This acrylic on board is based on a photograph. The photo was taken by M on a trip, many moons ago, to Skerries in North Dublin. Four of us found ourselves in Joe Mays which is located on the harbourfront and dates back to 1865. The upstairs lounge has fine views over the harbour. It was empty and dark, but strangely flooded with sunlight. We disported ourselves in the bay window and thought, in high spirits, to enact some Renaissance tableau, as you do. M arranged the scene with myself and our friend J. We were thinking of Venus and Mars. M is also known as Mars, which shuffles the roles slightly. Since we were having fun there’s no point in being too interpretative. The shoot would have called up a few references but this was the shot that worked best. Almost fifty years later the main thing it conjures up for me is our youth, and all that entails.
Sandro Botticelli painted Venus and Mars in the late fifteeenth century, c 1485. Botticelli was born in Florence in 1445 and lived there all his life. His Birth of Venus and Primavera reside at the Uffizzi, but this painting has found its way to the National Gallery in London. It is often seen as an allegory of sensuous love, or might be read as love conquers war. It is also funny, playful; all of which fit the mood of our carry on. Manet’s Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe, which I alluded to in my last post on Raheny, and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam also get a look in; as do Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and Led Zeppelin’s Presence. As a music theme however, I’ll go for This Wheels on Fire, the title being a pun which only the protagonists in our scenario will get.
If your memory serves you well, we were going to meet again and wait
So I’m going to unpack all my things and sit before it gets too late
No matter what, we’ll come to you with another tale to tell
And you know that we shall meet again if your memory serves you well
The song was written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko and would eventually surface on the Basement Tapes in 1975, but first appeared on the Band’s album Music from Big Pink in 1968. It was a hit for Julie Driscoll and the Brian Augur Trinity in 1968 which was the first I heard it. The use of Hammond organ and electronic distortion gave it a very psychedelic feel. This aspect made it ideal as the theme song for the tv series Absolutely Fabulous in the early nineties. And there we are, young hippies of the seventies, frozen forever on the event horizon. Still friends and lovers.
And when I find myself a-fallin’ for some girl, yeah
I hop right into that car of mine and ride around the world
Yeah I’m the wanderer, yeah the wanderer
I roam around around around
written by Ernie Maresca and originally a hit for Dion in 1961, The Wanderer has been covered by the Beachboys and Bruce Springsteen, amongst others.
There are swans in the harbour, seagulls on the seafront, and starlings just about everywhere. It nearly takes me back to Cornwall, shielding sandwiches from savage gulls on beach picnics all the way from Penzance to Mousehole. There I understood where Daphne Du Maurier got her inspiration for The Birds. Wisely, Irish people are not inclined to throw food away, other than to the odd swan. Outdoor eateries discourage the habit. Bray’s birds are to be enjoyed, and left to their own devices. Seagulls, for their own part, may wander inland, as may we, making our way along Wicklow’s Wonderful coast. Beyond the level crossing, the Carlisle Grounds are home to Bray Wanderers. The soccer team has twice lifted the FAI Cup, in 1990 and 1999. For most of this century they have played in the top division of Irish soccer, but were recently relegated. Small crowds still huddle in its stand, sending up samba beats and the mournful call: Seagulls!
Across from the Carlisle Grounds stands Bray Bowl. Originally this site was occupied by the International Hotel, the largest in Ireland when it was built in 1862, reflecting Dargan’s optimism about Bray’s development as a resort. The Hotel ran into hard times during the Great War and after independence it remained derelict for a while. During the Emergency, it was garrisoned by the Irish Army and returned to the hotel trade afterwards. Although Bray boomed again as a tourist resort in the fifties and sixties, good fortune would not smile on the International. The new tourist boom was more downmarket from Dargan’s day. There were plenty smaller, less expensive hotels in the town. Nearby, the Arcadia rocked to the sounds of Roy Orbison and Brendan Bowyer, but the International was suspended in amber, an album of monochrome photographs of a fading past. On a night in June, in 1974, fire broke out. The few remaining residents escaped but the building was gutted. Development took another fifteen years, before completion of the bowling alley and games arcade.
