Dublin Port is a busy passenger and freight terminal, and it’s unusual not to see a large vessel of some sort in Dublin Bay at any given time. For the past few months though, it’s been almost impossible not to see a ship: a bright red tanker has been at anchor in the bay since August after problems developed with its cargo of bitumen during unloading. Safe to say there’s a lot more than a ha’p’orth of tar involved there. Probably no sheep though.
Half-hidden in the trees below Muck Rock, between the 19th century rhododendron gardens and the world’s first Poc Fada Golf course, is a collapsed dolmen known locally as Aideen’s Grave. In the legends of the Fianna, Aideen was the wife of the warrior Oscar, son of Oisín and Niamh of Tír na nÓg, and grandson of Fionn MacCumhaill. She is said to have died of grief on hearing of her husband’s death in battle, and was buried here by Oisín in a tomb of the sort normally reserved for warriors and kings.
Before this version of events was popularised by the poem The Cromlech on Howth, the tomb was known as Fionn MacCumhaill’s Quoit, the capstone (or quoit) having been tossed from the Bog of Allen almost into the Bog of Frogs by the legendary giant who is held responsible for quite a few of Ireland’s geographic features.
The structure in fact predates Aideen, Fionn and the Fianna by several thousand years, as dolmens or portal tombs typically date from the Neolithic period, 4000BC to 2500BC. Despite the 75-ton capstone having slipped off the 2.5-metre portal stones, it remains an imposing monument. Like most portal tombs, it was likely covered with stones or earth when originally constructed, with only the capstone visible. But as to who built it, how, and why, we’ll never know for sure.
A long and arduous journey to a distant land, far beyond the misty mountains… but now returned safely to familiar surroundings. The first of the Brent geese have arrived back in Dublin Bay after their summer sojourn in Arctic Canada, and flocks will soon be seen making daily visits to parks and open spaces across Dublin.
Upwards of 30,000 Brent geese winter in Ireland, though a few venture as far south as France and Spain. Some birds are caught and ringed each year for research purposes; thankfully these particular rings don’t make them invisible.
Despite appearances, neither. Looking like a single-room Greek temple from the outside, the Casino (‘little house’ in Italian) in fact contains sixteen rooms over three levels. It was built in the eighteenth century by the 1st Earl of Charlemont soon after returning from his Grand Tour of Italy and Greece, having already named his newly acquired estate after the Italian town of Marino.
With hollow columns, hidden doors, mysterious tunnels, and windows that are bigger on the outside than the inside, there’s more to the Casino than meets the eye. Comparisons with a certain time-travelling craft are almost inevitable; had the Casino been endowed with such powers, its architect might have been able to see his design brought to fruition. But for Chambers, the Casino remained both small and far away.
The Réalt na Mara (Star of the Sea) memorial at the end of the Bull Wall, better known simply as ‘the statue’, was funded by subscriptions from Dublin’s dockers and completed in 1972 after a campaign lasting over twenty years. Illuminated at night, the statue is visible across Dublin Bay, and is dedicated to the memory of all who worked in Dublin Port.
Built in the 19th century to solve the problem of silting at the mouth of the Liffey after the Great South Wall by itself proved ineffective, the North Bull Wall extends just over a mile from the wooden bridge linking it to the coast as a paved road and path, and about two-thirds that distance again as a rocky breakwater which is submerged at high tide.
The wall achieved its aim of deepening the entrance to the port, and the change in tidal flows led to the North Bull sandbank becoming today’s Bull Island. Most of the island is owned by Dublin City Council, but the Bull Wall remains the property of Dublin Port, having been designed by Ballast Board engineer George Halpin in 1819. While he did survey the bay in 1801, the popular story that Captain William Bligh was responsible for the wall and its bounty is, it seems, a load of bull.
The living may be easy, but telling the time isn’t. Summer began a couple of days ago, but the clocks changed to summer time just over a month ago. Except they didn’t: officially, we don’t have summer time. In 1968, Irish Standard Time was defined to be one hour ahead of GMT, and in 1971, winter time was defined to be the same as GMT. In practice, Irish time has mostly been the same as British time since the end of Summer Time in 1916 (the year it was introduced). Prior to that, the standard time across Ireland, as decreed in 1880, was Dublin Mean Time, which was 25 minutes and 21 seconds behind Greenwich Mean Time, with Dunsink Observatory as the reference point.
The clock on the North Range of the Royal Hospital is just over an hour slow, perhaps still showing winter time (almost). The building dates from 1684, long before the railways demanded the use of a standard time across the country, so the sundial should show local time. That would be roughly the same as Dublin Mean Time, with a small adjustment for the Equation of Time, or about an hour and 22 minutes behind standard time, all told. It doesn’t, and one source puts this down to a gross error made during one of two known restorations. So what time is it? Lunchtime.
The view from Bray Head encompasses the town of Bray and south county Dublin as far as Killiney Hill and Dalkey Island, with Howth Head and Lambay Island visible across Dublin Bay. The concrete cross dates from 1950, and has far outlasted the chairlift opened in the same year to ferry customers to the Eagle’s Nest café above the town.
Though the cross marks the top of Bray Head as seen from the promenade, the highest point is actually 2km further south, with views over Greystones and on to Wicklow Head. No eagles here, but ravens sometimes put on an aerobatic display above the cliffs.
Albert College Park is a public park adjoining the main campus of Dublin City University, on lands formerly owned by the Albert Agricultural College and then University College Dublin, before being transferred to Dublin Corporation in the 1960s. Sometimes called Hampstead Park, the park contains several stands of native and non-native trees, as well as individual specimen trees dotted around the open spaces and pathways.
The Glasnevin Model Farm was established in 1838 for the training of National School teachers in the teaching of agriculture, and was renamed after a visit by Prince Albert in 1853. The Albert College Building is now part of the DCU Glasnevin campus; with the establishment of the DCU Institute of Education, the circle will be complete.
The heather and gorse are ablaze with colour in the autumn sunshine on Howth Head, unlike earlier in the year when the gorse was literally ablaze.
Known in Irish as Beann Éadair, the name Howth is thought to derive from the Norse ‘hofuð’ meaning head. That would add Howth Head to the list of tautological placenames, and make the Ben of Howth (the highest point at 171m) a curious mix of Irish, English and Norse.
The names of nearby Ireland’s Eye and Lambay also derive in part from Norse, with ‘ey’ meaning island. As with Beann Éadair, the Irish names Inis Mac Neasáin and Reachra predate the arrival of Vikings on Lambay in the 8th century, and wallabies in the 20th.