Lens Change

Some days, you need a change of perspective. You’re tired of the usual vantage points; need something grander, more expansive.

On days like these, you head to the mountains. (You’ve friends who laugh at ascribing mountain status to hills like these, but you hold with the poet. Gods make their own importance.)

When you were little, the mountains seemed far away. Now you know how accessible they are: a thirty-minute car journey will take you from the city centre to the entrance of Pine Forest.

You find a spot to park; glance at the adventure centre’s zip lines and rope bridges. You’ve never been an adrenalin junkie (too much hard work), but you’ve learned to keep a pair of walking shoes in the car.

You join the trail at the barrier, climb gently. Farmland stretches below you: fields and hedgerows glinting in winter sun. Beside you, pine trees stretch, tall and silent. (The area’s official name is Tibradden Wood, but everyone you know calls it Pine Forest.)

The trail becomes steeper and your breath quickens. You catch your first glimpse of the bay, locate the Pigeon Towers. You use the towers as a reference point; plot the coordinates of your daily life on the topography below. You find it comforting, pinning your life to specifics of time and place.

You continue walking, past spruce and larch and more pine.  The track narrows, takes you beyond the forest towards the summit. You know the view that awaits you; know how much you need to see it.

First the mountains: Glendoo, Two Rock, Three Rock. Then the Bay: Ireland’s Eye, Howth.

You take it in; wait a long moment before turning your attention to the city.

It looks so small from here, yet everything you love is packed within it: the beaches and canals, parks and gardens, rivers and lighthouses.

A gust of wind stings your eyes.

Time to head back, you think.

Time to head home.

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blog3 - CopyPine Forest is situated about 6km south of Rathfarnham, on the slopes of Tibradden Mountain. Beloved by generations of Dubliners, its several walking trails provide an accessible and (reasonably) gentle introduction to hill walking.

The forest includes Scots pine, Japanese larch, European larch and Sitka spruce, as well as oak and beech. 

There’s a treetop adventure centre at the entrance to the forest. Admission charges apply. But parking is free.

So are the views.

Posted in December 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Night and Day

You like the feel of the place at night: the theatre and taxis; the restaurants and bars. You like the high-heeled style of it; the buzz and glamour.

You’re lucky to live nearby; to have access to a well-designed urban space. You like the culture it affords, the trendy entertainment.  But mostly, if you’re honest, you like the red poles. You like how their lights dance skywards, cast playful reflections on the water.

(You may have outgrown sophistication.)

You like the place during the day, too. Its sharp-suited buildings project themselves with confidence, all angles and apexes. Light bounces off their reflective skins, catching your eye in fiery flashes.

You find it energizing to walk among the buildings, at least for a while. You know you’ll never be shiny enough to live or work in one.

That’s okay.

You like the sun on the water, too; the canal basin happy under a silver sheen. You find an empty bench to sit on and look out over the dock.

The water asks nothing of you.

You sip your coffee; watch seagulls squabble over a piece of bread. In the distance, five orange kayaks are tied to a pontoon. You think it might be fun to paddle around the dock, take the kayak under the bridge and into the marina. You could pull up to the barges; examine their painted hulls and polished windows.

You picture yourself climbing aboard a barge, untying the ropes and pulling out onto the canal. How long would it take you to reach the Shannon? You can’t imagine a more lovely or less likely escape.

You smile at the thought, finish your coffee and turn back to the city.

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Grand Canal Square is located at the west end of Grand Canal Dock, on the south side of the River Liffey. Opened in 2007, the development includes shops, restaurants and offices, as well as a 2000-seat theatre by Daniel Libeskind and a hotel by Manual Aires Matues.

American landscape architect Martha Schwartz designed the joyful light sticks and the ‘red carpet’ paving. A ‘green carpet’ of planters filled with willowy vegetation provides seating.

The Square’s character changes from daytime to evening and from weekdays to weekends. It’s a perfect spot for people watching.

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Past Pupil

When you were younger, you liked Front Square best: the Campanile; the columns and inscriptions; the symmetry of its architecture. You even liked the cobblestones; forgave their ankle-twisting tendencies.

You enjoyed how busy the square could be: tourists queuing to see the Book of Kells; students heading to lectures. All that culture and learning! You’d sit on the chapel steps (cool, wide steps); fantasize about prolonging your studies, enrolling in another class.

Now, you skip through Front Square, barely give it a look. It’s still beautiful (of course it is), but you prefer the quieter corners of campus: the hidden gardens, the benches under the trees.

