London – City of Glass

Tate Modern Extension

Tate Modern Extension

Thankfully the weather forecaster had got it right and the day was bright and sunny as my cousin and I walked towards Blackfriars  Bridge. It was early afternoon and the breeze blowing down the Thames was warm and steady. London in early summer, especially along the river, can be very pleasant and I knew that I had timed my visit just right.
I was in London for a few days and one of the things that I wanted to do was visit the recently opened Tate Modern Extension on the South Bank. There had been much in the news about it and, after a look around some of the exhibitions on the lower floors, we took the lift to the top of the building from where the views were fantastic. The outdoor gallery that surrounds the top floor offers unique views across the city, with those looking at the City and the Thames favourites with snappers. I took a few photographs, stepped back and panned from the London Eye, the Palace of Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral and the sparkling skyscrapers to the east. They were enticing and we agreed it was time to get walking again.

The London Eye

The London Eye

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral

The Millennium Bridge that looks directly across the river to St Paul’s Cathedral was once known as the ‘bouncy bridge’. On the day of its opening the bridge started to move about as people crossed it, and it had to be, rather embarrassingly, closed. After much head scratching and technical work giant dampers were added, and now the bridge is steady and a great place to view the river from.
St Paul’s is impressive, and I wondered how magnificent it must have appeared when it was completed in 1697, a little over thirty years since its predecessor had been consumed in the Great Fire of London. It is Sir Christopher Wren’s greatest achievement, and now more than three centuries later and surrounded by taller buildings it still casts a shadow of classic permanence.
We headed east along the wonderfully named Cheapside, onto Poultry, where the buildings really began to climb into the clouds. This was The City, the driver of so much of the British economy, where skyscrapers owned by international corporations sparkled in the afternoon sunshine. ‘That’s the Cheesegrater,’ my cousin said ‘and that, of course, is the Gherkin,’ he added pointing at the magically shaped, green-glassed tower. I clicked off a few shots, straining my neck as I tried to frame the uniquely shaped building that made me smile.

The Gherkin

The Gherkin

The Walkie-Talkie

The Walkie-Talkie

‘And this is the Walkie-Talkie,’ he commented as we stood below the curving, five-hundred foot tall wall of glass. My neck was hurting now, but gazing up at what looked like a gigantic, frozen wave I wondered what Wren would have thought. No doubt he would have been impressed with the design and construction, but as to whether the glass on view will be in place in three hundred years is, I suspect, unlikely. This does not take from the beauty of the building that is appreciated from both close-up and the other side of the river where the tallest of all the skyscrapers, the Shard, looks down. The ninety-five storey giant climbs to 1,016 feet making it the tallest building in the UK and the fourth tallest in Europe. There is a 360 degree viewing gallery on Level 69 where, on a clear day, the viewer can see up to 40 miles. That is definitely on my ‘To do’ list.

The Shard

The Shard

The skyscrapers are a barometer of economic activity of London, and their humorous nicknames (soon they will be joined by the Scalpel and the Stanley Knife!) makes them engaging and less threatening than tall buildings are often viewed. All in all, these peaks in the veritable range of glass mountains, gave the place a fantasy feel as they sparkled and shimmered in the sunshine.

The City & Thames from Tate Modern Extension

The City & Thames from Tate Modern Extension

 

 

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Bloomsday Hero

James Joyce Museum

James Joyce Museum

They say that you should never meet your heroes, but I suspect sometimes they are wrong. I know this, because when I, fortunately, met one of mine, it was a brief, but beautiful, moment.

It was on Bloomsday, a few years ago, and I went to Sandycove to sample the atmosphere and get my copy of Ulysses date-stamped in  the James Joyce Museum in the old Martello Tower. The place was alive, with many people dressed in Edwardian-era attire and lively chat filled the sea air. James Joyce look-alikes were everywhere, and a few, very attractive Molly Blooms caught the eye. ‘Yes, yes,’ one said in a sultry voice, like her famous namesake, and the crowd laughed and cheered.

