Saturday 30 September 2023

Back across the Irish Sea to Dublin

An enforced absence of over three months came to an end on Thursday, when I decided I could hobble sufficiently to take the train and boat back to my other half's other city, which I've come to love so much so quickly too. Decided to travel that way, as I often do, since his experiences of sitting on a plane on a runway for over an hour on several occasions wouldn't suit my discomfort and, long though the London Euston - Holyhead - Dublin Ferryport journey is, I'd be able to move around at every point.

Though every single train leaving Euston was late, that part of the journey passed pleasantly, the first half of it spent happily reliving a surprisingly first-rate concert experience the previous evening, courtesy of recommendations from Sophia Rahman who accompanied me, for The Arts Desk. The later part, along the North Wales coast, always means looking out the window. The sea still seemed unquiet the day after Storm Agnes, and I saw single seals regularly along the way. Thus we made up time, but at the ferry port, the Irish Ferries worker told me the 2.15 boat wouldn't be leaving until at least 4.30. 

I knew the joys of Holyhead were limited from my first visit with time to kill. And since the town is nearly wholly dead - forgive the feeble pun - I made my way to the cheerful and bright Cambodian cafe where I'd eaten so well the first time. Like nearly everything else, it wasn't open in the afternoon. This first glimpse of the High Street once you finish crossing the stylish bridge from the port is typical - unpromising shops mostly shuttered. This could all be so attractive, so lively - so why is it like a ghost town?

Even St Cybi's Church, built between the 13th and 16th centuries within the walls of an old Roman fort, wasn't open to visitors. A shame if the inside is as interesting as the outside, which has some curious old frieze scenes.

Walking round trying to find somewhere for a bite to eat, I met once again the lady who'd been collecting the rubbish on the train (I told her the three empty lager cans lined up opposite weren't mine, and we ended up talking about the convincing qualities of non-alcoholic beer. I told her how the alcohol-free Guinness was rated by an admirer of that beverage, and she told me how when she gave birth to her daughter 34 years ago, all the new mothers were given a Guinness each). 'Churches should never be closed, should they?' she sympathised. 'People need somewhere to sit and think even if they don't want to pray'.

Anyway, I had my sushi which I'd bought at Euston and ate in the port cafe, and we all embarked as planned, but the ferry didn't leave until 5.30. The lighthouse on South Stack Island was doing its business in the gloaming

and the sea midway was rough, so the only thing to do was to spread out on one of the couches in the James Joyce Bar of the Ulysses and have a nap. The waves as we approached Dublin Harbour had calmed. Our friend Seamus had driven to the terminal; J met me and since our chosen cafe stopped serving food at 9, we had excellent seafood at the local fish and chip shop, Beshoff's, offspring of the one founded during the Second World War by the last survivor of the battleship Potemkin.

The next day saw Dublin at its best, in clear autumn light and the usual wind, as I crossed the Grand Canal just round the corner to the flat - the works on the bridge's lock have been crowned in the style of the famous statue in Glasgow -

on the way to have lunch with J in the garden of MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland), a favourite haunt. Sinéad O'Connor, whose untimely death caught us by surprise while I was in hospital (I gave my copy of Metro with a big commemoration to the nice Italian chap in the bed opposite), adorned the outside wall of The Candy Club, where she performed,

while nearby St Stephen's Green, along the south side of which I walked, was showing autumnal colours earlier than London.

There weren't many of us sitting outside at the back of MoLI on this breezy day, but it was as lovely as ever and the Killarney Strawberry Tree was looking gorgeous.

Joyce would have known it as a student when the place was UCD Newman House, and is pictured second from left beneath the other famous survivor, an ash tree, on graduation in 1902 (again, see MoLI's website).

After lunch, J returned to the European Commission office and I walked through the fair rose garden up the steps, still flourishing,

and through the gate into the Iveagh Gardens, the lawns looking so green between the rains,

around to the Rustic Grotto and Cascade on the west side, which I hadn't realised were there.

I now realised I could do a Rundweg visiting my favourite second-hand emporium, The Last Bookshop, on the ever-fascinating Camden Street Lower via splendid Georgian Harcourt Street you hit on one exit from the Iveagh Gardens. Struck by several doorways and their resident grotesque heads towards the south end near where George Bernard Shaw used to live.

In The Last Bookshop I picked up a (cheap) first edition of a Molly Keane novel I hadn't read, Time After Time, and discovered The Cake Cafe in the yard out back. Very leisurely service, which was fine by me as I was in no rush, but when the nice girl saw I was noticing a lemonade going to another table, she said 'we're just waiting for another glass'. Just round the corner is the Bretzel Bakery in Lennox Street, est. 1870, where I picked up a brown sourdough loaf,

I don't think the notice on a building over the other side of the main road needs to be reassuring, at least not in the daytime, though perhaps it's a broader existentialist decree.