Bray Railway Station was built in 1854 when the line connecting to Dublin opened. Designed by George Wilkinson, designer of Harcourt Street station, the original Dublin terminus for Bray which closed in 1959. It is a long, single storey Italianate building facing onto a haphazard plaza. To the rear, the original roof sweeps into a huge overhang to shelter passengers. Although the track had pushed on to Greystones by 1855, the East platform was not added until 1928. It is laid out beneath a glass canopy on caste iron supports.
DART, for Dublin Area Rapid Transit, arrived in 1984. DARTs average every fifteen minutes, taking forty minutes to reach central Dublin. The fast and frequent commuter service facilitated a population boom. By the end of the century Bray’s population doubled to over thirty thousand people, including yours truly. Bray station remains a busy hub, perhaps at last fulfilling Dargan’s expectations for the town.
The station is distinguished by a fine mural along the length of the eastern platform. The project was initiated by the Bray Community Arts Group in 1987. The group, formed to foster art activity and push for greater facilities including an arts centre, sponsored the competition to design a mural for the station. Jay Roche and John Carter, then students at Dun Laoghaire College of Art, won the competition by popular vote with their proposal for an illustrative sequence of Bray since the Steam Age. They painted nineteen panels commemorating the history of the station from its foundation in 1854 up until the 1980s. Every picture tells a story, from retreating British soldiers after the War of Independence, to mods, rockers and hippies heading off to Rock Festivals.
Well known faces include Eamon DeValera, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. It was Sir William Wilde who owned property at the southern end of the seafront and after his death, caused Oscar to be summoned to Bray Courthouse when dispute arose over his inheritance. That went poorly, but other more ruinous courts awaited him. And, of course, there’s panels devoted to the main men of the railway: Isambard Kingdom Brunel and William Dargan.
The briny sea air meant that the painted mural had badly deteriorated by 2010. The original artists had formed the company Triskill Design and built up an impressive portfolio of commercial murals and interior design. They took on the Mural to Mosaic project, instating tiled mosaics for the faded originals.
Walk along its length and see the story start with a photograph – how modern can you get! – then move on through the leaves of time to finish, brightly, with a panorama of Bray and its big green mountain. There are battles and love affairs, and many’s the song to sing.
At the southern end, as we step into the future, the mural features the opening lines of Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man, from the album Bringing it all Back Home, of 1965. A shorter, electrified version was made by The Byrds. It was their debut single and a huge hit, credited with kickstarting the folk rock boom, the very initiator of the term The startling twang of guitar and heavenly choir vocals are echoes of a different time, but are for all time.
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you
If I should be waiting on the platform, this is where I’d be sitting. The Southeasternmost seat, in the rays of the setting, or rising, son. Hat pulled low but eyes wide open. Sparking up a cheroot with the sharp glance of a lucifer to the sole of a western boot, and thinking. Byrds or Dylan, what’s my favourite version? The answer’s right here. The penultimate panel features Davin Harrison, guitar at the ready and friends in tow, heading off from the platform to some festival or whatever awaits in the wild blue yonder. Mr Tambourine Man was the first song he sang, but you’re never going to hear it unless you heard it before. Who knows though? Sometime when you’re alone, isolated on a windy day, and you hear some song singing in the high tension wires. Who knows what it is? Who knows who’s singing?
Heading north from Connolly, the city slips behind by way of Amiens Street and North Strand. On childhood excursions this would be the route to Howth, holidaying in that exotic locale sometime in the early sixties. The line splits at Howth Junction, heading for Malahide via Portmarnock. The Dartline’s full extent runs from Greystones in the south to Malahide. Beyond that you’re on the intercity rail connecting Dublin to Belfast, a route that was initiated in 1845.
Stops in north County Dublin, or Fingal, are Lusk/Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan. I was familiar with this coastline up until my mid twenties, but other than a few DART trips to Howth and Malahide, and zipping through on a few excursions to Belfast, I haven’t given it much thought since. Recent outings in Drogheda and Swords have brought memories flooding back. Family picnics of old, by bus, train or Morris Minor, turned to teenage joyrides by whatever means possible. Bus train and whatever motorbike or banger we’d managed to hammer into a serviceable condition. Such bright ideas as we have in youth. Swimming with our clothes off. Swimming with our clothes on. There was, I suppose, an anonymity about the North County back then.
A little tweak of memory and these lines occur:
If you’re travelling in the North Country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine.
Bob Dylan wrote Girl From the North Country in 1963 after hearing Martin Carthy sing Scarborough Fair. I am travelling inside, back to my own North Country. I am scribbling my list of places to revisit when all the hard times are past. Here’s hoping. But, I can haunt Skerries as much as it can haunt me on this retro trip.
Skerries is every inch the old fishing village, it sits within a ragged coast of inlets and rocky islands. These islands gave the town its name which is of Viking origin. There’s Shenick Island with its Martello Tower, St Patrick’s, Colt, Red Island and another Martello, and most famously Rockabill, really two islands, the cow and the calf, with its lighthouse.
With a name like that, little wonder that Skerries has a musical twang for me. I might make up a past of ducktails and sideburns, hair-oil, drainpipes and blue suede shoes. There’s be mods and rockers in some terrible tableau along an endless boardwalk. And maybe it would all segue into Springsteen and some love wrought beat ballad with a backdrop of carnival lights reflecting in the chrome of a convertible. But, to be honest, I’m back in the seventies, and there wasn’t that much colour and light. But there was some.
Red Island Holidays Camp was as wild as it got.It was built in 1947 by Eamonn Quinn who later established the Superquinn chain. Quinn also built the Bray Head chair lift in 1950. Red Island mirrored Butlin’s at Mosney a few miles up the coast. The camp had two hundred and fifty bedrooms. Business faded in the late sixties and the holiday operation closed in the early seventies, though the ballroom continued as a venue into the eighties.
By the time we hit Red Island, its lustre was fading. There was a New Year’s gig we somehow got to with Horslips playing and Larry Gogan as MC. Larry Gogan had been the Pop DJ fixture for our lives since the Beatles first LP. His patter that night included the phrase: “Hey, it’s great to be young,” which I suppose is relative. I reckon Larry would have been pushing forty just then, and maybe didn’t quite have complete identity with the teens and twentysomething hippies and freaks reeling and rocking to Horslips. But the vibe was good. Gogan, in a later interview, mentioned the night which was broadcast live on Radio na Gaeltachta, but omitted Larry’s patter for being in a foreign tongue. Quel Dommage.
All the camp buildings were demolished in the 1980s, so only the Martello Tower remains in a parkland setting. Just a memory then. Another memory fades in: a carpark on a warm midsummers night. The Yacht Club was open for business but packed. However the music played full blast into the night to where the crowd had spilled outdoors. The song, Steely Dan, Haitian Divorce, soaked into the deep blue sky and over the sailboats bobbing in the harbour; as we danced till dawn in the seabreeze.
She takes the taxi to the good hotel,
Bon marche as far as she can tell
She drink the zombie from the cocoa shell
She feels alright, she get it on tonight,
Mister driver, take me where the music play.
Papa say: Oh -oh, no hesitation,
No tears and no hearts breaking no remorse.
Oh -oh, congratulations,
This is your Haitian Divorce.
The girl I danced with would be my wife. Still is. The number appeared on the Royal Scam, one of my favourites. Incidentally, Larry’s favourite album was the Dan’s Katy Lied.
There were times when groups of us took holiday cottages in Skerries. Friends of ours took one for the summer, commuting to Dublin for work on weekdays. Weekends were party time. A favourite haunt was Joe May’s pub. Upstairs, we could lounge in the great bay window looking out at the harbour. Going through these old seventies photographs I’m struck by how empty the place seemed. I remember the pubs being packed at night, but during the day, here as elsewhere, we might have had the world to ourselves.
It takes just over three hours from Bray to Lahinch, passing from cool drizzle into warm sunshine. It is a long way from Clare to here. Out to the wild, windy west, to stop at the edge of the world, the Atlantic stretching before us forever.
I’ve been in this town so long
that back in the city I’ve been taken for lost and gone,
Unknown for a long, long time
Lahinch doesn’t flatter to deceive. The short main street is unremarkable at first glance, though the vista is capped by a surprisingly modernist church tower. The village does reveal itself in time. Perched on a low cliff above a fine strand, its attractions are its environs. Paradise for surfer and golfer; not necessarily the types one would put together socially or sartorially, and neither being my pursuit. There are pubs, restaurants and cafes, chippers, ice cream saloons, amusements, clothes and souvenir shops. The visitor is well catered for.
I meet Henry from Tennessee, who came for a month and stayed three decades. He plies his craft at the Design Lodge Too, fragrance and finesse. We chew the fat on good ole Southern music. Those bands of brothers, the Allmans and the Doobies, Mussel Shoals and New Orleans. Two good ole boys, talking about Brothers and Sisters, Sweet Home Alabama and the Mississippi Delta shining like a National Guitar. I buy some of his handmade soap.
I recall a house party back in the Walkinstown scheme. Back in the day. There was a girl called Clare picked up a guitar and sang. Clare Barnwell was her name. Perhaps she was kin to Hugh De Bernevale, or Barnewall, who built the Norman fortified house, Drimnagh Castle, nearby. I only knew her from afar. My tuppenceworth that night was to offer a drunken, toneless couplet: it’s a long, long way from Clare to here. Ho ho. There was the width of a Corpo sitting room between us, as it would remain. But she laughed, which was nice.
And the only time I feel alright is when I do be drinking,
It eases off the pain a bit and levels out my thinking,
Oh, it’s a long, long way from Clare to here …
I wonder Is O’Looney’s aptly named, or what? Its slow glass wall sucking the beach and sea into the heavy wood and chrome interior. I have a Perroni in a tall glass, and chicken on foccacio bread. There’s a windswept outdoor terrace above the beach. Beyond, earnest surfers are tossed about, awaiting the perfect wave. Surf’s up and Brian Wilson skulks in a beach hut by the dunes, scribbling tunes where the wave furls forever and the sun never sets.
Fell in love years ago with an innocent girl
from the Spanish and Indian home
of the heroes and villains.
Follow the path from O’Looney’s on down to the seafront, the coast walk splitting the beach from Lahinch’s famous links golfcourse. A cluster of modern buildings house the amusements and some eateries. There’s a Canadian place called Randaddy’s.I am ambushed by the mother of spicy pizzas, accompanied by a wonderful cool Molson’s. The soundtrack takes me back. Dylan and Cash sing of the Girl from the North Country. Singing might be too strong a term.
Remember me to the one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine
The Boxer follows. There’s that killer line: In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade. I should be leaving but I can’t. There is a perfect moment, where the senses and the elements and the inner self meet in harmony. These days it’s more a question of emotion than elation. That’s just the way it is. Sitting in the sun-blasted diner, the summer evening and the surf stretching to infinity, the playlist unfurls. My Sweet Lord, Vincent’s starry, starry night, Rod Stewart’s Maggie showing her age. Dylan exhorts the troops with the times they are a-changing. Now I’m showing my age
Come gather round people wherever you roam
and admit how the waters around you have grown,
You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a-changing!
In Danny Mac’s Cafe Bar, we’re drinking to old times. Man, wherever you go, they pull a fine pint down here. There’s something of a cafe ambience, alright. They do a Legendary Irish breakfast here too. I’m not seeing much night out here. The sun might go down in nearby Galway Bay, but it won’t be long coming up again.
There’s early morning rugby in Kenny’s Bar. The Lions have mauled the All Blacks for a change, and the blood’s up. Mind you, this might be Thomond, but it’s hardly Rugby country. There’s anticipation for the county hurlers, destined to fall ultimately to Cork. Later on, Kenny’s will transform into the town’s music venue, harvesting that crop that grows from the stony soil.
We take a jaunt out past Liscannor, no more than a roadside stop with a small harbour. The land tilts upwards, ending suddenly at the teetering edge that is the Cliffs of Moher. The end of the old world. Next stop Amerikay. Its vastness sets a ringing in the ears, an affront to comprehension. One way to describe it is the Grand Canyon with the Atlantic instead of the Colorado River. Really it is unique, although you’ll be joining a crowd when you go up there. A certain herding is formed in funneling through the visitor centre. When you finally get out there, try to find a spot, not too near the edge. Spread your arms, fill your lungs, feast your eyes. And be in that moment.
Farther on, Doolin nestles on its promontory. It’s a picturesque settlement of cottages with craft shops and pubs. A gable wall proudly proclaims Sweaters. Probably the garment; with the weather round here you’d need a heavy sweater. Then there’s Christy Moore. Ferries to the Aran islands set out from the harbour. We return to the desolate low headland where we once put up tents in the dead of night beneath a star spangled sky, in the light of a big Ford Cortina. Turning twenty and without a clue where we were, without a care.