James Joyce

James Joyce

Inside, the curator stamped the postcards that I was going to send to friends who were Joyce fans. Then she flicked open the cover of my book, put ink on the date-stamp and pressed down hard. I was delighted, and eased my way past the colourful crowds overlooking swimmers in the nearby Forty Foot, and headed home.

I got off the train at Booterstown and headed up the road, book and postcards safely tucked under my arm. I had only recently finished reading the great book after numerous false starts, and had decided to get it stamped on Bloomsday as a reminder of my long-delayed achievement. Yes, I had finally finished it, and it seemed like a good idea to get it stamped in the place where the story begins, and also to enjoy the merriment at Sandycove.  It was a good decision, and a few photographs and a luscious ice cream helped make the day.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

As I neared the local shops and thinking about finding a proper place for the book on a shelf at home I looked up, and stopped dead in  my tracks. I had to be seeing things, I thought, and quickly headed to the newsagents where none other than Seamus Heaney was buying a copy of the Irish Times. I waited at the door, heart beating fast, and when he stepped outside I stuck out my hand. ‘Happy Bloomsday,’ I said.

‘And a very Happy Bloomsday to you, too,’ he replied, giving me a firm and friendly handshake.

He noticed my book. ‘Good day for it,’ he said, smiling.

‘Yes,’ I managed ‘and I’ve just been to Sandycove to have it date-stamped.’

‘Good idea,’ he said ‘and a nice reminder of the day.’

I nodded. ‘Yes….and I wonder if you would be so good as to sign it. That would be terrific.’

So standing in the sunshine I handed my book to the great man and the cover was flicked open again. Moments later he handed the book back and again bid me a ‘Happy Bloomsday’. Then he pushed his spectacles up his nose, fixed the newspaper under his arm and walked to his car. He gave a final, friendly wave and was gone.

I stood there for a few moments looking at my book, a smile as broad as Dublin Bay on my face. It had indeed been the briefest of encounters, but I was very happy to have met my hero.

A little treasure!

A little treasure!

 

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East Pier – A Walk On The Windy Side!

Generations of people have been taking a ‘walk on the pier’ and it is something that I have always enjoyed. Whether the day is warm with a gentle breeze blowing or you are wrapped up against a bracing wind, ‘taking the air’ is a real pleasure. The sharp, salty air never fails to clear a stuffy head, and the long walk is a favourite for thousands of people.

East Pier, across to Howth, in all its glory

East Pier, with Howth beyond, in all its glory

The waters in Dublin Bay often silted up making it difficult for ships to land, and they would have to stay moored off-shore for days. A small pier was opened in 1767 (Coal Harbour Pier) but it soon became obsolete. After two disasters in November 1807 when the HMS Prince of Wales and The Rochdale sank just off shore, with the loss of 400 people, there was an outcry for ‘something to be done’.  In 1815 an Act of Parliament was passed for the construction of ‘a harbour for ships to the eastward of Dunleary’, and the (East Pier) foundation stone was laid in May 1817 by Earl Whitworth, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The granite used in building the pier was quarried in nearby Dalkey and transported by a funicular railway that later became the Atmospheric Railway. By 1820 the original plan was amended by engineer John Rennie to add a second pier – and the West Pier was completed in 1827, four years after the East Pier.

Samuel Beckett's plaque

Samuel Beckett’s plaque

The East Pier Lighthouse (red for port) is 1.3 KM from the road, while a walk to the West Pier Lighthouse (green for starboard) is slightly longer at 1.5 KM. The area enclosed between the piers is a 250 acre harbour and the gap between the lighthouses is 232 metres. The East Pier is the more popular with walkers and has a bandstand (built 1890s) where, weather permitting, music concerts take place. There is also a memorial to Captain Boyd and his brave crew who drowned in 1861 during a rescue. And below it you can see a plaque in honour of Samuel Beckett who often cycled down from his home in Foxrock as he liked to ‘walk the pier’. He, no doubt, had many Happy Days doing just that.

Analemmatic Sundial

Analemmatic Sundial

The council have carried out much work on the pier in recent times and the smooth surface is now certainly safer and more enjoyable to walk. The ice cream van is a popular attraction and, if the weather is nice,  you’ll have to join a long queue. Close-by is the new Analemmatic Sundial that, sadly, without some sunshine wasn’t very useful. But I look forward to going back on a sunny day and finding out how it works!

King George IV obelisk

King George IV obelisk

Royal footmarks

Royal footmarks

President Michael D O’Higgins attended the 200th anniversary of the opening of the East Pier (31st May), held  in the shadow of the King George IV obelisk. This was erected opposite the point where the king embarked on 3rd September 1821 for his return to London. (Note: There is also a memorial to his arrival, at Howth on the 12th August. The royal footmarks were measured by local stonemason Robert Campbell who then captured them in a giant granite stone at the end of the West Pier.)

President O'Higgins - opening ceremony

President O’Higgins – opening ceremony

After the speeches there was a noisy and well-received  21-gun salute from the roof of the East Pier lighthouse. And even the sun made  brief appearance as it joined in the festivities!

Salute from East Pier lighthouse

Salute from East Pier lighthouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Powerscourt – A place of dreams

Powerscourt House

Powerscourt House

Although it is less than thirty minutes from the Dublin city centre Powerscourt seems almost to be from a different, fantasy world. There is so much on show that it is understandable why it is ‘a must see’ and has been recognised internationally. The renowned National Geographic listed the Gardens No. 3 in the world, and Lonely Planet voted Powerscourt one of the Top Ten Houses in the World.

Sugar Loaf from the Terrace

Sugar Loaf from the Terrace

The site in Enniskerry, Wicklow was originally owned by a man called La Poer (anglicised as Power) who built a castle there in the 13th century. Richard Cassels, the German-born architect (he also designed Leinster House and Russborough House), spent ten years altering the house into the Palladian masterpiece you see today. It was suitably grand enough to have King George IV as a guest when he came to Ireland in 1821. Sadly, the house was badly damaged by fire in 1974, but reopened in 1997, although not to its former glory.

Japanese Gardens

Japanese Gardens

The ground floor houses a variety of craft and design shops, and the popular Terrace Café offers a magnificent view of the Italian Gardens with the Sugar Loaf Mountain as a spectacular backdrop. You can also visit Tara’s Museum of Childhood that features dolls, toys, dollhouses and is recognised as one of the greatest collections in the world.

The gardens include the beautiful, formal Italian Gardens (inspired by gardens in the Palace of Versailles) that lead down to Triton Lake; the tranquil and colourful Japanese Gardens; and the Walled Gardens. Nearby are the quaint Pets’ Cemetery, and the not-to-be-missed Pepperpot Tower. From the top there is a great view of the estate and the cannon guns are an interesting feature.

Apart from all this there are two championship golf courses to enjoy, and I can’t forget the Powerscourt Waterfall that is the highest in Ireland. Powerscourt has much to offer, so plan your visit!

Pepperpot Tower

Pepperpot Tower

Powerscourt Waterfall

Powerscourt Waterfall

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Sir Hugh Lane – Art Lover

Sir Hugh Lane

Sir Hugh Lane

If ever one man made a difference, then the contribution of Sir Hugh Lane to the cause of promoting art in Ireland must be celebrated. His gesture in setting up the world’s first gallery for modern art in Dublin was far-sighted, and done with the love and understanding of an expert. The city and country are forever in his debt, and after more than a hundred years of business, the gallery is stronger and more exciting than ever.

Lane, who was born on the 9th November 1875 in County Cork, spent most of his early life in Cornwall, England. By the 1890s he was working in the London art market where he was known as a shrewd and knowledgeable investor, especially in the works of the Impressionists. Over time he bought a significant number of paintings and it is these that form the core of the permanent collection that now bears his name.

WB Yeats

WB Yeats

In the early 1900s Lane often spent time with his aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory, at her home in Coole Park, County Galway where he met many of the leading figures in Irish art, including W.B. Yeats, Edward Martyn and AE Russell. In 1901 after he had attended an exhibition by Irish artists in Dublin, he was determined to open a gallery in the city for contemporary work from both Ireland and abroad. He persuaded some rich friends to help provide funds and the artists, Jack B Yeats and Roderic O’Connor, to donate paintings to the gallery that opened on 20th January, 1908 on Harcourt Street. This was meant to have been a temporary venue, but after Dublin  Corporation’s rejection of his plans for a gallery (designed by Sir Edward Lutyens) on both sides of the Liffey, he offered his paintings to The National Gallery in London.

This action would have very serious consequences after Lane died on board the Lusitania when it was sunk on 7th May, 1915, about 11 miles from the Old Head of Kinsale, in his native county. (Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard 1,198 lost their lives.) Before boarding the ill-fated ship he had changed his mind, and will, about the disposition of the ‘39’ paintings (The Lane Bequest), but unfortunately the document, although signed by Lane, was not witnessed. This led to long and painful discussions with the National Gallery in London who had possession of the paintings, that were finally resolved in 1993. The Lane Bequest was split so that 31 of the paintings came to Dublin permanently while the remaining 8 paintings, although staying in London, were to be shown in Dublin every 6 years. All 39 paintings were reunited for the first time in Dublin in 2008.

Casino at Marino

Casino at Marino

So, after a difficult start, the gallery finally found a home in Charlemont House, Parnell Square, Dublin. This wonderful building was designed by renowned English architect Sir William Chambers in 1763 for James Caulfield, 1st Earl of Charlemont. Caulfield had met Chambers in Italy while the younger man was on his Grand Tour, and asked Chambers to design a ‘town house’ for him. (Chambers also designed the Casino at Marino for Caulfield.) The building has changed little over the years and it is recognised as one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Dublin. Lane, sadly, never got to see the gallery, but I am sure he would agree that Caulfield’s magnificent house is a most suitable place for his collection to call home.

Charlemont House

Charlemont House

 

 

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The Lady in Blue – a very brief encounter!

Lady in Blue

Lady in Blue

A visit to my dentist does not always leave me with a happy memory, but thinking back to a cold and chilly January morning certainly brings a smile. Like all the best stories its beauty lay in its surprise and, unfortunately for me, its brevity. I was living in London at the time and was heading to my office having earlier been for my annual dental check-up. After a filling and polishing, and the inevitable admonishment from the dentist, I boarded the Tube and headed for central London.

As I had missed the main morning traffic I was able to get a seat and relaxed as we rolled towards town. I flicked my tongue across clean teeth, unfolded the newspaper and started the crossword. I quickly filled in a few clues and then paused and looked up. Across from me one passenger was reading the sports section of a tabloid paper while a girl sitting beside him was engrossed in a glossy magazine. The cover had an image of none other than the most photographed woman on the planet, Diana, Princess of Wales. She was on the cover of so many magazines and was the subject of countless articles about her style and love life, and to a lesser degree, her good works. She was beautiful, no doubt, and when the train jerked to a stop I returned to my crossword.

A cold, sharp breeze met me as I exited from Green Park station and turned onto Berkeley Street. I kept my head down, chin stuck firmly into my chest, and headed along the empty pavement to my office that was about a two-minute walk away. Papers and other bits and pieces flew aimlessly about the street as the chilly wind whistled around.

It was mid-morning and the pavement was almost completely empty. It was a slightly strange feeling and I looked about and saw only my reflection in shop windows as I walked. The wind continued to whip at my ears as I crossed the street and felt the numbness in my jaw slowly disappearing. Dentists, I thought, while down the street a large, black car slowed quietly before stopping at the kerb and a door opened.

Once more I buried my chin and cursed under my breath at the biting wind. It seemed as though it was going through me and I couldn’t wait to get into the warmth of my office, now only a few hundred yards away, and get a cup of coffee.

