Dublin’s Circular Roads – 8

IMG_2571Kilmainham to Dolphin’s Barn

Moving on from the Patriots Pub, the road falls downhill from Kilmainham to the Camac River which flows discreetly under a high, short bridge. At the junction there’s a pleasant restaurant with outdoor seating housed in a modernist building with a certain Art Deco ambience. Called Union 8 from the Dublin 8 postal district it’s a busy spot, modelled, I think, on a notion of Brooklyn brassiere chique. 

IMG_2573The Old Kilmainham Road heads east towards the city. Further townwards, an early twentieth century housing estate is perched on its hill. Known as Mount Brown, there’s a whiff of Gothic romance off the place, home for the urban hobbit. It’s an early example of Dublin Corporation’s attempts to break out of the ghetto housing to which the working classes were once condemned. Designed by keen modernist TJ Byrne, it stands comparison with the Iveagh Trust terraced housing projects of that era. 

Inchicore stays off to our right by way of Emmet Road. Inchicore is from the Irish, sheep island. Shepherds used to gather their flocks here on land bordered by the Liffey and Camac rivers. Over the last century it has grown into a heavily populated working class suburb. 

Local club St. Patrick’s Athletic play out of Richmond Park, a pitch not renowned for its resemblance to a billiard table. It was said that the goalie at one end was unable to see his opposite number below the knees. Though, why a goalie would ever want to see the ankles of his opposite number is hard to figure. Founded in 1929 in the Phoenix Park, they set up house at Richmond Park the following year. They came of age in 1951 when they were admitted to the League of Ireland and are the only club to have maintained a topflight status ever since. In that time they have won nine League titles and three FAI cups.

Paul McGrath dallied with the side before departing for Manchester Utd. McGrath was a majestic centre back who became one of Ireland’s most loved footballers, featuring at European Nations and World Cup tournaments. Born in 1959 in England, spending his early years in an orphanage before returning to Ireland at age six. In 1981, while working as a security guard, he signed professional terms with St Pat’s, becoming Player of the Year in his first, and only season. Black footballers were something of a rarity in early eighties Ireland, McGrath was given the nickname the Black Pearl of Inchicore. He moved to Manchester United in 1982, fans adapting a chant which is now indelibly associated with him: Ooh ah, Paul McGrath!…

IMG_2576Rising with the road again, this section of the SCR holds a certain charm. The redbrick terrace with mansard roofs is dappled beneath the plane trees. Eurospar and the Natural Bakery have scattered chairs and tables providing a slice of cafe society for the passing boulevardier. I can imagine Phil Lynott strolling down from Dublin 12 with local lad, Brian Downey. There might even be a pre-echo of Parisienne Walkway.

I remember Paris in forty nine,

Champs Elysees, Saint Michel and old Beaujolais wine,

And I recall that you were mine,

In those Parisienne days

Lynott would collaborate with Gary Moore on this 1979 hit. The trio had briefly formed a temporary Thin Lizzy in 1974 following the departure of guitarist Eric Bell, and prior to the foursome featuring the dual guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. The opening line alludes to Lynott’s birth year and his father, Cecil Parris, whose surname was grafted onto Lynott’s given name. 

Looking back at the photographs,

Those summer days spent outside corner cafes.

Oh, I could write you paragraphs

About my old Parisienne days.

The SCR turns sharply east, before the Grand Canal. On the southern side of the street, a handsome Victorian building stands out. Now known as Hybreasal House this was originally a convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Founded in 1883, Saint Patrick’s House was used as a nursing home for the elderly for more than a century, converted to apartments in 1993. The cut stone granite building was designed by WH Byrne architects who designed a host of religious buildings throughout Ireland in the late nineteenth century.

IMG_2584The term Hy-Breasal derives from Irish myth. The fabled isle in the Atlantic was said to appear only one day in seven years and was a land of idyllic perfection. Described by St Brendan the navigator, and others, as a circular island divided by a canal, it was something of an El Dorado, golden domes and spires set amidst great natural beauty. The name was appropriated for Brazil, on its discovery, although a convoluted rebuttal insists that the term Brasil derives from a local timber commodity. The perfection of navigation, saw the fading of such myths, as the reality which had informed them emerged from the mists. They are, I suppose, true, if inaccurate. For that matter, the Dublin of our odyssey is itself circular divided by a central waterway, the Liffey. Welcome so, to Hy Brasil. 

We return to the elegant residential streetscape typical of the Circular Roads, redbrick and treelined, implicitly packed with undiscovered narrative. This straight stretch of road culminates at the gates to St. James’s Hospital before crossing the Red Luas line at Rialto Bridge which gives its name to the area. 

IMG_2587Here the Luas is built on the old terminal section of the Grand Canal. Completed by the end of the eighteenth century, having begun in 1759, the crucial waterway connection with Sallins took twenty years. Within another five the Canal pushed through to the Shannon. The Grand Canal Basin served Guinness’s and the various breweries and industries of the Liberty of St Thomas Court. At the turn of the century, the Canal was extended in a loop toward Dublin Bay, and by 1810 joining the confluence of the Liffey and Dodder rivers at Grand Canal Docks. Which we’ll see at the end of our odyssey.

The song, the Good Ship Kalibar, is a fanciful ballad harking back to the intrepid lives of ancient navigators of the inland waterways.

Heave away me hearties, we’re bound for lands afar,

As we sail away from James’s Gate, aboard the Kalibar!

The Basin segment remained in use for almost two centuries, before being filled in as a linear park in 1976. It was the end of a most enthralling piece of urban fabric, an ancient industrialised zone reflected in its watery highway. It is again a new avenue of utility with the building of the Luas Red Line in 2004 from Connolly Station through here and on to the Square in Tallaght.

Rialto implies echoes of Venice, it does hug the Grand Canal after all. It seems that the bridge across the old Grand Canal at its intersection with the South Circular, built by Henry Roche, was reminiscent of Ponte de Rialto in Venice, somehow. But it was a good name, and it stuck. What Shakespeare would have made of it, one may wonder. 

Many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me, about my money and my usances. Still have I borne it with a patient shrug, for suffrance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog and spit upon my Jewish gaberdene, and all for the use of that which is mine own.

IMG_2596Rialto is an old working class suburb, housing those employed by the canals, breweries and distilleries as Dublin spread southwest from the Liberties. It has evolved its own character, something of an urban village. Although flanked by notorious housing projects, the SCR thoroughfare is characterised by the redbrick, woodframe ambience of Victorian design. A lovely Tudor revival terrace arcs along the northern rim of Rialto’s central plaza. The architectural style, sometimes called Mock Tudor, became popular towards the end of the nineteenth century and is somewhat incongruous, though picturesque, within the context of Ireland’s Capital.

IMG_2594Across the road the pub is named for the Bird Flanagan. William ‘The Bird’ Flanagan, born in 1867 lived beyond in Walkinstown and was a notorious practical joker. He earned his nickname from a prank he played on a local policeman. Buying a festive goose at a local butchers at the Barn, he had it hung outside the shop for collection later. Catching the attention of the unfortunate constable, the Bird grabbed the goose and ran towards Rialto. He was apprehended near the canal, whereupon he showed his purchase docket.

Behind the street lies Dolphin House, one of the housing schemes hugging the canal bordering Rialto, including Fatima Mansions. Seen in their day as an exemplary improvement on the slum conditions of the inner city, from the seventies on, the positive image waned. Fatima Mansions became a heroin supermarket and was demolished in the late noughties. Herberton Apartments replaced them, but the term Fatima persists in the local Luas stop. The Rialto Cinema is another echo of times past. It was a massive 1,600 seater auditorium. Built in 1936 its art deco frontage was a distinctive area landmark. It closed after nearly forty years, 1971, and was converted to an auto showrooms.

IMG_2600I worked in Dolphin’s Barn in the eighties and spent many a lunchtime strolling around. I often had my lunch in the sitdown chipper on the south side of the street, which I think was called The Lido, across the road from the cinema. Many years later I reimagined the place in the narrative of Annie, a teenage girl who paints an unreliable picture of life in sixties Dublin.  

Many’s the time and oft through Rialto I did stroll. I’d listen to the songs of bargees sweeping under Rialto Bridge heading down to Portobello. The hawkers looking down from the banks, singing their response, like they were starring in a musical. Summertime, the boys would play wearing nothing but their Jockeys. They’d gather by the locks, plunging into the greasy water in turn.

