Dublin’s Circular Roads – 10

Portobello

Porto Little Bird

Crossing Clanbrassil Street, we enter Portobello. It is named after the area in West London, commemorating an event in the War of Jenkins’s Ear. Even back then the English were running out of names to give their little wars. Said Jenkins was a seaman much traduced by the Spanish foe before such amputations were glamourised by Van Gogh. In revenge, the English annexed the Spanish harbour stronghold of Portobello in Panama, in 1793.

The atmosphere of lower middle class antiquity lingers; intimate, redbrick and tree lined. We are crossing into Dublin’s salubrious Eastside. By way of celebration, first port of call is within a block of Leonard’s Corner at the Little Bird Cafe. Laid back and ladled with a healthy dollop of New Age sensibility, there is a pleasant outdoor apron where we can survey the streetlife. The view east is dominated by St. Kevin’s Church of Ireland at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue. Built in 1883 in a deep shade of red sandstone, its spire forms a serene landmark. It served its congregation a bare century before being converted into apartments. 

Porto St Kevin's

Before the church, the land was occupied by Royal Portobello Gardens. These were established1839 with a music hall and space devoted to daring spectacles. Charles Blondin, who traversed Niagara Falls on a tightrope, had a notorious mishap in Portobello. The far-famed unambolist, posters promised, would perform more of his arduous and daring exploits. Unfortunately the rope snapped and while Blondin escaped with little worse than a bruised ego, two workmen on the site were killed. Blondin turned escapologist as the inquest unfolded and a warrant was issued for his arrest. But all was resolved for him to return once more for his death defying, and thankfully not death causing, performance. 

Another renowned visitor was Mr Pablo Fanque. From Norwich, he was a man of colour when such shades were less usual, and less popular than now. Yet, Mr Fanque bucked the trend, becoming both popular and profitable as a performer, and as a person. Fanque devoted himself to helping those in need in the community, with special generosity to other performers. One particular notice of a benefit performance for a certain Mr. Kite inserted itself into twentieth century popular culture.John Lennon came across a reproduction of the poster whilst rummaging in an antique shop and, putting the printed text to music with some small adjustments, gave us the Beatles’s song, Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite.

For the benefit of Mr Kite

There will be a show tonight on trampoline.

The Hendersons will all be there

Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair – what a scene!

Over men and horses, hoops and garters

Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!

In this way Mr K will challenge the world!

The Gardens ulltimately pushed their luck too far. Mr Kirby, a pyrotechnician, was joint proprietor of the enterprise. Unfortunately, his fondness for playing with fire was to foreshadow his undoing. Stalked by a mystery arsonist, it is said, his own.house and the Gardens’ music hall burned down in 1862. St Kevin’s would dedicate itself to higher, that is heavenly, pursuits. 

By the end of the nineteenth century Portobello became known as Little Jerusalem. Jewish emigrants, fleeing draconian edicts in Tsarist Russia settled here, leaving an indelible mark on the culture and fabric of the area and beyond. By the 1940s the Jewish community had reached four thousand people. Today , it is less than half that.

Porto Greenville Hall Syn

We had passed the Greenville Hall Synagogue on the far side of Leonard’s Corner, in Dolphin’s Barn. Built in 1925, it’s an impressive neo-classical building. As with the other synagogues dotted around the South Circular it has shed its original purpose. The suburbs of Rathgar and Terenure to the South are now the focus for Jewish worship. 

The Jewish influence hasn’t entirely vanished. Between the SCR and the Canal, Lennox Street bisects the heart of Portobello. It is pervaded by the aroma of the Bretzel. The Bretzel is long famed for its bagels and, though now under new management, still casts its alluring smells of kosher bread. The Irish Jewish Museum is located on Walworth Road nearby. The site was once a small synagogue which was dubbed the Rebel Schul as it opposed the appointment of zealous Zionist, Isaac Herzog as Chief Rabbi in the fledgling Irish Free State. In a curious twist of fate, the Museum was opened in 1985 by Chaim Herzog, Isaac’s son, then newly inaugurated President of Israel who grew up in Bloomfield Avenue. Another Irish political dynasty of note was the Briscoes. Robert Briscoe and his son Ben represented the constituency for Fianna Fail for seventy five of the first eighty years of the state.

Your trouser cuffs are dirty,

Your shoes are laced up wrong,

You’d best take off your Homburg,

And your overcoat’s too long.

