To Dun Laoghaire via the Metals.
Keeping the railway as our guide, we are walking towards Dalkey. We’ll return later to explore, but our path dictates we must leave it for now and cross the tracks to Ardeevin Road which reaches a point just above the rail station’s northbound platform. Dalkey Station was built in 1854 when, after twenty years, Ireland’s first railway the Dublin to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) line was extended through to Bray. For ten years prior to that the Atmospheric Railway provided a connection to the Dublin Kingstown line.
A left turn at the end of Ardeevin Road leads uphill, and the second turn right along Cunningham Road emerges at the foot of Dalkey Hill with its disused quarry. This supplied the granite for the construction of Dun Laoghaire Harbour in the early nineteenth century. A metal tramway connected the two sites, some of which was converted into the Atmospheric Railway of the 1840s, developing into the modern railway line and since 1984 the electrified Dartline.
The Metals is a marked walk along the route of the old tramway. We start at the quarry and pick up the route of the Dartline heading north to Sandycove and Glasthule station. The Metals walk runs for a distance of three kilometres. It’s an easy, flat walk, very well marked, through tree lined lanes for the most part. It took us about thirty minutes; the estimated times on the signposting being a tad more pessimistic.
We pass above Glenageary Dart station, crossing the neat park bordered by Victorian terraces that I’ve only previously admired, and partially glimpsed, from the train. Glenageary means the valley of the sheep in Gaelic, but that was then, this is now. The sheep are long gone.
Winding up a hillside where the shepherds roam
Counting their flocks in the gloaming
Shining the sea, winking its light to the froth and the foam
Sheep Season/Mellow Candle
Sandycove and Glasthule station is a modern structure straddling the tracks. It holds a certain mystique for me, my own creation entirely. It becomes, in that half sleep induced by the rhythms of the railway, the imagined setting for some beautiful liaison that’s yet to happen, or that has happened without marking the memory. The scene is populated with wide shoulders and fedoras, a silvered monochrome wreathed in pulsing smoke. Blinking into the sunblasted reality, we emerge onto the prosaic rush hour of the main road. To the west, the arrow straight thoroughfare is the spine of Dun Laoghaire, to the east Glasthule asserts its own urban village identity. The sylvan tunnel we’ve left behind fades as if it too were an unlikely memory, and I cross the heavy traffic of the main drag to be drawn inexorably towards the sea,
A lane leads down to Scotsman’s Bay. The bay is enthusiastically rendered in vivid blue, small craft daubed across its surface, the giant harbour and Dublin Bay are laid out beyond. The Metals veers west towards its conclusion.
To our right there is a magnetic pull that can’t be ignored. An Ice Cream at Teddy’s is more than just a treat, it is practically a custom when I visit with M. A Ninety Nine, gorgeous as it may be, is not something for the solo wanderer. Unless you’re in love with yourself. In which case: go for it! Still, I persist in the higher pleasure of sharing ice cream cones in briny summer air.
Stepping out onto the seafront, the eras collide, and two centuries of power and glory jostle for attention across this wonderful tableau. It can be hard to grasp how quickly all this sprang up. While Dublin is an ancient city, Dun Laoghaire in the late eighteenth century was a small coastal village north of here, clustered in the vicinity of the Purty Kitchen.
Then came the construction of the harbour. Dunleary, as then known, was proposed as a refuge harbour for Dublin Bay following a litany of shipwrecks. The harbour was completed in the eighteen twenties and managed to nick the franchise for the mail packet service to Britain from Howth in north Dublin. The Mail Boat became established as an Irish icon, synonymous with the sadness of high emigration.
Thousands are sailing
Again across the ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery
But we dance to the music
And we dance
The song, Thousands are Sailing by the Pogues, was written by Phil Chevron (Philip Ryan) who had previously played with Irish punk rockers The Radiators From Space. The song was Chevron’s first for the Pogues and included on their album If I Should Fall From Grace with God. This album showed a thematic shift for the group, with a more serious focus on the heritage of Irish emigration. Fairytale of New York was their top selling single, a mini opera of dreams and delirium for a struggling Irish couple in New York.The immigrant position is always shifting, of course. When Chevron writes, thousands are sailing again, he knows that they are flying, often in hope more than necessity; but there is a continuum. In that respect, the Mail Boat is a persistent icon, and if the now diminished service is more by way of transport and tourism, bitterwsweet memories abide.
The modern rail connection passes through the cutting below, that will travel the full length of Modern Dun Laoghaire’s seafront. For us, the Metals ends nearby, for now. The People’s Park stretches between the seafront and George’s Street, Dun Laoghaire’s main thoroughfare. On the site of a disused quarry, it was opened in 1890 along a formal design by J.L. Robinson. There’s a gate lodge, an ornate bandstand and an impressive central fountain. Along the western flank, near George’s street, the lovely restored pavilion houses an elegant cafe; Fallon and Byrne’s. At the end of our walk, it is time for, another, reward. Really, at any time, one must seize the pleasure of a leisurely half hour or so, in sunshine on the veranda with an aromatic cup of coffee, and more besides, looking out over the park, as children play and people pass, as seabirds swirl and time stands still.