The area's now got quite a few chi-chi shops, but I like to think that my regular visits will be akin to visiting Bertaux, the Algerian Coffee Store and I Camisa in Old Compton Street. A bit further down where Camden Street becomes Richmond Street South, there's the most delicious smelling tea retailer I've ever encountered, Wall & Keogh. When I retraced my steps in the pouring rain today, to pick up from The Last Bookshop the copy of Fintan O'Toole's A History of Ireland in 100 Objects I'd noticed on Friday - and met Birtie, the characterful shop dog - I chose a rooibos, lemon and ginger tea which (indulge me in the little things) is marvellous.

On Friday, though, it was on to another bridge

and back home along the Grand Canal

where a young heron endured close inspection

before flapping over to the busy-road side of the canal and following my route in parallel.

So much more to explore, so many areas of Dublin I haven't even been to yet. It may be small scale in one sense, but there are a million things to discover.


David M said...

Good post. Dublin is a great city.

Susan Scheid said...

Lovely post. You truly are among the most magnificent of wanderers, in the grand tradition of observant walkers. As Robert Walser once wrote, describing the importance of walking, “it is on walks that the lore of nature and the lore of the country are revealed, charming and graceful, to the sense and eyes of the observant walker.” This is what you bring to us in posts like this. Thank you.

David said...

Thank you both. I love what I've read of Walser, Sue, and you remind me that there are two good books on walking which I need to return to...I do think Dublin is inexhaustible from this perspective, and such contrasts between inner city curiosities and the endless pleasures of the bay, seen in stunning light on Sunday afternoon.

Susan Scheid said...

You are so right about Dublin! While we have only had one visit to Dublin, we know we barely scratched the surface. Fingers crossed we will get back there at some point. Meanwhile, delighted to be able to "cyberwalk" with you there. To more happy walking, everywhere, and fond wishes to you both.

David said...

Wait until you see my eulogy about Powerscourt Gardens, which I was taken to today. On the way, you see a sign saying 'National Geographic voted No. 3 greatest garden in the world', and I understood why when we got there. Quite a rich day capped by Andy Warhol exhibition launch at the Hugh Lane Gallery - major show, and more to him than I'd realised. So a day of big surprises.

John O'Hagan said...

"Don't be afraid" - I presume this version of the mural appeared shortly after the original "Noli timere" uttered by Seamus Heaney to Marie as he was wheeled into the operating theatre on that terrible August day 10 years ago. Certainly the mural turned up in more than one place in Dublin shortly afterwards.

Lovely piece. I live in Bray Co Wicklow, just outside Dublin, and I know many of the haunts so beautifully described. Can I offer a phrase/word "throughother" to describe that bookshop? It's a northern Irish word that Heaney would have used (I should know, I'm originally from a few miles from Bellaghy). It means all mixed-up. There's books on tables, on shelves, tumbling over each other in boxes on the floor.

I'm also a fan of Building a Library etc - I've been listening on and off since the 60s, and your contributions maintain the standard superbly.

John O'Hagan

David said...

Ah, context. I love the poetry of Seamus Heaney, and even met his widow and granddaughter at Castle Usher - the friend who took me there knew them. But I didn't know about that.

So grateful for your insights. Yes, 'throughother' is a splendid word. The bookshop is a splendid mix of order and...not. The piles can obscure the carefully alphabeticized Irish fiction, for instance, on the shelves. But the owner and staff know where to find things. I was actually seeking the first 'New Selected Verse' of Heaney, having been given the second, and they'd just sold a copy - SH comes and goes there very quickly.

Thanks for kind words about Building a Library. It's a few years since I did one - for no reason that I've been able to work out, R3 doesn't favour me any more. But I do think my last two BaLs, on Parsifal and Elgar's Falstaff, were good work. Don't think I could cope with the discussion format of it.

David said...

PS - John, as a resident of Bray, which I love, you'll appreciate my sense of wonder at discovering Powerscourt Gardens on Thursday - surely among the greatest in the world. I nearly cried when I saw that view from the terrace. Shall write about it anon.

John O'Hagan said...

Thanks for the follow-ups, David. From your visits you'll know that everybody here knows everbody else, or at least their cousin.

So let's see how many links aka "context" aka 6 degrees of separation I can shamelessly drop into a paragraph or two.

SH's Noli timere is - of course - the last entry in The Letters of Seamus Heaney, just published by Faber.

I bought it today (in a fine independent bookshop you should check out next time you're in Dublin ) on my way home after a lunchtime concert of Bach's Goldbergs. An estimable performance, but I prefer it on harpsichord. The venue was the very Hugh Lane Gallery you mention. The acoustic does the piano no favours; the sound bounces around in a rumbly clangour - another reason for preferring harpsichord. Lively queues for the Warhol show -
it runs to the end of the year so I'll leave it to quieten down a bit.

The last - and only - live hpschd performance of the Goldbergs I heard was way back in late 1967, just after I'd arrived in Dublin to start Uni. I've heard bits of it played by my good friend Claudio di Veroli, onlie begetter of Bray Baroque - now sadly effectively in mothballs as a performing sponsor/convener/venue - on his own lovely instrument (after Taskin). One of our favourite local spots is Powerscourt, which we visited together as recently as in August.

