South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 9

9. Coliemore Harbour to Sorrento Point

Coliemore, the big harbour in Gaelic, made Dalkey the main port for Dublin in the middle ages, providing a deepwater harbour in contrast to the shallow and silt prone Liffey estuary. From the seventeenth century onwards it went into decline and the town of Dalkey quietened, and along with the hinterland withdrew into the wings. It is interesting now, stepping into the embrace of the harbour, how the trappings of the modern world slip out of view, and the harbour forms a window back to wilder times. Dalkey Island lying just beyond the harbour mouth remains ragged with the ruined profile of its fortifications and places of worship. There’s plenty of history written beneath its cloak of melting green. And what is not written in stone is embossed with myth and legend. 

Approaching Coliemore Harbour we passed Elsinore, a grand nineteenth century residence.  It is said that the nearby harbour bore some similarity with the Danish castle as described by Shakespeare in Hamlet. Such comparisons are lost in the mists of time. The connection with Shakespeare comes from friend and contemporary John Dowland. Dowland’s place of birth is unknown, but it was probably Ireland. He dedicates his work From Silent Night to “My loving countryman Mr John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin, Ireland.” Dalkey has been claimed, by Irish composer and musicologist, W.H. Grattan Flood, though there’s no actual proof.

Dowland, a Catholic, failed to receive favour at Elizabeth’s court but in 1598 gained a position as lutenist to the Danish Court of King Christian IV for a fabulous salary. The eccentric plight of musicians at Christian’s court is well drawn in Rose Tremain’s Music and Silence, set some decades after Dowland’s departure. When Dowland returned to London he, with Shakespeare, gained favour at the court of King James I (James VI of Scotland). Around then, Shakespeare was putting the finishing touches to his epic, Hamlet, and it would seem likely that he plugged his friend Dowland for details of the Danish Court.

Dowland would have described the original, methinks, with Shakespeare more interested in the carry-on of the court than the architecture. The Bard derived the name Elsinore from the Danish town, Helsingor, in the shadow of the mighty Kronborg Castle. I once sailed from Copenhagen past Kronborg, and even on a crowded deck, the view evoked the mythology and romance I had anticipated. So close, and so far out of reach, there is something bittersweet in observing  a famed vista from the viewpoint of the seafarer, poised between port and storm.

Mind, Elizabethan Dalkey, famed for its seven towers, would have cut something of a dash as a fortified landmark on the storm battered rocky shore of south Dublin. The vista must surely have lodged in the musician’s soul, if this is indeed from whence he hailed. His final view from the sea was likely the only one, forever receding until fading into mist or horizon. Dowland’s lute playing and compositions have been revived by such as Julian Bream and Sting. Sting’s Songs from the Labyrinth captures the ancient sounds in amber. So, tinted as it is, we can still discern a facsimile of how it must have been, plucked from the air by the world’s first Rock star.

Dalkey’s Elsinore was home to architect John McCurdy, who designed the Royal Marine Hotel for Dargan. McCurdy was also responsible for the 1867 development of the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. He died at Elsinore in 1885, aged sixty. A century later U2 recorded tracks for their album Achtung Baby in the house. Coming home from their initial recording session in Berlin, Elsinore provided a more relaxed surrounding for local residents, Bono and the Edge. The opening track  Zoo Station, along with The Fly and Ultraviolet sprang from this session. With Achtung Baby, U2 traded their more earnest, traditional Rock sound for something more edgy and modern. As Dowland once sang:  My music, hellish jarring sounds, to banish friendly sleep. The album has become their second most successful after Joshua Tree, shifting eighteen million units. Nothing ironic about that.   

From Coliemore, we meander out towards Sorrento Point. Teetering on the edge of the map, the road makes a right angle at an elegant terrace of eight grand white houses. Sorrento Terrace was built in Famine times by William Masterson, who is also responsible for the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire.

Looking over the terrace is a small park. It wears a neglected air, but shouldn’t be ignored. The rising path coils upward to a ruined bandstand and further on a casual sprinkling of benches allows pause to take in a stunning vista trough all points of the compass. On an elevated rock face to the east there’s a plaque commemorating Dowland. Designed by artist Sarah Purser, the plaque was installed in 1937. The portrait has been deliberately defaced, adding another layer of mystery to the tale.

This place does seem appropriate for Dowland’s memorial, remote enough to hear the sighs of sea and gulls mingle with the singing of ghosts, while all around the modern city throbs, cars go by, trains tunnel beneath and the boiling javelins of aircraft streak across the sky.

So, we rejoin the Vico Road, rising into the blue along the shoulder of Killiney Hill. Against that most majestic view of the bay, framed by the Sugarloaf Mountains and Bray Head to the south, it is perhaps the perfect time to let the credits roll. Or, you can just keep on walking, and let the songs rise up in your heart.

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first

And I will drink the clear clean water for to quench my thirst

And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they’ll get high

On a blue ocean, against tomorrow’s sky

And I will walk and talk in gardens all wet with rain

And never ever ever ever ever get so old again

Sweet Thing by Van Morrison is a song anticipating the joys of love, written during an enforced separation from his lover, Janet Planet. It is on the otherwise more reflective album Astral Weeks from 1968. Mike Scott gave the song an interesting twist on the Waterboys’ album Fisherman’s Blues, with an impromptu segue into the Beatles’ Blackbird, reaffirming the positive vibes of the Paul McCartney composition.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take this broken wing and learn to fly

All your life you were just waiting for this moment to arrive

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take your sunken eyes, learn to see

All your life you were only waiting for this moment to be free.

South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 8

Dalkey to Coliemore Harbour

There was a tramway that weaved through Dalkey long ago. The trams are gone but their memory was evoked for a time in the Tramyard on Castle Street. This little enclave was gathered around a courtyard with market stalls, a cafe and licensed restaurant. I only got to visit once, so it is still something of a chimera for me. I had finished my coffee and snack and noticed a young man across from me drinking a pint of Guinness. I hadn’t realised the place was licensed and so I called the waitress and said I’d have one of those, pointing to my neighbour’s pint.

There’s a story Maeve Binchy told of a trip to China when she came adrift of her itinerary, as a good explorer should. Finding herself hungry, she saw a room filled with men eating, which she took to be a restaurant. Plonking herself down, she was quickly attended by a man, a waiter perhaps, but no menu was proferred and a question hung in the air. With the language barrier, Maeve gestured to what a man at an adjacent table was eating. The waiter followed her finger, shrugged, and adroitly whipped the plate away from the surprised man and placed it in front of Maeve. What did she do? What could she do? She finished the plate and, leaving a generous wad of notes, swept out of the room wondering what story the poor man might tell of the large red haired foreigner who had appeared out of the blue to wolf his dinner.

My story didn’t quite work out like that. I did notice the waitress stop at the young man’s table and exchange words with the odd sidelong glance at me. My pint arrived and the waitress refused my money telling me the pint had been stood by the young man. I joined him at his table and we spent a happy hour in talk. The waitress was his girlfriend and he was passing the time until she knocked off for lunch. In his manner he reminded me of my younger son; he had a look about him as if he knew me coupled with a certain amusement and the unpracticed panache of a tyro cavalier. I held up my end and we parted. I almost walked on air as I left through the courtyard and fancied, if I looked back, that the entire scene would have folded away and disappeared, as the trams of yore had. This turned out to be true. Before I could next visit Dalkey, the Tramyard was closed, failing the fastidious test of a fire officer who somehow felt that an outdoor market and bar was a hazard. Maybe it was a chimera after all.

In my heart, as I reached the end of Castle Street, the song playing is both happy and sad. Life is good and all the better for living it for more than ourselves. There are absent friends.

Children playing building castles on the shoreline

Like a painted little love and lord it feels so fine

Liam O Maonlaoi hails from Monkstown. With schoolfriend, Fachtna O Braonnain, he played the streets with the Incomparable Benzini Brothers. They were the bulb of the Hothouse Flowers, top band of the late eighties. They signed with U2’s Mother label and their debut album, People, struck gold at home and abroad. Don’t Go, from the album, was a huge hit and, weirdly, was the interval act for the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. The song is bittersweet, a celebration of the good things in life tinged with the regret of the premature death of a friend.  

There’s a blue sirocco blowing warm into my face

The sun is shining on the other side of the bridges

And the cars going by with smiles in the windows

Don’t go, don’t leave me now, now, now

While the sun smiles, stick around and laugh a while.

The road forks, climbing to the right past Finnegan’s pub and on to the railway station. Veering left takes us past the Club where the road branches and we follow Coliemore Road to return us to the rocky shore. We will soon find ourselves back where we began, bringing to mind the meditations on travel, and other matters of life and death, of the great philosopher, and Dalkey resident, De Selby. 

Human existence being an hallucination, it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the the supreme hallucination known as death.

The town’s fictional manifestation is in The Dalkey Archive by Flann O’Brien, published in 1964. The book echoes his earlier The Third Policeman, which remained unpublished until after the author’s death. Both narratives feature the ramblings of the great thinker, De Selby. James Joyce appears in the Archive, very much alive but exiled to the wilds of Skerries where he works in a bar and nurtures his ambition to join the Jesuits. Flann O’Brien was one of the pen names of Brian O’Nolan, who wrote under the monicker Myles na gCopaleen for the Cruiskeen Lan column in the Irish Times. He gave Irish literature some of its most brilliant, surreal and hilarious works: At Swim Two Birds, the Third Policeman, and the Dalkey Archive. His infamous television interview with Tim Pat Coogan was recorded in the Joyce tower after a skinful and not long before his death in 1966. O’Nolan, a founding member of the now annual jamboree of Bloomsday, merits a commemoration himself, and so Mylesday is celebrated on the 1st of April, in the Palace Bar, Fleet Street.

Dalkey Island with its Martello Tower floats a few hundred yards offshore. It holds ancient remains of a 7th century stone church named for St Begnet and two holy wells. The wells were a magnet for mariners as they were touted as a cure for scurvy, a claim with some scientific validation. Scant ruins remain of a promontory fort built to protect the harbour. The martello tower is a more recent fortification against the Napoleonic threat in1804.

St Begnet is the patron saint of the town. Semi legendary, of royal birth and reputed beauty, she rejected suitors to embrace chastity and piety. Having been gifted a bracelet marked with the cross, she became an anchorite. She fled to Northumbria where she was confirmed in the faith by Saint Aidan at Lindisfarne. This places her in the early seventh century. It may be that her church on Dalkey island was established by nuns in her honour, not necessarily by herself.

Her legend implies that she was something of a virgin prophet. That epithet surfaced as the title of an early Mellow Candle recording session, the Virgin Prophet, released in 1996. It features the more folk orientated quartet before they settled on the rock rhythm section of Frank Boylan and William Murray. Most of the songs resurfaced on Swaddling Songs. The album has a suitably Pre Raphaelite cover, evoking memories of that mad afternoon in Blackrock Park. There’s a safe harbour below us. Coliemore, derived from the Irish for big harbour, was the principal port for Dublin in Renaissance times. The waters then were roiled with trade. All quiet now, a slow glass filling with sky. 

They have me captured in their city

in every living room my dust has laid me low

and well I know the brown earth will be my best friend

and when I’m gone they’ll find another way to mend

they’ll sell my Silversong for tears.

Silversong/Mellow Candle

South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 7

7. To Bulloch Harbour and Dalkey

From the Forty Foot the coast cuts south and the city disappears. A laneway leads down to the shore but the tide is full in and the route to Bulloch Harbour looks treacherous. At low tide there’s a rugged foreshore to navigate, and you’ll still face a bit of a clamber over the wall at the far end to get into the harbour. We take the inland loop by way of Sandycove Avenue and the main road, Sandycove Road. This leads up a slight gradient to Bulloch Castle.

Bulloch Castle dates from the middle of the twelfth century when it was the centre of a fortified town gathered around the natural harbour below. This was a lucrative fishing port  requiring protection from marauding Wicklow tribes to the south. The operation was run by Cistercian monks until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539. The castle keep remains, a tall rectangular structure with angular towers at each end. 

Harbour Road leads down to  the harbour, as you’d expect. The modern harbour was constructed of local granite in the early nineteenth century. Nestled beneath the imposing tower it is still possible to let your mind drift back to ancient days. But time moves on, and  the harbour is ringed by modern apartments.

We sit for a while and watch some young lads clamber up from the far shore over the harbour’s north wall, then continue their coastal walk past the south end of the harbour. That’s a bit intrepid for us, and we stick to Harbour Road which leads on to Dalkey, keeping as near the coast as possible

Immediately we come to Pilot View, expensive apartments which have accumulated their own recent history. Patrick Connolly, Attorney General in the Fianna Fail administration of the eighties, lived here. He took a house guest, a younger man Malcolm MacArthur, a dilettante whom he knew socially. MacArthur murdered nurse Bridie Gargan in Phoenix Park in 1982 as part of his madcap plan to steal a car to use in a robbery to fund his expensive lifestyle. Days later he visited farmer Donal Dunne who had advertised a shotgun for sale. MacArthur turned the gun on him and killed him.

MacArthur botched his ultimate robbery at the house of a US diplomat in Killiney. The diplomat offered to write a cheque, giving him time to exit the room find a convenient window and escape. Dalkey Gardai received a tip off, from MacArthur of all people, who phoned to explain that the recent botched robbery was merely a prank. A lively trail of eccentric behaviour lead the Guards at last to Pilot View and they arrested the killer. MacArthur spent thirty years in prison, finishing up at the open prison Shelton Abbey, in County Wicklow, where he worked as the in-house librarian. You didn’t want to let your books go overdue there! Connolly was forced to resign.

The road takes us past St Patrick’s Church and National School, serving the Church of Ireland Community.  This is a pleasant nineteenth century Gothic ensemble, with gate lodge, school and imposing church. Farther on, Loreto Abbey was established by the Loreto Sisters in 1843. The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in the seventeenth century by Englishwoman Mary Ward, taking their name from the Marian shrine at Loreto in Italy. Frances Ball established their first base in Ireland at Rathfarnham in County Dublin. For a couple of years the nuns ran a day school and boarding school from their temporary abode in Bulloch Castle. Ball designed the castellated granite building for their new residence. It makes an imposing statement standing sentinel on this headland, with the waves of Dalkey Sound pounding the rocks below. Any girl seeking to escape would have been advised to take an inland route. The boarding school has been closed since 1982.

Dalkey Sound, as we mentioned previously, was a relatively safe haven for shipping and the town operated as a port of choice for Dublin before the developments of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The name Dalkey is taken from the Irish, Thorn Island, which initially referred to Dalkey Island which we can spy floating to the south of the Abbey. 

We’ll return to the rocky shore later, but for now, we veer right onto Convent Road which meanders on down to Dalkey’s main drag, Castle Street. Castle Street offers an almost funride compendium of urban styles, appropriately for a place dating back to the Vikings and maintaining its importance through the late middle ages. The predominant style is Tudor Revival, popular in the late nineteenth century and again appropriate, giving a hint of medieval times.  

Jewels in the crown are Dalkey’s two castles, located about halfway along the street. Goat’s Castle is the larger of the two and functions as a town hall and heritage centre, and is now referred to as Dalkey Castle. Across the street, Archbold’s Castle is a private residence. The two combine to transport us back in time. There are a few welcome oases too. Queens nearby, with its front patio has long been a favourite of mine. Established in the eighteenth century it is Dalkey’s oldest pub, but has now ceased trading, which is a shame. McDonagh’s further on was a more dingy port of call. It’s now called the Dalkey Duck (oh dear), though I suppose you can call it what you like. I used to call it the Love Shack, which is something of a mystery, but most likely came from the song by the B 52s which in the summer of 89 was number one in Ireland. The place has been given a revamp, but back then it was a place to drink Guinness in the darkness. It’s been a while now. But brighter days beckon. There’s still some singing to be done over the dark times.

Darkness falls and she will take me by the hand

Take me to some twilight land

Where all but love is grey

Where I can’t find my way

She’s a Mystery to Me was written by local residents Bono and the Edge of U2 and sung by Roy Orbison. The song bears witness to fate and the power of dreams. It was a sultry night near Soho, and Bono tossed and turned his hotel bed. He had fallen asleep with dreams of Blue Velvet in his belfry. Visions of Isabella Rossellini often season my dreams too, but here mingled with Roy Orbison singing In Dreams to strange happenings, 

A candy-colored clown they call the sandman

Tiptoes to my room every night

Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper

Go to sleep, everything is alright 

Bono awoke with the song, he reckoned, stuck in his head. But it was another song, and he played a rough take to the band at rehearsals for their gig. As if to verify that the song was made for him, and made in heaven, who should drop by backstage that night after the gig … 

Night falls I’m cast beneath her spell

Daylight comes our heaven turns to hell

Am I left to burn and burn eternally

She’s a mystery to me

South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 3

To Dun Laoghaire via the Metals.

Keeping the railway as our guide, we are walking towards Dalkey. We’ll return later to explore, but our path dictates we must leave it for now and cross the tracks to Ardeevin Road which reaches a point just above the rail station’s northbound platform. Dalkey Station was built in 1854 when, after twenty years, Ireland’s first railway the Dublin to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) line was extended through to Bray. For ten years prior to that the Atmospheric Railway provided a connection to the Dublin Kingstown line.

A left turn at the end of Ardeevin Road leads uphill, and the second turn right along Cunningham Road emerges at the foot of Dalkey Hill with its disused quarry. This supplied the granite for the construction of Dun Laoghaire Harbour in the early nineteenth century. A metal tramway connected the two sites, some of which was converted into the Atmospheric Railway of the 1840s, developing into the modern railway line and since 1984 the electrified Dartline.

The Metals is a marked walk along the route of the old tramway. We start at the quarry and pick up the route of the Dartline heading north to Sandycove and Glasthule station. The Metals walk runs for a distance of three kilometres. It’s an easy, flat walk, very well marked, through tree lined lanes for the most part. It took us about thirty minutes; the estimated times on the signposting being a tad more pessimistic.

We pass above Glenageary Dart station, crossing the neat park bordered by Victorian terraces that I’ve only previously admired, and partially glimpsed, from the train. Glenageary means the valley of the sheep in Gaelic, but that was then, this is now. The sheep are long gone.

Winding up a hillside where the shepherds roam

Counting their flocks in the gloaming

Shining the sea, winking its light to the froth and the foam

Sheep Season/Mellow Candle 

Sandycove and Glasthule station is a modern structure straddling the tracks. It holds a certain mystique for me, my own creation entirely. It becomes, in that half sleep induced by the rhythms of the railway, the imagined setting for some beautiful liaison that’s yet to happen, or that has happened without marking the memory. The scene is populated with wide shoulders and fedoras, a silvered monochrome wreathed in pulsing smoke. Blinking into the sunblasted reality, we emerge onto the prosaic rush hour of the main road. To the west, the arrow straight thoroughfare is the spine of Dun Laoghaire, to the east Glasthule asserts its own urban village identity. The sylvan tunnel we’ve left behind fades as if it too were an unlikely memory, and I cross the heavy traffic of the main drag to be drawn inexorably towards the sea, 

A lane leads down to Scotsman’s Bay. The bay is enthusiastically rendered in vivid blue, small craft daubed across its surface, the giant harbour and Dublin Bay are laid out beyond. The Metals veers west towards its conclusion.

To our right there is a magnetic pull that can’t be ignored.  An Ice Cream at Teddy’s is more than just a treat, it is practically a custom when I visit with M. A Ninety Nine, gorgeous as it may be, is not something for the solo wanderer. Unless you’re in love with yourself. In which case: go for it! Still, I persist in the higher pleasure of sharing ice cream cones in briny summer air.

Stepping out onto the seafront, the eras collide, and two centuries of power and glory jostle for attention across this wonderful tableau. It can be hard to grasp how quickly all this sprang up. While Dublin is an ancient city, Dun Laoghaire in the late eighteenth century was a small coastal village north of here, clustered in the vicinity of the Purty Kitchen. 

Then came the construction of the harbour. Dunleary, as then known, was proposed as a refuge harbour for Dublin Bay following a litany of shipwrecks. The harbour was completed in the eighteen twenties and managed to nick the franchise for the mail packet service to Britain from Howth in north Dublin. The Mail Boat became established as an Irish icon, synonymous with the sadness of high emigration.

Thousands are sailing

Again across the ocean

Where the hand of opportunity

Draws tickets in a lottery

But we dance to the music

And we dance

The song, Thousands are Sailing by the Pogues, was written by Phil Chevron (Philip Ryan) who had previously played with Irish punk rockers The Radiators From Space. The song was Chevron’s first for the Pogues and included on their album If I Should Fall From Grace with God. This album showed a thematic shift for the group, with a more serious focus on the heritage of Irish emigration. Fairytale of New York was their top selling single, a mini opera of dreams and delirium for a struggling Irish couple in New York.The immigrant position is always shifting, of course. When Chevron writes, thousands are sailing again, he knows that they are flying, often in hope more than necessity; but there is a continuum. In that respect, the Mail Boat is a persistent icon, and if the now diminished service is more by way of transport and tourism, bitterwsweet memories abide.

The modern rail connection passes through the cutting below, that will travel the full length of Modern Dun Laoghaire’s seafront. For us, the Metals ends nearby, for now. The People’s Park stretches between the seafront and George’s Street, Dun Laoghaire’s main thoroughfare. On the site of a disused quarry, it was opened in 1890 along a formal design by J.L. Robinson. There’s a gate lodge, an ornate bandstand and an impressive central fountain. Along the western flank, near George’s street, the lovely restored pavilion houses an elegant cafe; Fallon and Byrne’s. At the end of our walk, it is time for, another, reward. Really, at any time, one must seize the pleasure of a leisurely half hour or so, in sunshine on the veranda with an aromatic cup of coffee, and more besides, looking out over the park, as children play and people pass, as seabirds swirl and time stands still.

Walkinstown’s Musical Roads – 4

Walkinstown Lib

Walkinstown Library

Go far enough east along Cromwellsfort Road and you reach Crumlin. At the junction, the Submarine Bar was seen as Walkinstown’s last outpost, though Crumlin and Kimmage might have said the same. Now defunct, I’ve slurped from silver cups there, the Sam Maguire and the League of Ireland trophy, courtesy of schoolfriends Kevin Moran and Gerry Ryan, of Dubs and Bohemians fame. The road name derives from Oliver Cromwell, who stalked the area between here and Drimnagh Castle back in the mid seventeenth century. Before gaining the art deco joys of the crossroads, one last turn at Moeran Road leads back to the Melodies.

First thing you see is Walkinstown Library, giving its name to this subsection of the area. Lured in by the music, you stay for the words. Situated on a green island on Percy French Road, the library opened in 1961. A third of the stock and premises was devoted to children. My first attempt to borrow was a giant atlas, which I horsed to the desk like a surfer hitting the wave. The librarian kindly, but firmly, pointed out the tag For Reference Only, explaining I could not take it home. Well, feck that for a game of cowboys, I thought. I would, in time, borrow many books, mostly a diet of Blyton, Biggles and Bunter, the very British fare available to children then. Richer veins of storytelling followed, according to the prompts of siblings and peers, teachers, parents or simply whims. From Emily Bronte to Kurt Vonnegut, and a fair few manifestations of Brian O’Nolan, I’d keep on keeping on. One group of stories, set in song, was already well established in my soul, the writer’s name graces the road on which the library stands.


Percy French in Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan.

If Moore was seen as the Bard of Ireland, Percy French was more for the plain people. Born in Roscommon in1854, he studied at Trinity College and it was there that he wrote his first major song: Abdulla Bulbul Amir, for a men only event called a smoking concert. Ah, those were the days! As many an artist has found, a work sold cheaply is as good as stolen and French was long denied credit for the song. 

RTE were fond of spinning Brendan O’Dowda’s album of Percy French favourites and Abdulla was a standout for me. For some reason I sided with the Russian, Ivan Stravinsky Stravar. It is he who strode arrogantly into town to tread on the toe of his foe and ignite a colourful duel; although the tale ends tragically for both. A cautionary tale on the excesses of male pride.

They fought all that night neath the pale yellow moon,

The din it was heard from afar,

And great multitudes came, so great was the fame

Of Abdul and Ivan Skivar.

French was in his thirties before going full time as writer and entertainer. His songs, often comic and with a twist of satire were easily taken to heart by the public, but there is a solid and genuine core to his work also. He captures universal human qualities, all the fun and foibles, giving us more than just a picture of a bygone age. He is at his best in the Mountains of Mourne, where there is something of a sadness, and certainly a beauty, in the simplicity of the emigrant’s view of an alien world, and the deep longing for the simpler land, and fairer lass, he’s left behind.

Oh Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight

With the people here working by day and by night,

They don’t sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat

But there’s gangs of them digging for gold in the street.

The narrator keeps a promise to his girl back home, informing her of the latest fashions in London. Perhaps he notices the beauty of the girls a bit much, to begin with. The beautiful shapes nature never designed, their lovely complexions “all roses and cream”. But then:

If of those roses you ventured to sip,

The colour might all come away on your lip.

So I’ll wait for the wild rose that’s waiting for me,

Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. 


Errigal Road, Drimnagh

Drimnagh, with its roads named for mountains, pays tribute to the Mournes. Moeran Road, meanwhile, is named for Ernest Moeran who was London born, though his father was Irish. This connection led him to Ireland in the 1930s. He settled in Kenmare, County Kerry, finding the landscape there a profound influence on his music until his untimely death in 1950, as building continued on the Musical Estate. The Moeran Hall, on the Crumlin Walkinstown border, became the main venue for dances and gigs as the youth population boomed in the sixties. Amongst the talents that burned brightly, if briefly there, were local band The Black Eagles, fronted by a certain Philip Lynott. More of that anon.

Where Balfe Road ends, a meandering road takes up the journey east. Viewed from the air it vaguely resembles a lute, and is named for John Dowland, top lutenist in Shakespearean days. Dowland’s place of birth is unknown, but it was probably Ireland. He dedicates his work From Silent Night to “My loving countryman Mr John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin, Ireland.” Dalkey has been claimed, though it’s disputed.


Colliemore Harbour, Dalkey

He studied in Paris from 1580 where he converted to Roman Catholicism, which may have been a factor in him being passed over at Elizabeth’s court. He took his talent elsewhere, travelling in Germany and Italy to great acclaim. He was dubbed the English Orpheus. In 1598 he gained a position as lutenist to the Danish Court of King Christian IV for a fabulous salary. Dowland may have dabbled in espionage. He was tapped up by English Catholics plotting to overthrow the Protestant Elizabeth. Accusations of his spying for the papacy were denied. He wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, the Secretary of State, pledging loyalty to Queen Bess. 

He was a friend and contemporary of Shakespeare, and it is inferred that his knowledge of the Danish Court was used by the Bard in Hamlet. Christian was notoriously fond of the sauce, and at Shakespeare’s Elsinore, the gloom laden prince opines of the courtier’s tendency to “keep wassail”. Some have even found an eerie similarity between Colliemore and Elsinore as described in the play. I’m taken with the giddy scenario of Will setting sail for Colliemore Harbour, there to team up with his good mate John to trade gossip and sink some Carlsberg down at the Queens. In truth, it’s more likely they met in London, where Dowland lived from 1606 having been dismissed by Christian. Then, as with Shakespeare, he gained favour at the court of King James I (James VI of Scotland).

As a formative influence on the guitar, Dowland’s lute playing and compositions have been revived by such as Julian Bream and Sting. Sting’s Songs from the Labyrinth gives a good account of the music of the man, exquisitely lachrymose for the most part, but also of great energy and wit. Sting cites him as the first example of the archetype of the alienated singer songwriter. You might also say Dowland was the first guitar hero, a rock star who left Dalkey to seek fame and fortune, the reverse of the current procedure. There’s a plaque by Sarah Purser at Sorrento Park, at the very edge of my map of Dublin. It has been defaced, further deepening the mystery. But in Dalkey and Walkinstown, this great musician’s name lives on.


John Dowland, by Sarah Purser

Flow My Tears was his most famous piece, evoking the bittersweet gloom of the exile. There is perhaps a pre echo of the Beatles, Blackbird, in mood and lyric. 

Flow my tears, fall from your springs,

Exiled forever let me mourn,

Where nights blackbird her sad infamy sings,

There let me live forlorn.

He died in 1626 and is buried in London.