Wicklow’s Wonderful Coast – 10

From Greystones Harbour, the direct route to the town centre is via Trafalgar Road heading uphill. Off to the left, Cliff Road follows the rocky seafront around the promontory. This continues on via Marine Road heading for the South Beach. You can make a loop back inland via La Touche Road which joins Trafalgar near the railway bridge.

About halfway along Trafalgar Road is the large husk of the La Touche Hotel. This was the town’s only hotel, and much the largest building. It vaguely suggests the outline of a castle. Four storeys with a tower at each corner and mansard roofs connecting along front and rear facades. The La Touche opened as the Grand Hotel in 1894. It was the height of elegance in its day and a setting for one of history’s subplots too. Michael Collins, en route to London for the Treaty negotiations, proposed to Kitty Kiernan there in October 1921. The wedding was set for November the following year, but in August Collins was killed in an ambush by Irregulars in County Cork. Kiernan had been educated at Loreto Convent in Bray, before a brief period at Saint Ita’s, Padraig Pearse’s experimental attempt to launch a St. Enda’s for girls.

After Independence, the hotel remained old world, and came somewhat stuck in time as the town grew. Extensive development in the late century included a conference centre and a large performance venue and night club. The venue hosted Mary Coughlan and other top local acts, while  Bennigans Bar gave onto a large terrace and gardens and was a boon in summer.

In 2004 the La Touche closed for redevelopment as apartments. The development has only recently been completed. Meanwhile, with the Beach House and the Burnaby the only other bars, Greystones suffered the reputation of being the driest town in Ireland, a dubious distinction that was made even worse by the closure.

David Digues La Touche was amongst the Huguenot exodus from France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He fought at the Battle of the Boyne came to Dublin where he established his silk business, later moving into banking and property. His son David built the Bellevue estate near the Glen of the Downes, while grandson Peter expanded the holdings to include Luggala, a famous haunt of the rich and famous in the sixties at the hectic salon presided over by Guinness heir, Gareth De Brun.

La Touche acquired the lands of upper and lower Rathdown, where modern Greystones now lies. The Barony of Rathdown stretched from south Dublin to Delgany, but in modern times is confined to the Dublin side in the county of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown. Greystones first appeared on the map at the end of the eighteenth century. It was noted as a fishing village but the population remained under three hundred people until the coming of the railway. La Touche granted land and money for the building of St Patrick’s Church in 1857 and the roads of the new town were laid out by the La Touches in the 1860s. The population neared the thousand mark by Independence with two thirds of the population were Protestant. Even today, Greystones has proportionally the largest protestant population in the state at over ten per cent of the eighteen thousand residents.

The town’s Catholic Church lies east of the tracks. the Holy Rosary church was designed by WH Byrne in 1909. It is a Romanesque Revival building, attractive in design but rendered somewhat grim by the plastered exterior. Crossing the bridge La Touche Place leads to a t-junction with the main street, Church Road. This is named for St Patrick’s off to the north, serving the Church of Ireland community. Heading out of town it is tree lined and residential. Turning left, we slope downhill through the town.centre

In fact, Greystones is very much the modern urban village. Church Road, is low level sloping down to the station and the sea, its many eateries and coffee shops colonising the pavement, particularly pleasant when you can bask in the summer sunshine. Mind, if you topped up on caffeine at every opportunity, you’d be wired to the moon by the time you reached the station.

Temptations include the vegetarian Happy Pear, eccentric Italian Cafe Delle Stelle and that much sought after condition, Insomnia. Across the road the Hungry Monk is a famous evening eatery. Bochelli’s is a fully licensed restaurant with a streetfront terrace and a fine seafaring mural featuring Samuel Beckett, of all people. But I must go on

My impression of Greystones Railway Station, acrylic on canvas.

At the bottom of the hill is the rail station. Initially, the station was referred to as Delgany, a larger settlement a mile or so inland. Then Delgany and Greystones until finally Greystones was large enough to claim sole billing on the railway sign by the turn of the century. The Station was designed by George Wilkinson, who was also responsible for Bray Station and the Harcourt Street Terminus. It is a two storey building and is larger than most rural stations. The entrance porch with three high glass fronted bays, is attractive and opens onto a small plaza. Connection to the DART service was completed in 2000.

Across the road the Burnaby Pub, established in 1881, is a regular port of call. Inside it has large screen sports and is particularly thronged with worshippers for Ireland and Leinster rugby games. There’s a good food menu too for lunch and early evening. In the summer, the paved back garden is a favourite spot to cool down from a hot day at the bookface. The name derives from the nearby estate, and thereby hangs a tale or two.

The railway station stands on the dividing line between the estates of La Touche to the north and Whitshed to the south. The Whitshed estate became known as the Burnaby when a housing. development was laid out by Alfred Wynne in the 1890s. It has become a byword for the fabulously well to do, the epitome of posh. Local author Paul Howard no doubt mines his inspiration for such Dartline heroes as Ross O’Carroll Kelly from this rich vein. It is an estate of handsome detached period houses and quiet sylvan avenues. The Whitshed estate was the inheritance of Elizabeth Hawkins Whitshed, also known as Lizzie Le Blond, famous mountaineer and explorer, writer and film maker. The dashing name suited her larger than life image, though she wasn’t blond. Her third husband was Aubrey Le Blond. The Burnaby name comes from her first husband  the famous advenurer and soldier Frederick Burnaby

Born in 1860, Lizzie had been quite the belle in London of the Belle Epoch. She married Burnaby at nineteen and they had one child, but herself and Frederic were soon living seperate lives. She moved to Switzerland and set out to conquer the Alps founding the Ladies Alpine Club. She was a talented photographer, and an early  film maker, recording the sporting events of St Moritz. She died in 1934 and is buried at Brompton cemetary in London.

Some boys take a beautiful girl

And hide her away from the rest o’ the world

I wanna be the one to walk in the sun

Oh girls, they wanna have fun

Frederick was a swashbuckling hero of his day. He was a soldier and intelligence officer with the elite Royal Horse Guards. At six four and broad shouldered he cut an impressive figure, captured in a portrait by James Tissot which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. (There’s a print displayed in Greystones Library.) He fell into adventures which scandalised his superiors and thrilled the Victorian world. Most famously, in the winter of 1875 he set out from St Petersburg on a thousand mile journey through steppe and desert to the fabled city of Khiva in Uzbekistan. His account, Ride to Khiva, Travels and Adventures in Central Asia, was a bestseller, followed the next year by On Horseback through Asia Minor. His travels weren’t confined to horseback, in 1882 he crossed the English Channel to France in a gas balloon, prompting another book. Perhaps he would ultimately have circled the globe if given the time. Frustrated at not being selected for the force sent to relieve Gordon of Khartoum, he joined the campaign anyway while on leave. But it was to be his last stand. He died at the Battle of Abu Klea, in Sudan, in 1885.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun appears on Cyndi Lauper’s debut album She’s So Unusual in 1983. I’m sure Lizzie would have approved, though far removed from the more working class backdrop of the lyrics. Interestingly, the original was written by Robert Hazzard with a male POV. Perhaps both versions are tailored to suit this dynamic duo.