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.


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 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.


Granada – The Alhambra

Al 18 Alview

When I was thirteen, I picked up the flamenco guitar and dreamt of Spain. The intricacies eluded me, but within my head the music sang loud and true. I was a better painter than musician, and here too a fantastical world formed, inspired by Salvador Dali’s visions, mindscape merging with landscape. Crowning this dreamworld was an ancient palace of a vanished kingdom: the Alhambra. Someday I would go there, blend with its mystery in the shimmering heat of southern Spain. Almost fifty years later it comes to pass.

It’s my second day in the high city of Granada. Man, it’s cold. I had intended taking the bus to the main entrance but wandered instead down winding alleys from Plaza De Campos to Plaza Nueva close to the high western edge of the Alhambra. Beyond Plaza Nueva the city of Granada begins to shimmer and fade, blending into the landscape and replaced by a chimera of imagination and folk memory centred on the Alhambra, red bastion rising on its green and rugged plinth.

Al 16 AlcaAlhambra signifies the Red Castle, from the blood toned colour of its stone. The Moors had built a fortress here in the ninth century but the existing complex dates to 1333 when Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada, established his royal palace. It was to be the last bastion of the Moor in Spain, In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, completed the Reconquista when they defeated the Emirate of Granada. The two monarchs entered Granada clad symbolically as Moslems, promising friendship and tolerance of religion. It was short lived. The Moors rebelled in 1500 and the treaty lapsed. Moslem and Jew were required to convert or leave. The institution of the Spanish Inquisition was set up to police this law.

1492 was also the year when Italian explorer Christopher Columbus came here to receive the support of the Monarchs in his ambition to sail to the New World. This is when the Western World was born. An early history of Columbus was written by an Alhambra resident in the 1820s. Washington Irving, joker that he was, is responsible for perpetuating the myth that, pre Columbus, Europeans thought the earth was flat.

Al gate

The entrance is through the Puerta de las Granadas, or Pomegranates, which gives the city its name. Inside the grounds the Alhambra reveals itself, tantalisingly peeking above the trees. With the gathering pilgrims, I push uphill. A fountain sprouts. The Pillar of Charles V dates from 1554. The ubiquitous Carlos V was a mere Carlos I until his elevation to Holy Roman Emperor. He didn’t even speak Spanish, to begin with, but his subjects warmed to him as he learned.

Al 2 Irving

I rest on a bench. A quaintly dressed man stands nearby. He gestures to the glories spread above and wonders is it possible to capture the beauty and intensity of the place. I show him my camera and the shots I’ve taken, which he finds interesting, perplexing too. It’s words he means. How unworthy is my scribbling of the place, he says, and tells me of his Tales of the Alhambra, a history woven with imagined tales the walls must hold. What a great idea that is! Unfortunately the man must return to his home in America, but vows to come back to this most picturesque and beautiful city. I hope he does. I would wish to also, in warmer days. Again there is that faint shimmer in the air, and I find myself fading upwards along the path, past the statue of a writer I feel I must know.

Al 3.Jstgatejpg

I enter through Puerta de la Justicia, imposing russet tower with its distinctly Moorish horseshoe arch. The procession of pilgrims has melted away and I am left alone. From the ramparts, I see Granada tumble from the hillsides across the plain, the Sierra Nevada shining white across the horizon. When the Moor last looked out here, the Alhambra was entirely a construct springing from the Islamic culture of northern Africa. Within a couple of decades there was a notable intrusion of European style. The Palace of Carlos V was built by order of the Emperor in 1527 in the Renaissance style. Newly confidant Europe had rediscovered the glories of Greco-Roman antiquity and honed it into the distinctly modern style of the merging continent. The entrance patio is a startling homage to Classicism, with its two story colonnade holding us in its entrancing circle.

Al 6 CVpatio

The temperature has dropped and I have forty five minutes before my appointment at Nazaries. A sign for coffee and services is misleading. This leads to a modernist concrete shack, cold and crowded, with one scabby machine offering hot beverages. The instructions are less than helpful. Yes, it takes money and credit cards, but how much? None of mine, for sure. I buy water and Doritos off a nearby Gypsy. The queue for the Nazaries is long but not long enough and when I reach the head ten minutes early I must stand to the side. I’m frozen blue, four degrees and falling. Global warming my ass!