Didn't run into Marie Heaney there, although I have met her a couple of times, both while Seamus was alive and afterwards. She's from a wildly talented artistic family. As well as her own literary work, she's no mean singer - her version of Slieve Gallion Brae reduces me to tears, the eponymous mountain being dear to me as it sits in full view from the window of the house I grew up in in Co Derry. It's about equi-distant from my home place and SH's.
Oh and her brother Barry Devlin has just featured in a commemorative chat to celebrate 50 years of the legendary Irish band Horslips

And I know Barry (a) via his close friendship for a couple of years with my older brother as they journeyed together through a couple of years at college, and (b) as his children shared classrooms with some of my own in the 80s. I can't quite remember if Barry was around the school the day Seamus called in to spend a few hours with us, and sign not a few copies of The Rattle Bag; as I was on the board of management there at the time I had an inside track for selfies, not to mention memory-swapping about our days at St Columb's College in Derry (he had left by the time I was there, but not much had changed).

Any more links? Well, a joint founder of the Upstairs Bookshop mentioned above (and also of an online literary magazine, also highly recommendable, the Dublin Review of Books , ) is one Enda O'Doherty, whose brother I sat beside through a few years at the school, where our Latin teacher was Fr Michael McGlinchey, beloved of SH (and the rest of us), and very influential in encouraging his enthusiasm for the language. See for example the Translator's Note at the beginning of SH's Aeneid Book VI.

Which brings us full circle, I think?

Best wishes!

David said...

Indeed - it's not good to make enemies in Dublin, my partner was told, because you'll probably bump into them several times in one day. Fortunately he gets on with everyone. Sebastian Barry called him, I'll swear, a 'signal man' (everyone thinks I heard 'singular'), but as European Parliament cultural 'hub', he does know everyone. I mentioned that Goldberg, and he said just what you did about the awful acoustic. There are other places in the Hugh Lane that would work better. The new concert hall in the Royal Irish Academy of Music is supposed to be excellent. I think the big concert hall is rather good - see this rave about Friday's concert, which I actually thrilled to more than tonight's LSO event back at the Barbican:

So many links to follow up - thank you, keep them coming!

John O'Hagan said...

Oddly, my reading matter on the bus on Sunday was John Banville's little selection of HB's Irish-themed essays, which, if my googling didn't lead me astray, will be well known to your "signal man".

David said...

'The Eggman and the Fairies'? I started with 'The Invader Wore Slippers', and loved both collections. Indeed, J's instigation of the annual Hubert Butler Essay Prize began with reading those after seeing a documentary on this wonderful writer and humanist. Had a splendid time in Kilkenny last year around the award, presented then by Fiona Shaw. tt was during the heatwave less severe than the UK's, and we had a good time at HB's home in the country, welcomed by the relatives.Wasn't able to go this year as only just out of hospital, but I gather the speeches were again good. I bave - blush - yet to read this year's essay. You ought to enter!

John O'Hagan said...

Yeah, the Eggman one. Picked it up the other day in another Dublin second-hand bookshops, Chapters of Parnell St. Might look out for the other one (online copies are quite pricey). Handy size for fitting in a pocket. But there's probably a lot of duplication with the other collections, some of which I've had for years. Indeed, all but one or two of the Eggman selection is included in this American collection . (Abebooks has some cheaper copies).

I hadn't heard of the annual prize. Must check it out - purely as observer, not participant.

I'm away from tomorrow until the end of next week, to my comms black hole (no TV, no internet, no landline, dodgy mobile reception - and I use only a dumb phone anyway) in rural Co Derry. So there'll be silence until I'm back.

David said...

Sounds like a good idea...

Peter said...

Still envying your travels in Ireland, not least the concert beautifully reviewed at the artsdesk. Looking forward to reading about Powerscourt, also one of my favourite places.... All good wishes, Peter

David said...

Glad you know Powerscourt, an unbelievable jewel. I'm back in London now, and much as I also love it here, if there were a compulsory order to leave without anything and go to Dublin, I would. Of course that doesn't apply to my partner, who doesn't welcome the prospect of all my books, CDs and DVDs coming with me...

Deborah vdB said...

Thank you David...and so many other interesting and literary comments. I shall look out for one of those intriguingly titled HB collections. Pricey online, as someone said.

David said...

'The Invader Wore Slippers' to be purchased from John Sandoe Books (a beautiful establishment) for £14.99 - while 'The Eggman and the Fairies' is available here for the same price: Worth it in both cases.

john graham said...

I agree with your remarks about BUILDING A LIBRARY. The discussion format is a serious mistake, the to and fro obstructs a clear ling of argument toward the final choice, and the two speakers feel the need to make silly quips from time to time - very annoying. Have a word with clive portbury, David, and get him to go back to the old format, which I used to enjoy so much john graham

David said...

How could I have a word with Portbury, John, since his pussyfooting around the issue on our last phone call? I haven't had anything to do with Radio 3 for years, and no idea why not. Anyway, I only listen to the BBC World Service these days, except for some evening concert broadcasts (I do like Martin Handley as an authority).