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.


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


blog7          bullblog9


Blog1     blog4     blog5



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.



About Aileen Hunt

I write nonfiction: essays, memoir, and prose poetry, as well as shorter, more humorous pieces. I embarrass my family regularly. I’m interested in how we respond to place, how it affects our sense of identity and wellbeing. I try to pay attention to my surroundings, to look at them carefully and respectfully. I want to feel at home wherever I live. I’m a Dubliner, through and through, but I have a soft spot for the West of Ireland. Who doesn’t?
This entry was posted in August 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Flight Lines

  1. hi there Aileen, very nice to see you again, and what an absolutely lovely and fantastic post, about a place I also love. My granny Kay used to live in Dollymount, so I used to visit her there a lot, then later I lived in Dollymount myself, for 13 years. Used to walk the North Bull wall every evening, and the island and beach, all the time. Anyway, it’s a place close to my heart, and you have photographed it and written about it beautifully. I used to make a few sculptures eher, and once excavated an old picnic table that had been buried under a sand dune. Also used to photograph a lot, especially the drawings in the sand made by the marram grass; and the lines of shell dust left on the shoreline, by the retreating tide. Anyway, you have done the place proud. I especially adore that picture looking across the bridge, down the length of the bridge I mean, with the sea-scout huts and those lovely little cottages at the end of the bridge. It all makes me feel very nostalgic. I must go back for a walk again soon! In the meanwhile, I think I’d like, for the very fist time to re-blog something: this piece above obviously. Is that okay with you? Let me know before i precede, I’ll stand by until i hear from you of course. In the meanwhile, my very best regards- Arran.

    • Hi Arran, nice to hear from you again. Glad you liked the piece — and glad it brought back some happy memories. I love that bridge too, despite it scaring the life out of me as a child! Something so characterful about it.

      By all means, feel free to reblog. I’d be delighted. Still enjoying reading about your rambles around the city. Maybe we’ll bump into each other one of these days! (I’ll be the one with the new zoom lens…..)

      Take care Arran, and thanks for the kind words.


  2. Reblogged this on Arran Q Henderson and commented:
    here, for the first time ever on arranqhenderson, I re-blog a post by a fellow WP writer and photographer I really admire. Not that there haven’t been many others before I admire, – there most ceratinly have (yo may well be one of them) But I had this dumb misconception, until recently that re-blogging was a lazy way to post. Yes, dumb, I know. Now I’ve sen the light and rather see it as a great way to showcase talent, and posts, on related topics i feel passionate about: be it history, architecture, art, landscape or Dublin itself. Aileen’s wrok certainly deserves a wider audience I think you’ll agree. Her theme here, Bull Island, almost known as Dollymount Strand, is a place very, very close to my heart. We have history, this island and I! But that’s another day’s story. In the meanwhile, I present to you this lovely piece by Aileen. Dear Readers, enjoy….

  3. Red Hen says:

    Glad Arran reblogged this. Terrific entry, adorable pics. And yes, it does look this good in reality too, especially now that we`re actually having a good summer. Looking forward to catching up on your blog, Aileen.

  4. Thanks for reblogging this Arran, and introducing me to a beautiful piece of work. The boundary line between man-made and natural is one that fascinates me, and this is a lovely illustration of that special place.

    • Hi Jane,

      Thanks for the kind comments. I’ve been browsing your blog, enjoying the wonderful art and photographs. Congrats on the book. Hope it’s a wonderful success.


  5. SerachShiro says:

    Beautiful post 🙂 !

  6. Niamh Rabbitt says:

    Lovely! I used to be scared of the bridge as well as a child!

  7. John f Murphy says:

    Hello Aileen,
    I thoroughly enjoyed the composition of your thoughts and photos and I am very glad that I took the time to read it.
    Thank you.

  8. Roy McCarthy says:

    I’m pleased Arran led me here Aileen. I lived in Dublin for a couple of years but spent most of my time in D2/D4 – never was at Dollymount. Thanks for the pics and for the history of Bull Island which I’d never known before.

    • Hi Roy,

      Thanks for visiting. I’ve been to Jersey many times — have family living there. Love the island and love its history, so looking forward to checking out your books and following your blog. (Live in D4 too. Small world!)


  9. lynnwyvill says:

    Hi Aileen,
    Beautiful post – writing and photos. Hope you do get that long lens. Love the lines “You’ve lived a long time…. Still.”


  10. db says:

    Hey Aileen, I am an artist (painter) living in the US, and am currently working on a commission for a friend (he is from Ireland)…. I have a question in regards to one of the photos of the Bull Wall that you have here. Would you mind contacting me? I do not see a way to contact you…(I promise that this is NOT spam!) Thank you, db

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