Dublin’s Circular Roads – 9

Dolphin’s Barn to Leonard’s Corner


Dolphin’s Barn forms the southwestern gate of the city, in a manner of speaking. The South western suburbs of Dublin 12 lie to the right. On your left, within the girdle of the South Circular, the main route to the city centre staggers along Cork Street to the Coombe. It is narrow and serpentine, a chaotic melange of ancient and modern, dodgy and dingy, passing through undeniably lively living areas, often referred to as The Liberties. 

The Barn’s name does not suggest the local fauna includes cetaceans. Dolphin was a farmer, whom, legend suggests, facilitated Catholic worship in Penal times at his barn on the city outskirts. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the countryside hereabouts took on an urban hue. Development of the South Circular Road and the Grand Canal bracketed the emerging suburb. Penal times past, Catholic Emancipation allowed for more open displays of the majority Catholic religion. 

D.Barn DoloursOur Lady of Dolours Church was built in 1890.  Its prominent copper roofed tower rendered in  rusticated granite provides a confident local landmark. Inside, the church is distinguished by a fine  ceiling cast in dark oak beams.  

Six or seven streets, broad and narrow, converge at Dolphin’s Barn’s swirling plaza. A highrise apartment tower teeters above the squat redbrick of old where Rueben Street and Cork Street converge with the SCR. Rehoboth Place dodges the junction in its own furtive way. Lowe’s Pub at the corner is an unchanging salt of the earth type boozer. It was an occasional lunchtime hideout for me in the early eighties when I worked with Bailey Gibson nearby. 

Bailey Gibson Print and Packaging was established in 1910. It was my first port of call on graduating from NCAD. It was so old school that it disdained my Art College diploma and I had to serve a two year apprenticeship. Being something of a mature student – a description of me certain to provoke derision – I was a bit long in the tooth for apprenticeships. But I stuck it out for two years with a cycling commute to Walkinstown. Marrying and moving to Bray, I handed in my notice in 1983. The firm survived me another twenty five years.

While still with BG, I won a writing competition for Hot Press magazine with a piece called Rock is Dead. This got me the equivalent of my smiling face on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Actually, a drop out silhouette of Elvis with my byline for the Rock is Dead headline. I’d work nine to five at the Barn and cycle into town for an evening shift at Hot Press offices near Mount Street. Those were the gum and galley days of magazine paste-up. I worked on the layout with Neil McCormick. McCormick would later write the funny and self-deprecating Killing Bono (aka. I was Bono’s Doppelganger). These were not his re self-deprecating days. Work nights passed in companionable silence, or silence anyhow. I played my part in keeping Ireland safe for Rock and Roll.

Player WillsPlayer Wills building is a fine example of thirties industrial architecture. It’s a three story modernist block of ochre brick framed in grey stone, its top story in subtly different style from the lower floors. Built in 1935 it produced cigarettes for seventy years until 2005. There was also a small theatre for plays and concerts. John Player was an English cigarette manufacturer whose company merged with Wills in 1905. They produced such cigarettes as Player’s Navy Cut with the iconic brand identity of a sailor framed by a lifebelt.


Many moons and many Junes 

have passed since we made land.

A Salty Dog, the seaman’s log

Your witness, my own hand.

(A Salty Dog, Procol Harum)

This salty dog epitomised the macho ruggedness of the unfiltered cigarette. Smoking filtered cigarettes still courted disdain amongst hard chaws in the seventies. They might accept your offer, snap off the filter, and smoke it neat. 

Your multilingual business friend 

has packed er bags and fled,

leaving only ash filled ashtrays

and the lipsticked unmade bed.

(Homburg, Procol Harum)

DonoreAt the next junction, Donore Avenue crosses the SCR. Looking left there’s a pleasant redbrick vista towards the Church of St Catherine and St James. To the right the road enters Crumlin across the Canal. The canal bridge is officially called Parnell Bridge, but usually known as Sally Bridge, or Sally’s Bridge. The name is obscure, local legend suggesting it’s named for a tragic girl or streetwalker. It may refer to the spot nearby where the canal crosses the Poddle River, now culverted. The Poddle was also known as the Saile River, from the Gaelic for dirty river, or salty river. The Poddle culminated a mile on in the tidal Black Pool, Dubh Linn, that gave the city its name.The Dubliners sing raucously of a, hopefully, fictional tragedy concerning the auld woman who lived in the woods.

She had a penknife long and sharp,

Weela weela wallya!

She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart,

Down by the River Saile.

Nat StaThe National Stadium is on the southern side where the SCR bends slightly. Opened in 1939 as a purpose built National Boxing Arena, it has doubled as Dublin’s premier rock venue. The bands used to perform from the ring, viewed in the round. Although performers such as Rory Gallagher, would try to play to those behind him, logistics meant you were a bit shortchanged in these seats. Eventually, the stage was moved to the side. Performers I’ve witnessed include Rory Gallagher, Horslips, Leonard Cohen, Dire Straits and Procol Harum.

Skip the light fandango,

turn cartwheels cross the floor.

I was feeling kinda seasick,

but the crowd called out for more.

And so it was that later, as the miller told his tale,

that her face, at first just ghostly,

turned a whiter shade of pale.

(Whiter Shade of Pale, Procol Harum)

First concert I saw there was Thin Lizzy about the time of their first LP. Lizzy played with support from Horslips, Mellow Candle and Chris Davidson, later Chris De Burgh. Their eponymous debut album was receiving favourable reviews and airtime from John Peel and Kid Jensen, their music still a quirky blend of hard rock and poetic sensibility. Outside, I bought a small press literary magazine from a Hippy girl with flowers in her hair who floated along the SCR.  I remember the lines of a poem within;

Yellow sky, yellow sky

How oh how will red fox die?

With a bullet in his belly and a dagger in his eye,

Will red fox die, will red fox die.

 The Stadium once hosted cosmic rockers Hawkwind. The group were augmented by Irish dancer Stacia Blake, who often performed clad only in body paint, if that. They were warned that if she took her kit off the Army Boys in the barracks next door would take matters into their own hands, so to speak, and drag her off stage. One way or the other, the gig was going to be a sell out. As it was, the generously endowed six footer performed within a leotard that would have struggled to contain Olga Korbut. The barracks remained vigilant, no doubt. 

Griffith Barracks was built in the 1880s on the site of an old prison. After the War of Independence, it was named for Arthur Griffith, founder of Sinn Fein and signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It is now Griffith College, the largest independent college in Ireland which located here in 1991, providing a vibrant student mix to an increasingly varied population. The middle-eastern influx is strong enough to qualify for the term Arab Quarter. 

NoshCafe society spreads along the pavement.across the road at Noshington, a pleasant little coffee shop under the shade of a tree.  

The road rises to Leonard’s Corner. Beyond, the old Jewish quarter begins. I don’t know who this Leonard is, but I met a Jewish Leonard in the Stadium back in the day. It was Leonard Cohen, later a Buddhist, and he performed here in his heyday ‘Songs’ period. Songs of love and hate and all things besides; with a lot of sex thrown in. Two of us went backstage and I got my paycheck autographed. And then talk turned to your name, and so it was …

So long, Marian, its time we began, 

To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

(So Long, Marianne, Leonard Cohen)