(You like the cricket grounds on Sunday, too, before the game starts, before the pick, pack, pock of the ball.)

At weekends, you wander through the campus, glad of lawns that soften stone, walls that screen city noise.

In New Square, you  pay your respects to the Oriental planes; two gnarled and blistered friends who’ve kept each other company through the centuries. Nearby, beside the rugby pitch, London planes grow patiently. A hundred and seventy years old already, they could live for another hundred.

At the Physic Garden, you pause to identify some of the plants. Thyme and sage are easy, but you see purple coneflowers and leopard’s bane too. Nowadays, you’re interested in the link between plants and medicine, curious about the role of nature in healing. You never thought about these things when you were younger. You were convinced answers were found in books.

No wonder you found your way here when you were eighteen, to study at the home of the world’s most beautiful book.

No wonder you studied history. The college was founded in 1592.

You’re glad you made those choices now. Not because you remember much of what you studied. (You don’t.)

But because you learned how much there is to know.

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tcdblog3Trinity College is the sole constituent college of Ireland’s oldest university, the University of Dublin. Founded in 1625 by Elizabeth 1st, the college was associated with the Protestant Ascendancy for much of its history. Today, 16,000 students from approximately 90 countries study at Trinity.

The main campus occupies 47 acres in Dublin city. It comprises several building-lined quadrangles known as ‘squares’, playing fields, and the Long Library, home to the Book of Kells.

Famous graduates include Nobel laureates Samuel Beckett and Earnest Walton; playwright Oscar Wilde, and satirist Jonathan Swift. 

The college is a popular tourist destination and can be busy at times. Sunday mornings are quieter. If you time your visit right, you might even hear the choir as you pass the chapel.

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Inner Harmony

The main gates are tall and elegant, but you prefer this entrance: a small black door set into the perimeter wall.

You remember how intrigued you were the first time you came upon it. You ran your hand over the panelled surface (iron!), took in the granite architrave.

You liked the door’s thickness, its sturdy honesty. You wondered how old it was, how many people had touched it before you.

Stepping through it was like stepping into a secret.

The surprise of water, once destined for city homes and distilleries, content now to mirror sky, shelter swans.

(Thinking about it afterwards, you realised you must have known about the basin all along, read about it in history books. But you hadn’t been looking for it that day, hadn’t realised there was a second entrance.)

You visit regularly now, this disused basin turned city park. You walk alongside the railings, stop to watch the gulls and ducks. On good days, you spot the heron.

The city’s skyline hovers above the walls: houses, offices, St Peter’s Church.  You feel cocooned here, held in the respite of unexpected quiet. Your breathing slows.

Once, there were elaborate plans to upgrade the park, add performance spaces, art installations. The plans were opposed by community groups.

You’re glad of their foresight. The park is elegant in its simplicity: water, path, trees.

Flowers surround the keeper’s cottage, care and attention apparent in their blooming.

You’re grateful for such care.

Bestowed anonymously.

Enjoyed anonymously.

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Blessington Street Basin was opened in 1810 to provide clean water to residents of Dublin’s north inner city. By 1869, the basin had been superseded by the Vartry Reservoir system.  However, it continued to provide water to the nearby Jameson’s and Power’s distilleries. When the distilleries moved to Cork in the mid-1970s, the basin fell into disrepair. It was restored in 1993 (following a heated debate about the nature of the restoration) and re-opened as a park in 1994.

The basin was originally named the Royal George Reservoir (after King George III). Most Dubliners simply refer to it as the Basin. 

The sculptures along the north wall are by Austin McQuinn.

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Flight Lines

The beach stretches in front of you: 800 metres wide and five kilometres long. At 6.30 a.m. it’s mostly empty, although when you arrived, you met a handful of early risers in the car park.

(A man glanced at your camera and asked, “Anything special today?” He thought you were a birdwatcher or a photographer. But you know very little about birds and don’t have the right equipment to photograph them.)

You’ve come here to walk.

When you step onto the sand, you think about the island’s origins, its emergence after the building of the Bull Wall in the 1820s. It seems impossibly fast to you: a single generation to build an island and a beach.

You remember coming here when you were a child, back when you thought the island had always existed. You remember sitting in the family car, the thunk of wheels on the wooden bridge that leads to the beach. The bridge scared you a little. It creaked and bounced under the car’s weight.

You remember how busy the beach seemed then; know how busy it is still on sunny afternoons. But you prefer it on mornings like this: quiet and indifferent. Lonely at the edges.