Al 7 Qnaz

The Nazaries unfolds on entering, a stone flower opening into more spaces than anticipated from the outside. Stone becomes fire and flickers to intricate tracery; water turns to glass and beckons to a perfect nether world. What paradise this must be in heat; water stone and plants working to scent and quieten the air. This cold emphasises its abandonment and defeat; its very existence a time capsule of a vanished age.

Al 10 Nazpool

There are three palaces within the complex. First, the public area dealing with justice and administration. Then the Camares Palace which was the royal residence. Finally, the Palace of the Lions, a harbinger of heaven where the harem was located. A magnificent centrepiece is the Court of the Lions with its sculptured lions forming a circle within magnificent, delicately rendered cloisters. There is an abiding sense of harmony between the ancient Islamic order and the newly flowering Christian Renaissance. You could float on this river forever and ever.

Al 11 Nazlion

Having exited inadvertently I slip back in. A female guard calls after me. However, she is hugging a heater in her sentry post, and indisposed to follow me. In truth, I’m prone to quitting. The absence of a decent cafe, or any place of warmth erodes my will. I come across the American Hotel and find a seat in its tiny tearoom. A sturdy Tuna Sandwich and two hot Americanos later and I’m suitably fortified. A friend had recommended a visit to the terrace at the Parador Hotel with splendid views of the Alhambra. But it’s not a patio day and the interior has that lowrise furniture peculiar to hotels and innimmicable to relaxation.

Al 15

The Alcazaba is the fortress at the business end of the Alhambra, its towers giving the most majestic views over Grenada. I find myself earwigging a conversation between a Gypsy and two Americans. The Gypsy gives a brief account of their origin, relating the reasonable alternatives. Origination was somewhere in the near east, or refugees from the margins of the crumbling Roman empire. Some say we came from Egypt to wander the margins of empire. If people asked from whence we came, the answer was Egypt, which half heard, sounds like Gypsy.

Al 14 CV

From here, I take the path that fades down towards the entrance through beautiful gardens. The first blooms are appearing but t’s not quite come to life just yet. Across a ravine and climbing the next hill takes us to the Generalife, the Gardens of the Architect. Beautiful gardens surmounted by an elegant villa provided a retreat for the Royal Household from the travails of the Alhambra. And provides glorious views of it too.

Al 20 Bar

On exit, I put into the first available bar. Below the walls of the western Alhambra, there is shelter and sufficient warmth from the sun to allow me bask outside with a beer and tapas. I walk back downhill past the northern walls alongside a rapid stream. I emerge onto the banks of the Darro river which heads back towards Plaza Nueva.

AL 22 AlcaThis area overlooking the Darro is the Albaicin, dating back to the 13th century and rich in Moorish heritage. The streets meander past high walled villas, dazzling white washed walls and towering palms and pines. Becoming impossibly narrow so you feel you must turn back, then widening unexpectedly into sparsely imposing squares. Quiet and weird; at times I feel I’ve strayed into a Dali scenario; Outskirts of the Paranoiac, perhaps.

AL 21

Stranger still, lounging by the riverside cafe terrace with another beer and tapas, soaking in the first true warmth of the day, the waiter hurries by, imploring us to retreat under the canopy. It had certainly darkened off to the west, and a smudge of rain was sensed. Then it came upon us. The sky scowled and snow fell in curtains across the backdrop of the Alhambra.

Al 20





Celbridge 5

This is my most recent painting, done over December just passed. It is a view of Celbridge, looking north towards Castletown Hose, the view centered on Christ Church and the estate entrance gates. It is around midnight, and some stragglers linger as the town’s nightlife disperses homewards. The stars are out, and for all the quiet of the country, there’s a certain timeless magic in the air. And all the ghosts that ever passed this way.

Celbridge lies on the River Liffey in County Kildare. The name, a pidginised Anglo-Gaelic, means church by the bridge. It was previously called by the phonetic version of the original Gaelic, Kildrought, from Cill Droichead.

These days, it skirts the outer edge of Dublin’s conurbation. Its most famous son is Arthur Guinness, born here in 1725, who established his brewery in 1759. The rest is history, though a lot of it rather hazy. A statue of the great man stands on Main Street.

Despite the ever growing population, with more than twenty thousand people calling it home, a village atmosphere still pervades at its centre. There are several good pubs and a few eateries from the Liffey bridge and along the Main Street. The lands of Castletown estate have now been divided between public parkland and suburbia.

Christ Church marks the end of Main Street, just within the gates of Castletown House. Lady of the manor, Louisa Connolly, funded the building for the Church of Ireland community. It’s an attractive, if stern structure dating from 1813. It was extensively remodelled in 1883 as the original had fallen into ruin. The tower over the western entrance is imposing, its Normanesque style lends the view an antique quality.

The long tree lined driveway heading due north leads to Castletown House, a glorious Palladian Palace built for William, the Speaker, Connolly in 1722. He was the Speaker of the Irish House of commons, the most powerful elected position in Ireland. The Palladian style was in vogue, with all things Italian, in the early days of Neo-Classicism. Connolly employed leading Italian architect Alessandro Galilei and Irish architect Edward Lovett Pearce to achieve one of Ireland’s most dramatic stately homes. It is open to the public and the focus for weekend craft fair and the promenade of visitor and local throughout the year.

Celbridge 1

Celbridge 2


Bordeaux vistaOn the bend of a great river, over which is built an endless bridge, you will find the Harbour of the Moon. There I observe a middle eastern girl twirling beneath a coloured scarf, a vista across slated rooftops to a giddy spire, a couple arm in arm in an ochre laneway. Or maybe I’m not seeing things quite right. The taxi driver looks back over his shoulder and gives me the fare. He says, for you, I think, or for two. I struggle with the language. It’s been a long time.

Bordeaux airport is reassuringly intimate. I take a small drink to the outside tables and relax. I decide on the taxi into town although this is not a great idea. It is rush hour and the journey is expensive. Fifty euro. I attampt some French with the driver who is from Le Havre. I make up stories from my interesting fictional self.

Marche des Capucins

I arrive in central Bordeaux at the entrance to Capuchins Market. This lies along Cours de la Marne, a long grubby thoroughfare linking the rail station and Place de la Victoire. Walking here at night is edgy and weird. There are an unusually large amount of hairdressers which I won’t be wanting, and internet cafes which I will since my phone is kaput.

My apartment is on Rue Beaufleury, a lane that doesn’t live up to its pretty name. The apartment itself is great. I have a large terrace on the top of the building. It offers that most typically French urban view, cascading slate roofs into the distance, the horizon punctured by the mighty spire of St. Michel.

St. Aubin’s Pub is one of many on the wide cobbled expanse of Victoire. The waiters wear black kilts, creating its own culture bubble; a sort of Caledonian Gallic. I enjoy a drink here at night. To one side, motor traffic streams relentlessly into the plaza. All around nightbirds display their plumage. The university is scattered nearby and this is a major student venue, so it’s lively and pleasant.

St Catherine Jour

Rue St Catherine links the plaza and the city centre. The longest street in the city maintains the straight line of the original Roman Road. The Emperor Augustus established Bordeaux as the centre of the new province of Aquitania in 16AD. Some vestiges of Rome remain, the idea of empire persisting in the flourishes of later regimes.

Bordeaux’s medieval walls are traceable if not extant. Some portals remain. The Grosse Cloche straddling Rue St. James, just off Cours Victor Hugo, is an extravagant gothic tower dating from the fifteenth century. Such structures provoke the imagination into visions of love and death, the spinning coin of chivalry.

Bell tower

St Catherine, ancient in origin, is well suited as the artery of commerce, thronged with the constant footfall of shoppers. The back streets weave more intricate and seductive patterns, hiding a medieval heart. Bordeaux boomed in the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment, becoming a preferred port of trade with the West Indies, importing cotton, sugarcane and those elixirs of life; coffee and tobacco. Prosperity reformed the city in the modern, rationalist manner. Fine mansions lined grand boulevards to create a unified triumph of Neoclassical architecture. Most of it remains and Bordeaux has been spared the depredations of unsympathetic development.

