Monthly Archives: June 2014

Bewleys Cafe – a flavour of Dublin

Even as it approaches its ninetieth year, Bewleys Café is as familiar as a best friend and a place I have always enjoyed. From the moment you approach the shop, depending of course on the direction of the wind, the aroma of fine coffee is enticing. It’s unique, and is appreciated by the patrons who daily pack the quirky, old building.

Egyptian-inspired decoration

Egyptian-inspired decoration


Famous pupils

Famous pupils

It opened for business in 1927 after extensive refurbishment, and was inspired by the great Paris and Vienna cafes.   The exterior Egyptian decoration reflects the contemporary discovery of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in 1922. The stained glass windows that Harry Clarke created are the highlight of the café, and are really appreciated when lit by strong sunlight. In the late 18th century the building housed Whyte’s Academy, the school where Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of  Wellington) and Thomas Moore attended. Robert Emmet, from St Stephen’s Green, a scone’s throw away, was another famous pupil.

Harry Clarke's wonderful windows

Harry Clarke’s wonderful windows

Originally a supplier of tea Bewleys later developed its coffee business, and it is now the biggest café and restaurant in Ireland with a million customers annually. It’s coffee (Arabica beans) is all Fairtrade sourced. The green beans, from Central and South America, are roasted on the premises and soon produce the familiar aroma and flavour. Add this to the in-house made bread, cakes, pizzas and salads and it is easy to see why it is has been Dublin’s favourite restaurant since it opened. It has also been one of Dubliner’s most popular meeting places, and is mentioned in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Other literary figures like Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett liked to sit and watch the world go by. That hasn’t changed, and with the hum of lively conversation in my ears, I feel it’s not likely to happen…for a long, long time!

Beans, means.....great coffee!

Beans, means…..great coffee!



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Liffey Bridges – a connecting history

We use them to get from one side to the other, but bridges are more than just physical things. Since we began making our way we recognised the need to span voids, and the concept of a bridge and its construction has held the imagination. And as the River Liffey makes its way on a 125 kilometre journey to Dublin Bay two dozen bridges with colourful and interesting histories play a major, if unnoticed and taken-for-granted, role in daily life.

Ha'penny Bridge - a real favourite

Ha’penny Bridge – a real favourite

Bridges have been built over the river long before records began. The earliest crossing points were mere fords and these were subsequently replaced by bridges. Old bridges were damaged, often swept away, and these were then replaced by newer, more stable structures. The oldest one is Anna Livia Bridge at Chapelizod which was completed in 1753. The name was bestowed on it in 1982, the 100th anniversary of the James Joyce’s birth, as this is how he refers to the Liffey in his great work Finnegans Wake.

Within the city limits, the oldest bridge is Mellows Bridge (Queen St to Bridgefoot St) dating from 1768. It was originally called Queen’s Bridge (after Queen Charlotte, wife of George III), but was renamed in 1942 in honour of Liam Mellows.

Grattan (Capel Street) Bridge - perfect symmetry

Grattan (Capel Street) Bridge – perfect symmetry

The recently opened Rosie Hackett Bridge (Marlborough St to Hawkins) is the only one named after a woman, the former trade union activist who played a part in the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Easter Rising. However, Island Bridge (1792) was for 130 years known as Sarah’s Bridge until the name was changed in 1922. Sarah Fane, Countess of Westmorland, was the wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and its beauty was compared to the Rialto in Venice. It was a popular spot with both sightseers and artists.

The James Joyce and Samuel Beckett Bridges, both designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava, are white, steel and the most modern of bridges. ‘Sam’ also opens to allow ships to pass, an impressive sight if you get a chance to see it. And, like its older neighbours, doing an important job that Dubliners appreciate, if not always crossing their minds.

Samuel Beckett Bridge - light elegance

Samuel Beckett Bridge – light elegance



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Sweny’s – A final Bloomsday?

Joyce - weighing things up....

Joyce – weighing things up….

It’s that time of the year again when the bespectacled figure of James Joyce appears in many shop windows as fans and  visitors celebrate Bloomsday on 16th June. Interest in the great man’s work has increased in recent years, and there is now a weeklong programme of events that caters for all interests. On an international scale, celebrations are now held in many major cities, which eventually lead to more tourist interest and the growing opportunities for local actors, writers, musicians to play a part.

And, as this year is the 100th anniversary of Joyce’s collection of short stories Dubliners there is any amount of events to attend. The big day begins at the Martello Tower in Sandycove and continues in many different venues until late. Traditional breakfasts will be served in Caviston’s and Davy Byrne’s, and readings from the book can be heard during walking tours. Many people will be dressed in Edwardian period clothes that adds to the colourful atmosphere. Around the town there is plenty to do with plays, films, sketches, street theatre and much singing to enjoy.

'Sweet lemony wax'

‘Sweet lemony wax’

But for one group of volunteers this Bloomsday may be their last. They have maintained Sweny’s Pharmacy (Lincoln Place) for a number of years, but the future looks uncertain. The shop, which dates from 1847, was made famous by James Joyce in his book Ulysses. In the story, Leopold Bloom steps inside and buys a bar of lemon soap and carries it with him for the rest of the day – a lucky talisman. Amazingly, the shop is just as it was in Joyce’s day, an instant reminder of a different time and a living connection to one of the greatest books ever written. Sadly, the shop, a literary, historical and cultural landmark may be forced to close due to the imposition of commercial rates. I wonder what Joyce would have to say! SOS – Save Old Sweny’s.

A packed Sweny's listening to a reading on Bloomsday 2013

A packed Sweny’s listening to a reading on Bloomsday 2013

The video below was taken by Brendan Hayes on Bloomsday 2013. The actor, Shane Egan, was reading The Bloomsday Boys, a longish short story that I had written about Joyce and other famous Dublin writers as they went on their annual pub crawl. I hope that we have more opportunities for such readings and fun gaterings in Swenys in the future. SOS


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The Liffey – RiverFest 2014

LE Roisin

LE Roisin

The first thing I heard was the music. David Byrne of Talking Heads was singing out loud ‘Take me to the river,’ and around me a number of people joined in, smiling. It  was a good start.

The day was warm and the sun, thankfully, made a long overdue and lengthy appearance. The RiverFest needed it, and the thousands who showed up, certainly enjoyed  themselves. There was something for everyone, and the blue sky above was everything that organizers and attendees wanted. After the recent miserable weather it was great to see so many people in T-shirts and eating ice creams. Summer in Dublin!

I took a few photos of LE Roisin before carefully making my way up the gangplank and joining a small tour group. The sailor who led us around had lots of interesting  stories to tell, and made the experience very enjoyable. It was also interesting to see along The Liffey from the ship’s bridge, a unique view up the river of the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the city beyond.

Samuel Beckett Bridge

Samuel Beckett Bridge

Along the North Wall the crowds were deep and the smells of hot food enticing. Also, there were stalls selling all sorts of marine stuff, including sea captain’s and pirate’s hats – and by the look of things business was pretty brisk. There was a long queue to board the Famine ship Jeanie Johnson – not unlike, I thought, what it must have been like all those years ago. The difference, however, was the laughter.

Jeanie Johnson - basking in the sunshine

Jeanie Johnson – basking in the sunshine

The was much face painting in progress; tumblers doing all sorts of contortions (looked painful!); singers singing sea shanties; and others stepping on board for a trip around Dublin Bay. On my way back over the bridge a number of young swimmers were jumping/diving off the edge, making a great splash! All in all, the RiverFest is great fun, and under a clear blue sky – a real winner!

Making a splash!

Making a splash!

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