Back to Old Dun Laoghaire
I was singing a song I heard somewhere
called Rock and Roll never forgets
when my humming was smothered by the 46a
and the scream of a low flying jet
The railway rumbles on beneath our feet. Ghost ships sail into the harbour. The 46a is due. Dun Laoghaire grew out of this nexus of travel and communication. The Harbour was born from a suggestion of William Bligh, who picked Dunleary as the site for a harbour of refuge. Bligh had been brought in to address the problem of silting in Dublin Bay. His year long survey of the bay led to the building of the North Bull Wall, though the eventual project differed from his original suggestions. He recommended the need for a second great wall from the north shore of the bay to complement the South Bull. Work began in 1818 and was completed in 1824 to a length of 3,000 metres, a third longer than originally planned.
Bligh served under Captain James Cook in the Pacific, and saw war service against Dutch and French. He commanded the Bounty on its voyage to Tahiti in 1787. On the return, his crew, led by Bligh’s young friend and protege Fletcher Christian, mutinied. Bligh and some loyal crew were set adrift in the Pacific with a few days supply of food and water. Under Bligh’s astonishing leadership, they survived the 47 day, 3,618 mile journey.
Scottish engineer John Rennie masterminded the building of Dunleary’s huge harbour, the largest constructed harbour in Europe when completed in 1842. Rennie was also responsible for Howth Harbour and the Custom House Docks and Tobacco Store (now the CHQ Building) in Dublin. He insisted on the addition of the West Pier. The two piers embrace two hundred and fifty acres of water. The East Pier, slightly the shorter, is the most popular promenade. Two paved walkways, upper and lower, convey a constant flow of people along its kilometre length. There’s a Victorian bandstand a quarter way along and the pier culminates in an impressive granite lighthouse. The West pier, slightly longer at almost a mile, has a wilder, less urbane air. From this you have a closer vantage point of the Liffey estuary, with ships passing against the backdrop of the city, while, paradoxically, its relative isolation gives more space for reflection.
In recent years, the harbour has fallen on hard times as a passenger port. All major passenger services were gone by 2015. The harbour remains busy with its marina and a plethora of pleasure craft. It also hosts the occasional cruise ship.
Forty Foot is a name that crops up a lot in these parts. The original bathing spot is just south of here in Sandycove. From this local poet, Anne Fitzgerald, derived the name for the publishing house, Forty Foot Press. If bathing and bardic pursuits should raise a thirst, and what doesn’t, then repair to the Forty Foot, Wetherspoon’s franchise housed atop the Pavilion Centre. I was there for the launch a couple of years back. It was invitation only, but, determined on a pint, I remembered the beanie I was wearing. Given me by Anne Fitzgerald and emblazoned with the publisher’s name, the bouncer could hardly refuse admission. Is there anything more pleasant than a pint blagged, to be savoured in the sunshine with a view of the sea? Indeed, a pint at the Forty Foot costs less than elsewhere, and there’s an extensive menu of craft brews and good bar food besides.
The original pavilion was a timber and glass structure one hundred and fifty feet long. Opened in 1903, it was designed to resemble a ship. The top deck, thirty foot above ground level, consisted of a promenade giving three hundred and sixty degree views of mountain, sea and town, crowned by a landmark Belvedere. On the ground floor, there were reading rooms, tea rooms, a smoking room and a concert hall.
Four acres of gardens were landscaped by William Shepherd, whose cv included Dublin Zoo and St. Stephen’s Green, with bandstand, tennis courts, ornamental pond and a waterfall. In 1915 the Pavilion burnt down. Refurbished in the twenties it then featured a cinema and dance hall. It burned down again in 1940. Rebuilt for the third time, and taking a lesson from the three little pigs, rebuilt in concrete, the Pavilion’s Art Deco facade was a true picture palace of its day. Cinema’s popularity waned in the seventies and the venue returned to a more traditional ethos, with music, theatre and ballet. The building became derelict in the eighties
This century a new incarnation of the Pavilion emerged. Shops and restaurants line the lower level facing Queen’s Street and the Harbour, while the upper deck houses a new Pavilion Theatre and the Forty Foot Bar.
The Town Hall, across the road, is an attractive building in the style of an Italian palace with high slender clocktower and coloured brickwork. Designed by John Loftus Robinson in 1879, it incorporated the courthouse, municipal offices and a public hall. Perfectly preserved, it now forms part of the County Hall for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.
The vista up Marine Road is crowned by the spire of St Michael’s Church. This is all that remains of the original Gothic church which was destroyed by fire in 1965. The church dated back to the 1820s. The present structure is a plain modernist cube. Heading back downhill, a pleasant Victorian block is shaded by trees. Passing Nando’s, the dappled light whispers: Momma told me there’d be days like these, nothing shaking but the leaves on the trees. There was once a hotel there, the Mellifont, if my memory serves me well. Here, the legendary Nothin’ Shakin’ had their first gig back in the eighties. The man who stepped up to the microphone was Brian Hogan, Crocodile Dunleary himself. Brian was last seen, standing astern on a departing P&O liner bound for Australia.
Ireland’s Age of Steam was born in Dun Laoghaire..The passenger rail connection between Kingstown and Dublin was one of the first commuter rails in the world when established in 1834. The railway further stimulated population growth and Kingstown became a fashionable Victorian resort and well to do suburb, separate from the seething city of Dublin, but only a half hour away by train. The railway obliterated much of the Old Harbour and the fishing village of previous centuries. The original stop was in Old Dun Laoghaire, by the West Pier, but was extended to the present station nearer the East Pier three years later to be closer to the Mail Boat.
The railway station is built on a bridge over the cutting. It was designed by John Skipton Mulvaney in 1853 in a neo-classical style. The grand old station is now a restaurant. Mulvaney was a follower of Gandon, and designed several stations for the rail network of the nineteenth century, most notably the Egyptian inspired neo-classical Broadstone Station in Dublin. He’s also responsible for the Royal Irish Yacht Club to the west and the Royal St George Yacht Club visible nearby.
The northern leg of our loop of South Dublin’s Rocky Shore, follows the Dartline to the West Pier. That promenade is popular with the boys and girls of the Forty Foot publishing house, and is ideal on a brisk sunny day. Back on dry land, a short walk uphill brings us to the Purty Kitchen, an atmospheric spot for food and drink and good music. It was founded almost three hundred years ago, the nucleus of the now vanished fishing village from which modern Dun Laoghaire sprang.
So, I jumped on a bus to Dun Laoghaire
stopping off to pick up my guitar
and a drunk on the bus told me how to get rich
I was glad we weren’t going too far
Summer in Dublin was a big hit for Bagatelle in 1980. The band formed in Bray in 1978, with Liam Reilly as singer/songwriter. The song mixes rose-tinted nostalgia with the clash of modern reality. Catchy too. Though specifically a Dublin theme song, Dun Laoghaire features strongly. The 46a is the local bus.