(Homburg by Procol Harum)

The arts also benefitted from the Jewish invasion. Harry Kernoff, whose studio was in Stamer Street, was born in London but is indelibly associated with the depiction of Dublin’s people and places. His best known paintings captured the colourful camaraderie of Dublin’s street and pub culture. They have become icons of bygone days, though Kernoff only began to be appreciated a couple of years before his death in 1974. Academy Award nominated Film director Lenny Abrahamson grew up on Bloomfield Avenue in the sixties. His  work typifies the view of the outsider who is also an insider, giving an eclectic take on Irish life in such diverse dramas as Adam and Paul, Garage and What Richard Did. Stern Joyceans will be sure to visit 52 Upper Clanbarassil Street, home of Dublin’s most famous Jew. Leopold Bloom was, of course, a figment of James Joyce’s imagination.

Porto Shaw

Another literary giant haunts the neighbourhood. George Bernard Shaw’s birthplace is at the corner of Synge Street.Born in 1856, Shaw emigrated to London as a twenty year old, to establish himself as a leading playwright and commentator. He wrote Pygmalion, setting up that saucy duel of language and class between Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins. The Broadway team of Lerner and Loewe, adapting it as My Fair Lady, infused it with that innocent banter and exaggeration that bear the musical aloft like a soap bubble. Shaw was made of sterner stuff, while still alive with wit until his death at  the grand old age of ninety four. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 and also bagged an Oscar for the screenplay of Pygmalion.

I have often walked down this street before,

But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before.

All at once am I several stories high,

To be back on the street where you live!

Here, I must pause, and gather the dust of years about me. Through three hundred and sixty degrees, the redbrick is constant and calm. Lennox Street is surrounded by the footfalls of the city. It is serene in a wise and battered way.

Porto Lennox

A long lost lover hails from these parts. Mary Rose was something of a mirror image of Eliza. Known as Professor Plum from her Loretto accent, a bloom amongst the thorny local dialect. I recall walking through empty streets on a sunny summer’s morning, redbrick terraces framing squares of blue sky, and the unexplained snowfall of Spring blossoms. Or maybe there’s other reasons for that.

Are there lilac trees in the heart of town?

Can you hear a lark in any other part of town?

Does enchantment pour out of every door?

No it’s just on the street where you live!

Synge Street leads back to the SCR where the stretch of road leading east is called Harrington Street. The church on the northern side is another St. Kevin’s, this one for the Roman Catholic Community. It was opened in 1872 and the site includes Synge Street CBS. From here to the junction with Kelly’s Corner is a richly atmospheric tree shaded boulevard, albeit a short one. Brother Hubbard’s colonises the pavement with the ambience of cafe society. Bearing left heads into Camden Street’s Golden Mile of music joints and bars, for centuries a raucous and rebellious thoroughfare. 

She thinks she’s tough,

She ain’t no English rose,

But the blind singer, he’e seen enough and he knows,

Sings a song about a long lost Irish girl,

I’ve got one for you, my Portobello Belle.

Portobello Belle (Dire Straits)

Porto Richmond

Richmond Street continues the Camden Street thoroughfare, heading south. At the junction, Kelly’s Corner, we experience a sudden connection with the blare of city life. This marks the end of Portobello. There’s a wonderful vista south towards Rathmines. The massive copper dome of the Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners looms above the rooftops.. The church was built in 1854 by architect Patrick Byrne in the Greek style, embellished later with an ornate pediment and portico by WH Byrne. It was destroyed by fire in 1920, but rebuilt in 1922 with the spectacular addition of the dome. This was made in Glasgow and it is said was intended for an Orthodox church in St. Petersburg but abandoned after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The elegant clocktower of Rathmines Town Hall shimmers in the middle distance. With the Grand Canal at your feet, at last it rhymes with its Adriatic promise.

Portobello Harbour was part of the GrandCanal extension in 1801 from the Basin to the Docks. The City Basin Reservoir, further west, was filled in circa 1883. The harbour itself was abandoned some time later, becoming a carpark. The historical function of the place is suggested by the pub frontage, proclaiming The Lower Deck. In the nineteen sixties this became a great ballads venue where bearded men beat a path towards freedom with banjos, fiddles and a rake of pints.

Porto H wide

A large Georgian pile has presided over the spot since 1806. It was designed by James Colbourn as a grand hotel. The calm neo-classical palace gave an impressive welcome for the visitor to Dublin, whether approaching along the canal or from the south by way of Rathmines, a suburb that developed in the mid nineteenth century. Portobello House became a convent in 1859 but returned to being a hotel again a decade later. Through much of the twentieth century it became a nursing home and is now a language school.

Retracing our steps to Kelly’s Corner, we cross to Camden Street in search of refreshments. There’s no need to go far. The Bleeding Horse pub is said to derive its colourful name from the Battle of Rathmines in 1649. The battle took place at the time of the English Civil War. James Butler, then Earl of Ormonde, aligned the Royalists with the Irish Confederacy against Cromwell’s forces, leading an attack on the Parliamentarian stronghold of Dublin. They were routed by the Roundheads at Rathmines. The Earl survived, becoming first Duke of Ormonde and the man responsible for the remaking of Dublin, the Liffey Quays in particular, following the Restoration.

The Bleeding Horse  was licensed in that year. It’s said that an early visitor was a riderless horse which wandered from the battle scene southwards to Camden Street where it poked its head inside the new inn before expiring from its wounds. A bit like me, in fact, though I don’t intend to expire before wrapping myself around a pint. The pub was frequented over time by Sheridan Le Fanu, Olvier St. John Gogarty and James Joyce. It is mentioned in Ulysses, wherein local Jewish gentleman, Leopold Bloom, fulfils an Odyssey in a day long perambulation around Dublin. I’ll drink to that..

 

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Bridge Across T’Skye

Skye Paintng

I’ve taken the bridge across t’Skye. It’s akin to flying, but without the anticlimax of landing. In Skye the heart soars with each vista, heaven reflected in its lakes and mountains, God’s breath in its firmament. From Kyleakin on, the scenery never dips, but rises to trump what’s gone before.

The largest of the Inner Hebrides, Skye itself looks poised to take off from Scotland’s west coast. The Gaelic name implies Winged Isle, though it may also derive from the Norse for Misty Isle. The Norse ruled here from the ninth till the thirteenth century. Subsequently, the clans MacDonald and MacLeod fought over it. Ultimately, the clan system was dismantled by the conquering English who suppressed the Jacobite Risings. From here, Bonnie Prince Charlie was aided in his flight by Flora MacDonald in 1746. The escape has become mythical in the emergence of modern Scottish identity.

We had but a day here. Taking in the town of Portree and continuing on through the majestic and desolate landscape of Quirang at the top of the island. We walked in the footsteps of dinosaurs, exchanged words in ancient Gaelic. Returning to the mainland we wound down to the present along this beautiful road. Rain and sunshine vied to paint the landscape in their own hues. I have rendered it in acrylic on canvas.

Dublin’s Circular Roads – 8

IMG_2571Kilmainham to Dolphin’s Barn

Moving on from the Patriots Pub, the road falls downhill from Kilmainham to the Camac River which flows discreetly under a high, short bridge. At the junction there’s a pleasant restaurant with outdoor seating housed in a modernist building with a certain Art Deco ambience. Called Union 8 from the Dublin 8 postal district it’s a busy spot, modelled, I think, on a notion of Brooklyn brassiere chique. 

IMG_2573The Old Kilmainham Road heads east towards the city. Further townwards, an early twentieth century housing estate is perched on its hill. Known as Mount Brown, there’s a whiff of Gothic romance off the place, home for the urban hobbit. It’s an early example of Dublin Corporation’s attempts to break out of the ghetto housing to which the working classes were once condemned. Designed by keen modernist TJ Byrne, it stands comparison with the Iveagh Trust terraced housing projects of that era. 

Inchicore stays off to our right by way of Emmet Road. Inchicore is from the Irish, sheep island. Shepherds used to gather their flocks here on land bordered by the Liffey and Camac rivers. Over the last century it has grown into a heavily populated working class suburb. 

Local club St. Patrick’s Athletic play out of Richmond Park, a pitch not renowned for its resemblance to a billiard table. It was said that the goalie at one end was unable to see his opposite number below the knees. Though, why a goalie would ever want to see the ankles of his opposite number is hard to figure. Founded in 1929 in the Phoenix Park, they set up house at Richmond Park the following year. They came of age in 1951 when they were admitted to the League of Ireland and are the only club to have maintained a topflight status ever since. In that time they have won nine League titles and three FAI cups.

