North Dublin’s Sandy Shore – 2

Memorial Road merges with Amiens Street as we head further north. This is transport city; seafaring ships on the river behind us, the railway curving along the Loopline to our left, while ahead Bus Aras forms a glass and steel embrace for the bus traveller.

Bus Aras is about my vintage. Blinking into the world in the mid fifties, just as I was, not far away in the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell Square. First mooted in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, it took ten years for the project to be realised. Dublin’s first modernist building, it was also emblematic of the modernist rebuilding of Europe after the war.

This significance sat uneasily with conservative Ireland. Bus Aras had to be scaled back from eight storeys to seven, providing a foretaste for Ireland’s perplexing fear of tall buildings. Ultimately, the building features two rectangular blocks of differing heights at right angles, over a circular central foyer, and a semicircular glass frontage jutting onto the concourse. It was designed by Michael Scott and a team of architects including the young Kevin Roche and Robin Walker. LeCorbusier was a major influence, enlivened by more ornate features such as the top floor pavillion and the flowing canopy sweeping along the frontage. This was the work of Ove Arup, structural engineer who would subsequently work on Sydney Opera House in the late fifties.

Through a changing scenario of clients and governments, the project proved expensive. Plans extended past functionality, with restaurants, nightclubs and cinema all planned for a multi purpose complex. High quality materials and various texturings were used: copper, bronze, terrazzo and oak Irish, and a number of expensive meals at Jammet’s thrown in; architects have to eat too.

A small newsreel cinema for waiting passengers ran for a couple of years until replaced by the Eblana theatre. Its small size and situation in the basement, next to the Ladies, led to detractors calling it the only public toilets in Dublin with their own theatre. The Eblana and its company Gemini Productions was founded by Phyllis Ryan and despite its shortcomings, and goings, survived as a theatre until 1995, premiering works by such major playwrights as Brian Friel, Tom Murphy and John B Keane.

Eblana is a name dating back to Claudius Ptolemaeus, or Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer and cartographer whose map of Ireland appeared in his Geographia in the second century AD. It appears south of the Boyne and north of the Avoca of Arklow, and is reckoned to be the first mention of Dublin in historical records. The placing looks right and the name could be a corruption of Dubh Linn, the Black Pool, used centuries later by the Vikings. There is no actual evidence of significant trading settlement hereabouts, way back when. Some scholars think Eblana may refer to areas further north which boast some evidence of Roman trade, with Loughshiny and Portrane as possibilities.

These days Busaras is central to a travel network throughout the city and country. You can even take the bus to London from here, via Holyhead. The Luas red line stops outside, connecting Connolly, next door, with Houston rail station away on the western end of the city. Eastwards, the Luas will continue past Connolly and on through the ultramodern development of the North Wall area as far as the point. There are bars, cafes and restaurants along the way, with Mayor Square providing a good oasis to stop and ponder the modern city.

Meanwhile, back on the banks of Amiens Street, Connolly Station is more than a century older than Busaras. Long known as Amiens Street Station, it was the terminus for the railway connecting Dublin and Belfast. This came into operation in 1844 as the Dublin and Drogheda Line. There was for a while a brief portage at the Boyne while the viaduct awaited construction. This provided the last link in 1853 and made the trip to Belfast a reality. The Dublin terminus was designed by William Deane Butler. It was built of Wicklow Granite and is distinguished by its ornate colonnaded facade and Italianate tower.

Amongst its many virtues over the years was the fact that the station bar worked as a sole oasis for the weary wayfarer. Designated a bona fide premises, that meant it could serve alcohol on days of abstinence, for the bona fide traveller. Armed only with a valid rail ticket, you could claim your reward at the bar, while luckless pedestrians waited outside in the cold and dry. The long Good Friday is no more, only Christmas Day remains as a day of abstinence; well publicly, that is. Matt Talbot would be turning in his grave. Madigans continues to serve food and drink for all who hunger and thirst, day in day out.

The Station faces down one of Dublin’s longest street vistas. The line of Talbot Street continues straight through O’Connell Street, becoming Henry Street, then Mary Street until it hits Capel Street. At 1.3km, it is almost a metric mile from the corner to Slattery’s of Capel Street. Talbot Street has nothing to do with the aforementioned Matt, it is named for Charles Cetwynd Talbot, Ireland’s Lord Lieutenant in 1820. The buildings were laid out in the 1840s at the start of the Victorian era. A certain pall of sleaze has hung in the air from early on. Monto, Dublin’s red light district in gaslight days, was just around the corner. The dreaded loopline came crashing through in 1890. Since then, such premises as the Cinerama, once the Electric Theatre, and Cleary’s pub on Amiens Street, functioned with the added sound effect of trains trundling overhead.

Talbot Street was one of three places in the capital hit by the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in1974. Fourteen of the thirty three victims died here, most of them women and including children and a full term, unborn child. The car bombs were planted by the UVF and exploded at Friday rush hour. The act was part of the Loyalist campaign against the Sunningdale Agreement which proposed a power sharing executive for Northern Ireland. Elements in British security forces, hostile to the British Labour Government, colluded. Peace would come however, twenty years later, with the Good Friday Agreement; Sunningdale for slow learners. A memorial to the victims was unveiled in 1997 and stands at the top of Talbot Street, across from Connolly.

The song Raised by Wolves from U2’s album Songs of Innocence references the event, describing the car and its registration. It features on their 2014 album, Songs of Innocence.

Boy sees his father crushed under the weight
of a cross in a passion where the passion is hate
Blue mink Ford, I’m gonna detonate and you’re dead
Blood in the house, blood on the street
The worst things in the world are justified by belief
Registration 1385-WZ

North Dublin’s Sandy Shore – 1

In contrast to the hilly southside, Dublin’s north shore is quite flat, other than the hill of Howth jutting into the bay. The coast makes an opening for the central plain, extending past Drogheda and on to Dundalk where the Cooley Mountains rise above Carlingford Lough at the Border.
It was an ancient power highway, connecting the Liffey to the Boyne and the centre of Irish power radiating from Tara. And it was a doorstep for invasion too. The Vikings established their first power bases along this coast in the ninth century, originally settling in Dundalk. The emergence of a strong high king, Niall Blacknee, forced them south to establish Dublin in around 845 AD. Originally the settlement was sporadic, but was secure by the end of the millennium, and remained so for two centuries until the Norman invasion.

Dublin was originally built on the higher ground south of the river. The north bank was farmland. The Ostmen were Danish speaking and their territory became known as Oxmantown. Further north the denizens were known as the Fingal, the fair foreigners. The fair foreigner is said to denote the Norwegian Vikings, while Baldoyle, further north, is the town of the dark foreigner, which is said to refer to the Danes. It seems unlikely that this signified distinct, contrasting complexion or even hair colour, the Vikings were generally fair in both. It may have been a note on character. In which case it was surely relative, Vikings were not usually renowned for peace, love and understanding. These days, beyond the city boundary, north county Dublin is called Fingal.

You’ll notice how the Liffey is already widening into its estuary east of O’Connell Bridge. The flow of water is tidal, with its inherent smell and rowdy host of seagulls. The land hereabouts has much been reclaimed from the shallow sea of Dublin Bay. Since the late eighteenth century, Dublin Port has developed along constructed quaysides with the silting estuary being cleared at last by the huge engineering feat of the North and South Bull Walls. While the South Bull is a direct extension of the south quays, the North Bull is farther away and out of sight, a finger extending into the bay from the distant suburb of Dollymount. The North Quays terminate at the Point and the East Link Bridge; Dublin’s modern port and docks extending further east for a bit.

As a starting point for our safari along North Dublin’s Sandy Shore, we can walk either bank down past Butt Bridge, under the Loop Line and on to the Talbot Memorial Bridge. The bridge was built in 1978 becoming then the easternmost crossing of the Liffey. It is named for Matt Talbot, poster boy of Irish temperance, with his statue standing on the southern end.

Matt Talbot was born in 1856 in North Strand and worked as an unskilled labourer. A fierce drinker from his early teens, he abandoned the demon drink at the age of twenty eight. His obsession with alcohol was replaced with an extreme, though benign, religious fervour. On his death in 1925, he was discovered to have practiced self mortification with several chains wrapped around his body beneath his clothing. He was renowned as an admirable worker and, while poor, was a dapper dresser. Some characterised him as a strike breaker in 1913, though there’s no evidence of this. Apparently he refused strike pay, donating it instead to comrades with families to support.

Photograph by Paula Nolan, a contemporary of mine at NCAD, George’s Quay. A fine photographer, she has exhibited at the RHA.

Also in 1978, George’s Quay became temporary home to the National College of Art and Design. I was one of the inbetweeners studying graphic design there as the college moved from its base in Kildare Street, between Leinster House National Library, to its current campus at Powers Distillery on Thomas Street. The surrounding area crumbled while awaiting the redemption of development. The theme song to the rubble and crumbling chimney stacks provided by U2 at Windmill Lane nearby. Today, the crystalline towers of the Ulster Bank form a significant landmark for the modern city. Begun in 1997 and completed five years later, the complex is distinguished by seven pyramid crowned glass towers and is now known as George’s Quay Plaza.

Another photograph by Paula Nolan, from the tv seat of a bus heading south on Memorial Road

Across the Bridge, the Custom House floats serenely above the waters of the Liffey. Initiated by Ireland’s first Revenue Commissioner John Beresford in 1780, it was designed by James Gandon and after completion in 1791 would be regarded as his masterpiece. The project had been much derided at the start, being built on a swamp and seen as remote from the city centre. The Corporation, enraged traders and the High Sheriff himself, sharked up mobs to disrupt construction, but Beresford prevailed. Now it’s a definitive symbol of Dublin, and stands away to the west of the extensive docklands.

Not that it hasn’t suffered its fair share of depredations in the meantime. It was burned by rebels during the War of Independence with the aim of destroying tax records. Unfortunately, the interior, the dome and irreplaceable historical records were also destroyed. The new government of independent Ireland moved quickly to restore the building. The renovation is apparent with the darker stone used for the reconstruction of the central tower. Meanwhile, Memorial Road was named in honour of those from the Dublin Brigade who died in this, and other engagements in the war.

Downriver, the International Financial Services Centre, is an undistinguished grouping of medium rise glass blocks from the late twentieth century. Beyond, lies the modern, geometric heart of the new commercial capital. Upriver, the Loop Line Bridge occludes the Fair City. This wrought iron bridge and carriageway of 1890 has attracted the ire of the aesthetically sensitive ever since.
The Loop Line linked Ireland’s South Eastern railway system, affectionately known as the Slow and Easy, with the Great Northern Railway, linking the capital to Belfast. Pragmatic trumped aesthetic, with the project crashing through the facade of the South Eastern’s Westland Row HQ, before masking off the view of the Custom House and much else to each side.

However it was functionally a boon, completing the East Coast railway axis and crucially linking the Mailboat service from Kingstown. Even more so today, providing direct access for freight and commuters between Dublin and Belfast, and all around the bay and beyond to the towns and cities of the South and East. Besides, it is a visual delight to sit aboard a train twixt Tara and Connolly and finding yourself at the centre of the joyful panorama of Dublin and its sublime River Liffey. Better yet, it is a vista unmarked by the intrusion of the Loop Line itself.

I referred to the song What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding earlier on. Written in 1974 by Nick Lowe, it became a hit for Elvis Costello in 1978 and was tacked on to the American release of the album Armed Forces. It forms a neat counterpoint to the theme of conflict implicit, if vaguely, in the songs and album title. Oliver’s Army directly references British military campaigns in Ireland right back to Oliver Cromwell. Costello was born Declan McManus in London and is of Irish descent. His songs are rich in wordplay, snappy phrases, and catchy too. He didn’t write this, but he could have. It’s a song of other times, one that fits with our times, and one for all time.

As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself, is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding? Oh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?