Monthly Archives: July 2014

Christ Church Cathedral – Living History

The old phrase about being ‘steeped in history’ certainly applies to Christ Church Cathedral like no other building in Dublin. When you realise that its foundation took place less than twenty years after the Battle of Clontarf, then that is almost a thousand years of history. Where to begin?

Christ Church Cathedral - in all its glory

Christ Church Cathedral – in all its glory

The original wooden building was rebuilt by Strongbow and other Norman knights after their arrival in 1169. Laurence O’Toole was the then Bishop of Dublin who later became the city’s patron saint. He died in 1180 in Eu, Normandy and his heart was returned to Christ Church where it remained as an item of veneration. However, it was stolen from its casket on 3rd March 2012, and sadly has not been seen since.

Curved Footbridge over Winetavern Street

Curved Footbridge over Winetavern Street

Over the centuries various refurbishments have been carried out with the iconic, curved footbridge added in the 1870s.  A number of small chapels with wonderful stained windows looked great as they were bathed in strong sunlight. And the colourful, tiled floor across which so much history has occurred was a constant reminder of the church’s unique history.

The famous choir began in 1493 and its members took part in the first performance of Frederic Handel’s oratorio Messiah on 13th April 1742 in nearby Fishamble Street. On another musical note a cat and rat were discovered in one of the organ pipes when it was refurbished. The two animals had died and became mummified in the 1850s, and are preserved, under glass, in the Crypt. James Joyce incorrectly referred to them as ‘that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ’ in Finnegans Wake. Joyce, however, had bad eyesight and this proves it! Also in the Crypt, the city’s oldest surviving structure, are numerous, fabulous gold items, statues, stocks, the Crypt Café and costumes from the TV series The Tudors.

The rat and the cat - in the Crypt

The rat and the cat – in the Crypt

And, lastly, up the narrow stairs in the belfry, are the bells that we have all become familiar with as they ring in the New Year, and long may they continue to do so.

Great view from outside the belfry

Great view from outside the belfry

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From Kent to Chelsea

Shepherd Neame HQ - Beer Central!

Shepherd Neame HQ – Beer Central!

Although I have often been in a pub, until a few weeks ago I had never visited a brewery. However, while spending a  few days  with my cousin Paschal  in London, we went to Faversham, Kent and spent a few very pleasant hours touring the Shepherd Neame Brewery. It has operated since 1698 and is the country’s oldest brewer – and with beers like Spitfire, Spooks and the wonderfully named Bishop’s Finger (it’s so Carry On!) it would have been rude not to drop in.

We joined  twenty-or-so other visitors and after a short video history of the company we were off. I was elected as ‘Shepherd’ for the visit, making sure that nobody was left behind, or God forbid, fell into a vat (a tonne, actually) of beer. We were taken through the whole process, and it was fascinating to learn how the different roasting procedures (of the barley) could make such unique and distinct flavours. At the end of the tour we were each given six small glasses with a selection of beers and lagers. We sipped, swirled and, of course, swallowed the precious liquid and there was much ‘I like that one,’ comments from those around the tables. And, surprise, surprise I was given a bottle of beer for the ‘demanding work’ (not my words!) as Shepherd. A visit to a brewery and I come away with a free drink – now that’s what I call a result! Cheers.  

Roll out the barrells......

Roll out the barrells…..

Here they come!

Here they come!

 A few days later I was in London and heading towards the Thames, at Albert Bridge, with my friend Don. He had heard about a race Doggett’s Coat & Badge and was keen to see it, and thankfully we had a great day for it.  The sun shone and the breeze was gentle as we leaned over the most attractive bridge on the river  and, like the line of viewers with cameras at the ready, watched the race.

The race dates from 1715, making it the oldest rowing race in the world – the first Cambridge/Oxford Boat Race was not held until 1829! The race begins at London Bridge, passes under 11 bridges, before ending at  Cadogan Pier (a few hundred yards from Albert Bridge). It was conceived and financed by Thomas Doggett (an actor from Dublin) who used to travel along the river between Drury Land Theatre, The City where he worked for many years, and his home in Chelsea. 

Albert Bridge - the prettiest one of all

Albert Bridge – the prettiest one of all

Back then there were only a few bridges across the river and most people had to use the services of a waterman (we would call him a taxi driver) to get across. Legend has it that a waterman rescued Doggett after he fell into the river, but there is, sadly, no definitive proof of this. Anyway, he decided to organise a race (length 4 miles 5 furlongs) and offer the winner a prize of a red  waterman jacket, a large silver badge with the word ‘LIBERTY’ inscribed on it, and some money. Six apprentice watermen were invited to compete, for what has subsequently become a prestigious honour. It has continued to this day with the record winning time of 23 mins and 22 secs set in 1973. The race was usually held on the 1st August in celebration of  the accession of George I in 1714, but is now run on a Friday in July with an incoming tide to help the rowers.

On the day we went there was a big crowd on the river (in three large ‘Gin Palaces’) following the racers and a a few celebrities waited at the finishing line, including Prince Philip. The local Mayor, photographers and TV crews all added to a colourful event that next year will celebrate it’s 300 hundredth anniversary. Well done Thomas.

Winner alright!

Winner alright!



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Go fly a kite!

Beach Boys....

Beach Boys….

The sky was the purest blue, broken only by the long contrail of a high-flying jet, and the air was as warm as you could hope for. The  sand was soft and the beach was a hive of activity – more like somewhere in Spain than Clontarf – as the music blared out. It was an excellent setting for the Kite Festival and the North Bull Island, the city’s largest public area was looking more  Mediterranean than I thought it could ever be. It was as Lou Reed might have said ‘A perfect day.’

The Causeway had become a snake-like car park by the time  I arrived and joined the noisy, happy families and kids as we made our way through the dunes. There was real anticipation in the air as we got closer and heard the first sounds of summer music. The place was alive. I didn’t know what to expect but the colourful sight of loads of kites flying high and handsome against the continuous blue above was simply brilliant. And quite beautiful.

Up, up and away....Kite heaven

Up, up and away….Kite heaven

   There was a line of tents selling ice-cream, cold drinks, T-shirts and various knickknacks. Inside the last one people were happily learing how to make a kite, and the shouts and yelps of enthusiasm were infectious. The teacher had a great time showing ‘how it was done’ before bringing his new followers onto the beach and flying a kite. His was an expert, and I could only stand and admire his skill in making the highly coloured kite swoop and dive to the cheers of the mesmerised onlookers. Altogether it was great way to spend an afternoon in Dublin and really enjoy one of the best days of the year. Go fly a kite – why not!

Blowin' in the wind!

Blowin’ in the wind!



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A Grand Walk

Summer is finally in the air, and the other day I joined a group at The Barge Pub (Charlemont Street) for a most enjoyable walk along the Grand Canal. One of the many Dublin City Council inititives this ‘Let’s Walk & Talk’ tour took about ninety minutes and, thankfully, catered for all speeds. There were, of course, some folk who liked to walk quickly, but most of us took our time and chatted as we went.

Grand Canal - looking grand!

Grand Canal – looking grand!

There are a number of different walks to consider, and as someone who knows the area quite well, it was great to find out ‘new stuff’ from the volunteers, when we stopped along the way. A canal connecting Dublin to the Shannon was proposed as early as 1715, but building work only began in 1756. After a few false starts, and the unique difficulty of working in the Bog of Allen, the canal was completed in 1804. It is 82 miles (131 kms) long, has 43 locks and enters the Shannon in County Offaly.

We headed to Sundrive Road Park (now Ceannt Park – named in honour of the signatory to the 1916 Irish Proclamation), and past the house on Harold’s Cross Road where Robert Emmet was arrested after the failed rising in 1803. I never knew where the Crown Forces ‘got him’ and that he was hiding under the name ‘Hewitt’.

Back along the canal some small children laughed out loud when they tossed pieces of bread to the swans. I counted at least twenty elegant birds, and in the strong sunshine a few of my fellow walkers took photographs. They were postcard stuff.

Upstairs at The Barge a number of us went for a coffee and continued the ‘Let’s Talk’ theme. I must say it was a great way to spend a little time and, as the advertisement almost says ‘It’s good to walk…and talk.’

Swanning around...

Swanning around…


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