Paul McGrath dallied with the side before departing for Manchester Utd. McGrath was a majestic centre back who became one of Ireland’s most loved footballers, featuring at European Nations and World Cup tournaments. Born in 1959 in England, spending his early years in an orphanage before returning to Ireland at age six. In 1981, while working as a security guard, he signed professional terms with St Pat’s, becoming Player of the Year in his first, and only season. Black footballers were something of a rarity in early eighties Ireland, McGrath was given the nickname the Black Pearl of Inchicore. He moved to Manchester United in 1982, fans adapting a chant which is now indelibly associated with him: Ooh ah, Paul McGrath!…

IMG_2576Rising with the road again, this section of the SCR holds a certain charm. The redbrick terrace with mansard roofs is dappled beneath the plane trees. Eurospar and the Natural Bakery have scattered chairs and tables providing a slice of cafe society for the passing boulevardier. I can imagine Phil Lynott strolling down from Dublin 12 with local lad, Brian Downey. There might even be a pre-echo of Parisienne Walkway.

I remember Paris in forty nine,

Champs Elysees, Saint Michel and old Beaujolais wine,

And I recall that you were mine,

In those Parisienne days

Lynott would collaborate with Gary Moore on this 1979 hit. The trio had briefly formed a temporary Thin Lizzy in 1974 following the departure of guitarist Eric Bell, and prior to the foursome featuring the dual guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. The opening line alludes to Lynott’s birth year and his father, Cecil Parris, whose surname was grafted onto Lynott’s given name. 

Looking back at the photographs,

Those summer days spent outside corner cafes.

Oh, I could write you paragraphs

About my old Parisienne days.

The SCR turns sharply east, before the Grand Canal. On the southern side of the street, a handsome Victorian building stands out. Now known as Hybreasal House this was originally a convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Founded in 1883, Saint Patrick’s House was used as a nursing home for the elderly for more than a century, converted to apartments in 1993. The cut stone granite building was designed by WH Byrne architects who designed a host of religious buildings throughout Ireland in the late nineteenth century.

IMG_2584The term Hy-Breasal derives from Irish myth. The fabled isle in the Atlantic was said to appear only one day in seven years and was a land of idyllic perfection. Described by St Brendan the navigator, and others, as a circular island divided by a canal, it was something of an El Dorado, golden domes and spires set amidst great natural beauty. The name was appropriated for Brazil, on its discovery, although a convoluted rebuttal insists that the term Brasil derives from a local timber commodity. The perfection of navigation, saw the fading of such myths, as the reality which had informed them emerged from the mists. They are, I suppose, true, if inaccurate. For that matter, the Dublin of our odyssey is itself circular divided by a central waterway, the Liffey. Welcome so, to Hy Brasil. 

We return to the elegant residential streetscape typical of the Circular Roads, redbrick and treelined, implicitly packed with undiscovered narrative. This straight stretch of road culminates at the gates to St. James’s Hospital before crossing the Red Luas line at Rialto Bridge which gives its name to the area. 

IMG_2587Here the Luas is built on the old terminal section of the Grand Canal. Completed by the end of the eighteenth century, having begun in 1759, the crucial waterway connection with Sallins took twenty years. Within another five the Canal pushed through to the Shannon. The Grand Canal Basin served Guinness’s and the various breweries and industries of the Liberty of St Thomas Court. At the turn of the century, the Canal was extended in a loop toward Dublin Bay, and by 1810 joining the confluence of the Liffey and Dodder rivers at Grand Canal Docks. Which we’ll see at the end of our odyssey.

The song, the Good Ship Kalibar, is a fanciful ballad harking back to the intrepid lives of ancient navigators of the inland waterways.

Heave away me hearties, we’re bound for lands afar,

As we sail away from James’s Gate, aboard the Kalibar!

The Basin segment remained in use for almost two centuries, before being filled in as a linear park in 1976. It was the end of a most enthralling piece of urban fabric, an ancient industrialised zone reflected in its watery highway. It is again a new avenue of utility with the building of the Luas Red Line in 2004 from Connolly Station through here and on to the Square in Tallaght.

Rialto implies echoes of Venice, it does hug the Grand Canal after all. It seems that the bridge across the old Grand Canal at its intersection with the South Circular, built by Henry Roche, was reminiscent of Ponte de Rialto in Venice, somehow. But it was a good name, and it stuck. What Shakespeare would have made of it, one may wonder. 

Many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me, about my money and my usances. Still have I borne it with a patient shrug, for suffrance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog and spit upon my Jewish gaberdene, and all for the use of that which is mine own.

IMG_2596Rialto is an old working class suburb, housing those employed by the canals, breweries and distilleries as Dublin spread southwest from the Liberties. It has evolved its own character, something of an urban village. Although flanked by notorious housing projects, the SCR thoroughfare is characterised by the redbrick, woodframe ambience of Victorian design. A lovely Tudor revival terrace arcs along the northern rim of Rialto’s central plaza. The architectural style, sometimes called Mock Tudor, became popular towards the end of the nineteenth century and is somewhat incongruous, though picturesque, within the context of Ireland’s Capital.

IMG_2594Across the road the pub is named for the Bird Flanagan. William ‘The Bird’ Flanagan, born in 1867 lived beyond in Walkinstown and was a notorious practical joker. He earned his nickname from a prank he played on a local policeman. Buying a festive goose at a local butchers at the Barn, he had it hung outside the shop for collection later. Catching the attention of the unfortunate constable, the Bird grabbed the goose and ran towards Rialto. He was apprehended near the canal, whereupon he showed his purchase docket.

Behind the street lies Dolphin House, one of the housing schemes hugging the canal bordering Rialto, including Fatima Mansions. Seen in their day as an exemplary improvement on the slum conditions of the inner city, from the seventies on, the positive image waned. Fatima Mansions became a heroin supermarket and was demolished in the late noughties. Herberton Apartments replaced them, but the term Fatima persists in the local Luas stop. The Rialto Cinema is another echo of times past. It was a massive 1,600 seater auditorium. Built in 1936 its art deco frontage was a distinctive area landmark. It closed after nearly forty years, 1971, and was converted to an auto showrooms.

IMG_2600I worked in Dolphin’s Barn in the eighties and spent many a lunchtime strolling around. I often had my lunch in the sitdown chipper on the south side of the street, which I think was called The Lido, across the road from the cinema. Many years later I reimagined the place in the narrative of Annie, a teenage girl who paints an unreliable picture of life in sixties Dublin.  

Many’s the time and oft through Rialto I did stroll. I’d listen to the songs of bargees sweeping under Rialto Bridge heading down to Portobello. The hawkers looking down from the banks, singing their response, like they were starring in a musical. Summertime, the boys would play wearing nothing but their Jockeys. They’d gather by the locks, plunging into the greasy water in turn.

A visit to the Horse Show with her father leaves her besotted by the Italian showjumping team led by Captain Raymondo D’Inzeo. Much like myself in fact, when my father used take me to the RDS. Mind you, Annie is the eponymous narrator in The Secret Lover of Capt Raymondo D’Inzeo wherein she describes how the Italians plotted their Aga Khan Cup campaign from a secret room in the chipper. It is here called Cassoni’s by way of tribute to the family whose original Irish business was in Thomas Street nearby.

Just past Cassoni’s I see the car, a red Alfa Romeo with the roof rolled down. Graciano is at the wheel, la Contessa Rossi languishing in the passenger seat. We had stopped by the cinema and I had turned my back on the road to read the coming attractions. I hear a car door close. As I turn I know I will see her approaching. She stands before us, her cigarette poised. She asks for a light. Robbie obliges, though she stays looking at me all the time. 

“You,” she says, “you have set your sight on the Captain. You are good. A young girl with well turned calf. But would he set his cap for you, the Captain? In all probability. He can acquire what he likes.”

   I can’t think what to say. “Will Italy win the Aga Khan?” I stammer.

   La Contessa puts her head to one side, like a bird looking at a worm. When she speaks, it is not by way of a reply. “I see your man there. He is within your reach. Don’t take me wrong for, believe me, we both have love in our hearts. And yes, we will win.”

IMG_2599Which they did. That was the early sixties and I last frequented these parts in the early eighties. We reach Dolphin’s Barn and cross the chaotic urban artery towards Cork Street and the City. Dublin 12 lies to the South beyond the Canal, but we continue our journey to the East.

Bray Main Street and Town Hall

Bray Main

Bray Main Street follows the line established by the old manorial village as it straggled uphill from the Dargle River crossing to the manor estate at Kilruddery. Kilruddery is the Anglo rendition of Cill Ridire, the Church of the Knight. The Knight in question was Walter de Riddlesford who, after the Norman invasion of 1169, was granted the estate on the northern slopes of Bray Head and Giltspur, or the Little Sugarloaf. The Brabazon family were owners of the estate by the by the mid 16th century, and Charles 1st granted William Brabazon the title Earl of Meath in 1627. By then the village was well established on the south bank of the Dargle just to the west of the bridge with a church, a small castle, and industries including brewing and a river fishery. At its southern end, the Main Street bifurcates with the eastern route heading for Kilruddery, continuing on to form the coastal road to Kilcoole and Newcastle. This is known as the Vevay Road while the western fork is known as Killarney Road, an Anglification of Cill Sarain, the Church of (Saint) Saran.