You walk until you’re too tired to walk any more.

On the way home, you stop on the causeway, dig out a pair of binoculars. A little egret moves through the water, hunting. You watch its delicate footwork, the quick stabbing motion of its beak. You’re glad of the chance to observe this bird. But uneasy too. You know the egret is new to these parts; his presence a reminder of climate change you’d rather not think about.

You put the car in gear and head off, thinking of the birds that make their home here throughout the year: the brent geese and the oystercatchers, the grey plovers and the redshanks. In winter, thirty thousand waders roost on the island, making it one of the most important wetlands in the country.

You’ve lived a long time without paying much attention to facts like these. It seems late to start now.

Still.

You think you might buy a long lens. Start taking some photos.

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Bull Island (and its beach, Dollymount Strand) emerged following the building of the North Bull Wall in 1820-1825. It grew steadily in its first one hundred years and by 1900 had reached 4.5 kilometres in length. Since then, it has continued to grow slowly.

The North Bull Wall was built to prevent silting in Dublin Bay and together with the South Bull Wall (completed earlier in 1795) succeeded in deepening the entry to the River Liffey. The silt scoured from the river bed was deposited on the North Bull (sandbank) and an island began to emerge.

The island quickly became popular with Dubliners, especially with the opening of a horse tram service to Clontarf in 1873. Today, it’s popular with walkers and nature-lovers, swimmers and kite surfers.

The island is an internationally important bird habitat. Species include redshank, curlew, oystercatchers, brent geese, shelduck, little egrets, and reed buntings. In winter, the island is home to some 5000 ducks, 3000 geese and 30,000 waders.

Bull island was designated a Nature Reserve in 1988 and is listed by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. It is a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive.

 

Posted in August 2013 | 17 Comments

Aspiration

Once, you were interested in the house: its gracious form, austere beauty. You wanted to know its history; to learn about the men and women who called it home. You may even have envied their good fortune.

But you barely notice the house any more. It stands where it’s always stood, aloof, imposing.  A backdrop for photographs; centre point for the grounds that unfold around it.

It’s the grounds that appeal now: 78 acres in the centre of a city. Trees and fields and wildflower meadows; a working farm. (You can’t imagine how wealthy you’d have to be to own 78 acres of countryside in the city.)

You head towards the house, stop to look at the horses grazing beside an oak tree. One of them steps away, limping slightly on his back leg. In the distance, a herd of black cattle: Kerry cows, rare and lovely.

You walk behind the house, enter the walled garden.  Sunflowers dot the perimeter, purple alliums line the path.  You search out the old greenhouse; admire its intricate ironwork; sit for a moment with your back to the sun.

You move across the lawn to the Sunken Garden, meet a gardener working on the borders. You chat about the fine weather, the long evenings. You remember to mention the horse and he tells you he’s a retired showjumper. “His back legs hurt sometimes,” he says. “From hitting the fences.”

He sees your stricken face.  “Don’t worry,” he adds. “The vet looks after him well.”

You wander through the trees, pause in front of a wooden sculpture. Its curving form is strong and sensual, a mix of grace and solidity.

You think of the house and its gardens. You think of the horse in his showjumping prime.

You think grace and solidity as fine an aspiration as any.

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farmleigh8Farmleigh House and estate is located in Phoenix Park, Dublin. It was once the home of Edward Cecil Guinness, first Earl of Iveagh, and great-grandson of Arthur Guinness. The estate was purchased by the Irish Government in 1999 and is used to accommodate visiting dignitaries. When not in use, the house and grounds are open to the public.

Farmleigh was originally a small Georgian house, but was extended several times in the late 1800s. The house contains artworks and furniture collected by the first Earl of Iveagh, as well as the Benjamin Iveagh collection of rare books, bindings and manuscripts.

The grounds contain a mix of Victorian and Edwardian features, including a walled garden, a Dutch-style sunken garden, a clock tower, and a picturesque diary. The estate includes a working farm with a herd of Kerry Black cows.

Several contemporary sculptures are dotted around the estate, including two photographed here: Beech Twist by Kenneth Drew and Convergance by Brian King.

Posted in May 2013 | 2 Comments

Shutter Speed

After the school run, you stop at the park. The cherry blossoms are in bloom and you want to take some photos.

(You’ve been meaning to come for days. Why haven’t you come before?)

