in the dark, off the wall

Let the strobe light up the wall

I close my eyes and dance till dawn

On a sunny morning, beneath the towering trees, life is a dappled mirage, the light above all the better for the shadows below. 

Dance away the heartache

Dance away the tears

Dance away the heartache

Dance away the fear

Dance Away was written by Bryan Ferry in 1977 and was included on Roxy Music’s Manifesto album in 1979. It became one of the band’s biggest singles and reached Number one in the Irish charts, in the wake of Blondie’s Sunday Girl.

South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 2

Killiney to Dalkey.

Beyond Killiney Dart station, a tunnel under the track leads from the beach to Strathmore Road, which climbs steeply to join with Vico Road. Alternatively, and depending on the vagaries of the tide, you can follow the strand farther north to the high cliffs of the headland. This fine day, I took the latter option as far as the footbridge across the Dartline, and wound my way up through an overgrown laneway of honeysuckle, honeyed bricks and honey bees.

I emerge onto tarmac that swirls through the high walls and higher trees marking the properties of the topmost echelon of Irish society, and indeed Irish Rock royalty. Van Morrison and Bono Vox have their mansions here, though the prize for princess in her palace must go to Enya, whose residence, Manderley Castle, peeps its high gothic turrets above the walls farther up the hill towards the village of Killiney. The fanciful nineteenth century residence was originally dedicated to Queen Victoria, but Enya, keen fan of Daphne Du Maurier, took Manderley from Rebecca’s memorable opening line.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

Eithne Ni Bhraonnain, Anglicised as Enya Brennan, is one of the Brennan family Rock group, Clannad, from Gweedore in County Donegal. Enya embarked on her solo career in the mid eighties, teaming up with producer Nicky Ryan and his wife, lyricist Roma Ryan. Her first, eponymous, album made some waves, but it was her second, Watermark, which made the international commercial breakthrough. Orinoco Flow from the album established Enya’s reputation and her multi layered, ambient New Age sound. 

From the North to the South Ebudae unto Khartoum

From the deep Sea of Clouds to the Islands of the Moon

Carry me on the waves to the land I’ve never been

Carry me on the waves to the lands I’ve never seen

Orinoco Flow/Enya

This is more a sound painting than a poetic lyric, but there’s something in its vision that elevates the soul, and chimes with the landscape hereabouts. Subsequent albums sold by the million. Enya’s best-of collection was titled Paint the Sky with Stars. There are plenty of them around here.

Killiney village developed around an 11th century chapel, marking the footprint for its more modern successor. At the crossroads topping the rise, the village pub, the Druid’s Chair, has a suitably new age moniker for the locale. It is a long established family hostelry which takes its name from an ancient stone oddity in the woods nearby. The artefact is a mystery in itself, variously described as a Mass Rock, an Iron Age altar or a Victorian folly. Make for the bar and mine’s a Carlsberg. Probably.

Besides the lush enclaves and sprawling mansions, much of Killiney Hill consists of parkland. This park was opened in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. The Obelisk on the summit dates back much further to1741 and was a famine relief work. The eighteenth century famine being just as severe, proportionately, as its more famous nineteenth century successor. You could spend a day poking about Killiney Park. The views over the coastline are magnificent. Drape yourself on its lawns or obliging monuments, and let the day go by.

On the way back home we sang a song

But our throats were getting dry

Then we saw the man from across the road

With the sunshine in his eyes

Trace your way back by granite walls under shading trees to Vico Road. Bask, briefly, in the dappled luxury of the rich and famous. Bono’s house is nearby. The U2 frontman previously lived in a Martello Tower in Bray, to the South across the bay. His current abode is less obvious. Guitar man, The Edge, is a neighbour. Tetchy ex-Them frontman, Van Morrison is also a person in the neighbourhood. Back in sixties Belfast, Them fashioned the formative artefacts of Irish Rock. Baby Please Don’t Go, Here Comes the Night and Gloria are classics. Since leaving Them, he has ploughed an individual furrow in the music world. Morrison might quibble at his inclusion in the Rock world, preferring R and B as a label, but elements of jazz and soul, funk and folk weave through his repertoire and it’s futile to try and bracket him. 

Morrison, elder bitter lemon in his dealings, is all sweetness and light in his music. And it Stoned Me, from his third solo album, Moondance, embodies the joys of halcyon youth, particularly a young boy’s pursuit of the important things in life: fishin’, swimmin’ and simply playin’ 

Later, as I find myself suspended above the turquoise bathing pools far below on the rocky shore, I realise that its joyful narrative of life in the moment has invaded my own personal narrative, that it has become a tangible memory of something that wasn’t, but, somehow, eternally is.

Oh the water, let it run all over me

And it stoned me to my soul

Stoned me just like going home

And it stoned me

Van Morrison

On the high Vico Road we can shake the stardust off our feat and gaze down at heaven. The day is positively Mediterranean. Villas sprout crystalline from the rock. Cars string like pearls along the kerb and sightseers sit with such photo savvy conceit, they must be auditioning for some Hollywood pastiche, or maybe a retro poster of John Hinde’s graphic delights. The walk is easy, it’s tearing yourself away from the view that’s difficult.

A last lingering look at the bay, and the road descends to the junction of Sorrento and Colliemore. Both roads lead to Dalkey, Colliemore along the coast; but today I’m continuing North, by way of Sorrento Road running parallel to the railway track which eats through the granite twenty feet below. We are bound for Dun Laoghaire via the Metals.

Brittas Bay

South of Wicklow Town, the coastline boasts some magnificent sandy beaches. Whether you call these gold or silver strands, there’s no arguing that they exert a strong pull on people. Nothing defines the notion of escape from the workaday world like a summer day on a sun soaked beach. Indeed, in all sorts of weather, throughout the year, there’s a particular feeling of release to be had on the shoreline, solo or duet, amongst a full ensemble of friends, or strangers too. 

Something is released into our souls and we are at one; maybe even at one with the universe. ‘T’were not ever thus. Once the sea spelt danger, and it took the Romantic era around the early nineteenth century, for the beneficial aspects of the sea to be appreciated: healthy, inspirational, spiritually uplifting, and fun.

At this time of year we make our annual pilgrimage to Brittas Bay. Thanks to our good friends, Maria and Larry, we have the use of a mobile in the dunes, between river and sea. I am inspired to think of Thomas Moore, again, and his ode to friendship, The Vale of Avoca. 

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.


The Avoca is another Wicklow gem, in a county where we’re spoiled for choice. Brittas Bay is a slice of heaven from the limbo where we wait. The sea can be wild or welcoming, or both together. At the far north of the bay, a small river enters the sea beneath the rocky promontory. This river winds along the western edge of Staunton’s site, going right past the back door of where we stay. In its short span it holds a wonderful variety of scenery, from lush woodland to the parched spectacle of high sand dunes. At its estuary it is sheer perfection, and I am forever new to its beauty each time I see it.

Sunlight segues into evening, and then heaven releases its stars into the night. Life goes on, in darkness and in dark times. And fun too. When I hear music from neighbouring homes, and as we make it ourselves, they hold an echo of nights gone by. Bonfires ablaze, barbecue aglow, cans and laughs to share with friends. A mixture of the real and imaginary; and the beat going on.

Somehow, the concept of limbo rock is tied up with all the aspects of beach lore. Sun drenched and sand blasted, surfs up and a bevy of California Girls, drinking the zombie from the cocoa shell, and as smoke billows into the night, the sinuous sounds of guitar and bongos beget the need to dance, The big thing is, in this company: how low can you go.

Once, a long time ago, I was wingman for a dj friend at a disco in Crumlin’s parish hall. We were in our early teens and our advanced taste in Rock, providing such excellent fare as Cream, Taste and local heroes Thin Lizzy, was not sufficiently chart orientated for the small gaggle of teenage girls who had gathered around the floor, and were beginning to drift away. We were dying a death when the old chaw doing security had a word in our ears. “Listen, I thought yous were struggling, like. So, I popped home to get some music, thought yis might use it, spark things up a bit.” And there it was: one record. Count it. One. 

Well, DJ Vin put it on, if reluctantly. And you know how it goes:

Get yourself a limbo girl

Give that chic a limbo whirl

There’s a limbo moon above

You will fall in limbo love

Jack be limbo, Jack be quick

Jack go unda limbo stick

All around the limbo clock

Hey, let’s do the limbo rock

Limbo Rock, penned by Jan Sheldon and Billy Strange, was a hit for Chubby Checker in 1962. Checker’s 1960 single The Twist, written by Hank Ballard, initiated the dance craze which became emblematic of the swinging sixties, and beyond. Checker was born Ernest Evans, his stage name is a pun on Fats Domino whom he impersonated. 

Don’t move that limbo bar

You’ll be a limbo star

How low can you go