The Snow Tree

In the recent snow, myself and M took a walk through Kilruddery on the Southern outskirts of Bray. The estate is a working farm, with sheep, pigs, cattle and more besides. It’s a popular location for film shoots, with Ardmore studios nearby. Hell and Back is located here, an annual obstacle course event for the fitness fanatic, or for fools and mad. 

Kilruddery, from the Gaelic, means the church of the knight. The knight was Walter De Riddelsford. In 1171 he was granted the lands hereabout by Strongbow, in thanks for killing John the Mad. The Brabazon family gained the estate in the reign of Henry VIII, and the title Earl of Meath was granted in 1623. Formal seventeenth century gardens surround the house, a damaged but grand gothic fantasy in its most recent incarnation. Beyond the garden walls, paths wind up to higher ground. Up in the hills, our hold on reality slackens further. A Brigadoon of sorts emerges, with wilderness, woodland and forest picturesquely arranged, fields loosely patchworked, unpaved paths, rugged outcrops of rocks suggesting a hinterland of wilder flora and fauna, perhaps bandits and other colourful originals. 

The spell is seasoned by the intrusions of commercial farming, the glimmer of the city on the horizon, and Bray hugging the nearby coast. Paraphernalia from Hell and Back intrudes, technological towers poke through trees, there’s a war games enclosure. Times, you enter a clearing where Vikings or Merry Men are taking a smoke break. Once, I paused with M on the outskirts of a post-apocalyptic village as the fury of tribal weapons erupted some centuries from now. The assistant director was filling us in on the shenanigans. He was unusually solicitous. Turned out he thought we were Lord and Lady Meath. Oh I should have prolonged the ruse, but it was hard not to laugh. I know the quality dress down when out and about, but not in a Dublin 12 accent. Still I felt raised up somehow. Exalted.

At other times, the ambience is Hardyesque. The modern world folds into the haze and you are lost in time. This acrylic painting is the biggest I’ve ever attempted. A metre tall, its size helps to capture the grandeur of the scene. I hope. Ahead, a magnificent tree spreads its arms to catch the noonday sun. We have stopped between showers of snow, the morning fall barely covering the greenery. The rugged Giltspur, or Little Sugarloaf, rises to our right. Off to the left the ground falls into woodland with the clenched fist of Bray Head off frame. Dublin is behind us on the north horizon. Far ahead, a loan figure gains the southern horizon and gazes over sea and mountain. He is an echo, perhaps, of Caspar David Friedrich’s The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. Or my own silhouette, waiting for me to catch up.

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill

I could see the city light

Wind was blowing, time stood still

Eagle flew out of the night

Solsbury Hill was written by Peter Gabriel when he left Genesis in 1977. Solsbury Hill’s in Somerset, England, but any hill will do. Anywhere. To me, the song conjures up that feeling of ecstasy, peculiar to finding yourself face to face within the most sublime scenery. You move from the humdrum to stand within the perfect moment, and everything becomes possible. And all on a day’s walk.

I was feeling part of the scenery

I walked right out of the machinery

My heart going boom boom boom!

Bray Main Street and Town Hall

Bray Main

Bray Main Street follows the line established by the old manorial village as it straggled uphill from the Dargle River crossing to the manor estate at Kilruddery. Kilruddery is the Anglo rendition of Cill Ridire, the Church of the Knight. The Knight in question was Walter de Riddlesford who, after the Norman invasion of 1169, was granted the estate on the northern slopes of Bray Head and Giltspur, or the Little Sugarloaf. The Brabazon family were owners of the estate by the by the mid 16th century, and Charles 1st granted William Brabazon the title Earl of Meath in 1627. By then the village was well established on the south bank of the Dargle just to the west of the bridge with a church, a small castle, and industries including brewing and a river fishery. At its southern end, the Main Street bifurcates with the eastern route heading for Kilruddery, continuing on to form the coastal road to Kilcoole and Newcastle. This is known as the Vevay Road while the western fork is known as Killarney Road, an Anglification of Cill Sarain, the Church of (Saint) Saran.

This view of Main Street is at this southern extreme, looking south towards Bray’s Old Town Hall. This ornate Victorian masterpiece from 1881 was built in the Tudor Revival style and originally incorporated a covered market and the Chamber of Bray Town Council. It was granted to the people by Lord Meath.

The statue with fountain guarding the entrance is of a Wyvern, a fearsome, mythical winged beast, resembling a dragon. A local yarn insists that Lord Meath, anxious that a statue be acceptable to all townsfolk, asked them to choose what they would most wish. Unfortunately, the townsfolk, divided equally along religious lines, Catholic and Protestant, were at odds on the issue. The Protestants wanted a statue of Queen Victoria while the Catholics insisted the statue should honour the Virgin Mary. Vexed at the impasse, Lord Meath, in a fit of pique, presented the locals the diabolical beast we see today. Amusing, though hardly true. Interdenominatonal relations were unusually good. Protestants had contributed generously to the construction of the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, prominently positioned halfway up Main Street, earlier in the century.The Wyvern is prominent on the Brabazon coat of arms.

In the painting you can just discern the creature to the right of the entrance doorway. The old market was converted, after a long period of disuse, to a McDonalds Fast Food towards the end of the twentieth century.

The modern building on the right immediately predated the crash of 2008 and still wants for business tenants on its ground floor. It replaced a row of plain two story edge of town constructions including Lenehan’s pub which, fascinatingly, had paintings of mine on the wall. They were on a sporting theme; Gaelic Games and Horse Racing, believe it or not. It was the nearest pub to my house, just a mile to the south at Ripley Hills. Believe it or not, again. The honour for proximity now falls to Frank Duff’s, featured here on the left. Duff’s is fairly unique in being without television and has a fine, old style, conversational ethos. With a good pint and old school hospitality, it often appears as an eclectic pick on Ireland’s Best Pubs lists. More eclectic still is the theme: cycling. The pub commemorates the passage of the Tour de France through the town in 1998.

This painting is in acrylics and captures a moment around nine or ten at night. McDonald’s is open, and there’s a welcoming glow from the windows of Duff’s. This night I’m heading home, but I’ll be back out of another evening.