Pl Victoire

St Catherine is entered through a triumphal-style arch. Porte d’Aquitaine was built in 1750 and was a functioning modern city gate with a toll lodge attached. The grand arch remains in isolation, fulfilling its function of landmark. Within this parameter, the city is largely pedestrianised. Crowded too. Rarely did I find myself alone at cafe or bistro. On the street there is a constant charge.

Hotel de Ville

This bright sunny morning, I step off life’s merry-go-round onto Cours Alsace Lorraine leading to the relaxed Civic and Museum quarter. The Cathedral St. Andre dominates an expansive yet intimate square framed also by the Hotel de Ville. Outside a Bistro I sip a cool one, watch congregations ebb and flow in the sunshine. The Hotel de Ville is open and welcoming, with an ever changing rota of wedding groups. Built on the cusp of revolution in 1784, it set the tone for the wave of elegant Neoclassicism that swept Bordeaux.

St Andre

The Cathedral meanwhile, is sharply imposing. Twin steeples soar above the square. Circling clockwise, the heavily buttressed west wall dates back to the church’s foundation in the eleventh century. It has been madeover many times since. Most striking feature of this ancient stone tableau, the free-standing 15th century Tour Pey-Berland is topped by a golden statue of Our Lady of Aquitaine. Within, ornate vaulted ceilings sweep up to literal and metaphorical heaven. One end wall is occupied by the magnificent organ. It is surprisingly bright, slanted sunlight a solid presence in the interior space. There is a small exhibition of selected icons in an ante room, including another suggestion of Scotland in St Andre’s crucifixion on a saltire, and the Crucifixion of Christ by Rembrandt.    St Andre W

The Musee des Beaux Artes is hidden behind the Hotel de Ville in twin buildings each side of a quiet green. It hosts a quirky, piecemeal slant on Bordeaux’s place in French Art. Breughel, Rubens and Titian feature amongst the earlier European painters. Romanticism is to the fore: ships savaged by boiling seas, seductive nudes on storm tossed sheets, and of course Delacroix. Calmer, if no less passionate, Impressionist souls include Renoir and Morisot. I exit through the surreal screened walkway linking the buildings; a trompe l’oeil collage of art through time.   

Beaux ArtesBordeaux is a river port. The Garonne snakes  northwest heading for the Bay of Biscay. Parks and esplanades have been laid out here, but nowhere to put in for refreshment nor much, beyond the vista, by way of visitor attraction. The Pont de Pierre, built by Napoleon Bonaparte to facilitate his Spanish campaigns, became the first city bridge to span the Garonne. Few followed, the river simply too wide for the far bank to be included in the definition of Bordeaux. There’s something strange about walking a bridge, which in its detail is a typical nineteenth century succession of arches, seventeen in all, but in its scale seems endless. It suggests a bridge to the afterlife, the almost banal familiarity subverted by the eerie suggestion of infinity.Pont Pierre

I remain on the South Bank. An eighteenth century ornamental arch, Porte de Bourgogne, marks the entrance to the city. The bridge terminal connects to Cours Victor Hugo, a wide, curving crosstown thoroughfare that fair crackles with all the quirks and cultures of city life.  I experience that redolent sense of nostalgia. Something about the bustle, the flea market ambience, the hodge podge of immigrant shops and exotic food outlets. There’s maybe a whiff of patchouli, or something stronger, so’s I’m back in the day, a young adult at large, hair blowing wild, eyes like headlamps seeing wonder in the everyday.

St Michel

I return to the buildings on the riverfront. This is an Arab quarter, and the cafes are packed with men sinking strong coffee, smoking and talking. The tower of St Michel guides me on. One of the tallest in France, it is a masterpiece of fabulous Gothic, standing free of the church, as is common here. The fifteenth century original was destroyed in a lightning storm in 1760. Reconstruction only began a century later.

This Sunday morning, with the street market in full swing all around Place Canteloupe, it is even more separate, a focal point around which stalls and entertainers set up, while groups lounge and laugh on its steps and under its arches. There is a bewildering swirl of scents and sounds, a throbbing sensuality rising with the tower to the blue heavens. The sidewalk restaurants are crammed and I note with mouth watering intent the generous and varied Moroccan dishes: tempting tagines, rack of lamb, soft beds of couscous, steaming stew, chick peas and spicy sauces.

Canteloupe CousWithin the church it is surprisingly calm despite a good crowd of devotees. The churches here do not have pews but individual seats. Unfortunately, some resident idiot has decided to move them all loudly a foot to the right as I sit in attempted prayer. Time to weather the human storm again so.

Outside the plaza still swirls like a calliope. A young woman dances and spins beneath coloured scarves to a woman playing a bodhranesque drum. There is an African or Middle Eastern beat, insistent with familiarity. I know this song. It has a place on my car stereo. Deva Pravel chanting the Moola Mantra:   

Bordx Dancer



Sat Chit Ananda Paraprahma

Purushothama Paramatma

Shri Bhagavathu Sametha

Shri Bhagavatha Namaha

Hare Om tat sat Hare Om tat sat

Hare Om tat sat

Hare Om tat sat

I determine on a couscous having been assailed by that African aroma throughout San Michel. Restaurant Le Marrakech on Rue St Remi is quiet; lush red velvet drapes and subdued lighting  striking just the right tone. The couscous is superb, generous and varied in every sense. The friendly waiter, who is from Pakistan, stands me a sizable digestif. Down the hatch!

MarakeshHeading home by St Catherine, i spot The Blarney Stone Bar crossing Victor Hugo. It is good to sink an Irish Pint at the end of the night. I had been drinking earlier with the other side. The English flagged Houses of Parliament serves Carlsberg Elephant. The Blarney’s barman tells me that’s seven per cent. No wonder I was elephants. I compliment the barman on his creamy head. And the pint was good too.

BlarneyNight falls, streetlights bloom and Rue Beaufleury waxes to its name. In the blue doorway of the ochre lane, a woman lounges. She holds her cigarette upright and blows it aflame. There is a heavy scent in the air, like patchouli oil. She gestures by that slight inclination of head. If you want, she says, there is a place the far side of Capucins. The market is ferme. But beyond you will see young men drinking and beside the bar there is a doorway. There you can get some. If you want.


There is no movement in the street. The graffiti says in English: Death to Graffiti Artists. A taxi drifts past. A face I recognise swivels towards me on passing. I nod. The tail lights take red serpents along the lane. A chimera persists on the alley’s horizon: an indeterminate couple arm in arm beneath a perfect lunar sickle. In the Harbour of the Moon, the old nestles in the new moon’s arms.Night traffic

Dublin’s Circular Roads – 1.

Walk around Dublin in a day.


It is often trotted out that you can walk around Dublin in a day. This derives partly from a tendency to miniaturise Ireland at every hand’s turn. Little people abound, it’s a small island, a tiny population, Dublin a mere village. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. In truth, most cities can be ‘walked around’ in a day. The nature of cities is to have centres, Los Angeles notwithstanding, and these tend to be reasonably condensed. Megacities like Paris or London can be more daunting, but even there you could plot a route to encircle its core in a day. New York’s core, Manhattan, is about thirty miles around its rim, an eight hour hike.

Looking west from Liberty Hall

I’m taking it a bit literally here. I know Dublin is no megacity, but nor is it a village. Perhaps figuratively it could be, as in the literary or artistic cliques of the fifties or sixties. But this is a city of a million souls, a millennium’s history. Do you think that can be done in a day? Let’s give it a shot.

Looking east from Liberty Hall

Dublin is fortunate in that it has the Circular Roads, providing a neat route to circumnavigate the city. Conceived in the late eighteenth century, these are residential thoroughfares, well proportioned but almost two centuries removed from the notion of motorway ring roads. Horse drawn coaches and carts were the vehicular traffic, the Circular roads inscribing the old city, providing a clear line, which still persists, between urban and suburban.

The canals date to the same era. These were the inland trade routes, linking Dublin with the Shannon basin and beyond. Originally conceived as terminating in the west of the city, ultimately each followed a curve to the docklands of the east. They thereby provided an encircling arc, almost forming a moat around the city. The Royal to the north, was first bound for Broadstone, now intersects with the Liffey at Spencer Dock. It was completed in 1817. The Grand Canal to the south, first reached the Basin near Guinness’s Brewery. The extant route arcs east to meet the port at Grand Canal Docks near Ringsend. The navigable route to the Shannon was complete in 1804. The canals were the super-highways of their day, superseded by the railways of the mid nineteenth century on. 

The circular route is fourteen kilometres long and, without pausing for distractions, could be walked in three hours. Still, what’s the rush? There are pints to sink, coffees to sip and a few interesting stops along the way.

Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of circulation back to … 

well, back to where we began.

I’ll take it from the east, near the city centre and the main transport hubs, travelling anti-clockwise with an eye to finishing later in the more socially exuberant south east. Up until the turn of the century the grimy docklands of Dublin were forgotten and decayed. I attended Art College on the south bank of the river in the late seventies. I was one of that itinerant generation of art students sent from the ancient environs of Kildare Street to wander the wilderness while the promised land was constructed at Power’s Distillery up on Thomas Street. Elegant boulevardiers on cobbled quaysides, slouching and smoking amongst the ruins of factories and freight yards. We became parishioners of City Quay, habitues of Conaty’s, the Elbow and the Windjammer, jostling stevedores on the oche as we honed our skills at art and darts.

I was on the inside when they pulled the four walls down

I was looking through the window, I was lost, I am found.

It’s all changed now, of course. U2 were early colonists of the new era, establishing their base camp for world domination at Windmill Lane. Die Mauer, of a different sort, tells many the garbled tale. Achtung Baby! Seeds planted, the area grew ripe for development.

North and South docks have given way to the glam and gleam of apartment living and the commercial sturm und drang of the late, lamented Celtic Tiger. Where once the Miranda Guinness docked and loaded cargo facing open sea, now an elegant, lyre-like bridge joins the two spangled arms of the inexorably eastward bound city. Samuel Beckett Bridge was built in 2009. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, also responsible for James Joyce Bridge upstream, the bridge swivels to allow ships to pass.  The design speaks more of music than Beckett’s bleak interior landscape but its beauty is somehow appropriate all the same. I imagine Beckett sailing through here, leaving Dublin in the late 1920s; standing astern in reefer jacket and cable knit, seeing a grey and gloomy vista sink in his ship’s wake.

These days, the Docklands development on each side gleams with commerce and stylish accommodation. Upstream the view towards the city centre features Gandon’s Custom House on the north quays dating from 1791, and the crystalline towers of the Ulster Bank HQ south of the river two centuries later. Nearby, the Jeannie Johnson is docked. This three masted barque originally carried Irish emigrants from Kerry to America during the Famine years and on through the 1850s. It was a journey of about seven weeks and the Jeannie Johnson never lost a soul. The reconstructed vessel functions as a training ship and as a museum of Irish emigration.

Past the Custom House you can see the Loop Line Bridge. The Loop Line was built in 1891, joining Westland Row (Pearse) and Amiens Street (Connolly) rail stations and spanning the River Liffey. This completed Dublin bay’s commuter railway, enabling the Dart almost a century later. It was less of an aesthetic triumph, the heavy iron bridge masking off the elegant river vista east of O’Connell Bridge to the Custom House. From our perspective it blocks the city centre quays and old Dublin. Liberty Hall peeks above it. This sixties tower was seen as a skyscraper, a harbinger of a soaring modernist future. Five decades on, it remains one of Dublin’s tallest buildings, though scheduled for demolition.

As I contemplate the beauty of Anna Livia, herself frames a tourist family against the backdrop of the bustling estuary and Kevin Roche’s Convention Centre. Our route heads north along Guild Street, the Royal Canal entering the Liffey to the right. Beyond is the Spencer Dock development. The original plan was to provide a high-rise sector for the capital designed by Irish architect Kevin Roche. Roche, a leading architect of postwar America, had no buildings in his native country. Adding to New York’s skyline is one thing, intruding on preciously protected Dublin’s is another. The Irish have a quaint attitude to tall buildings. Residents objected to the heights of Roche’s design, understandably for them, but peculiar in the context of a large city. Ultimately, it was the disruption of a sightline from distant Fitzwilliam Street to the south which did for the highrise plan. Curioser and curioser.

Nevertheless, the National Conference Centre went ahead. Completed in 2010 it has quickly established itself as an icon of modern Dublin. It’s tilted glass atrium somehow suggests an activity of which I am fond. Hmmm, what could that be now? There are fourteen kilometers to go. I’m treading water here. But, as Sam Beckett would say: I will go on.