Late Bloomer

You come here every summer. The gardens are beautiful then.

Flowers bloom in casual abundance. Trees are in leaf; the great 19th century glasshouses infused with scent.

The gardens are busy, too. Visitors mill about, pause to take photos or jot down the names of plants. Couples stroll along the riverbank, keep pace with mallards and moorhens. (The lucky ones will catch the low, blue flash of a kingfisher.)

Yes. You come here in the summer; enjoy the busy beauty of it all. But you come when summer is over too, when the air stings the skin and the dark comes early.

You come on days like today; days when the gardens will be empty (more or less). You meet a man with his collar turned up, and a woman wearing a red hat, but they pass by in silence. Their presence does not disturb you.

The flowers, too, are discreet. No heady excesses now. Pansies and violas lie low to the ground. Geraniums cluster in the greenhouse.

You step into the small walled garden.  You like this garden within a garden; its view of the graveyard next door. You like the poplars that rise into the sharp sky, dangling clumps of mistletoe like crows’ nests.

You run your fingers along the greenhouse wall; warm your hands on bricks worn smooth by seasons.

You take a moment to peer into the greenhouse and admire its assortment of gardening tools. (You know the name of only the most common tools: rake, spade, hoe.) Someone has taken care to hang the tools neatly on the wall.

The walled garden looks bare, unloved; its beds empty and dull. But the tools in the greenhouse tell a different story.

Be patient, they say.

The blossoms will come.


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botanic blogA_SnapseedThe National Botanic Gardens are situated in Glasnevin, less than 4km from Dublin city centre. Founded in 1795, the Gardens were originally designed to promote the study of agriculture. However, the focus soon shifted to botany and the collection of plant species from around the world. Today, the gardens contain some 20000 different species and cultivars, including 300 rare and endangered species.

The gardens’ twenty hectares encompass a sensory garden, a rock garden, herbaceous borders and an arboretum. An avenue of yew trees dates from the 1740s.

The curvilinear glasshouses were designed by Dubliner Richard Turner and built between 1843 and 1869. Turner was also responsible for the Great Palm Houses at Kew Gardens and the Botanic Gardens in Belfast, but these glasshouses have since been repaired and restored with steel. The Glasnevin glasshouses, monuments to light and elegance, are the only ones to retain their original wrought iron.

The gardens were placed in government care in 1877 and are currently managed by the OPW. Admission is free.

Posted in February 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Red Lighthouse Morning

Some mornings are red lighthouse mornings. You wake to unexpected sunshine and the thought of the lighthouse tugs at you, like seaweed wrapped around an ankle.

Best to accede gracefully on mornings such as these, for no work will be done, no focus maintained, until you walk to the lighthouse, place your palm against its stout red walls.

So go ahead. Make your way to the car park at the start of the Great South Wall. But take a moment before you step onto its granite flags. (The lighthouse will wait. It’s been waiting a long time.)


This morning, you will be the only person walking to the lighthouse. The sea will murmur its accompaniment; the heron swoop to say hello.

Behind you, the port will be busy. Its blue cranes will load and unload, but you will be too focused on the red lighthouse to notice. Your eyes will sweep across the sea, settle for a moment on the grey spires of Dun Laoghaire, before returning, inevitably, gratefully, to the red lighthouse.

And when, at last, you reach the lighthouse, you will run your hand along its weathered base, marvel at its cool solidity.

You will stand with your back to the lighthouse, surrounded on three sides by water. In front of you, the open sea stretches, silver and shining. To your right, Sandymount and Blackrock are visible. To your left, Bull Island, Howth.

You are now enclosed by the Bay, held at the still point of its centre.

Behind you, the city crouches. The people you love most in the world are contained within it, working, studying. You are tethered to them by a two hundred year-old wall, eight metres wide and three kilometres long.

It is the strongest and most fragile thing you know.



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bloglighhouse61 The red lighthouse, more properly known as the Poolbeg Lighthouse, stands at the end of the Great South Wall, once the longest sea wall in the world. The wall was completed in 1761 and took thirty years to build. It was designed to prevent Dublin’s shipping channels from filling up with sand, but the problem of silting continued until a companion wall, the North Bull Wall, was completed in 1825.

The lighthouse in its current form dates from 1820.

Not all mornings are red lighthouse mornings. Some mornings you wake tired and dispirited. You remember that to get to the lighthouse, you have to drive through the city’s industrial underbelly, past the sewage works and the tailings pond, the abandoned buildings and the concrete yards.

The lighthouse will wait, offering renewal or redemption, a chance to watch a man cast his line into the sea beneath.


Posted in January 2013 | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments