O’Donoghue’s Bar was founded in 1789. It must have soaked up the revolutionary fervour of the age, with all the rebel rousing balladry that entails. The pub is bound forever to Dublin’s folk boom of the 1960s. Most especially, it is associated with the Dubliners. Ronny Drew, Luke Kelly et al were permanent fixtures as much as the pumps and the optics. Located in Merrion Row, it hosts regular folk sessions in the long back snug. The Haggard to the side forms an extensive outdoor area.
O’Donoghue’s is often my first port of call when I go in to Dublin. It’s been a while since my last visit. I always go there on my birthday, and other places besides. My annual treat is looking unlikely, my birthday’s on Monday. But a man can dream. This painting is a typical view, as I nurse a pint of Harp and take in the scenery, and Sally O’Brien and the way she might look at you.
One day as I rambled to Donnybrook Fair
I met lovely Sally a combing her hair
she gave me a wink with her roving dark eye
and I says to myself I’ll be there by and by
The song Ramble Away is an English folk song, from Somerset. Shirley Collins’s version is probably the best known, appearing on Anthems From Eden with her sister Dolly in 1969. For the lyrics here I’m using a version by Tommy Tourish, a Donegal sean nos singer, as the mentions of Donnybrook Fair and Sally’s roving dark eye chime with the place I’m in. You might pass this way if you were going to Donnybrook Fair, that most ancient and famous of fairs. The girl to the right I see as something of a Sally O’Brien, and the way she might look at you. There’s contact there, a spark.
Al O’Donnell sang the song with Birmingham Fair the setting. I’d have thought Al might use Donnybrook Fair, as he worked in RTE for thirty years. O’Donnell grew up in Harold’s Cross, and was a player in the folk boom. He mostly played solo, but briefly joined Sweeney’s Men, replacing Henry McCullough when he left in 1968, between the band’s two albums. Al released two albums of his own. The first eponymous album from 1972 kicks off with a fine version of Ramble Away, which is also the title of his double cd set from 2008. He passed away in 2015.
We have spent some time within the embrace of Dun Laoghaire’s piers. Southbound again, we leave the East Pier behind and head along Queen’s Road back towards the People’s Park, intersecting with our outward path near Teddy’s Ice Cream shop. From Teddy’s we keep to the coast by way of Windsor Terrace. The curve of the bay is gentle and quietly suburban.
Snuggly settled in the nook between the East Pier and the promontory of Sandycove, is Scotsman’s Bay. Who the eponymous Scot was, we do not know. Perhaps it was in homage to the great engineer, John Rennie. Or recalled instead some wandering Caledonian, nameless and marooned by one of those notorious storms of the town’s prehistory.
In 1999, artist Dorothy Cross installed her work of art, Ghost Ship, in the bay. She took the decommissioned lightship, Albatross, coated it with white phosphorescent paint and floated it in the moonlight to illuminate the century’s end. I took a trip up the coast to view it with M back in the day. There was, of course, the compensation of ice cream at Teddy’s. Evening fell and nighttime flowered and Cross’s Albatross stole upon our sight, an eerie apparition emerging from the gloom. The vision, serene as it was, blazed with poetry and imagery. It was a silent film projected into the mist, and I thought of that greatest of all seafaring tales: Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. But here it was told without words. Harry Clarke’s incomplete rendition of the epic as an illustrated sequence is also recalled, his pen and ink alluding to the literary text while rendering the story in another dimension.
Day after day, day after day,
we stuck, nor breath nor motion;
as idle as a painted ship
upon a painted ocean.
The Albatross tells a silent tale and makes a curious echo of events a century before, when stories were being sent abroad without visual stimulus. The first live radio broadcast of a sports event originated here in Scotsman’s Bay when Marconi transmitted his report of the Kingstown Regatta of 1898 from the Harbourmaster’s House, near the Marine Hotel where he was staying.
Guglielmo Marconi (!874 – 1937) was born in Bologna, Italy, to an aristocratic family. As a teenager he immersed himself in the study of wireless telegraphy using radio waves. Succeeding to some degree, he sought official support in his home country, but was dismissed as a lunatic. At the age of 21 he went to England to find the financial and official backing he needed for his pioneering development. His work brought him to Ireland as he pushed for a global system of communication. Marconi was part Irish, his mother, Anne Jameson, was of the famous Distillers in Wexford. He married an Irishwoman too; Beatrice O’Brien, daughter of Lord Inchiquin of Dromoland Castle in County Clare.
In 1901, Marconi relayed the first transatlantic wireless communication from Cornwall, through Wexford to Clifden and on to Newfoundland. He would go on to establish a regular service between Clifden and Nova Scotia. Marconi laid the groundwork from which audio communication on a global scale, all that radio and rock n roll, would flow.
Sandycove itself is a popular bathing spot and the focus for a famous literary pilgrimage. The quirky and distinctive promontory is crowned by a Martello Tower. It presides over a public bathing spot and a tiny harbour on Scotsman;’s Bay, with the famous, nay notorious Forty Foot Bathing spot hidden to the east. Another distinguishing feature is Michael Scott’s House, Garagh, a white marine art deco that suggests Miami Beach more than South Dublin’s Rocky Shore. Designed in 1937, Scott set out to harmonise with the curvilinear lines of the neighbouring Martello Tower and to suggest, somehow or other, the work of James Joyce, his hero.
Michael Scott was a towering figure in Irish Modernism, if he did say so himself. He had fingers in the design pies of such projects as the Abbey Theatre, Busaras, and the RTE studios. Scott was often the architectural impresario, orchestrating the design skills of a large team, mostly under the banner Scott, Tallon, Walker.
Scott bought the neighbouring Tower with an eye to showcasing Joyce and his novel Ulysses. With funding from film director, John Huston, whose last film was of Joyce’s short story, the Dead, this ambition was achieved in the early sixties. The museum was launched on Bloomsday 1962, by Sylvia Beach, Ulysses first publisher. Enlarged and enhanced in 1978, it’s open all year and admission is free. And well worth it!
Martello Towers take their name from a redoubtable defensive tower at Mortella in Corsica. the British adapting the design for their own use during the Napoleonic Wars. Twenty eight towers defend Dublin’s coastline from Bray in County Wicklow to Balbriggan in North County Dublin, forming a relay of warning towers and a sturdy defensive chain against Napoleon’s French.
This Martello Tower forms the setting for Ulysses’ first scene: Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
Joyce stayed here, briefly, in 1904. Oliver St John Gogarty, an impecunious medical student at the time, invited Joyce to be his flatmate and share the rent; perhaps not the wisest of choices. Joyce left, in a hurry, after a hallucinatory night when Gogarty’s friend, Samuel Trench, after a nightmarish vision of a panther, fired shots from his revolver into the fireplace. The three amigos reconvene in Joyce’s fiction as Buck Mulligan, Stephen Dedalus and Haines.
The famous Forty Foot is on the southern side of the promontory. The bathing place was long a male bastion. Here men could gather and bathe as nature intended. Basically, you can swim in the nip. In Ireland’s climate, it tempts the phrase: hardy men. As it happened, late twentieth century feminism determined to put a halt to such exclusive clubs. Golf clubs, men only bars and the Forty Foot experienced the righteous wrath of women scorned. And so, democracy prevails. Of course, it was never compulsory to frolic naked in this spot. Discretion is often the better part of valour. Dedicated fishermen may dangle a worm in these sharp waters, but not that worm.
The clientele notwithstanding, the Forty Foot gives a view of the rugged nature of these shores. The city hidden from view, there’s just you and the rocks, and the snot green scrotum tightening sea.
Here we stand on a rocky shore
Your father stood here before you
I can see his ghost explore you
I can feel the sea implore you
Not to pass on by
Not to walk on by
And not to try
Just to let it come
Don’t bang the drum!
Another Scot, Mike Scott, wrote these lines for the opening track of the Waterboys 1985 album, This is the Sea. The music for Don’t Bang the Drum was first conceived by Karl Wallinger and developed into the mother of all curtain raisers for the album. The intro is ablaze with Spanish guitar and soaring trumpet; then it really gets going. Scot has lived on these shores on and off since the mid eighties. Perhaps these lines make him a fitting candidate for the naming of the bay.
Climbing to the top of Fairyhill, the Killarney Road heads towards Ballywaltrim and the Southern Cross. Fairyhill has a commanding view of Bray and South Dublin. Little wonder that it would become a holy place, with Pagan and Christian resonances. St Saran’s Cross crowns the hill, an early marker of civilisation in Bray. In this painting, Fairyhill is to the right, its entrance through the keyhole like aperture in the dark triangle of shading trees. To the left the land falls away, discreet detached houses front the main road, my estate of Ripley Hills lies just a few steps farther on. The car, heading south, will pull its glow with it, to wherever it is it’s going. There will be a breath of silence as the spirits whisper to the sea and stars, before another traveller passes through.
I found myself on the roof of the world
just waiting for to get my wings
Strange angel in the changing light
said “Brother, you forgot something!”;
Glastonbury Song is inspired by Glastonbury Tor in Somerset, England. Written by Mike Scott, it is from the Waterboys 1993 album, Dream Harder. The Waterboys originated in Scotland but had been based in Ireland in the late eighties. Their Irish albums were identified with a fusion of rock and Irish traditional music, but with Dream Harder they returned to a more rock orientated sound. However Irish references still abound. Glastonbury Song namechecks Carraroe, the mansion on the Boyne and has that wonderful line: Caught the bus at the Faery fort. The song is an ecstatic fusion of the spiritual and the sensual. A critic noted that it takes a special genius to make the line ‘I just found god’ work as a hookline on a hit single.
The railway rumbles on beneath our feet. Ghost ships sail into the harbour. The 46a is due. Dun Laoghaire grew out of this nexus of travel and communication. The Harbour was born from a suggestion of William Bligh, who picked Dunleary as the site for a harbour of refuge. Bligh had been brought in to address the problem of silting in Dublin Bay. His year long survey of the bay led to the building of the North Bull Wall, though the eventual project differed from his original suggestions. He recommended the need for a second great wall from the north shore of the bay to complement the South Bull. Work began in 1818 and was completed in 1824 to a length of 3,000 metres, a third longer than originally planned.
Bligh served under Captain James Cook in the Pacific, and saw war service against Dutch and French. He commanded the Bounty on its voyage to Tahiti in 1787. On the return, his crew, led by Bligh’s young friend and protege Fletcher Christian, mutinied. Bligh and some loyal crew were set adrift in the Pacific with a few days supply of food and water. Under Bligh’s astonishing leadership, they survived the 47 day, 3,618 mile journey.
Scottish engineer John Rennie masterminded the building of Dunleary’s huge harbour, the largest constructed harbour in Europe when completed in 1842. Rennie was also responsible for Howth Harbour and the Custom House Docks and Tobacco Store (now the CHQ Building) in Dublin. He insisted on the addition of the West Pier. The two piers embrace two hundred and fifty acres of water. The East Pier, slightly the shorter, is the most popular promenade. Two paved walkways, upper and lower, convey a constant flow of people along its kilometre length. There’s a Victorian bandstand a quarter way along and the pier culminates in an impressive granite lighthouse. The West pier, slightly longer at almost a mile, has a wilder, less urbane air. From this you have a closer vantage point of the Liffey estuary, with ships passing against the backdrop of the city, while, paradoxically, its relative isolation gives more space for reflection.
In recent years, the harbour has fallen on hard times as a passenger port. All major passenger services were gone by 2015. The harbour remains busy with its marina and a plethora of pleasure craft. It also hosts the occasional cruise ship.
Forty Foot is a name that crops up a lot in these parts. The original bathing spot is just south of here in Sandycove. From this local poet, Anne Fitzgerald, derived the name for the publishing house, Forty Foot Press. If bathing and bardic pursuits should raise a thirst, and what doesn’t, then repair to the Forty Foot, Wetherspoon’s franchise housed atop the Pavilion Centre. I was there for the launch a couple of years back. It was invitation only, but, determined on a pint, I remembered the beanie I was wearing. Given me by Anne Fitzgerald and emblazoned with the publisher’s name, the bouncer could hardly refuse admission. Is there anything more pleasant than a pint blagged, to be savoured in the sunshine with a view of the sea? Indeed, a pint at the Forty Foot costs less than elsewhere, and there’s an extensive menu of craft brews and good bar food besides.
The original pavilion was a timber and glass structure one hundred and fifty feet long. Opened in 1903, it was designed to resemble a ship. The top deck, thirty foot above ground level, consisted of a promenade giving three hundred and sixty degree views of mountain, sea and town, crowned by a landmark Belvedere. On the ground floor, there were reading rooms, tea rooms, a smoking room and a concert hall.
Four acres of gardens were landscaped by William Shepherd, whose cv included Dublin Zoo and St. Stephen’s Green, with bandstand, tennis courts, ornamental pond and a waterfall. In 1915 the Pavilion burnt down. Refurbished in the twenties it then featured a cinema and dance hall. It burned down again in 1940. Rebuilt for the third time, and taking a lesson from the three little pigs, rebuilt in concrete, the Pavilion’s Art Deco facade was a true picture palace of its day. Cinema’s popularity waned in the seventies and the venue returned to a more traditional ethos, with music, theatre and ballet. The building became derelict in the eighties
This century a new incarnation of the Pavilion emerged. Shops and restaurants line the lower level facing Queen’s Street and the Harbour, while the upper deck houses a new Pavilion Theatre and the Forty Foot Bar.
The Town Hall, across the road, is an attractive building in the style of an Italian palace with high slender clocktower and coloured brickwork. Designed by John Loftus Robinson in 1879, it incorporated the courthouse, municipal offices and a public hall. Perfectly preserved, it now forms part of the County Hall for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.
The vista up Marine Road is crowned by the spire of St Michael’s Church. This is all that remains of the original Gothic church which was destroyed by fire in 1965. The church dated back to the 1820s. The present structure is a plain modernist cube. Heading back downhill, a pleasant Victorian block is shaded by trees. Passing Nando’s, the dappled light whispers: Momma told me there’d be days like these, nothing shaking but the leaves on the trees. There was once a hotel there, the Mellifont, if my memory serves me well. Here, the legendary Nothin’ Shakin’ had their first gig back in the eighties. The man who stepped up to the microphone was Brian Hogan, Crocodile Dunleary himself. Brian was last seen, standing astern on a departing P&O liner bound for Australia.
Ireland’s Age of Steam was born in Dun Laoghaire..The passenger rail connection between Kingstown and Dublin was one of the first commuter rails in the world when established in 1834. The railway further stimulated population growth and Kingstown became a fashionable Victorian resort and well to do suburb, separate from the seething city of Dublin, but only a half hour away by train. The railway obliterated much of the Old Harbour and the fishing village of previous centuries. The original stop was in Old Dun Laoghaire, by the West Pier, but was extended to the present station nearer the East Pier three years later to be closer to the Mail Boat.
The railway station is built on a bridge over the cutting. It was designed by John Skipton Mulvaney in 1853 in a neo-classical style. The grand old station is now a restaurant. Mulvaney was a follower of Gandon, and designed several stations for the rail network of the nineteenth century, most notably the Egyptian inspired neo-classical Broadstone Station in Dublin. He’s also responsible for the Royal Irish Yacht Club to the west and the Royal St George Yacht Club visible nearby.
The northern leg of our loop of South Dublin’s Rocky Shore, follows the Dartline to the West Pier. That promenade is popular with the boys and girls of the Forty Foot publishing house, and is ideal on a brisk sunny day. Back on dry land, a short walk uphill brings us to the Purty Kitchen, an atmospheric spot for food and drink and good music. It was founded almost three hundred years ago, the nucleus of the now vanished fishing village from which modern Dun Laoghaire sprang.
So, I jumped on a bus to Dun Laoghaire
stopping off to pick up my guitar
and a drunk on the bus told me how to get rich
I was glad we weren’t going too far
Summer in Dublin was a big hit for Bagatelle in 1980. The band formed in Bray in 1978, with Liam Reilly as singer/songwriter. The song mixes rose-tinted nostalgia with the clash of modern reality. Catchy too. Though specifically a Dublin theme song, Dun Laoghaire features strongly. The 46a is the local bus.