South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 6

Around Scotsman’s Bay

We have spent some time within the embrace of Dun Laoghaire’s piers. Southbound again, we leave the East Pier behind and head along Queen’s Road back towards the People’s Park, intersecting with our outward path near Teddy’s Ice Cream shop. From Teddy’s we keep to the coast by way of Windsor Terrace. The curve of the bay is gentle and quietly suburban.

Snuggly settled in the nook between the East Pier and the promontory of Sandycove, is Scotsman’s Bay. Who the eponymous Scot was, we do not know. Perhaps it was in homage to the great engineer, John Rennie. Or recalled instead some wandering Caledonian, nameless and marooned by one of those notorious storms of the town’s prehistory.

In 1999, artist Dorothy Cross installed her work of art, Ghost Ship, in the bay. She took the decommissioned lightship, Albatross, coated it with white phosphorescent paint and floated it in the moonlight to illuminate the century’s end. I took a trip up the coast to view it with M back in the day. There was, of course, the compensation of ice cream at Teddy’s. Evening fell and nighttime flowered and Cross’s Albatross stole upon our sight, an eerie apparition emerging from the gloom. The vision, serene as it was, blazed with poetry and imagery. It was a silent film projected into the mist, and I thought of that greatest of all seafaring tales: Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. But here it was told without words. Harry Clarke’s incomplete rendition of the epic as an illustrated sequence is also recalled, his pen and ink alluding to the literary text while rendering the story in another dimension.

Day after day, day after day,

we stuck, nor breath nor motion;

as idle as a painted ship 

upon a painted ocean.

The Albatross tells a silent tale and makes a curious echo of events a century before, when stories were being sent abroad without visual stimulus. The first live radio broadcast of a sports event originated here in Scotsman’s Bay when Marconi transmitted his report of the Kingstown Regatta of 1898 from the Harbourmaster’s House, near the Marine Hotel where he was staying.

Guglielmo Marconi (!874 – 1937) was born in Bologna, Italy, to an aristocratic family. As a teenager he immersed himself in the study of wireless telegraphy using radio waves. Succeeding to some degree, he sought official support in his home country, but was dismissed as a lunatic. At the age of 21 he went to England to find the financial and official backing he needed for his pioneering development. His work brought him to Ireland as he pushed for a global system of communication. Marconi was part Irish, his mother, Anne Jameson, was of the famous Distillers in Wexford. He married an Irishwoman too; Beatrice O’Brien, daughter of Lord Inchiquin of Dromoland Castle in County Clare.

In 1901, Marconi relayed the first transatlantic wireless communication from Cornwall, through Wexford to Clifden and on to Newfoundland. He would go on to establish a regular service between Clifden and Nova Scotia. Marconi laid the groundwork from which audio communication on a global scale, all that radio and rock n roll, would flow.

Sandycove itself is a popular bathing spot and the focus for a famous literary pilgrimage. The quirky and distinctive promontory is crowned by a Martello Tower. It presides over a public bathing spot and a tiny harbour on Scotsman;’s Bay, with the famous, nay notorious Forty Foot Bathing spot hidden to the east. Another distinguishing feature is Michael Scott’s House, Garagh, a white marine art deco that suggests Miami Beach more than South Dublin’s Rocky Shore. Designed in 1937, Scott set out to harmonise with the curvilinear lines of the neighbouring Martello Tower and to suggest, somehow or other, the work of James Joyce, his hero. 

Michael Scott was a towering figure in Irish Modernism, if he did say so himself. He had fingers in the design pies of such projects as the Abbey Theatre, Busaras, and the RTE studios. Scott was often the architectural impresario, orchestrating the design skills of a large team, mostly under the banner Scott, Tallon, Walker.

Scott bought the neighbouring Tower with an eye to showcasing Joyce and his novel Ulysses. With funding from film director, John Huston, whose last film was of Joyce’s short story, the Dead, this ambition was achieved in the early sixties. The museum was launched on Bloomsday 1962, by Sylvia Beach, Ulysses first publisher. Enlarged and enhanced in 1978, it’s open all year and admission is free. And well worth it!

Martello Towers take their name from a redoubtable defensive tower at Mortella in Corsica. the British adapting the design for their own use during the Napoleonic Wars. Twenty eight towers defend Dublin’s coastline from Bray in County Wicklow to Balbriggan in North County Dublin, forming a relay of warning towers and a sturdy defensive chain against Napoleon’s French.

This Martello Tower forms the setting for Ulysses’ first scene: Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Joyce stayed here, briefly, in 1904. Oliver St John Gogarty, an impecunious medical student at the time, invited Joyce to be his flatmate and share the rent; perhaps not the wisest of choices. Joyce left, in a hurry, after a hallucinatory night when Gogarty’s friend,  Samuel Trench, after a nightmarish vision of a panther, fired shots from his revolver into the fireplace. The three amigos reconvene in Joyce’s fiction as Buck Mulligan, Stephen Dedalus and Haines.  

The famous Forty Foot is on the southern side of the promontory. The bathing place was long a male bastion. Here men could gather and bathe as nature intended. Basically, you can swim in the nip. In Ireland’s climate, it tempts the phrase: hardy men. As it happened, late twentieth century feminism determined to put a halt to such exclusive clubs. Golf clubs, men only bars and the Forty Foot experienced the righteous wrath of women scorned. And so, democracy prevails. Of course, it was never compulsory to frolic naked in this spot. Discretion is often the better part of valour. Dedicated fishermen may dangle a worm in these sharp waters, but not that worm.

The clientele notwithstanding, the Forty Foot gives a view of the rugged nature of these shores. The city hidden from view, there’s just you and the rocks, and the snot green scrotum tightening sea.

Here we stand on a rocky shore

Your father stood here before you

I can see his ghost explore you

I can feel the sea implore you

Not to pass on by

Not to walk on by

And not to try

Just to let it come

Don’t bang the drum!

 Another Scot, Mike Scott, wrote these lines for the opening track of the Waterboys 1985 album, This is the Sea. The music for Don’t Bang the Drum was first conceived by Karl Wallinger and developed into the mother of all curtain raisers for the album. The intro is ablaze with Spanish guitar and soaring trumpet; then it really gets going. Scot has lived on these shores on and off since the mid eighties. Perhaps these lines make him a fitting candidate for the naming of the bay.

Well here we are in a special place

what are you gonna do here?