This view of Main Street is at this southern extreme, looking south towards Bray’s Old Town Hall. This ornate Victorian masterpiece from 1881 was built in the Tudor Revival style and originally incorporated a covered market and the Chamber of Bray Town Council. It was granted to the people by Lord Meath.

The statue with fountain guarding the entrance is of a Wyvern, a fearsome, mythical winged beast, resembling a dragon. A local yarn insists that Lord Meath, anxious that a statue be acceptable to all townsfolk, asked them to choose what they would most wish. Unfortunately, the townsfolk, divided equally along religious lines, Catholic and Protestant, were at odds on the issue. The Protestants wanted a statue of Queen Victoria while the Catholics insisted the statue should honour the Virgin Mary. Vexed at the impasse, Lord Meath, in a fit of pique, presented the locals the diabolical beast we see today. Amusing, though hardly true. Interdenominatonal relations were unusually good. Protestants had contributed generously to the construction of the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, prominently positioned halfway up Main Street, earlier in the century.The Wyvern is prominent on the Brabazon coat of arms.

In the painting you can just discern the creature to the right of the entrance doorway. The old market was converted, after a long period of disuse, to a McDonalds Fast Food towards the end of the twentieth century.

The modern building on the right immediately predated the crash of 2008 and still wants for business tenants on its ground floor. It replaced a row of plain two story edge of town constructions including Lenehan’s pub which, fascinatingly, had paintings of mine on the wall. They were on a sporting theme; Gaelic Games and Horse Racing, believe it or not. It was the nearest pub to my house, just a mile to the south at Ripley Hills. Believe it or not, again. The honour for proximity now falls to Frank Duff’s, featured here on the left. Duff’s is fairly unique in being without television and has a fine, old style, conversational ethos. With a good pint and old school hospitality, it often appears as an eclectic pick on Ireland’s Best Pubs lists. More eclectic still is the theme: cycling. The pub commemorates the passage of the Tour de France through the town in 1998.

This painting is in acrylics and captures a moment around nine or ten at night. McDonald’s is open, and there’s a welcoming glow from the windows of Duff’s. This night I’m heading home, but I’ll be back out of another evening.

Dublin’s Circular Roads – 7

Islandbridge and Kilmainham

IslanB 2

Islandbridge is a narrow district flanking the Liffey where that river takes its last freshwater plunge towards the tidal waters of the city quays.The bridge itself forms the western link between the North Circular route and the South. From the bridge the South Circular climbs steeply up from the river to Kilmainham. To the east is an extensive Flatland; modern apartment complexes have mushroomed here on the city periphery. Beyond, the city gathers in bustle and stone. Looking west the contrast is startling as the Liffey emerges from the wilds. A warp in time shows us an old mill standing like a fortress against encroaching woodland. Not much further on I sense the beckoning romance of the oft sung oasis of the Strawberry Beds, just the far side of the ancient village of Chapelizod.

Before the apartment boom, the south bank was previously taken up by Islandbridge Barracks. Built circa 1798 as an artillery barracks it was further developed in the mid nineteenth century to accommodate cavalry. After the War of Independence the Free State army took charge and dedicated it to the memory of Peadar Clancy. Clancy was one of three prisoners executed in Dublin Castle by the British on Bloody Sunday 1920 as Michael Collins’s Squad moved to eliminate the Cairo Gang, Britain’s anti-IRA spy cell. Clancy Barracks was decommissioned in the 1990s.

As the sweet waters of the Liffey marked one border, the railway tracks to the south are a steel river marking the far border of Islandbridge. They flow westward from Huston station, named for Sean Huston, executed after the 1916 Rising. Stockyards and depots mark this peripheral city area. I remember old tramlines surviving into the seventies, cut into the cobbled thoroughfares. The barracks backed onto the stockyards of Huston Station. Nearby, while I was employed in the Post and Telegraphs in the 1970s I was stationed for a while atJohn’s Road depot where I learned to drive. A useful skill for me, if not the company as I was not long for them. Asides from my driving skills, I took with me an odd fondness for Renault 4 cars.

100_1462

Along the western flank of the rising hill lies Islandbridge Memorial Gardens. Developed between 1931 and 1939 to commemorate the fifty thousand Irishmen who lost their lives in the Great War of 1914 – 1918..

Leonard Cohen’s The Partisan speaks of another war, but the thoughts are appropriate for so many conflicts.

When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender
This I could not do
I took my gun and vanished.

Sir Edwin Lutyens, one of the finest British architects of the Modernist era, designed the Memorial Gardens along symmetrical lines, employing rich imagery within a restrained neoclassical context. The main lawn is centred on a War Stone, symbolising an altar, while the flanking fountains are marked by obelisks representing candles. At each end are a pair of granite Bookrooms linked by pergolas. The Bookrooms hold the eight volumes recording the names of all those Irish who perished during the war. These were designed and illustrated by Irish artist Harry Clarke.

We pass through linking pergolas of granite columns and oak beams, to the sunken rose gardens, centred on lily ponds and surrounded by yew hedging. These provide points of tranquil reflection. To the south is the most imposing statement. The Great Cross presides over all, inscribed to ‘the 49,400 Irishmen who gave their lives in the Great War.’

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
Then we’ll come from the shadows

Kmain x

At the crest of the hill a plaza has developed at the turn for Inchicore. The modern Hilton Hotel gleams smoothly all glass and pale stone while people take their refreshments on the sunny terrace. On each side of the road sit two complexes carved of more ancient stone. The ornate gatelodge of the Royal Hospital to the left offers entry to its serene tree lined drive. To the right is the gloomy hulk of Kilmainham Jail. Between jail and hospital is the more traditionalist watering hole of the Patriots Inn. It has served visitors to both these houses since its foundation in the 1790s with namechanges to suit the prevailing winds. Once named for Queen Victoria, it has been clad in more nationalistic raiment as long as I remember.

Kmain PatDominic Behan exemplifies the perils and tensions of patriotism in his song The Patriot Game from 1957. One foot in the IRA, Behan implies a certain ironic dissent in the title. So it seemed to these ears anyhow, hearing the Judy Collins version circa 1970 on her album Whales and Nightingales.

Come all ye young rebels and list while I sing
For the love of one’s country is a terrible thing
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame
and it makes us all part of the Patriot Game

Kilmainham Jail was build in 1796, an exemplary improvement on the stinking dungeon it replaced. Not a holiday camp, mind, conditions were grim and overcrowded. Male and female prisoners were unsegregated for a few decades with some slight improvements by mid century.

It has been temporary, and often terminal, home for much of the pantheon of Irish patriots. The rebel leaders of 1798 were early tenants, many bound for Australia. Parnell and his colleagues were confined here arising from Land League agitation. In 1882 they signed the Kilmainham Treaty with Gladstone’s Liberals, settling the issue of rent arrears and the Land War in exchange for supporting Liberal policies and renouncing violence. The compromise was a victory for Parnell, however four days later the Phoenix Park murders soured Anglo Irish relations. As ever, parliamentary and physical force Nationalism locked in their constant jostling for position.

Kmain JThe building was closed after Independence. It is now a visitor attraction, something of a pilgrimage site too. It is the gothic mirror to the Romance of history. Fourteen of the fifteen men of 1916 were executed here. The woman sentenced, Constance Markiewitz, had her death sentence commuted along with Eamon De Valera. Public opinion opposed the Rising, but was outraged at the executions.

Each death is a volley of shots amongst a more complex narrative. One that is particularly affecting, is that of Joseph Mary Plunkett, the key strategist of the rising. A young Catholic Mystic poet in an elegant uniform, his strategy, though flawed, was something of a template for Trotsky in the Russian Revolution. Plunkett, of a well-to-do background, was engaged to Grace Gifford, an artist active in Republican politics, and a Protestant too. They married in the Jail on the eve of his execution.

The song, Grace, written by Sean and Frank O’Meara in 1985, is a poignant evocation of this most personal of political moments.

Oh Grace just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die
with all my love I place this wedding ring upon your finger
there won’t be time to share our love for we must say goodbye

Kmain Gt

The Royal Hospital Kilmainham is one of the finest, and one of the few, major seventeenth century buildings in Ireland. Built for Irish solders towards the end of the Jacobean era it saw action as William of Orange ascended the throne and stormed Dublin after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It was built in 1684 for James Butler, Duke of Ormond and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the reign of Charles II, as a home for retired Irish soldiers. After Independence, the Hospital fell into use as a storage depot for the Gardai and for National Museum artefacts.

In 1984, three hundred years after its construction, it was converted for use as the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The contrast between ancient and modern is profound. It works in a strange kind of way. You stand in the here and now, but notice it flicker intermittently to an alternative universe. Being a bit remote from the city centre means it is usually none too crowded. I like to take coffee in the colonnaded courtyard, or glide along the north face on a summer’s day, admiring the green ocean of the Phoenix Park perched above the Liffey Valley.

Asides from the visual delights, and some agony too, the RHK has hosted international troubadours and their followers. I was here on a warm, wet night some years back when Leonard Cohen emerged from his Buddhist cocoon to set foot on Earth again. How welcome that was. We raised a glass or two to him, and sang in the rain, dressed, appropriately, in the blue raincoats provided. Famous Blue Raincoat didn’t feature on that night’s repertoire, but many old favourites did.

The last time I saw you, you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You’d been to the station to meet every train
and came home without Lily Marlene

As we floated from the grounds, borne along by the still throbbing airs of all those songs, the evening waxed and glowed. Outside the walls, crowds had gathered. Those without tickets remained on the plaza outside the Hilton, still hearing Cohen’s music in its absence.

I see you there with a rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
I see Jane’s awake

Cohen KmainThe rain is persistent and oddly benign. The more it falls, the more it feels as though the crowd is borne upwards on reflections, held aloft in the charcoal air by twirling umbrellas. It’s Renoir’s Les Parapluies brought to life, which seems strangely appropriate. I turn to tell you. I’m dancing on fingertips as you hold a finger to my lips.

 

Drimnagh

Drimnagh 2

Drimnagh was built in the mid to late thirties to the south west of Dublin, beyond the Grand Canal. Crumlin Road runs to the east of the suburb with the Canal and the Lansdowne Valley and Camac River to the North, West and South.

The area was granted to Hugo De Bernivale, a Norman lord in 1215 who built a castle above the Landsdowe Valley to guard against the O’Toole clan of the Wicklow mountains. Hugo’s descendents, the Barnewalls, remained until the end of the nineteenth century. The Castle, with its unique moat, remains.

This was a rural area of forest and farmland until the great suburban housing projects of the 1930s. First Crumlin, then Drimnagh, Walkinstown and Bluebell. These area were gathered together to form Dublin 12, a largely working class area with a mixture of social and private housing. Drimnagh’s road system is named for Irish mountains. Hence, Mangerton, Brandon, Comeragh, Slieve Bloom and others.

This view is looking north along Errigal Road at evening rush hour in late winter. The row of shops facing date to 1937 and include groceries, off licence, parmacy and a Chinese take away. Behind the shops is Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, a major project of the fifties. Ahead you can see the traffic lights marking the junction with Brandon Road. Behind the viewer, up till about eighty years ago, would have been Leicester House, the local big house back when Drimnagh was a very different place.

College Green, Dublin

Kings College Gr

The dazzling and hectic firefly fight that is College Green at night might soon be no more. The plaza, a nexus for cross city traffic, is to be pedestrianised. It is a pity really. The necessity for keeping parts of the city for pedestrians is recognised, but it needn’t become an obsession. Cities thrive on traffic; the loud, energetic, electrical surges so evident in the city at night. That is their poetry.

This is a painting of a time exposure looking south towards College Green at the height of Dublin’s late night rush. We stand on the island opposite the Bank of Ireland, originally the Parliament Buildings until the Act of Union of 1801. Westmoreland Street and Temple Bar are towards the right, Trinity College and Grafton Street to the left.

Parliament House was designed in 1729 by Edward Lovett Pearce in the Palladian style. It was a confident and modern statement marking the centre of the Irish Capital. With Trinity College it delineated College Green as the focal point of the developing Georgian city. James Gandon contributed to the extension of the building later in the century. The resulting sweeping curve joins Dame Street and Westmoreland Street. Connecting with Dublin’s. main street, O’Connell Street (formerly Sackville Street), it forms the central thoroughfare of the city.

This is the beating heart of Dublin. Whenever you stand there, you will experience the rattle and hum of the city. The song it makes is of all the songs that have been sung here, all the words written and spoken, the history of centuries and recent seconds. At night I find it something special, intimate in its inkiness, dangerous and comforting in that non stop firefly display. Stand and watch the lights of passing traffic going everywhere, fast, at the same time. That’s city life. Or was.