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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The last of Ireland’s lighthouses to be automated, the Baily Lighthouse on Howth Head lies to the north of Dublin Bay, while Dalkey Island and the Muglins lighthouse are to the south. The double summit of the Little Sugar Loaf and the conical summit of the Great Sugar Loaf are visible beyond.
Whereas most Wicklow summits were rounded by glacial action, the Great Sugar Loaf was a nunatak protruding above the ice, and so escaped erosion. Its conical shape and exposed quartzite summit gave rise to its name. West Wicklow also has a Sugarloaf Mountain, as does Cork, although the more modestly named Sugarloaf Hill on the Tipperary/Waterford border is the tallest of them all. Sweet.
At full tide, and with the right weather, the lagoons between the Bull Island and the coast are indeed blue. Shortly after the island was declared Ireland’s first bird sanctuary in 1931, a plan was hatched to maintain a Blue Lagoon at all tide levels and develop the island for tourism, though it never took off.
At low tide, one reason for the island’s 1981 designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, extended in 2015 to all of Dublin Bay, becomes clear. As mud.
…if not forever, at least quite a long way. Looking north from the cliff walk on Bray Head, Howth Head is visible 20km away across Dublin Bay, with Lambay Island beyond at 35km. The edge of Dalkey Island is just visible where the cliff walk rounds the corner, with the Muglins rocks and their solar-powered lighthouse to the east.
The short outer tunnel was part of Brunel’s original 1855 route for the railway line between Bray and Greystones, which included wooden trestle bridges. Looking south towards Greystones, the challenge Brunel faced is evident.