North Dublin’s Sandy Shore – 4

Leaving behind the Tolka River, the Main Road curves around Fairview Park. It’s a welcome stretch of greenery after the urban drear of North Strand. The park was reclaimed from tidal mudflats in the 1920s as the hinterland was being developed into suburbia. Tree lined walks are formally laid out, effectively masking off the railway line. Nearer the road, there’s a skatepark and a children’s playground. Beyond the tracks there are all weather pitches for Gaelic and Soccer.

Early on we pass a statue of Sean Russell. Russell was an IRA leader in the War of Independence, and fought against the Treaty in the Civil War. While the IRA diminished, Russell’s radicalism did not. He pursued the armed struggle until his death in 1940. He touted for arms and funding from the Soviet Union and subsequently Nazi Germany. From Germany he set out with Frank Ryan by U-boat, bound for Ireland as part of a sabotage mission. He died aboard and was buried at sea.

The memorial was erected in 1951 and has not proved popular with everyone. In 1954, the right arm, raised in unspecified salute was amputated by right, or left, wingers, depending. Next it was decapitated in 2004 by objectors citing Russell’s Nazi connections, condemning the latter’s systematic extermination of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. Apologists claim Russell was no Nazi, and that he leaned towards Communist Russia betimes. A man of many hats, so. The accident prone statue was replaced with a sturdier bronze version. Russell stands, right hand advisedly held close to his side, his left clutching a hat; though precisely which hat is unsure. This hasn’t repelled further indignities. The plinth was gaily painted, quite literally, with the LGBT flag in 2020.

Further on, the main road joins with Fairview Strand, coming from our left. The area known as Fairview formed in the early nineteenth century. Though originally considered part of Ballybough, Poor Town, it was in fact more of a middle class enclave and also held a sizeable Jewish community. 

Marino College curves along with the roadway. This second level school, built in 1936 was designed by Robinson O’Keeffe, as a technical college. It is faced in granite and redbrick with metal framed windows. Its attractive, curved facade, recalls the style of the Art Deco period, when style and function rhymed. The complex includes a public library. The mansard roof is a later addition from the seventies, intended to harmonise with the more elegant mansards of the earlier buildings along the frontage.

The building of the church, Our Lady of Fairview, in mid century suggested a more pleasing name. In fact, the view over Dublin Bay from higher ground behind the foreshore had long been considered exceedingly fine. Presiding over it was the demesne of Lord Charlemont, and his grand Georgian residence, Marino House.

The fair view is perhaps less obvious now, the serrated scar of the docklands cutting across the serene complexion of the bay. A view still bracing to the modern, metropolitan soul, and beneath it, the palimpsest of heaven’s reflex endures. Marino House was built in 1753 for James Caulfield, the first Earl of Charlemont, and designed by Scottish architect, William Chambers. He also designed Charlemont House for the Earl in Parnell Square, the building which now houses Dublin’s Municipal Gallery, the Hugh Lane. A guiding impetus for the Marino project was the Grand Tour of Europe, a traditional rite of passage in the formation of the great and the good.The young Caulfield had been particularly engaged by the tour; nine years swanning around the Mediterranean, what’s not to like? On his return, the Bay of Naples, embedded in his memory, must have seemed magically projected on the horizon in the silhouette of the Dublin Mountains and Wicklow’s Sugarloaf Mountains. Milton’s Paradise Lost was another inspiration, suggesting a Garden of Eden for the aesthetically robust Earl back in his beloved home. Caulfield resolved to conjure up his own Xanadu from the higher ground of Marino. 

The Casino (meaning small house) was also designed by William Chambers as a garden pavilion for the big house. Something of a Georgian Tardis, the building looks compact from without, but it comprises three stories and is on a grande scale within. Built in 1770, it was truly a wonder of its day, but fell into decline when the estate was sold in 1881. The Irish State took ownership in the thirties, and it has been lovingly restored by the OPW. Today only the pavilion survives, Marino House being demolished in the 1920s to make way for the housing estate.

This was the first large local authority housing estate built in independent Ireland. It followed the principles of the Garden City Movement, which aimed for the perfect synthesis of urban and rural living. One thousand, three hundred concrete houses were built, arranged in a symmetrical pattern encompassing circular greens and parks. 

North of the junction of Malahide Road, stands an imposing Georgian crescent of twenty six houses, the only such crescent in Ireland. Built in 1792 by Charles Ffolliatt, a property developer from Aungier Street. It is said to have been built as a spite wall to block the view of the sea from Marino House. The nature of the dispute is lost in time, but whether the developer’s petty insult hastened the Earl’s end we can’t say. He had more important matters to observe, being president of the Royal Irish Academy and in the Irish Parliament a keen supporter of Henry Grattan and the assertion of Irish Independence. The Earl died in 1799 at seventy years of age, so at least he never got to see the hated Act of Union, that disaster being implemented two years later.

The Crescent was originally a redbrick terrace, but the facades were plastered in the Regency years as was then the fashion. The small park in front of the Crescent was originally for residents, though is now open to the public. It is named for Bram Stoker, the author of sensational novels in the Belle Epoque.

Abraham (Bram) Stoker was born in 1847 and lived at Number 15. Florence Balcombe, who lived at 1, became his wife. Oscar Wilde was a suitor, but she opted for Stoker and they married in 1878. Oscar wasn’t pleased, but he and Stoker remained friends, even after the Fall. The Stokers moved to London where Bram worked as manager for actor Henry Irving and the Lyceum Theatre until his death in 1912.

Stoker’s most enduring work is Dracula, published in 1897. A landmark of Gothic horror, it is an epistolary novel beginning with the account of Jonathan Harker, summoned to the Transylvanian Castle of Count Dracula. Dracula has become the archetypal Vampire, an ancient, nocturnal species that feeds on human blood. The legend is woven into European folklore from which Stoker drew his inspiration. There were also antecedents closer to home.

Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla was published a quarter century earlier. Carmilla was a lesbian vampire, with the ability to morph into the form of a cat; Catwoman to Stoker’s Batman, who was himself wreathed in an aura of sexual ambiguity. With the heady mix of sex, death, horror and everlasting life, no surprise that Dracula became a staple of Hollywood horror. Nosferatu, a German expressionist silent film of the twenties, was the second film version of the book.

Florence, executor of her spouse’s estate, won a lawsuit against the filmmakers specifying that all copies be destroyed. The film, like the legend, endures, a creepy masterpiece in monochrome.

Both Fairview Park and Bram Stoker Park are closed off by the railway barrelling inland. At the end of Fairview is the Westwood Club, with a fifty metre swimming pool, indoor tennis courts, gyms and studios, a veritable mecca for health and fitness. Westwood were established across the bay in the Deep South at Leopardstown in 1988. I worked there for a time, but more in overalls than leotards. I painted murals for the studios, finding angels amidst the physical jerks. 

We are all in the gutter

but some of us are looking at the stars

More metaphysical pleasures are celebrated at Bram Stoker’s Castle Dracula Experience housed in the Westwood Club. The experience is a two hour evening show, an interactive experience with characters from Dracula, and the life of Bram Stoker. Ironically, perhaps, it finds itself closed due to the pandemic.

The quote is a line written by Oscar Wilde in his comedy of infidelity, Lady Windermere’s Fan. It is echoed in the Pretenders 1981 song Message of Love, written by Chrissie Hind, something of an ode to fidelity, from their second album. The line is usually read as advocating the ability of art, or love, to lift us above the humdrum.

2 thoughts on “North Dublin’s Sandy Shore – 4

  1. A great walk around despite what look likes a wet day. The Georgian crescent is very impressive án reading about the birthplace of Bram Stoker. Sometime I want to visit Whitby where he visited often. I went years ago but don’t remember it much.

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