The park is quiet; commuters and students already at their desks. You stand alone under pink and white blossoms, watch stray petals drift from branch to ground. Petal-rain, petal-kisses.

(Why haven’t you come before?)

You don’t always like city parks. You prefer nature wild and rugged: an antidote to the confines of suburbia.

But you’re drawn to this park every spring, to its loping line of cherry blossoms. There’s something so delicate about the cherry blossoms. You want to hold your breath, tiptoe.

An elderly couple walk past you. The woman is reminiscing about the last time they were here. The man nods his head companionably.

You think they should have the cherry blossoms to themselves, so you retreat to the pond, watch the swan at her morning bath.  Three ducks descend from the sky, land with a splash.

You walk on, past the bandstand and the willow tree. You want to return to the cherry blossoms; to stand, still and silent, receive their pink benediction. But you want to delay the pleasure too; savour the promise of beauty.

And so you turn away, head towards the park’s periphery. You enjoy the wide expanse of grass, the sturdy loveliness of ash, oak, alder. But you’re thinking about the cherry blossoms, even as you run your hand along a rough bark, trace the veins in a new leaf.

You wonder how long the blooms will last. One week? Two? Less if the weather’s cruel. It seems foolhardy to delay now, and your stomach tightens as you turn back the way you came.

You walk fast, adjusting the camera settings as you go, ready to take your photos and leave.

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hushherbertHerbert Park is a 32-acre park situated between Ballsbridge and Donnybrook. Built on the site of the 1907 World Fair, the park opened to the public in August, 1911. Two of the structures in the park date from its earliest days: the duck pond and the wooden bandstand.

The park is divided by Herbert Park Road and bordered on the south side by the River Dodder. It contains playing fields, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, and a bowling green. A walk or jog around the perimeter is exactly one mile.

The park is home to many species of native trees.

And, of course, to cherry blossoms.

Posted in May 2013 | 3 Comments

Grand Stretch in the Morning

Something about the canal cheers you. You pass it on weekday mornings and the tow path is busy, the bike lane is busy. Commuters everywhere.

At lunchtime, workers sit on the banks, eat sandwiches and drink coffee. In the evening, couples stretch their legs, walk their dogs.

You like the canal when it’s busy like this, city-chic, sophisticated.  But you like it when it’s country quiet, too.  Sunday morning quiet.

On Sunday mornings, you have the tow path to yourself.  You walk slowly from Grand Canal Street to Baggot Street and Leeson Street. The canal is over a hundred kilometres long, but this is your favourite stretch, a leafy two kilometre loop through Kavanagh territory.

You know that if you continued walking, continued following the canal, you’d reach the River Shannon. You know the Shannon is the real deal, majestic, curving, natural. The canal is puny in comparison.

Still, you like its four-foot depth, its steadfast insistence on travelling in a straight line.  You like the slow impracticality of its locks, the enforced public scrutiny of barge travellers, bobbing on rising water like rubber ducks in a bath.

It pleases you that this canal, which began life as a commercial enterprise, has survived financial failure, neglect and the threat of development. It pleases you that it’s become a valuable wildlife habitat; rural corridor in an urban setting.

Its contradictions and complexities sustain you.

Once, you were driving past on a busy morning and you saw a man cycling along the bike path. He was listening to music, twitching his shoulders and bopping his head. You watched as he lifted his arms first to one side, then the other, and mimed playing the drums in the air. You’d never seen such a mix of control and abandon before, and you smiled all the way home.

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hushcanal5The Grand Canal is one of two canals linking Dublin to the River Shannon. Construction began in 1755 and the canal was officially opened in 1804.  (A rival canal, the Royal Canal, was built between 1790 and 1817.)

The heyday of the canals was short-lived, and their popularity declined with the coming of the railways and improved road networks. By the 1960s, the canals had fallen into disrepair and their future seemed uncertain. Attitudes changed, however, and in 1986 the Office of Public Works was charged with developing the canals as a public amenity. Today, the canals are managed by Waterways Ireland.

The main line of the Grand Canal is 131 kilometres long. It has 43 locks, 5 of which are double locks. (The Royal Canal is 145 kilometres.)

Although man-made, the canal is an important wildlife habitat and supports a range of fish, animal, bird and plant life. The water is clean and calcium-rich.

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Sound of Gravel Underfoot

You come here because you like the sound of gravel. Silly, really. A grown woman, moved to happiness by the sound of stones.

Still. You like gravel. Always have. You like how it crunches underfoot; calls attention to itself. You like how it slows you down, discourages speed and carelessness.  You can walk slowly here and not be in anyone’s way.

You remember visiting your aunt when you were young, the crunch of tyres as you turned onto her gravel driveway. You remember the dust that rose behind the car; hung for a moment in low clouds before dissipating into the country air.

When I grow up, you thought, I’ll have a gravel driveway. But you’ve lived in nine houses already. Still, no gravel driveway.

And so you come to this park, choose the path that leads away from Hatch Street, away from offices and restaurants. You walk along the perimeter (crunch, crunch), past the fountains, past the open lawn and the benches that surround it. You know you could sit in the sun, but you prefer to walk in the shade. You turn left. The park is quieter here, less busy.

You stop to look at an oak tree, its leaves dappled in the morning light. Beside the oak, a birch sapling. You stand for a long time in front of the sapling. Its peeling bark makes you ache. You would like to touch it gently, press it back into place.

A man walks across the grass, whistles to his dog.

You turn back towards Hatch Street, glance at the office blocks that loom above the park’s brick wall. Inside the offices, people you don’t know are making phone calls and writing emails. At lunchtime, they’ll bring their coffee and sandwiches into the park, stretch out on the grass or find a seat beside the fountain.

The gravel will crunch under their feet, too.  Leave the same cloud of dust in their wake.

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blogiveagh2The Iveagh Gardens are located behind the National Concert Hall,  just a few minutes’ walk from St Stephen’s Green. These small, formal gardens are among the city’s loveliest. 

Designed in 1865 by landscape architect Ninian Niven, the gardens incorporate a wide variety of landscape features including fountains, rustic grottos and archery grounds. They  were donated to UCD by the Guinness family in 1908, and placed under the care of the OPW in 1991. 

The gardens play host to a variety of concerts and events throughout the year, but are still unknown to many Dubliners. Enclosed by high walls and trees, they offer a welcome respite from city life — a moment of quiet seclusion in the midst of everday busyness.

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I’m Glad You’re Taking Photos

Last night, you fell asleep to wind and rain; this morning, a cornflower-blue sky, still as stone.

You knew the beach would be beautiful today; light glancing off channels and pools, a mile of space between you and the sea.

(You didn’t know it would be this beautiful.)

You begin to walk the promenade, starting at the Mexican statue.  It will take twelve hundred steps to reach the end of the promenade, five hundred steps to reach the Martello Tower.

You like the Martello Tower, the strength of its construction. Oak beams support nine-foot wide granite walls. You like the Tower’s vigilance; its steadfast insistence on watching, waiting.  Two hundred years and counting.

You pass the remains of the Victorian Baths. You’ve seen old photographs of the pier that once connected the baths to the shore; sepia-toned images of elegant iron and timber. The pier’s heyday was short-lived: opened in 1884, demolished in 1920.

You turn at the end of the promenade. Two winters ago, you stood here and watched a flock of knot shape-shift in the evening sun. The birds rose and fell in unison, flashed black and silver as they swooped and turned.

You walk back towards the Tower, take your camera from your bag. A woman stops to say hello. “I’m glad you’re taking photos,” she says. You step onto the beach, puzzled by her comment.

You walk towards the sea, each step taking you farther from people, houses, cars.

You think about the oystercatchers and terns that make their home on the beach; the cockles and lugworms that lie within its sand. You think about the people who walk here, the children who play here; the buildings that have survived and the buildings that have disappeared.

You think about the woman who wants a stranger to make a record of it all.

You walk towards the cornflower-blue horizon and wonder what to do with all the space that’s opening up in front of you, all the time that’s closing in behind you.

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strandblog3Sandymount Strand stretches for 5 kilometres from Ringsend to Booterstown. It’s internationally important for the large number of birds it supports, including waders, terns and geese. 

At low tide, the beach extends 1.5 kilometres from the shoreline, offering city dwellers space, solitude, and wonderful views across Dublin Bay.

The promenade was added in the 1970s and is  a popular spot for walkers and joggers. On Christmas morning, it’s full of kids trying out their  new bikes.The Mexican Statue is called An Cailín Bán. It was denoted to Ireland in 2002 by the Mexican government and is the work of sculptor Sebastian. The Martello Tower was built in 1804 to protect against a Napoleanic invasion. It’s unusual in its construction – resting on oak beams rather than rock. All that remains of the Victorian Baths is the concrete substructure. 

Sandymount Strand is famous as a setting for two of the episodes in James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

But you knew that, didn’t you?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments