Bejabbers, I’ve had my first vaccine. Suddenly, things are looking up. The world, long empty, is again filling up with possibilities. Restrictions are being eased and in about a month al fresco drinking and dining will return. So, in case any of yiz have forgotten what that’s like, I’ve painted this scene outside the Harbour Bar from about two years back. It is after the Bray Air Show on a blazing summer’s day and tens of thousands of thirsty folk go looking for a pint. And what better place than Bray?
I am alone in a crowd and it is a very pleasant place to be. I hope I’ve conveyed the feeling of being inside the scene, as distinct from the remote artist observing from the outside. I’m thinking of those great group paintings of Auguste Renoir: the Luncheon of the Boating Party and the Moulin de la Galette. That was late nineteenth century Paris and Renoir and his mates were changing the way we look on life, love and art, and the whole damned thing. But people are the same all over, throughout space and time. After the plague year, the world will open again. I’m celebrating.
Simply, this is what people do and always have. This is what makes life fun. The painting is quite different from the more isolated feel I usually go for, and I’ve needed to adjust my technique to accommodate that. It’s in acrylics, as usual, but has more of a watercolour feel to it. I laid out the composition precisely, but went for a freer brushstroke to capture that atmosphere of movement and joy. I hope this works. Of course, nothing beats the real thing. Bring it on!
You could, if you chose, walk all the way around Ireland’s coastline, or near enough. There’s six thousand kilometres of it, or four thousand miles. That’s a long way from Clare to here and back, by the circuitous route. But one step at a time. We’ve just explored South Dublin’s Rocky Shore, from Old Dun Laoghaire to Shankill Beach. Just north of Bray, Wicklow’s coast begins. Sitting in the Harbour Bar, the boats jingling in a stiff Winter’s easterly, it was a good time to ponder continuing our coastal adventure.
Wicklow, the Garden County, is most renowned as a mountainous region. The Wicklow Mountains cover most of the county and make for the largest continuous upland region in Ireland, even spilling into neighbouring counties, Dublin to the north and Carlow to the south. It is a rugged region, wild and beautiful despite its proximity to the Dublin metropolis. However, the Wicklow range is inland, separated from the sea by a narrow coastal plain. Only at Bray is there a high headland with sea cliffs. After that, the coastal route is mostly along the beach, but for a short break at Wicklow Head.
So, over the next few weeks, I we’ll travel together from the ancient town of Bray to the modern town of Greystones, on down through the ‘Southern Pale’ of Kilcoole and Newcastle to Viking Wicklow Town, then via Brittas Bay to Arklow, another Norse settlement until we reach the Wexford border. As usual, there will be plenty of detours, mingling seascapes with townscapes, meeting such figures as Saint Patrick, James Joyce and Hozier, exploring the history and geography along the coast of Ireland’s most beautiful county, its newest, and still perhaps one of its wildest. There’ll be glasses raised and songs sung. Who knows where it will all lead.
Well, okay, Arklow I suppose. But the path will meander as interst, and refreshments, dictate. The distance from Bray to Arklow, along the coast is about 60km, 40 miles or so, and would take about twelve hours in total. We’ll see. We will, like Alice, begin at the beginning. Standing in Bray’s harbour, the swans and boats beside us, the Dargle River and Dublin behind us, and before us a path along the coast beginning with the Promenade along the Bray sea wall. To be continued …
Going back to the last resort, catch a 45 to the last resort
Shankill Beach was base camp for the exploration of South Dublin’s Rocky Shore. There remains a short stretch of coast leading down to County Wicklow. The border with Wicklow, if physically marked, would be logically defined by the Dargle River. However, the shiring of Wicklow was rather late, in 1610, making it Ireland’s youngest county. By then Bray was well established. Walter de Ridelsford built his castle in 1172, at the time of the Norman conquest, protecting his lands on either side of the Dargle. De Ridelsford was granted a license by King John in 1213 to hold a weekly market and Bray was born. The border is therefore defined by property more than geography, and joins the coast just south of the parkland of Woodbrook Golf Course.
A grubby industrial estate is an unpromising introduction to the Garden County, but soon you’ll come to the Dargle River. On the far bank the northernmost of three Martello Towers guarding Bray”s coastline from Napoleon, and the only one surviving, stands on a promontory above the harbour. Of a night, the moon being high, one would often see Bono clad in white shift and holding aloft a candelabra, flit in circles around the glass parapet, composing the lyric to his latest ouevre. Since his leaving all is dark, hardly a ghost remains. Perhaps he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.
What I would be looking for is a pint. And lo, what should appear between the train tracks and the harbour only the Harbour Bar. Built as fishermen’s cottages in 1831, the pub has been serving thirsty seafarers and wayfarers for a century and a half. What better place to drown the Fisherman’s Blues.
