A man who left a few marks

The 'royal feet' in Howth

The ‘royal feet’ in Howth

It is often the case during a presidential or royal visit for the person to leave a mark, be it by planting a tree or unveiling a plaque, but George IV took this to a new level when he came to Dublin. He arrived in Howth, according to contemporary reports, the worse for wear on 12th August 1821, his 59th birthday, having eaten too much goose pie and washing it down with plenty of Irish whiskey. He stumbled onto the quay and was assisted as a stonemason marked out his feet on the large granite block. Later, Robert Campbell cut out the exact marks, and you can still see the ‘royal feet’ at the end of the West Pier.

Sloping roof of the Round Room

Sloping roof of the Round Room

Large crowds turned out to see and cheer the King along his journey into the city centre, at the head of two hundred carriages. It was the most popular royal visit as he took great pleasure in meeting local dignitaries and entertaining them and making many drinking toasts. It was the biggest occasion Dublin had seen since the Act of Union in 1800 which closed the Irish Parliament, leading to an exodus of many politicians and wealthy businessmen and landowners. Ahead of the visit a request was sent from London for those who wished to see the King should be dressed in clothes made in Dublin. This was a boon to local tailors and milliners who were suddenly busier than they been in years. And due to the number of people who were invited to meet the King the Round Room was constructed as an adjunct to The Mansion House because there was no room in the city big enough to cater for the crowd that attended.

King's Bridge (Sean Heuston) today

King’s Bridge (Sean Heuston) today

Part of the reason for his popularity in Dublin was because he had previously married, illegally, Maria Fitzherbert, an Irishwoman and that he was close to the Dublin playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Daniel O’Connell, who was pushing for Catholic Emancipation welcomed the King, and after the visit organised a campaign to raise funds for a memorial. The money was subsequently used to construct a bridge across the Liffey near the Phoenix Park that came to be known as King’s Bridge (Sean Heuston Bridge), as was the neighbourhood.

Dun Laoghaire obelisk

Dun Laoghaire obelisk

He stayed in the Vice Regal Lodge (Aras an Uachtarain) in the Phoenix Park from where he attended races at The Curragh, a show at the Theatre Royal (now Hawkins House) and visited his mistress Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham, at her home in Slane Castle. He left from Dun Laoghaire on 3rd September, and a memorial in the form of an obelisk was subsequently erected opposite the point of his ship’s departure. Not long afterwards the town changed its name to Kingstown in his honour, and this remained until 1920 when it was changed to Dun Laoghaire.

1 Comment

Filed under Dublin, Ireland

Crocodile Tears

Holiday reflection

Holiday reflection

Freddie plunged into the swimming pool and swam underwater to the far side in a few easy strokes. The tiles beneath him were smooth to the touch and intensified the blueness of the space. He surfaced, shaking the water from his hair and climbed onto the side of the pool. It was going to be another hot day, and the gentle breeze that blew from the sea was warm and it carried a slight saltiness.
After breakfast he got dressed and checked the map again. They were planning to visit Valldemosa, a small town high in the mountains, where the composer Chopin had once stayed and written one of his most famous pieces. He knew, from is research, that the town was very pretty and had changed little since the composer’s time there. Recent building along the coast, where hotels and apartments were erected almost continuously, had made little impression on the old, inland town whose recorded history went back almost a thousand years. Now that Freddie was on Majorca he was excited at the thought of visiting the place where the great man had once stayed. He had been a fan of the composer’s work for many years and knew it well. This was going to be fun and he closed his eyes and imagined Chopin’s delicate fingers gliding effortlessly across the keys as he played. The sunbeams dancing on the pool’s water seemed to share Freddie’s excitement.

Oh to be beside the sea

Oh to be beside the sea

‘You’re up early.’
Freddie opened his eyes and saw his mother standing at the patio doors and about to step out. ‘Hold on, Mum,’ he said ‘those tiles are very hot, they could burn your feet!’ He went inside and got a pair of slippers for her. ‘Now, put them on.’
They sat at the table, beneath a large green parasol, and took in the magnificent view of the bay where yachts rested as jetskiers cut white trails in the blue water. Overhead, in the clear sky, sunlight sparkled off a jet as it sped towards Africa, its contrail like a tear in the heavenly cloth.
They enjoyed tea and toast and his mum talked about the beautiful setting. ‘Reminds me of….Italy,’ she said ‘it’s like being on the Amalfi coast. It was all steep cliffs and water as blue as anyone could imagine. Wonderful!’ She smiled at the memory.
‘Yes, it’s really something.’
A few minutes later his sister, Jilly, came down and joined them at the table. ‘Are we all ready for the day?’ she asked and sipped her coffee. ‘It’s going to be hot up in Valldemosa, really hot, not cool like here.’
‘But it’s roasting,’ he said.
Jilly raised an eyebrow. ‘Better make sure you put on some sun block,’ she said looking at him, ‘you have to watch yourself. You’re on holidays and you don’t want to be getting sick.’ She spent plenty of time at her villa, and knew that you had to be careful in such heat.
A small, puffy cloud slid past the sun but still the temperature rose.
They stayed at the table taking in the postcard-like scene. Above, gulls swooped and cawed, and along the road below palm fronds waltzed in a steady rhythm. It was idyllic and Freddie was reluctant to move but the lure of Chopin was too much. ‘When are we going to leave?’ he asked.
‘There’s no rush,’ said Jilly putting her cup down. ‘I thought we might go into Palma first, as I need to get some things there. And Mum and I can do some shopping.’
‘That would be lovely,’ said Mum quickly and he knew that Chopin would have to wait a little longer.
‘Sounds good to me,’ he said and got up and dived into the swimming pool again.