A visit to the Horse Show with her father leaves her besotted by the Italian showjumping team led by Captain Raymondo D’Inzeo. Much like myself in fact, when my father used take me to the RDS. Mind you, Annie is the eponymous narrator in The Secret Lover of Capt Raymondo D’Inzeo wherein she describes how the Italians plotted their Aga Khan Cup campaign from a secret room in the chipper. It is here called Cassoni’s by way of tribute to the family whose original Irish business was in Thomas Street nearby.

Just past Cassoni’s I see the car, a red Alfa Romeo with the roof rolled down. Graciano is at the wheel, la Contessa Rossi languishing in the passenger seat. We had stopped by the cinema and I had turned my back on the road to read the coming attractions. I hear a car door close. As I turn I know I will see her approaching. She stands before us, her cigarette poised. She asks for a light. Robbie obliges, though she stays looking at me all the time. 

“You,” she says, “you have set your sight on the Captain. You are good. A young girl with well turned calf. But would he set his cap for you, the Captain? In all probability. He can acquire what he likes.”

   I can’t think what to say. “Will Italy win the Aga Khan?” I stammer.

   La Contessa puts her head to one side, like a bird looking at a worm. When she speaks, it is not by way of a reply. “I see your man there. He is within your reach. Don’t take me wrong for, believe me, we both have love in our hearts. And yes, we will win.”

IMG_2599Which they did. That was the early sixties and I last frequented these parts in the early eighties. We reach Dolphin’s Barn and cross the chaotic urban artery towards Cork Street and the City. Dublin 12 lies to the South beyond the Canal, but we continue our journey to the East.

Walkinstown Revisited

Return of the Wanderer.

Return of the Wanderer.

I left Walkinstown just over thirty years ago. Many’s the time I’ve been back since, taking the kids to visit Granny, meeting friends for football or beer. Bit by bit, the ties are loosened. There’s less opportunity to drop by and give the auld sod a look. Recently, getting a new car brought me back to those fields where I grew up.

EP Mooney's, Long Mile Rd.

EP Mooney’s, Long Mile Rd.

Walkinstown is certainly the go-to place for cars. New or in their prime along the Long Mile Road and the industrial estates to the west. Over by the Naas Road, the hypnotic Mercedes sign rotates on its Art Deco tower, day and night. A beacon in the darkness, a neon blue call to prayer. Death awaits all things, however, and auto graveyards line the moraine that carries the Greenhils Road from Tallaght down to The Cross. Junkyards are sculpture parks with a purpose, a place where discarded jalopys await their reincarnation.

Drimnagh Castle

Drimnagh Castle

In Norman times, the land hereabouts was granted to Hugh De Bernevale, a confederate of Strongbow. The belt of land between the Dodder and Camac was densely wooded and vulnerable to attack from Irish tribes. The Pale (a fortified ditch) was established to protect settlement in the area, and a ring of castles was constructed from the Liffey Valley through Tallaght and on to Rathfarnham and Dalkey. Drimnagh Castle was built in 1240 as a prominent fortress guarding the marches. Constructed in local limestone it remains surrounded by a flooded moat, the only castle in Ireland to retain this feature. The Great Hall dates from this period, the High Tower was added in the sixteenth century, offering commanding views of the surrounding countryside. To the west lies Robin Hood. An intriguing name, it is now an industrial area. Legend, of course, insists that Robin Hood himself sojourned here. General myth places him early in the thirteenth century, when the lands in the shadow of the Castle were secured by the Bernevals. Robin Hood, of course, could simply be a stock alias for a robber. The area then would have been isolated woodland, just beyond the periphery of settlement, where banditry was rife.

The Moat

The Moat

It is said that Cromwell stabled horses in the Castle during the War of the Three Kingdoms in the 1650s. Cromwell’s Fort Road draws its name from that period too. Cromwell is said to have visited many places, most of which needed to be rebuilt afterwards. Drimnagh Castle seems to have survived unscathed. The Bernevals, later Barnewalls, lived here until that time. The Castle remained inhabited until being sold to the Christian Brothers in 1954. The new schools built to service Walkinstown were completed in 1956. In the interim, the first students of Drimnagh Castle CBS were accommodated in the Castle itself. Masses were hosted before completion of the Church of the Assumption nearby. A theatre group and local GAA teams also used the building. By the late twentieth century, the Castle had fallen into disrepair. Refurbishment was carried out in the late eighties, completed by 1996. As well as the restoration of the castle itself, part of the exterior grounds have been reconstructed as a formal seventeenth century garden. Today Drimnagh Castle is open for visitors, and available for private functions. Tours give a glimpse into castle life in the late medieval and early modern period.

