South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 2

Killiney to Dalkey.

Beyond Killiney Dart station, a tunnel under the track leads from the beach to Strathmore Road, which climbs steeply to join with Vico Road. Alternatively, and depending on the vagaries of the tide, you can follow the strand farther north to the high cliffs of the headland. This fine day, I took the latter option as far as the footbridge across the Dartline, and wound my way up through an overgrown laneway of honeysuckle, honeyed bricks and honey bees.

I emerge onto tarmac that swirls through the high walls and higher trees marking the properties of the topmost echelon of Irish society, and indeed Irish Rock royalty. Van Morrison and Bono Vox have their mansions here, though the prize for princess in her palace must go to Enya, whose residence, Manderley Castle, peeps its high gothic turrets above the walls farther up the hill towards the village of Killiney. The fanciful nineteenth century residence was originally dedicated to Queen Victoria, but Enya, keen fan of Daphne Du Maurier, took Manderley from Rebecca’s memorable opening line.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

Eithne Ni Bhraonnain, Anglicised as Enya Brennan, is one of the Brennan family Rock group, Clannad, from Gweedore in County Donegal. Enya embarked on her solo career in the mid eighties, teaming up with producer Nicky Ryan and his wife, lyricist Roma Ryan. Her first, eponymous, album made some waves, but it was her second, Watermark, which made the international commercial breakthrough. Orinoco Flow from the album established Enya’s reputation and her multi layered, ambient New Age sound. 

From the North to the South Ebudae unto Khartoum

From the deep Sea of Clouds to the Islands of the Moon

Carry me on the waves to the land I’ve never been

Carry me on the waves to the lands I’ve never seen

Orinoco Flow/Enya

This is more a sound painting than a poetic lyric, but there’s something in its vision that elevates the soul, and chimes with the landscape hereabouts. Subsequent albums sold by the million. Enya’s best-of collection was titled Paint the Sky with Stars. There are plenty of them around here.

Killiney village developed around an 11th century chapel, marking the footprint for its more modern successor. At the crossroads topping the rise, the village pub, the Druid’s Chair, has a suitably new age moniker for the locale. It is a long established family hostelry which takes its name from an ancient stone oddity in the woods nearby. The artefact is a mystery in itself, variously described as a Mass Rock, an Iron Age altar or a Victorian folly. Make for the bar and mine’s a Carlsberg. Probably.

Besides the lush enclaves and sprawling mansions, much of Killiney Hill consists of parkland. This park was opened in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. The Obelisk on the summit dates back much further to1741 and was a famine relief work. The eighteenth century famine being just as severe, proportionately, as its more famous nineteenth century successor. You could spend a day poking about Killiney Park. The views over the coastline are magnificent. Drape yourself on its lawns or obliging monuments, and let the day go by.

On the way back home we sang a song

But our throats were getting dry

Then we saw the man from across the road

With the sunshine in his eyes

Trace your way back by granite walls under shading trees to Vico Road. Bask, briefly, in the dappled luxury of the rich and famous. Bono’s house is nearby. The U2 frontman previously lived in a Martello Tower in Bray, to the South across the bay. His current abode is less obvious. Guitar man, The Edge, is a neighbour. Tetchy ex-Them frontman, Van Morrison is also a person in the neighbourhood. Back in sixties Belfast, Them fashioned the formative artefacts of Irish Rock. Baby Please Don’t Go, Here Comes the Night and Gloria are classics. Since leaving Them, he has ploughed an individual furrow in the music world. Morrison might quibble at his inclusion in the Rock world, preferring R and B as a label, but elements of jazz and soul, funk and folk weave through his repertoire and it’s futile to try and bracket him. 

Morrison, elder bitter lemon in his dealings, is all sweetness and light in his music. And it Stoned Me, from his third solo album, Moondance, embodies the joys of halcyon youth, particularly a young boy’s pursuit of the important things in life: fishin’, swimmin’ and simply playin’ 

Later, as I find myself suspended above the turquoise bathing pools far below on the rocky shore, I realise that its joyful narrative of life in the moment has invaded my own personal narrative, that it has become a tangible memory of something that wasn’t, but, somehow, eternally is.

Oh the water, let it run all over me

And it stoned me to my soul

Stoned me just like going home

And it stoned me

Van Morrison

On the high Vico Road we can shake the stardust off our feat and gaze down at heaven. The day is positively Mediterranean. Villas sprout crystalline from the rock. Cars string like pearls along the kerb and sightseers sit with such photo savvy conceit, they must be auditioning for some Hollywood pastiche, or maybe a retro poster of John Hinde’s graphic delights. The walk is easy, it’s tearing yourself away from the view that’s difficult.

A last lingering look at the bay, and the road descends to the junction of Sorrento and Colliemore. Both roads lead to Dalkey, Colliemore along the coast; but today I’m continuing North, by way of Sorrento Road running parallel to the railway track which eats through the granite twenty feet below. We are bound for Dun Laoghaire via the Metals.

South Dublin’s Rocky Shore

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-1 Shankill to Killiney.

Right now, we are caught in something of a bubble, constrained to our particular bailiwick. But bubbles are the thinnest of membranes, we can see with our minds and soar with our imaginations. Often, we can find paradise on our doorstep. Living along the east coast is a boon in many ways. The view is an ever open doorway, unlocking life’s treasure chest. The sea is a conduit for our dreams and adventures, a balm on life’s troubles and constraints. The sea alone, this side of space, coats the orb on which we balance, and the means, this side of flight, by which we can traverse it.

I find myself hugging the coast. Wicklow and Dublin are my usual stomping grounds. That’s a good stretch of coast from the Boyne estuary and Drogheda to the Avoca River and the port of Arklow. I’ve written recently on Drogheda (Counties Louth and Meath, I know), Malahide, and Swords. Howth and Raheny await my attentions. Here, I intend to map out the joys of Dublin’s south coast.

I was recently atop Bray Head, and the view looking north is an inspiration. From soul to sole; the plan formed for a good walk, or series of walks, from Shankill along the sea shore to Killiney, ascending to the Vico Road and on to Dalkey, then downhill via the Metals to Dun Laoghaire. Then, or another time, pick a way back along the rocky shore via Bullock Harbour, Dalkey and the Colliemore, returning by the Vico to Shankill.

2017-01-21 10.36.46Shankill (from the Irish ‘old church’) is Dublin County’s southernmost town. It has a population of just over 14,000, Dublin’s suburban expansion transforming what was once a small village. The bridge at the north end of the Main Street, the old Dublin Road, crosses the now defunct Harcourt Street Line, the original rail connection between Bray and Dublin in 1854. A little later, the coastal route pushed through to Dun Laoghaire and on to Westland Row. Today, this route provides the Dartline commuter rail service from Greystones to Howth and Malahide in North Dublin. 

A long suburban road falls from the bridge towards the beach, passing Shankill Dart station on the way. Shankill beach is a thin strip of shingle slung below low, rapidly eroding cliffs. I parked at Corbawn Avenue, just north of the entrance to the beach and, with the sun on my back, hiked along the playing fields to gain the pathway leading down to Killiney Strand.

Killiney Bay

Killiney Bay has excited comparison with the Bay of Naples, and though such comparisons are often strained, on a glorious day such as this you can see the connection. The bay is framed to the south by Bray Head and the Sugarloaf Mountains, attractively conical peaks the larger of which gives a passable imitation of a volcano. The names of the roads mirror the conceit: Vico, Sorrento, Capri and San Elmo. Above, Killiney Hill stands sentinel, crowned by its obelisk. The craggy coast is clad in woodland and expensive villas, this is the address for the rich and famous.

Snaking along the lower reaches of the headland, the Dartline hugs the coast to Dublin. The views it offers of the bay are worth the fare, in spades. Strand Road runs the far side of the track, a connection between the high road and Killiney Dart Station. At the southern end is Holy Child College, a fee paying Catholic secondary school for girls founded in 1947. It is run by The Society of the Holy Child Jesus, an international community of Roman Catholic sisters which was formed in England in 1946 by Cornelia Kennedy.

Born Cornelia Peacock in Philadelphia in 1809, she married an Episcopalian minister, Pierce Connelly with whom she had five children. The couple converted to Catholicism, but Pierce pushed on towards the priesthood. Cornelia took vows of permanent chastity and in 1847 became a nun. but a long and bitter legal dispute with her estranged husband followed. He, ironically, had grown jealous of her attachment to the faith.

For all her sorrows, the order Cornelia established was run along the lines of the Jesuits and encouraged its students to express themselves through Art, Music and Drama. In that respect, they encouraged a glitterati of artistic alumnii: writers Eavan Boland and Maeve Binchy amongst the best known.

Reverend Sisters, I remember were it yesterday

standing young and green before the wisdom age and your black habits wrought

The sisters also fostered the talent of a trio of girls: Alison Bools, Clodagh Simonds and Mary White, together known as Mellow Candle. In their mid teens they put together demo tapes and in 1968, aged just fifteen, they cut their first single Feeling High in London. As with much of the band’s work, commercially it disappeared without trace. Two years later, Alison, at art college, and Clodagh, returned from a sojourn in Italy, or perhaps just Vico Road, reformed Mellow Candle augmented by two guitarists. 

Reverend Sisters I remember everything you see

all your words and teaching left some imprint on my memory

though I’m sad it had to be this way

as you said we change with every day

Reverend Sisters though I hate to say it

now the veils are lifted from my eyes and I can see

Reverend Sisters/Mellow Candle

Mellow Candle

These merry pranksters went on trips around the bay, played in the company of Doctor Strangely Strange, Thin Lizzy and Horslips, and signed with Deram records. The fully electric quintet that cut their only album, Swaddling Songs, comprised the twin female vocal with Clodagh on keyboards, guitarist Dave Williams who married Alison at a ragged Lizzy stadium gig, ex-Creatures bassist Frank Boylan and drummer William Murray. Swaddling Songs is a gem, a shining example of music transcending genres and time. In its own time it was completely ignored. 

I was one of a handful who bought it, as fans do, but weirdly it attained cult status two decades later and is now a collectors item. Mellow Candle’s music is unclassifiable. When ascribed genre, they were often labelled folk-rock, or Celtic-rock, neither being particularly accurate. They were a genre unto themselves: Breton sea shanties, renaissance music, choral, folk, and prog rock in a joyful collision – baroque and roll perhaps; their sound poised forever on the event horizon in some other universe.

I suppose, life and school in such a locale would tend to lead the soul towards all things maritime and wild. One can imagine Simmonds out on the strand, or bathing off shore. My younger self tended a lot towards such imaginings, but dreams can come true. 

At a summer gig in the summer of seventy one, Mellow Candle played support to Thin Lizzy in Blackrock Park. The park made a natural amphitheatre sloping down to a pond, with the bandstand an island in the water. Not being ones to hold back, and it being a glorious day, the girls plunged into the water for the finale and formed a pre-Raphaelite tableau of bathing nymphs. But then, on such a day, who could resist the urge to join them? So, here’s to swimmin’ with Clodagh Simonds.

gravity

Pity the poet who suffers to give

sailing his friendship on oceans of love 

strange harbour soundwaves break out of his reach

love is a foreigner to the queen of the beach 

The Poet and the Witch/Mellow Candle