And I know I will be loosened
From the bonds that hold me fast
And the chains all around me
Will fall away at last
And on that grand and fateful day
I will take thee in my hand
I will ride on a train
I will be the fisherman
With light in my head
You in my arms
To recap then, we set off from Shankill Beach and followed the coastal path to Killiney Beach. Past Killiney DART station you can take the underpass to Strathmore Road and climb to Vico Road. Alternatively, if the tide allows, go farther along the beach and cross over the Dartline. Vico Road takes you down towards Sorento Terrace, visible to your right. At the junction, follow Sorento Road north which takes you to Dalkey Train Station. That section is about 6K and will take an hour and a quarter.
Cross the tracks to Ardeevin Road and keep on for the Metals. The Metals begin at the Quarry and the route is well signposted to Sandycove and Glasthule Train station. From there, cross the main road and straight on down to the seafront where the People’s Park will be to your left. It takes three quarters of an hour to get to the People’s Park, and we’ve walked 9k in total.
After that, we explored Dun Laoghaire’s seafront, all the way to the West Pier. That’s another forty five minutes, just over 3k, an hour and a half for the round trip. Three and a half hours walk so far for 15k.
Returning south, at the People’s Park again, keep to the coast from Teddy’s and around Scotsman’s Bay to the Forty Foot. Make your way to Bulloch Castle, down to Bulloch Harbour, and then follow Harbour Road and Convent Road into Dalkey. It’s fifteen minutes from Scotsman’s Bay to the Forty Foot and the same to Bulloch Harbour. Another twenty will take you to Coliemore Harbour, but allow some time to explore Dalkey. 4k of a walk since Scotsman’s, just under an hour.
Having explored Dalkey, take the southern route out via Coliemore Road, which leads all the way back to the Vico Road. Within ten minutes of leaving Coliemore Harbour you should reach Sorento Park and will have closed the loop. That’s four and a half hours walking for about 20k.
Finally, another hour will take you back to Shankill Beach, five and half hours for the full walk. Overall, the route measures about 25k. but there are all sorts of detours and variants as we’ve seen. The nine parts described here involved five separate trips, although I’ve trod these highways and byways many more times than that – and will again.
Meanwhile, the South Dublin Rocky Playlist is provided for your wining and dining pleasure. I’ve tried to keep to local talent as much as possible but obviously strayed a bit at times.
Trains and boats and planes are the way to spell Bray. The first two are obvious, historical. This is a seaside resort for two centuries, and a railway town since 1854. The planes have been a feature for just the last twelve years. Each July, as the Summer Festival kicks off, the skies above the Esplanade are fractured by shrieking jets, aerobatic aeronauts, army paratroopers and a parade of winged history to satisfy the most demanding planespotter. And everyone else besides. The Air Show attracts crowds of around a hundred thousand, three times the population of the town itself. Given a sunny summer day, the seafront is thronged anyway. On this weekend it is bursting with human life.
As one would wish, the morning’s drizzling clouds have lifted to reveal a perfectly blue heaven. The town centre empties towards the beach. With traffic restrictions its emptier still. Motorists clog the periphery. I pass the library, an oasis of silence (for a change), just as the first planes thunder above the railway station.
The day is in full swing. The annual carnival has colonised the north esplanade. Food markets and other mobile displays throng the south. The ice-cream parlours, the chippers and cafes are having a field day.
All along Strand Road, the bars are packed. Bray’s seaside bars offer the unique pleasure of extensive outdoor terracing, giving the chance to wine and dine al fresco with stunning views of the sea and headland. And of course, the sky. The Porterhouse, Martello and Jim Doyle’s, with its Rugger posts, are central to the seafront. Meanwhile, Butler and Barry’s above the Sealife Centre is in the position of control tower. A carpet of spectators stretches along the beach and Esplanade, a river of people stretching up to the Cross on the Head.
After refreshments I make towards the harbour. Carnival goers defy death in their own sweet way. Amidst their screams, with dramatic smoke billowing from the rides, a Catalina Flying Boat threads serenely past helter-skelter and carousel. The windows of Martello Terrace reflect it all. James Joyce lived in the corner house. What would he have made of it all? With his “snot green, scrotum-tightening sea.”
Around the corner, the Harbour is practically serene. The Harbour Bar dates from 1831. In those days it stood over a smaller dock. Today, it’s a port of call for musicians, artists, hipsters and dart players, for all who hunger and thirst, perhaps the odd pirate and desperado too. The tail end of the display sends a few flyers down here. I’m coming in to land.