‘Ring a ring a Rosie, as the lights decline, I remember Dublin City in the rare ould times’.
I want to go back in time.
To an old Dublin.
To a time before this song was sung about.
To a medieval Dublin.
I spend a lot of time on my laptop looking up old images and reading snippets of history or following Pat Liddy( Dublin historian)as he walks and talks his way around this intriguing city.
Sometimes my reading goes off in a tangent and I get totally lost in a different world.
Drifting from fact to fact, my middle age brain is interested and enthusiastic but unable to retain all the information.
I read about the river Poddle which pooled and met the liffey beside Dublin castle. I’m fascinated by the river Steine which merged and joined the liffey. Here the Vikings landed along the beaches (now Townsend street ).
I pour over maps and watch how Dublin changed and grew over the centuries.
From a small settlement (Dubhlinn) to a major city (Dublin).
I hang on to odd bits of information.
I read that there is a lane called tennis court lane near John street and that in 1609 an assignation interrupted a match at a tennis court off Thomas street.
How come I was never told of such interesting events in school. These are the facts that would intrigue a class of unruly children.
And I listen one Sunday to a program on the radio about an old theatre called the Smock Alley Theatre which opened in 1662 (the first theatre in these islands I’m told)and lies off ‘fishamble’ street.
It is near the Street where Handel’s Messiah was first performed in 1742.
I can hardly wait for my next day off to take out the yellow bike and go in search of it
Though originally from Dublin, I now live a good 16 kms south of the city in Co Wicklow, but we have a glorious suburban train which allows bikes on all day at weekends( week days have some curtailing of times which is fair enough as it can be quite jammed with commutors and school children).
Interestingly this suburban railway line was the first in the world. Built in 1834 it hugs the coast. A delight for all but the rainiest days and even then its lovely to watch the gulls, cormorants and other seabirds soaring the cliffs of Bray head.
I wheel the yellow bike on.
It knows the routine by now and I lock it to the rail to stop it running all over the place and find a seat…
Its early morning.
killiney beach, bathed in sunshine and dotted with early morning dog walkers, slides by.
Dalkey follows , then Glenageary, Glasthule, Dunlaoire and now we have reached Dublins leafy suburbs which by end of march will be a sea of cherry blossom.
I debate which station to get off at(Pearse street is the worlds first suburban railway station), but I choose the earlier landsdown road.
Cycling along Shelbourne Road , busy even on a sunday, I quickly reach the old gasworks now turned into luxury appartments mostly lived in by the ‘google gang’ (the google offices are just close by)
I cycle some of the smaller cobbled streets to avoid the traffic and arrive out on grand canal dock.
I count twenty-five barges moored in the basin.
The boland mills (scene of one of the standoff’s in the easter rising) looks dwarfed against the larger modern buildings.
Over the bridge I stop at grand canal square.
Once a scruffy run down place, its now a trendy café, apartment area where rents are high.
Women are gathering in lycrad gear talking excitedly about their planned route for a jog. Gathering in large numbers, they have the appearance of exotic hens, hair tied up in pony tails, some jogging on the spot.
I feel large and lazy as I sip a (full milk ) cappuchino and eat a warm sweet pain au raisin.
A girl appears from the appartments wearing a hang over but still managing to look glamerous in pink lycra.
she is immeadiatly surrounded by the rest of the sqwalking females who ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at such bravery, after presumably a night of heavy cocktail drinking. But she shrugs her slim shoulders and with a toss of her ponytailed head leads the posse away down towards the liffey.
I turn my face towards the sun and try to imagine what was here in medieval times.
I can’t quite remember what I read but I think this whole area was beach and estuary, so I try to visualise people out gathering oysters and other shellfish all the while keeping a sharp eye out for Viking long boats whatever it was, it was a definite far cry from lycra and pony tails .
I shake myself out of my revere and hop on the saddle once more.
I’m at the start of the canal proper now…. A lovely designated cycling path runs all the way up to my turn off at Portobello bridge.
En route I stop at baggott street bridge and look in the window of what once was Parsons book shop, but no ghosts of behan and Kavanagh stare back at me , just the balls of pizza dough. But no wonder. Alas I have blamed Milano’s when in reality Parsons was not here but across the road. Still how sad this book shop is gone. I would have stopped and browsed there.
I’m doing now what I love best, cycling a canal bank.
The reeds are white with winter colour,
A single swan lies statue like on the still water,
A few dog walkers stroll by, their canine friends sniff eagerly and raise their legs against the tree trunks…
An Elderly man sits on a bench with the sunday papers.
He licks his thumb to turn the page. His small arthritic jack russel doing a good job at keeping the noisy sparrows at bay.
A young couple jog by looking smug and cool.
A young lad cycles towards me. Hands in pockets, he is leaning back on his saddle(look Ma no hands. Look Ma no teeth! as my Dad used to say) He nods a greeting.
For an instant I forget my age and lift both hands off the handle bars. My bike wobbles nervously under me and I laugh at myown foolishness.
A breeze is getting up.
Looking back along the canal I see the swan moving off regally and I reach the statue of Patrick Kavanagh his hat strewn on the seat beside him.
Supposedly a rural Poet, he was described more as a ‘Flaneur’ , a poet of the city streets, who wandered looking for their meaning.
But I don’t dally as the day is wearing on and I was only halfway there yet….
In medeval times this canal did not exist and being outside the city walls I would probably have not dared to linger, let alone talk to strange men.
With wolves and wild irish men, I would have been scurrying along through forests and swamps.
Once again I realise I haven’t done enough or have just forgotten what I spent a lot of time researching
Maybe the wild Irish men would have been Kind and showed me the way along a well worn track used by monks and other travellers coming to sell their wares or to pray at Christ church catherdral.
I reach another bridge (leeson street) and cross leeson street and continue along the canal to prtobello bridge .
I turn right and down Camden street, past O’ Connells pub ,.being Sunday its not open yet , its too early for a pint anyway .
Guiltily I miss the 8th century St Kevins church but, though tempted to stop, I am aware of my habit of being easily distracted and veering off the plan. I keep going promising myself a return visit to these churches on a later cycle.
I turn left up Peter row which runs onto white friar street again missing White friar church and the burial place of St Valentine.
The bells of St Patricks are ringing out as I cycle slowly up the hill that is Patricks street . The sound of traffic doesn’t manage to drown out these great bells and it occurs to me that in medieval times with no traffic they could probably be heard ringing as far away as the Dublin mountains.
I Imagine relief on the faces of Pilgrims making their way across the hills when they hear them and of course I remind myself of the pilgrims link from St James gate to follow the Camino de Santiago.
And there on the crest of the hill or at least just over it lies Christ Church Cathedral.
I push my bike through the gate.
The doors are open and I am swallowed by the sounds of the great organ and the choir.
I stand and listen.
The old stone towers reach towards the heavens.
I don’t go in but linger outside and read the information board.
Tourists are taking Photographs and I and the yellow bike are in the way so we cross the road to Fishamble street. According to a map 1604 this area was called the fish shambles which meant an area for gutting and cleaning fish.
The liffey came in at this point and the fishing boats moored here.
I turn down Cows lane where Handels messiah was first performed in 1742.
And there it is…..Smock Alley Theatre.
the back entrance.
The front entrance, which may have been the back entrance in 1662.
Some of the interesting facts come to mind. e.g. There was a small hatch under the main door where you could pass in a piece of paper requesting which play you wanted to see that night..the requests were tallied up and the most popular play performed. This meant of course that the actors had to have many plays in their heads.
The wealthier patrons could rent a chair on the stage. This of course was not always welcomed as it proved a hinderence to those acting on the stage.
The audience was different then too.
Not the quiet reverend hushed audience of these days, where even the thought of a rustle of a sweet paper is frowned upon.
In the 1600’s the audience was a mixed bundle. The wealthy rubbing shoulders with the ordinary man.
A running commentary was quite the norm with the audience holding full blown critiques as the play was in progress. Munching noisily on oysters and other sustenance was also the norm. (Mounds of oyster shells, pipes and fish bones were found in recent excavations)
I catch up with what looks to me like an actor type walking down the street.
With Long Shakespearean curls, he is sporting a velvet coat. He is Happy to hold my bike and fill me in on some of the historical facts of the area. But ‘no I’m no actor’ he tells me.
He points out ‘ Isoldes Tower ‘ Only the base of which remains.
It was discovered when the foundations were being dug for new apartments. but at one time it soared three stories High.
We talk about the greed of the building boom of the 80’s and 90’s when archaeologists rushed ahead of mechanical diggers to try and preserve what they could of this Viking and then medieval settlement.
We crane our necks and try and see down into a building site. I want to see a Viking sword but all I see is the gremlin who guards this spot.
There is still so much to see but my daughter phones me to invite me to a late Sunday Lunch.
There is a promise of wine.
I’ll be back to explore further, I’ve only skimmed the surface.
I say goodbye to my friend of Smock Alley and head away passed the Turks head, the yellow bike rattling on the ancient cobbles.
Back along the canal, I spy magnolia trees beginning to unfurl their wax like flowers.
I lift the yellow bike down the steps and into Darmouth square to get a closer look.
This new route has taken me away from the canal and I arrive out further down on leeson street.
Where the beauty of the perfect Georgian doors capture my eye.
And the refuse bin brings me back to earth.