The Castle Yard

The Castle Yard

Walkinstown takes its name from a tenant farmer called Wilkins. A village had grown up by the early nineteenth century, straggling along the banks of the Walkinstown Stream, a tributary of the Camac. The Camac runs to the north, between Drimnagh and Bluebell, on through Inchicore and into the Liffey near Islandbridge. The stream was visible when I was young. It passed in front of the Halfway House and on to the rear of Wilkinstown House. We used to clamber on its muddy banks, in the shade of trees and bushes, competing to see who could jump across the seething waters. A wall on the western bank retained a flat scrub area, long used as a carpark for the Halfway House. This was a Coach House by the early nineteenth century. While subject to some modernisation, it retains much the same footprint and general appearance as it would back then. Wilkinstown House was originally reached along the banks of the stream. After the Famine of the 1840s the demographics changed. The village was deserted and bypassed by the Walkinstown Road. Walkinstown House passed into the ownership of the Flanagan family.

Halfway House

Halfway House

Most famous of the big house’s residents was William ‘The Bird’ Flanagan, born in 1867 and son of Alderman Michael Flanagan. Small of stature but larger than life, he was a notorious practical joker in late nineteenth century Dublin. The Bird got his name from one of his most notorious japes. Probably. One Christmas he purchased a turkey at a butcher’s in Dolphin’s Barn, requesting that it be hung at the front of the shop for collection. Later, The Bird caught the attention of a policeman on the beat nearby and began to act in a suspicious, excessively furtive manner. Grabbing the turkey, The Bird raced off towards Rialto with the constable in pursuit. Eventually apprehended, he flourished his purchase docket and the unfortunate policeman had to exchange his collar for the mirth of onlookers. The Bird Flanagan pub in Rialto illustrates the incident on its sign. The bar in the Gresham Hotel is also named for him. He once rode a horse into the bar, claiming that the horse needed cheering up, as he’d such a long face on him. His legend also attaches to the naming of the Long Mile Road. Apparently the Bird organised a horse race along its length. The Bird had the furlongs marked out dutifully. His own mount trailed badly at the eighth but as the leaders reined in it galloped past to the end of the road. The Bird claimed his winnings, saying the mile was not enough as the road was a ‘Long Mile’.

Horseman on the Long Mile

Horseman on the Long Mile

William’s brother was Frank ‘The Pope’ Flanagan. Despite the implication of piety, he featured in early Republican gun running. The Irish Volunteers sought arms to defend Home Rule against armed loyalists and their co-conspirators in the army and the Lords. A shipment aboard the Asgard landed at Howth in 1914. The Pope was one of a large crowd who rallied to the cause. He came on horseback. On the instructions of Bulmer Hobson, Frank effected a diversion, leading security forces on a merry dance across the countryside. Frank was loyal to Redmond’s wing of the Volunteers, and served with the British Army for the duration of the Great War.

WT Cosgrave married into the Flanagan family, taking Louisa Flanagan as his bride in 1919, right at the start of the War of Independence. Cosgrave had led the Insurgents at the Dublin Union in 1916, and was lucky to have his death sentence commuted. Something of an elusive pimpernel, British forces suspected he might be hiding out in Walkinstown House during the war. It was raided by the Black and Tans and suffered minor damage. Cosgrave became Ireland’s first prime Minister after independence in 1922, a position he held for ten years.

Much of the Flanagan land was sold off in the development of Drimnagh and Walkinstown. The house itself endured for some decades until it was demolished in 1970 to make way for a supermarket. Suburban expansion had begun in Crumlin in the thirties, followed by Drimnagh and the Walkinstown Musical Estate in the late forties. The Musical Roads rejoice in such names as John McCormack, Bunting, Balfe, Thomas Moore and Percy French. It certainly strikes a welcome note (ha) in the colourful nomenclature of Dublin 12. Bluebell, Robin Hood, Fox and Geese Greenhills, and Ballymount are also part of D12. Pubs include the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Halfway House, the Cherry Tree, the Submarine and the Kestrel. I worked in the Cherry Tree and drank in the rest. The past is always worth revisiting, and imagining.

Church of the Assumption.

Church of the Assumption.