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.

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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.

 

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

 

 

 

Dublin’s Circular Roads – 6

The Phoenix Park.

Where the arc of the North Circular declines, the road swerves south and dips steeply towards the Liffey by way of Infirmary Road. Straight ahead the Phoenix Park beckons, spreading its serene blanket of greenery on the western periphery of Dublin. Once remote, it is now a playground for its urban and suburban surrounds.

Phoenix connotes birth from fire, or revolutionary rebirth, concepts not without echo in the park’s historical fabric. In fact, the name derives from the Irish Fionn Uisce, meaning clear water. This refers to the Liffey along the southern edge, where the waters run clear above the muddy waters of the tidal estuary.

In Norman times, this was part of the demesne of the Knights Hospitalier based at their abbey south of the river at Kilmainham. The dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1537 dispossessed the monks of their lands. At the Restoration more than a century later, Lord Lieutenant James Butler, the Duke of Ormond, established the lands as a royal hunting park. A herd of fallow deer was imported and is still in occupation. In 1680 the lands were split each side of the Liffey. The Royal Hospital was built at Kilmainham to cater for retired army soldiers and is now the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

In 1745 the Phoenix Park became a public park, one thousand seven hundred and fifty acres enclosed by an eleven kilometre wall, reputed to be the largest urban park in Europe. It is twice the size of New York’s Central Park and more than four times the size of London’s Regent’s Park.

The Park is a significant city thoroughfare. The main drag, Chesterfield Avenue, ascends in a neatly dividing diagonal between Conyngham Road and the Castleknock Gate. It bisects a vast expanse of manicured nature. There’s grassland and woodland, the brazen herd of deer, pitches for football, cricket and polo grounds, the dog pond for our four legged friend and the Zoo for more exotic critters There is a sprinkling of monuments and hidden amongst trees, some significant buildings.

The Garda headquarters are to the right near the Park Gate, the NCR entrance. To the south is the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Criminal Courts of Justice. Not the best spot for loitering criminals so. Mind you, Bohemians Football Club was founded by a group of young men at the Gate Lodge in 1890. They’re the oldest soccer club in Ireland, and played their first games at the Polo Grounds.

Dublin Zoo is nearby. The quaint entry post survives, a charming thatch out of Africa and another era. The large modernist entrance is adjacent. The Zoo is picturesquely constructed around ornamental lakeland. A more enlightened policy these days gives the animals some room to roam. Monkeys and chimps have their islands, predator and prey of Serengeti and beyond have large outdoor compounds. The Zoo was opened in 1831 and quickly became a popular destination for Sunday day-trippers. Still is today.

Nearby are the quaint circular tearooms. A place where I like to catch a coffee and lounge on its outdoor terrace. Of a morning in Spring or early summer a perfect moment is possible, with the air hanging like gauze from awakening trees. It’s busy today though, despite the wintry cold, and I pass on.

The ground falls steeply away to the east, falling away towards the Hollow. The Hollow has long been an occasional outdoor music venue, whether for formal brass band or a bit of good old time rock and roll. The ornate bandstand from 1890 provides the focus. I was a frequent flier in the mid seventies, with that hippy coterie and Mary Rose. I should namecheck the playlist, but then I smoked the green, green grass of home. The Park holds memories of greater gigs. They vary from the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979 to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers some years later. The Pope attracted a million to his gig, the Chillies somewhat less; though they were rowdier and louder, including me and my teenage son, singing and sweating through a summer day.

This quadrant of the Park is marked by the stone finger of the Wellington Monument. Crossing the main road there’s an iconic view of Dublin to your left. As the road falls towards the Parkgate Street entrance, the stacks and towers of the Guinness Brewery rise up with the city, a throbbing urban wall against the sublime greenery of the park.

Off track to our right is Aras an Uachtaran, the residence of the Irish President. It was built in 1750 by the Chief Ranger, Nathaniel Clements. Clements was a property developer and politician, who lived in Henrietta Street, the first grand Georgian streetscape. The Aras, viewed across the lawns, is oddly resonant of the White House in Washington, although the resemblance is coincidental. Neo-classical architecture doesn’t vary all that much at first glance.

Before Independence it was the Viceregal Lodge and witnessed one of those darker incidents that form a contrast to the Park’s bucolic idyll. In May 1882 the newly appointed Chief Secretary Lord Cavendish was walking in the vicinity with Under Secretary Thomas Burke when they were stabbed to death by two members of The Invincibles. The assassins were spirited away by getaway man James Fitzharris, more colourfully known as Skin the Goat.

When Carey told on Skin the Goat
O’Donnell caught him on the boat
He wished he’d never been afloat

George Hodnett’s mock trad spoof, Monto, gives a scabrous and partial account. Cavendish had just replaced Forster, known as Buckshot for his hardline attitude to the Land League.

You’ve heard of Buckshot Forster
the dirty auld imposter
He took his Mott and lost her up the Furry Glen.

Forster resigned over Parnell’s release from Kilmainham Jail, and Cavendish’s first day in the post proved to be his last. After the outrage, Carey, leader of the Invincibles ratted out the perpetrators, but paid a high price when assassinated on a ship out of Cape Town.

It wasn’t very sensible
To tell on the Invincibles
They stand up for their principles, day and night.

I skirt the Wellington Monument, its plinth gained by sloping steps and today occupied by happy loving couples taking in the view, being kings of their castle. Wellington Road branches left off Chesterfield and descends towards the Islandbridge Gate.

Exactly a century on from the Invincibles outrage, Malcolm McArthur, an effete, financially straightened socialite, hatched a convoluted plot to stage a solo armed robbery. Determined to steal a car, in July 1982 he loitered in the woodland nearby. He identified a target, a young nurse, Bridie Gargan, who parked her car and left it to take the summer sun.

Spring was never waiting for us girl
it ran one step ahead as we followed in the dance.
Between the parted pages we were pressed
in love’s hot fevered iron, like a striped pair of pants.

The plan was not best laid. MacArthur dragged her to the car and violently assaulted her, driving out of the park with her dying in the back seat. His escape took him towards James’s Street Hospital where, bizarrely, an ambulance, its driver thinking MacArthur was a doctor with a patient, escorted him through the grounds of the Hospital with siren blaring. MacArthur kept going, eventually depositing the car and its victim in Rialto.

I recall the yellow cotton dress
foaming like a wave on the ground around your knees.
The birds like tender babes in your hands
and the old men playing checkers by the trees.

Days later he murdered farmer Donal Dunne while posing as a purchaser for his shotgun. MacArthur was run to ground in his hideout; the residence of the Attorney General in Dalkey. You couldn’t make this stuff up. John Banville tried with the Book of Evidence but it’s not nearly so bizarre as the fact. The AG, meanwhile, headed off on holiday, it was booked after all. Taoiseach Charles Haughey ordered him home. Haughey’s expression of disbelief resulted in the coining of the acronym, so descriptive of the era, by Conor Cruise O’Brien; GUBU: Grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre and unbelievable.

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet green icing flowing down.

The Magazine Fort stands guard over Islandbridge Gate. It dates to 1734, a star fort dominating this undulating, lonely south-western section of the Park. It featured in the overture for the 1916 Rising. A group of Volunteers, posing as footballers, gained entry to the fort claiming they needed to retrieve their ball. I have no idea if any were members of Bohemians, but they managed to disarm the guards. However their plan to blow up the fort by way of signalling the onset of the Rising was something of a damp squib.

Exiting by the pretty Gate Lodge, a short left takes us to the Liffey bridge. Rising up to the south is the first stretch of the South Circular Road and the second part of our odyssey. Conyngham Road heads east, a short stroll along the southern wall of the Park to the Luas line at Kingsbridge connecting to the city centre. A halfway house, if you like.