South Dublin’s Rocky Shore – 7

7. To Bulloch Harbour and Dalkey

From the Forty Foot the coast cuts south and the city disappears. A laneway leads down to the shore but the tide is full in and the route to Bulloch Harbour looks treacherous. At low tide there’s a rugged foreshore to navigate, and you’ll still face a bit of a clamber over the wall at the far end to get into the harbour. We take the inland loop by way of Sandycove Avenue and the main road, Sandycove Road. This leads up a slight gradient to Bulloch Castle.

Bulloch Castle dates from the middle of the twelfth century when it was the centre of a fortified town gathered around the natural harbour below. This was a lucrative fishing port  requiring protection from marauding Wicklow tribes to the south. The operation was run by Cistercian monks until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539. The castle keep remains, a tall rectangular structure with angular towers at each end. 

Harbour Road leads down to  the harbour, as you’d expect. The modern harbour was constructed of local granite in the early nineteenth century. Nestled beneath the imposing tower it is still possible to let your mind drift back to ancient days. But time moves on, and  the harbour is ringed by modern apartments.

We sit for a while and watch some young lads clamber up from the far shore over the harbour’s north wall, then continue their coastal walk past the south end of the harbour. That’s a bit intrepid for us, and we stick to Harbour Road which leads on to Dalkey, keeping as near the coast as possible

Immediately we come to Pilot View, expensive apartments which have accumulated their own recent history. Patrick Connolly, Attorney General in the Fianna Fail administration of the eighties, lived here. He took a house guest, a younger man Malcolm MacArthur, a dilettante whom he knew socially. MacArthur murdered nurse Bridie Gargan in Phoenix Park in 1982 as part of his madcap plan to steal a car to use in a robbery to fund his expensive lifestyle. Days later he visited farmer Donal Dunne who had advertised a shotgun for sale. MacArthur turned the gun on him and killed him.

MacArthur botched his ultimate robbery at the house of a US diplomat in Killiney. The diplomat offered to write a cheque, giving him time to exit the room find a convenient window and escape. Dalkey Gardai received a tip off, from MacArthur of all people, who phoned to explain that the recent botched robbery was merely a prank. A lively trail of eccentric behaviour lead the Guards at last to Pilot View and they arrested the killer. MacArthur spent thirty years in prison, finishing up at the open prison Shelton Abbey, in County Wicklow, where he worked as the in-house librarian. You didn’t want to let your books go overdue there! Connolly was forced to resign.

The road takes us past St Patrick’s Church and National School, serving the Church of Ireland Community.  This is a pleasant nineteenth century Gothic ensemble, with gate lodge, school and imposing church. Farther on, Loreto Abbey was established by the Loreto Sisters in 1843. The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in the seventeenth century by Englishwoman Mary Ward, taking their name from the Marian shrine at Loreto in Italy. Frances Ball established their first base in Ireland at Rathfarnham in County Dublin. For a couple of years the nuns ran a day school and boarding school from their temporary abode in Bulloch Castle. Ball designed the castellated granite building for their new residence. It makes an imposing statement standing sentinel on this headland, with the waves of Dalkey Sound pounding the rocks below. Any girl seeking to escape would have been advised to take an inland route. The boarding school has been closed since 1982.

Dalkey Sound, as we mentioned previously, was a relatively safe haven for shipping and the town operated as a port of choice for Dublin before the developments of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The name Dalkey is taken from the Irish, Thorn Island, which initially referred to Dalkey Island which we can spy floating to the south of the Abbey. 

We’ll return to the rocky shore later, but for now, we veer right onto Convent Road which meanders on down to Dalkey’s main drag, Castle Street. Castle Street offers an almost funride compendium of urban styles, appropriately for a place dating back to the Vikings and maintaining its importance through the late middle ages. The predominant style is Tudor Revival, popular in the late nineteenth century and again appropriate, giving a hint of medieval times.  

Jewels in the crown are Dalkey’s two castles, located about halfway along the street. Goat’s Castle is the larger of the two and functions as a town hall and heritage centre, and is now referred to as Dalkey Castle. Across the street, Archbold’s Castle is a private residence. The two combine to transport us back in time. There are a few welcome oases too. Queens nearby, with its front patio has long been a favourite of mine. Established in the eighteenth century it is Dalkey’s oldest pub, but has now ceased trading, which is a shame. McDonagh’s further on was a more dingy port of call. It’s now called the Dalkey Duck (oh dear), though I suppose you can call it what you like. I used to call it the Love Shack, which is something of a mystery, but most likely came from the song by the B 52s which in the summer of 89 was number one in Ireland. The place has been given a revamp, but back then it was a place to drink Guinness in the darkness. It’s been a while now. But brighter days beckon. There’s still some singing to be done over the dark times.

Darkness falls and she will take me by the hand

Take me to some twilight land

Where all but love is grey

Where I can’t find my way

She’s a Mystery to Me was written by local residents Bono and the Edge of U2 and sung by Roy Orbison. The song bears witness to fate and the power of dreams. It was a sultry night near Soho, and Bono tossed and turned his hotel bed. He had fallen asleep with dreams of Blue Velvet in his belfry. Visions of Isabella Rossellini often season my dreams too, but here mingled with Roy Orbison singing In Dreams to strange happenings, 

A candy-colored clown they call the sandman

Tiptoes to my room every night

Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper

Go to sleep, everything is alright 

Bono awoke with the song, he reckoned, stuck in his head. But it was another song, and he played a rough take to the band at rehearsals for their gig. As if to verify that the song was made for him, and made in heaven, who should drop by backstage that night after the gig … 

Night falls I’m cast beneath her spell

Daylight comes our heaven turns to hell

Am I left to burn and burn eternally

She’s a mystery to me