Palm perspective

Palm perspective

Palma was hot, with a street temperature gauge showing 35 degrees, and it wasn’t even midday! Jilly and Mum went shopping while Freddie explored the cool back streets and spent a pleasant half-hour in the Arab Baths. The peace and quiet behind the ancient walls, where tall trees and gurgling fountains made their own paradise, was at odds with the hustle and bustle of the town centre. He stayed awhile soaking up the atmosphere as the aroma of lavender and orange blossoms drifted exotically by. He wondered if Chopin had ever been here, for if he had, it would surely have inspired him. The place was intoxicating and nobody could help but be charmed by its stillness.
Freddie and the ladies met up in the Plaza Mayor and he sipped a badly needed cold beer. It was getting hotter by the minute and his Mum had to open her bag, root around, and take a puff from her inhaler.
‘What else is in there?’ he joked and Jilly laughed as she took a quick look into the bag.
‘That’s for me to know!’ said his Mum smiling and winking at Jilly. She had carried that crocodile-styled (or Croc as he humorously referred to it) bag for years and he often joked about its contents, but had never managed to find out what it contained. She took it with her everywhere – if you saw her you saw the bag as well.
They left Palma and its boat-filled harbour behind and headed north as the road noticeably began to rise. Into the hills, passing the university campus, the road ahead was a black streak on the brown landscape where rows of olive trees and orange bushes spread their leaves.
Twenty minutes later they arrived in Valldemosa and Jilly parked the car in the shade. Freddie opened the door and the heat hit him like a slap in the face; it was like nothing he had ever experienced. Applying more sun block and checking that his Mum was ok they quickly got into the shade offered by the tall, narrow streets.
The town was busy with holidaymakers strolling easily about the cobblestoned streets, while others sipped cold drinks beneath big parasols. Craft shops and local artists attracted business as sunbeams streaked between swaying leaves, dappling the well-worn stones.
‘That’s where you want to go,’ said Jilly pointing to an old monastery at the end of the street. ‘Mum and I will sit in the shade over there and we’ll see you later.’
‘Ok,’ said Freddie, but noticed that Mum’s breathing was getting shorter.
‘We’ll be ok,’ Jilly said catching his eye. ‘Go on.’

'La Seu', Palma cathedral

‘La Seu’, Palma cathedral

Frederic Chopin

Frederic Chopin

Walking to the end of the street he stepped onto a blanket of shade where the monastery cast its cooling welcome. It was built over seven hundred years ago and had aged well with few obvious signs of repair. The bell-tower’s shadow stretched across the street square like a long, pointing finger. He took a photograph and went inside.
He spent the next hour in the picture gallery, pharmacy and cells where Chopin had lived during the winter of 1838-39. He had travelled here, to the mountain dryness, to seek relief from his worsening tuberculosis. Sadly for him the weather was particularly damp that year and it did little to alleviate his discomfort. He did, however, manage to write a number of preludes, of which The Raindrop, inspired by the rain falling from the roof of his apartment, is the most famous. Standing in the corner of the small room opposite his piano Freddie imagined Chopin sitting there, pen in hand, composing and sometimes glancing out the window at the forest below and the expanse of Palma Bay beyond. In such a beautiful setting it was easy to see what had inspired him.
Afterwards he met Mum and Jilly and savoured another cold beer as they sat under a large parasol and watched the world go by. Across the road a guitarist played and spicy aromas drifted from a nearby tapas restaurant.
Mum took another puff from her inhaler and put it back into her bag. ‘Are you ok?’ he asked.
‘Fine,’ she said ‘it’s just very dry and dusty here. I’ll be alright.’

They went home, unloaded the bags that Jilly had bought and carried them downstairs into the kitchen. With the sun, now a large orange ball, they again sat on the patio and had dinner. Around them the sound of birds on the wing and chirping crickets was a noisy chorus. They chatted about the day and what they might do tomorrow when Mum reached for her bag.
‘What’s wrong, Mum?’ asked Jilly an edge of concern to her voice.
‘My bag, where did I leave it? Did you see it anywhere?’
Jilly got up and looked around the patio and then inside, but she couldn’t find the bag. ‘I hope that you haven’t left it at the bar in Valldemosa,’ she said and tried desperately to remember when she had last seen it. Freddie remembered seeing it at the bar, but after that he couldn’t tell. He could feel panic in the air and wondered if the local pharmacy was still open.
‘I don’t know,’ said Jilly ‘it’s late and it might be closed, but we better check it out. Come on.’ They left the villa and drove into town to find that the pharmacy was closed, but there was an emergency telephone number on the window. Freddie dialled and in stuttering, schoolboy Spanish found out that a pharmacy in the next town was open but would be closing in twenty minutes.
Jilly drove as quickly as she could and, thankfully, found the chemist, its green, neon sign flashing at the end of a long, busy street. Freddie dashed inside and, with Mum following, he explained the situation, and in a few minutes they had two new inhalers. The panic was over and Jilly took it nice and easy on the way home where she opened another bottle of wine. ‘I needed that,’ she said as they clinked glasses. The ladies sat again on the patio and Freddie went inside to put on a CD. As the air filled with the sound of Chopin’s beautiful music Freddie slowly sipped his wine and knew that it had been a great day.
Later, when he was going to bed he went into the lounge upstairs to get the book that he had been reading. He reached down to pick it up and couldn’t believe his eyes when he noticed something lying there, partly hidden by a cushion. He grinned, shook his head, and picked up his Mum’s bag. He gave it to her, and she was a little embarrassed at not remembering where she had left it. Everything was fine and, after all the panic and running around, there was not a crocodile tear in sight. Buenos noches!

Keep an eye out for The Croc

Keep an eye out for The Croc

Leave a comment

Filed under classical music, mallorca

Dublin Bay and the Bounty connection

The recent spell of good weather has allowed many people to enjoy the waters of Dublin Bay, whether it be swimming, sailing or just walking beside the stretch of blue calm. Recently, on a clear day, I saw the billowing, colourful sails of yachts and the churning wake of speedboats as many people enjoyed the spray on the warm afternoon. The bay has a special attraction for all marine fans, although many are probably unaware of its dark history and of the man who helped improve the lot of Dubliners long ago.

Great South Wall

Great South Wall

Dublin Bay looks very benign today, but it was not always the case. Up until the end of the 18th century it was notorious for the number of ships that foundered and were destroyed in its fickle and dangerous waters. Most of the damage caused to ships was as a result of the shallow waters and silting sandbars at the mouth of the Liffey. These presented a major problem to successful navigation by ships in waters that were, in places, often only 6 feet deep. The construction of the Great South Wall went some way to improving the situation, but it was only part of the solution.

The increasing trade and the loss of the ship Hope of Rhode in 1798 put the Dublin Port Authority under pressure and it had to resolve the problem. They asked the British Government for help, and in September 1801 the Admiralty sent one of their best cartographers to investigate the problem, and thus, Captain William Bligh entered the pages of Dublin history. He was a man with him a colourful past, and a history of navigating and surveying some of the most exotic places in the world. He was born near Plymouth, England on 4th October, 1754, and sailed around the world with Captain James Cook (1772-74). On that voyage he impressed Cook with his surveying techniques, and the detailed maps he prepared were used by sailors for years.

Captain William Bligh

Captain William Bligh

Bligh eventually was given command of his own ship, HMS Bounty, in late 1787. He was instructed to sail to Tahiti and collect breadfruit plants for transportation to the West Indies. It was planned that they would be used as a cheap source of food for the slaves that were being brought from Africa by British traders. However, due to prolonged bad weather the crew were forced to stay for months on the paradise island, where indiscipline eventually led to disaster. Soon after collecting their cargo and heading off across the Pacific, a mutiny, led by the first mate Fletcher Christian, broke out, and Bligh and eighteen sailors were cast adrift in a ship’s launch. Under Bligh’s command, and using his brilliant skill as a navigator, he and all men sailed for forty-one days across 3,618 miles of dangerous waters to safety on Timor.

Bligh returned to England, and in 1791 he was cleared by a court-martial of any blame for the mutiny. Later, he resumed his naval career and, during the 1790s as captain of HMS Providence, he returned to Tahiti and brought breadfruit plants to the West Indies.

And so it was in the autumn of 1801 that Bligh arrived in Dublin where he used his considerable knowledge in surveying the treacherous waters of the bay. He spent three months preparing his report in which he proposed the construction of a North Wall, that would mirror the Great South Wall, and increase the speed of the water flow and improve the natural scouring process. Although his proposal was not acted upon immediately, its main points did inform a later investigation and the subsequent construction of the now familiar Bull Wall, although at a slightly different angle to the shore at Clontarf than what he had proposed. His contribution to the improved efficiency of the tidal flow and the resulting increase in commerce and safety of travellers has been appreciated ever since by all the users of Dublin Bay.

Bull Wall Bridge

Bull Wall Bridge

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin, History

Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) – it’s molificent!

 

MoLI - Newman House

MoLI – Newman House

MoLI is the latest addition to Dublin’s literary map, and a splendid place it is too. It is situated in Newman House (86, St Stephen’s Green), a wonderful building that has been splendidly revamped, and there are exhibits on different floors. This reimaging of the grand, old house’s purpose has been, no doubt, well considered, and deftly achieved.
The museum is a collaboration between University College Dublin (UCD) and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) with the latter supplying many of the exhibits including, most famously, the first copy of James Joyce’s greatest work Ulysses. Joyce signed the first hundred copies (of the original one thousand print run) and the first one he gave to Harriet Shaw -Weaver, the English political activist and magazine editor (The Egoist), who had supported the writer financially for many years.

Some of our literary greats

Some of our literary greats

Early in the exhibition homage is paid to the multitude of Irish writers whose works have entertained, provoked and, no doubt, encouraged others to put pen to paper. For a small island our contribution to world literature is impressive, and undeniable when you see the list of famous names.

A Riverrun of Language shows, through various media, the development and history of Irish writers. Then the Dear Dirty Dublin exhibition (Bayeaux Tapestry-like), which was proving very popular, takes you on a tour of Joyce’s life and writing. The city model, with streets and buildings highlighting scenes from his books, was of particular interest and very informative. It shows Dublin, the muse that he loved but had to leave, when he observed (in An Encounter, Dubliners) ‘I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.’

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dear Dirty Dublin

Upstairs there are items from the lives of George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats, with the telegram informing the poet of his Nobel Prize award. With the extensive archives of both UCD and, particularly, NLI to draw from, exhibitions will change to showcase the collections and the works of Irish writers. So there will be plenty to see for years to come, and of that you can be certain!

Even the statue has a book!

Even the statue has a book!

The garden at the back of the museum is easy on the eye, and an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. With access directly from the restaurant I can see it being a popular place when the weather permits.

The building itself is a treat and dates from the early 1730s. It was once owned by William ‘Buck’ Whaley, a Member of Parliament, a renowned bon vivant and gambler. It was bought in 1854 for the Catholic University of Dublin (now UCD), and is where Joyce and many other famous Irish writers like Flann O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Mary Lavin attended.
There is much to see and enjoy here, and I’ll finish with a comment that I overheard as I was looking at one of Joyce’s much-corrected notebooks.
First Voice: So,  what do you think?
Second Voice: Well, if you must know, I’m suitably…mollified.’
I had to smile, and I knew that Joyce would be happy that the Dublin wit he so appreciated was alive and well. Oh yes, it’s a wordy place!

A place for quiet reflection

A place for quiet reflection

1 Comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, flann o'brien, Ireland, James Joyce, poetry

Almost Home

 

Point of departure

Point of departure

As I neared Holyhead the weather improved. Soft, white clouds that had been travelling with me for the previous couple of hours silently disappeared, leaving a brilliant, blue sky. The sunlight reflected off the chrome of oncoming traffic making me squint and smile at the same time. It was a glorious day and a great start to my summer holidays.

Driving down to the sea the reception on the car radio was sporadic, and picking up RTE was a real hit and miss affair. Not having listened in since Christmas I was eagerly looking forward to it, when Larry Gogan’s dulcet tones suddenly filled the car. As I drove slowly around a steep bend he said ‘And now Mary, what is a gelding?’ There was a momentary pause as the Just a Minute Quiz contestant gathered herself, and answered. ‘It’s a horse with no pe..’ she answered, as the radio reception disappeared into a haze of loud, electronic crackling. I had to grin, and thought ‘Yes, almost home’.

Holyhead, never the most attractive of towns, was looking fine, bathed as it was in the strong sunshine. Flowerpots overflowed with blooming plants and freshly painted railings stood out against grey walls. Lines of paintings hung from the railings where artists and enquiring tourists chatted and haggled over prices.
The ‘art fair’ was a pretty addition to the town’s image and, although there were not as much on show as could be seen on a Sunday morning at Merrion Square, it was busy and drawing keen attention.
The town was alive, with tourists dressed in brightly coloured clothes, strolling easily.
There was a fair amount of sunburnt skin on view, indicating the glorious weather that had been hanging around North Wales for the last few days. There had been no such sunshine in smoky, old London which had, as usual, managed to act like a sweat box making travel on the underground unpleasant, while the sun fought hopelessly to escape from behind a thick covering of greyness. No sunburn there, just frayed nerves and short tempers.
I drove slowly towards the docks, passing the Cead Mile Failte pub on my left, outside of which a small crowd of happy revellers were enjoying a ‘last drink’ before boarding the ferry. One man was playing a guitar, another was tooting on a tin whistle, while the others around the table sang, and cheered when I honked my horn. ‘Nice one,’ I heard somebody shout in a familiar accent, as I slowed and waved over.

Ferry Time

Ferry Time

A couple of hundred yards further on I joined the end of a long, crawling queue that was working its way towards the magnificent ferry that awaited. ‘Here we go,’ I thought and rolled the window down.
Living in North London I hadn’t been to the coast in months, and when I closed my eyes I soon imagined walking on the quiet expanse of the strand at Brittas Bay where the fresh air could purge even the most blocked and needy spirit.
A friend at home had rented a small house there for a month and he had invited me to stay over for a few days. I was looking forward to spending some time there as it would be a perfect way of relaxing and unwinding from the stress of living in crowded London. Also, taking a walk on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire was always therapeutic and an absolute must for all returnees. I would do that with Mum and Aunt Liz, that would be fun and, of course, there were always calorie-laden ice creams to consume.

 

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire

This was going to be my first visit home on holidays since my dad had passed away, and I felt that it was going to painful. He had been one of three fatalities when, out of the blue, a drunk driver crashed his skidding car into a bus shelter. It happened so quickly that there was no chance for any of the victims, who were all killed immediately. It was a tiny crumb of comfort that he had not suffered, but beyond that it meant little to any family members. Anyway, my mother, although hurt beyond words managed, as I knew she would, and when her sister, Liz, moved back to Dublin to be with my mother and I could hear the improvement in her voice when we spoke on the telephone.
This was great news, and now I was looking to seeing both her and Aunt Liz, whose farm in Roscommon I had often visited on school holidays. Playing there was always a novelty and my young imagination was let loose as I chased Indians, rounded up stray cattle and built campfires where I sat at the end of a tough day with John and Peter, two local boys who had joined my crew as we drove herds of cattle to the great, dusty market in Abilene. They were wonderful days and thinking about them brought a smile.
I was lost in daydreaming about another roundup when the sharp blast of the following car’s horn made me sit up and hurriedly join the now slow moving line of cars.

The new ferry seemed a mile high and was truly impressive. I’d heard about it from friends who had been on it recently, but I was taken aback when I was up close. The thought occurred that Noah would have got some serious amount of animals on board if he’d had the chance, and boy where would we be now. Interesting….and already I liked the idea of travelling on this new star of the sea. The ferry swallowed the seemingly endless amount of cars and trucks like a giant, gorging whale as I parked and made my way upstairs and joined the growing crowd of travellers.
The smell of fresh paint and newness was strong and the main area was as hectic and noisy as Moore Street on Christmas Eve. The place was bright and airy, the floors spotless, unlike those on many of the old ferries when I first travelled across the Irish Sea.
Children screamed at each other and their parents, as they dashed about like headless chickens, dodging baggage and jumping on seats. At least they had seats to sit on I thought, as I tried to find a place that was relatively quiet.
I travelled the length of the ferry and marvelled at the amount of people aboard, and the shops and restaurants that were doing business. I passed a cinema that was showing the latest summer blockbuster, and I thought that maybe I’ll come back later and watch it. Must get a seat, I told myself again, and spotted one against a far wall. I flopped down heavily, put my head back and sighed in relief. ‘Almost there,’ I said quietly and closed my eyes.
I drifted off to the rhythm of the ferry and seemed to have dozed for ages before a familiar voice made me open my eyes.
‘Howya, Chris,’ said a grinning Paul Kavanagh, a friend who I used to play football with in Dublin. I had almost slipped off the seat and was only stopped from hitting the floor by my knee wedging itself against my neighbour’s haversack. I straightened up and shook hands while he crouched down and started to chatter at a mile a minute as only Paul could. ‘Knackered, eh?’
‘You’re not joking,’ I replied, rubbing my eyes before running my fingers through my hair in the faint hope of waking up. I yawned, loudly. ‘No offence, Paul, I just needed 40 winks. You know yourself’.
‘More like 140,’ he laughed, as did the others sitting around me.
‘Jeez, I thought he was dead,’ sniggered a big bloke as he elbowed his friend. ‘Hey, your man’s actually alive,’ he added, sending his friend in to a fit of giggles.
‘Yeah, and at least he’s stopped bloody snoring,’ chirped somebody else as Paul suggested a pint.
‘It’s a miracle,’ the big bloke added, as he cracked open a can and passed it to his friend.

Sail on....

Sail on….

The bar was packed and difficult to stand at as the ferry moved up and down in the uneven sea. We also moved from side to side while people staggered about with great difficulty. The only person making easy progress was a guy who was obviously drunk and unconcerned with the staccato movement of the ferry. He moved freely while those around him clung onto banisters and tables in a desperate effort to remain upright.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and here in the middle of the Irish Sea, I was witnessing one, as homo drunkus moved with ease in a straight line from his seat to the toilets. It was a stunning insight, and made me think of astronauts careening about on the space station – and they were sober!
‘Welcome home…nearly,’ said Paul, handing me a pint. ‘And here’s to both of us having a good time.’
‘Absolutely…and it’s really good to see you, Kav. Slainte,’ I said, and we hooked our elbows onto the bar and hung on. Drinking on a rolling ferry was not for the faint hearted, and we had to try and anticipate each rise and fall of the ferry and before taking a sip. It led to some funny moments, but it did the trick as it took our minds off the rest of journey that passed quickly.
We discussed holidays and Dublin’s chances in the All-Ireland championship before swapping phone numbers. Without realising it we found out about mutual friends back in London, and we arranged to meet up for a few less buoyant beers in the Princess Louise pub in Holborn, a pub we both knew and which was close to where we worked. Things were looking good, and we were now only 30 minutes from home.

I went out on deck and the stiff breeze was invigorating. The loud cawing of dozens of seagulls overhead made me look up as they swooped and played in the clear air. They looked and sounded like they were having fun, maybe even welcoming me home, and I hoped that some of their excitement would be coming my way.
As we approached the coast the waves lessened, and the spray was refreshing after the stuffy atmosphere of the bar.
A few lungfuls of fresh air made me feel light-headed, but it was a million times better than being just another poor, sweaty commuter on the hot and fetid underground.
I made my way to the front of the ferry, gripped the railings and enjoyed its rise and fall. ‘Dublin, you’re looking good,’ I said into the breeze, where only the seagulls heard my words. The twin towers at the Poolbeg Power Station, with their red and white painted hoops, were getting bigger and clearer with every forward movement of the ferry. To the left, a fleet of small yachts off Dun Laoghaire harbour, their sails flickering in the sunshine, were enjoying a perfect day for racing. Beyond the city I could see the Dublin Mountains, their outline a jagged edge against the blue canvas of the western sky.
I stayed where I was for a few minutes, smiling as the salty air tugged at my shirt and tickled my nose. Now, only the sound of a flapping flag intruded, and I closed my eyes in blissful anticipation and said once more ‘Yes, almost home.’

Dublin's famous Twin Towers

Dublin’s famous Twin Towers

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Humour, London

Time Please…

 

Same again...

Same again?

‘Another one bites the dust,’ well not just yet, but it’s coming. The sad news is that The Bernard Shaw, a pub that I often visited, will soon be closing its doors for the last time (sometime in October, I believe). It is a cause for regret by patrons, and those who see its demise as the loosening of another thread of the city’s fabric. As one patron said ‘It’s like the heart’s been ripped out of the neighbourhood,’ and it’s easy to see why.

Situated on Lower Richmond Street, a stone’s throw from Shaw’s birthplace at 33 Synge Street, the pub is more than just an enjoyable hostelry serving great pints and good food. Over the years it has become an integral part of the community, with its Eatyard (a very popular place to sample food from many countries), music shows and support for local events; its closure will undoubtedly be a body blow felt by many. As Shaw might have said: ‘Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire, the other is the closure of a favourite pub.’  I’ll drink to that.

A pub...and much more besides

A pub…and much more besides

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, History

Picture Perfect

Floating colours

Floating colours

I have always loved the way light made it come to life. Bright sunshine spilled in through the dining-room window before getting under the surface and breathing life into my favourite painting. The tropical yellow and red blobs shimmered in a sea of blue, as black dots and squiggles seemed to move between them. The blobs crept towards the edges of the canvas, and I loved all the swirling, crazy shapes that drew my attention. It was as though I was looking at a dream, and I smiled at the creative mind that created this wonderful piece. The master of so many similarly, brilliant works was none other than Joan Miro, a man known for his vibrant imagery and captivating playfulness. An original, certainly!

‘It’s wonderful David, really wonderful,’ said Laura excitedly. She was standing a few feet from the canvas and gazing with studied interest at Miro’s handiwork. She took a sip of wine and pursed her lips as her eyes slowly moved across the painting. Her head moved from side to side taking in the scene, and a slight grin broke from the edges of her mouth. I liked watching the bewitching influence this painting cast on those who stood before it – it never failed. As I looked on it was as if Laura was having a conversation with it, something I understood very well, for I, too, had often been in a similar trance. It was not the first time that somebody had been so impressed, but the fact that Laura was an art teacher was doubly pleasing. She turned to me and smiled, nodding her head in a knowing fashion. ‘Wonderful.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied and looked over at the shimmering colours.
‘Pity it’s not an original,’ she said, with a little giggle. ‘Where did you get it anyway?’
‘Well that’s a long story,’ I said ‘and one that I’ll tell you again when I’ve more time.’ I headed for the kitchen. ‘Right now I have to put food on the barbeque for all those folks in the garden, so you’ll have to excuse me. OK?’
Laura nodded and her gaze returned to the painting that was now bathed in the shifting rays of the afternoon sunbeams that danced between the swaying leaves of the palm tree on the patio.

La Seu, medieval cathedral

La Seu, medieval cathedral

A few weeks later Laura phoned and asked if she could come over. Her voice held a note of excitement.
‘Sure,’ I said ‘you must have known that I’ve just opened a bottle of wine!’
She laughed. ‘Brilliant, we’ll be there in ten minutes. Bye.’ She put the phone down immediately and I was left wondering. We, I thought, who is this other person? But then that was Laura’s style, always meeting people and introducing them like long lost friends. All good fun, really. And anyway, I knew she wanted to see the painting again, and she wouldn’t be disappointed, especially as it lay highlighted in golden light.
‘Salut, Joan,’ I joked and raised my glass to the Spanish painter before stepping out onto the patio.

When Laura arrived she was accompanied by a man, who she introduced as Pablo Morientes from Majorca. He was giving a summer course in her art school and he had a lifelong interest in the work of his fellow Spaniard. His hair was jet black and he had a bushy moustache above a mouth that suggested he was a happy sort. A firm and friendly handshake was reflected in his intelligent, blue eyes. ‘Hola’, he said shaking my hand.
‘Hola, como estas?’ I answered.
He grinned. ‘You speak Spanish?
‘A little,’ I offered. ‘But only if you speak slowly.’
‘Bueno. But I prefer to speak English – practise OK?’
‘Of course,’ I said and showed both of them into the dining room before I went to get two wine glasses.
I could hear them talking as I rinsed and dried the glasses and wondered just what Pablo might have to say about my Miro. The little painting that measured 20”X18” was the centre of attention just as it was the day I came upon it four, or was it five, years ago?

Port D'Andratx

Port D’Andratx

I was on holiday in Majorca with the explicit intention of improving my Spanish and staying at my sister’s villa in Port D’Andratx. I went to see Frederic Chopin’s winter hideaway in Valldemossa with its magnificent view of the blue expanse of the Bay of Palma where La Seu, the magnificent cathedral, dominated. Later, I visited a number of galleries, of which, thankfully, Palma has plenty. The Museum of Contemporary Spanish Art has a collection of great works by Picasso, Dali and many other local artists. It also houses a few by Joan Miro, and I was delighted to see these works in a Spanish environment. Seeing them here, in their own place, was a special treat.
While strolling through the narrow streets near to the Plaza Major I met my Miro. I had been browsing aimlessly through the colourful and noisy streets, taking in the local artists and musicians when, for no particular reason, I stepped into a small shop and saw the painting. It was lying against a wall at the back of the shop and covered in a layer of blue dust. I knelt down and drew my finger across the top of the frame and immediately fell in love with the bright colours. I moved back a little to get a better view and knew exactly the wall in my house that could do with something like that hanging on it.
‘You like, senor? asked a voice from on high.
I was taken aback and stood up.
The owner of the voice was a large, middle-aged woman wearing plenty of gold bracelets and rings. She was very attractive and her brown eyes seemed to know exactly what I was thinking.
‘Yes,’ I managed to say ‘it’s…..it’s wonderful!’
She nodded like the practiced trader she was. ‘€200.’ She smiled and took a step back, giving me time and space to consider her offer.
I made a face. ‘It’s nice, but €200 is a …..’
Neither of us said anything for what seemed like the longest time. ‘OK, give me €175 and it’s yours.’ She smiled like a seductive siren.
I grinned and opened my wallet where €160 waited. ‘That’s all I have,’ showing the empty leather folder. I waited.
She rubbed the notes deliciously and eyed me closely, and smiled. ‘Because I like you,’ she said and the deal was done. I followed her to the counter where she put the dusty painting into a large plastic bag and said ‘Adios’ before giving a new customer her full attention.
I walked to the Plaza Major, had a few cold beers and wondered at what had just happened. What was it called? Doing one thing and suddenly finding yourself involved in something else? Then I remembered. Serendipity, that was it. What a wonderful name for spending an aimless afternoon before buying a lovely painting, which only a few hours earlier I had no thought of doing!

Perspective on Palma

Perspective on Palma

Laura and Pablo were standing in front of the painting when I entered the room and poured the wine. ‘Rioja,’ I said and we clinked glasses.
‘Gracias,’ said Pablo.
‘You like,’ I asked.
He took a sip and nodded approval. I then glanced at the painting and Laura’s eyes widened.
Pablo took another sip before replying.
I waited. What for, I had no idea, but just the element of unknowing was exciting.
Pablo left his glass down, put his hands together and then drew one across his mouth.
I sipped some more.
‘It’s wonderful, David. Really wonderful.’ He paused. ‘Can you tell me where you bought it?’ He added quickly ‘If that is not too, how you say, nosey?
Two sets of interested eyes never moved from me as I told them the story of my find in Palma.
Both shook their heads and I could see that Pablo was very interested. ‘Do you know much about Miro’s work?’ he asked, a serious tone to his question.
‘I know that he was involved with the Surrealists, and that he lived in Paris for a number of years.’ I put my glass down. ‘He also worked in ceramics and moved to Majorca where he died on Christmas Day 1983.’
‘Bueno,’ said Pablo. ‘Like other great artists he had many different phases in his career, one of which was the painting of his Constellation series. These are similar in style to your painting and there are only 23 of them, recorded, that is.’ He paused for effect, I supposed, and the small room was silent.
Laura took a sip and licked her lips in anticipation.
‘There has always been a rumour that Miro did another painting in the series, No 24, but it has always been just that…..….a rumour.’ He turned to look at the painting. ‘But now I’m not so sure.’
Laura raised an excited eyebrow. ‘What do you mean, Pablo?’
‘Having studied Miro’s work for over twenty years now, I think,’ he looked at both of us ‘that this may be his missing work. This may indeed be Constellation No 24.’
I felt a shiver crawl up my spine. My mouth was dry and I looked wide-eyed at Pablo who was now grinning. Mischievous or what, I thought, and stepped closer to the painting as my heart beat a little quicker.
‘You’re joking,’ was all that I could offer.
‘I think not,’ said Pablo slipping into his professional artist’s mode. ‘The brushwork I recognise and the images used are similar to those in the other Constellation paintings. The canvas and framing look original, so I think that it might be Miro’s missing masterpiece.’ He let that sink in and I felt my jaw drop at the thought of having an original Miro hanging in my house. I took a big sip of wine and looked at Laura who was equally dumbfounded. More serendipity, I thought, and went to the kitchen and got another bottle.
Later, we sat out on the patio discussing the merits of the painting and Pablo grew more convinced as the evening wore on. He wanted to take photographs of it and discuss ‘the matter’ with his colleagues in Spain and asked if that was alright with me. I couldn’t object and chatted with Laura while Pablo took a number of Polaroids of No. 24.
‘It’s so exciting, David,’ chirped Laura the excitement in her voice now loud and obvious. ‘What will you do?’
‘You mean if it’s real?’ I replied, trying to calm my growing excitement.
‘Of course,’ said Laura.
I put my glass down and looked up at the setting sun, now a large, red sinking ball. I shook my head a few times. ‘I don’t know, I have no idea.’ Then I turned to Laura and winked. ‘But it could be fun!’
Laura smiled her largest smile and both of us laughed out loud.
When the wine was finished Laura and Pablo left and I was on my own with the thought, however fanciful, that only a few feet away Miro’s Constellation No 24 was looking down on me. Wow, I thought, and closed my eyes as the breeze rustled the leaves on the palm tree.

Shapes of Things to Some

Shapes of Things to Some

About a month later I received a phone call from Pablo. He said that he had shown the Polaroids to his experts he knew who were intrigued with ‘his find.’ It may indeed be the missing Miro but that they needed to see it, ‘in the flesh’ as it were. ‘Can you bring it to Palma?’
I was stunned. ‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘I can’t get over for a fortnight,’ I added ‘would that be okay?’
‘Fine, that would be fine,’ Pablo replied ‘and it will give us more time to check things out.’
‘Right then, I’ll be in touch before I travel. Okay?’
‘Adios, David.’
‘Adios, and what is Palma like now?’ I asked a definite edge of excitement in my voice.
‘Fantastico!’ he said his voice rising, before clicking off.

Pablo and one of his colleagues, Antonio Diaz, met me at the airport and we drove to the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro. The Foundation is named after Miro and his wife, and If there was something useful to be found out about my painting then we were certainly in the right place. It oozed refinement,and everywhere works by the great man were on show. It was indeed an Aladdin’s cave of Miro paintings, sculpture and glistening ceramics. and a place he would surely have been proud of.
I was introduced to the Director, Fernando Gonzalez, a tall man in an immaculately tailored black suit who had the unmistakable bearing of a leader. His inquisitive, bright eyes never left mine as he shook my hand and showed me to a chair in front of his desk. He asked me to tell him ‘the story’ and I did that over a cup of coffee. He was intrigued.
When I stopped he opened his palms to heaven and said, ‘That is amazing. Absolutely amazing.’ Pablo and Antonio were grinning at the unlikely tale and I felt my face redden. I mean, here I was in the Miro Foundation, telling these experts how I had discovered a painting whose ‘existence’ they had considered a rumour, and now it may just become a reality. It was a great surprise, and the silence in the room fuelled the edgy anticipation.
‘Shall we go down and see, Manuel?’ said Fernando rising from his chair. Pablo opened the door, smiled and we walked down a picture-laden corridor to the conservation department. This is a fabulous facility with state of the art equipment for the repair and preservation of works of art. The hum of activity hung in the air alongside the gentle hum of the atmosphere-controlling machines.
I handed over the well-wrapped package and waited as the Chief Conservator, Luis Rivera, cut the painting free. There was an audible intake of breath as the painting was placed on a long glass desk that was lit from below. The Director bent down to get a closer look as did Antonio and the Chief Conservator. Pablo turned to me and winked.
‘How long are you staying in Palma? asked the Director as the others followed his words.
‘My ticket is for a week,’ I answered.
‘Excellent,’ he replied. ‘We would like to carry out some tests, you understand, so as to establish the authenticity.’ He shrugged. ‘Or not, as the case may be.’
I nodded.
‘Very well then, Pablo will keep you informed.’ He glanced at my painting. ‘And thank you very much for bringing it here. It is very good of you.’ He leaned over and shook my hand.
Everybody was smiling, and it looked as though the experts had come across the Holy Grail and couldn’t wait to get on with their examination. I hoped they were right, sort of. Well I had bought the painting because I liked it, and that’s all. I never imagined anything like this happening, and anyway, what could I do? That word serendipity floated back into my mind and all I could do was think of Miro and wonder what he might say. Bueno, maybe. That was something none of us would ever know, but I was sure that he would be happy with his painting being ‘found’. Gracias, mucho gracias!
Over the next few days I took in the sights of Palma and came to understand why the city played such a vital role in the lives of Miro, Picasso and Salvador Dali. The atmosphere on the streets mixed easily with the smells of tapas from the restaurants and, combined with the warm, Mediterranean breeze, it made a heady concoction that excited the imagination. Its creative nudge was undeniable and Pablo agreed with my observation over dinner one evening. He was non-committal about events at the foundation, but by the same token said nothing to discourage me. ‘When are you going home, David?’ he asked later.
‘Saturday,’ I replied, knowing that half of my allotted time was already used up.

Mucho vino!

Mucho vino!

We drank some more of his fine wine and chatted about life in Palma and his part-time work at the Foundation. He loved art, had painted since he was a child, and had won competitions both in school and college. He sold some of his work but not enough to allow him to give up his teaching role at the university where he lectured on art history, specialising in the life and work of Spanish artists. It was through this that he had developed his love for Miro, and he had published numerous articles on his favourite subject.
It was easy to see why he was so taken by my painting, and why he had asked me to bring it here. His love affair with the works of Miro was obvious, but the possibility of discovering Constellation No 24 was simply incredible. At first they had not believed him at the Institute until he produced the Polaroids and told his side of the story. The other experts were so taken with his enthusiasm that they suggested that I should be invited to Palma – with the painting of course! So here I was looking out over the bay and the hundreds of yachts and sailing boats in the marina.
A day later I picked up a note at the hotel’s front desk. ‘Collect you at 1 o’clock. Pablo.’ I read it a second time and sat down with my mind racing about what might lie ahead. It was buzzing but I knew that I should be happy. If nothing else happened at least I had enjoyed the week in beautiful Palma and made a new friend in Pablo. And, come what may, I was going home with my Miro safe, where an empty wall awaited.
Pablo and Antonio were on time and we drove through the busy traffic, open-top, as the breeze kept us cool. Driving past the magnificent marina the sunlight sparkled off the chrome and steel of the myriad of sailing boats. Everywhere there was light and sparkle and it was a thrill to sit back and take it all in. I loved the rush of wind on my face and the tangy smell that came from the sea. It was a classic Mediterranean mixture, and I closed my eyes and breathed in the invigorating vapours.
When we reached the Foundation we made our way to the Chief Conservator’s office where he and the Director were waiting. I noted that the large room was almost empty of furniture but it had quite a few paintings hanging from its white walls. In the middle of the room, resting on an old, well-used easel and demanding attention, was my Miro.
The Director stepped forward and shook my hand, his eyes betraying nothing more than a friendly greeting. ‘I hope that you are enjoying our city?’ he asked, stretching his arms out extravagantly. I thought that I saw a little grin sneak out of the corner of his friendly mouth.
‘Yes,’ I replied ‘it’s been great. Bueno.’
The Director stood over my Miro and I could see him draw in his breath slowly. He was preparing himself, and only a tiny mote of dust moved in the sunlight. He looked to his colleagues and turned to face me. ‘My dear, David, we have studied this beautiful painting very carefully. Very, very carefully,’ he stressed ‘and we are of the opinion that it may indeed be Constellation No 24. Our initial examination shows similar techniques and materials used by Miro, and we would like to carry out some more tests. Gabriel Solano, who is considered to be the pre-eminent scholar on Miro, is arriving from Madrid next week, so we would like him to see it. If that is alright with you?’
The silence was deafening.
The sunlight danced across the floor and flicked against the edge of my Miro. It tickled the surface and a spark seemed to explode and hit me in the eye. I felt as if the air had been sucked from me and I could not hear anything. Was this really happening? I blinked and looked around at their anxious faces. ‘Sure, no problem,’ I replied ‘no problem at all.’
They all nodded and the Director shook my hand firmly. ‘Gracias, mucho gracias,’ he laughed, and the others clapped congratulating me.
‘It’s a wonderful day for you,’ said Pablo ‘and for Miro. He would be very happy. He is coming home.’
We drank some fine wine and the Director offered me one of his favourite Cuban cigars. He and the others, especially the Chief Conservator, explained their findings and their reasons for thinking that Miro’s missing masterpiece had been found. It was all very professional, and exciting.

After I left Palma, Pablo kept me informed of progress. Finally, after two weeks, I was surprised when the Director himself called. With his excitement barely under control, he said that Constellation No 24 had indeed been found.
I was lost for words and could hear only the gentle hum on the line. ‘Thank you,’ I managed. ‘What now?’
The Director had clearly been expecting this and his answer was calm and controlled. ‘David, such a painting could be, no,’ he corrected himself ‘is, worth a lot of money, especially if it goes to auction. You understand?’
‘I understand.’
‘Well, the Foundation would love to add it to its collection and it has many rich patrons.’
‘I see.’
‘So, why don’t you come over next week and we can work something out,’ continued the Director. ‘We’ll send you tickets tomorrow, okay?’
‘Fine. Next week is fine.’
‘Gracias, David,’ he said. ‘You have made a lot of people very happy. And many, many more will also be delighted when they get to see your Miro.’
I grinned broadly.

Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro, Palma

Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro, Palma


The next few days passed in a daze while I prepared to travel. Miro’s painting was certainly going home, but what did it mean to me? And could the Foundation’s patrons donate enough money to purchase the painting and make a big difference to my life? Hopefully, I thought, for the umpteenth time. On the day of my flight I locked up the house and grinned at the empty space on the wall where a stray sunbeam lay. ‘Adios,’ I said.
Palma was hot and humid and Pablo definitely had an extra bounce in his step. He was a happy man and he talked excitedly all the way to the Foundation. There he introduced me to Carlos Lopez and Diego Falcone, two of the Institute’s richest patrons, who shook my hand and thanked me for finding the missing Miro. And so it was that within five few minutes I had signed over my rights to Constellation No 24 for a very significant amount of money.
And one other, small thing.
And it’s this small thing, a brilliant copy of my Miro, done by one of the Institute’s artists, that now hangs on the wall in my dining room where it entrances people. ‘A pity it’s not an original,’ they say. And you know something, they’re right!

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin