The physical parameters of Walkinstown are not obvious to the lazy eye. But there are signals in the architecture, in the subliminal landscape, and in the nomenclature. At the southern slopes of Drimnagh, the main road crosses the Walkinstown Water and takes its name. Walkinstown Road neatly bisects the area with the private housing to the east and the local authority scheme occupying most of the west. These are known respectively as the Melodies, or Musical Roads, and the Scheme.
Walkinstown takes its name from a 15th century farmer, Wilkins. Wilkinstown House became established as the local manor and a small village grew around it. The village disappeared during the Famine. The nineteenth century Wilkinstown House lasted over a century before being demolished for a supermarket in 1971.
In the later forties, work began on Walkinstown’s musical estate.. On the far bank of the stream that once defined the village, the back windows of a crescent of houses for long overlooked the paddocks of Wilkinstown House, and open countryside to the Norman tower of Drimnagh Castle beyond. The environs are now subsumed in Dublin’s suburban sprawl. The terrace lies to the west of Thomas Moore Road and is called Hardenbeck Avenue. Carl Hardebeck is one of a handful of foreign born artists honoured in the Melodies. He lost his sight while still a baby, but immersed himself in the river of sound. Born in London in 1869 of German/Welsh parentage, he ultimately came to claim his devotion to “God, Beethoven and Patrick Pearse” and was much honoured as a Nationalist on his death in 1945.
The Musical Estate is entered nearby, where the main road crosses the stream. Balfe Road, in its own sweet way, forms the northern boundary of the estate. From its western extreme it runs uphill as far as Bunting Road, stopping where Mooney’s Field is now a green park. Beyond this expanse, Balfe Avenue takes up the journey east before Balfe Road East draws the border with Crumlin.
Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) was born in Dublin, son of a violinist and dancing master. He was sixteen when his father died and the following year he took his precocious musical talent to London. He was a violinist for the orchestra of the Theatre Royal but decided to become an opera singer and travelled to Italy for tuition in 1825. Ten years later he returned to London and quickly achieved success as a composer. One of his first operas as a composer was Falstaff in 1838, adapting Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. In 1843 he wrote The Bohemian Girl based on a Cervantes story, La Gitanella.
La Gitanella tells of a fifteen year old gypsy girl, Preciosa, who captures the heart of a nobleman, Don Juan, but to marry her he must spend two years as a gypsy. The story examines the nature of stereotypes, truth and lies. The twist in the tale is that Preciosa had been kidnapped by the gypsies as a child.
Balfe’s version, with libretto by Alfred Bunn, is rather more melodramatic. It was hugely successful at the time and remains his best known work, in particular the Aria I dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls. Here Arlene, the gypsy girl of the title, recalls her almost forgotten earlier life.
I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls
With vassals and serfs at my side
And of all who assembled within those walls
That I was the hope and the pride.
The song resonates in Irish music and literature. James Joyce namechecks it twice in Dubliners, in Clay and Eveline, and it also features in Finnegans Wake. It has been performed by Enya, Celtic Woman and Sinead O’Connor.
Balfe died in 1870 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace.
First left off Balfe Road is Hughes Road, forming a regular promontory up in Walkinstown’s north. It brackets Field Avenue, the one street in the capital named for John Field. Herbert Hughes (1882-1937) was born in Belfast and studied with Stanford in the Royal College of Music, London. He was a music critic for the Daily Telegraphs, but is best known as an arranger and collector of traditional folksongs. With the support of Francis Joseph Bigger, he published Songs of Uladh in 1904. From 1909, his four collections of Irish Country Songs were written in collaboration with poets WB Yeats, Padraic Colum and Joseph Campbell, including such Irish folk classics as She Moved Through the Fair and Down By the Salley Gardens.
She Moved Through the Fair has a haunting melody that seems to chime with every age. The song was collected in Donegal by Hughes with lyrics written by Padraic Colum. A host of Irish and international artists have covered it from John McCormack to the Waterboys, Tangerine Dream to Clannad. In the film Michael Collins it is sung by Sinead O’Connor. The melody is incorporated in the Simple Minds song, Belfast Child.
Down By the Salley Gardens appears as a poem in Yeats collection The Wanderings of Oisin. Yeats remembered snatches of an old song, The Rambling Boys of Pleasure. It was set to music by Hughes to the traditional air The Moorlough Shore
Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet
She passed the salley gardens with little snow white feet
She bid me take life easy, as leaves grow on the tree
But I being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
Hughes saw the arrangement of music as an artform on a par with original composition. According to him, the arranger takes the original material so that it is “transmuted into an art song, an art song of its own generation.”
Stanford Green is a wide hemisphere south of Balfe just before Bunting Road. This green and Thomas Moore were convenient football pitches for us as youngsters. As a Chelsea fan, I imagined Stanford as Stamford (Bridge), with me as Peter Bonnetti and my friends as Bobby Tambling and Charlie Cooke. My friends in truth were fans of either Manchester or Leeds United, and the road was named for Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). He was a Romantic composer and a child prodigy who was performing and composing at eight years of age.
Stanford studied Classics at Cambridge University, but his devotion to music won out. He went on to study at Leipzig and Berlin, returning to Cambridge as Professor of Music. .He was the founding professor of the Royal College of Music in Kensington, which, by the way, is not far from Stamford Bridge. His pupils at Cambridge included Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst.
George Bernard Shaw praised the Celtic elements of Stanford’s music. His orchestral work, Irish Rhapsodies, incorporated Irish folk songs. He was the first to popularise the Londonderry Air, published in 1855 by George Petrie in the Ancient Music of Ireland, the song originally collected by Jane Ross of Limavady.
Wallace Road leads east off Bunting Road, opposite Harty Avenue. William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865) was born in Waterford. He was a virtuoso on violin and piano and a composer of opera, piano music and parlour songs and ballads. He married at twenty, to a pupil Isabella Kelly, converting to Catholicism for the purpose, and moved to Dublin. In 1835, he took his family to Australia, and three years later left them there. He later spun a colourful yarn that he voyaged the Pacific on a whaling ship. From his arrival in South America he was celebrated as a virtuoso, making his way to New Orleans and New York. In 1845 he composed the first of six operas, Maritana, which was a huge success.
He took American citizenship and a second wife, German pianist Helene Stoepel, in1854. His tomb in London carries the epitaph: music is an art that knows no locality but heaven.