Looking up I saw the black car drive past me and its passenger was now standing on the pavement. She wore a coat that was the colour of the bluest of blue skies and it reached below her knees. It was very smart and I could not help smiling at the sheer exuberance of the woman’s style. She looked wonderful and her casual, elegant stride, as we approached, made her all the more interesting. I noticed her blonde hair was cut short but as she, too, had her face down against the wind I could not see her face. But as the distance between us closed I had the odd and pleasant feeling that I knew her, but couldn’t remember from where.

Lady Diana

Lady Diana

I was not able to take my eyes from her as I tried to remember who she might be. Was she an old girlfriend who I had not seen in years; or a former work colleague maybe? These thoughts ran around my head until we were about ten feet apart and her bag suddenly fell to the ground. Without hesitation I stopped, bent down and picked it up. The woman stopped, smiled and thanked me as I handed the bag to her. For the briefest moment the most photographed woman on the planet smiled at me, a smile so natural and warm that I was lost for words. The surprise of the situation was tingling and I heard myself utter, dry-throated, ‘Mam.’  Then, moments later, she gave me a friendly nod of thanks, turned and walked towards Piccadilly. And so, in the blink of a slightly watery eye the vision in blue, Diana, Princess of Wales, was lost in the breezy London morning.        

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Serendipity – what a surprise!

Bewleys - colour fun

Bewleys – colour fun

The aroma of coffee was strong and intoxicating, but then it always was in Bewleys. Paul and I were sitting in one of the red banquettes enjoying sticky buns, surrounded by the hum of lively conversation that was unique to the place. It was now almost midday and the sun was shining, filling the café in a magical light. It lit the stained-glass window opposite sending shafts of red, blue, yellow and green light dancing across the floor. I had to admire the craftsmanship that was now seen at its best in a kaleidoscope of shimmering colour.

‘They really are something else,’ Paul said, noting my interest in the window and the changing colours.

‘Yes…they are brilliant.’

Paul continued. ‘They are by Harry Clarke, Ireland’s greatest stained-glass window artist. The man was a genius!’ We looked closely at them, watching as tiny motes of dust floated aimlessly in the shafts of technicolour light.

‘You’re not joking,’ I replied ‘they’re fantastic.’ Of all the times that I had been in Bewleys – and they were many – I had never seen the windows in such a wonderful light and the effect was exciting.

Paul offered. ‘I studied his work when I was in college, and I’ve been a fan ever since. The detail is so good that it takes your breath away. He was a real artist.’

‘Absolutely,’ I agreed.

‘He’s done plenty of other work,’ Paul added, ‘all around the country. Some of the best are in a church in Castletownsend, in west Cork, and well worth a look the next time you’re down there. You should check them out.’

I looked forward to my next visit to Baltimore, from where I could easily visit the small town where Harry Clarke’s windows were waiting. We had a date.

Over the next couple of weeks I did some research into the works of Harry Clarke and was impressed with what I found. He learned his craft from his father, before attending college where he was awarded gold medals and scholarships. He worked on various commissions and also did many illustrations for books. But it was his skill as a master worker in glass that made his name and ensured his place in art history, before he died, aged only 41.

St Barrahane's Church

St Barrahane’s Church

And so it was on a bright day in early May that I drove down the hill, around the tall sycamore tree in the middle of the road that acted as a natural roundabout, and pulled up outside St Barrahane’s Church in Castletownsend. I climbed the 52 steps (one for every Sunday in the year!) and looked out at the still, blue waters of Castlehaven Bay where small boats bobbed in the warm breeze. It was a tranquil scene with only the sound of gulls cawing as they swooped and played in the sunshine.

HC's - Rich colours

HC’s – Rich colours

The old door creaked as I pushed it and stepped into the cool, quiet darkness. I waited for a few moments in the stillness taking in the atmosphere, and then walked slowly up the aisle. Above the old, weathered pews the sun shone through three colourful windows that were created by James Powell of London, the most famous glassmaker of his day.

HC - a lifelike image

HC – a lifelike image

But it was the works of Harry Clarke that drew me forward. Then I stopped, lost in wonderment, as I was bathed in the myriad shafts of colour. The images on the glass were so lifelike, infused with sunlight, that they might have been moving. In the quiet, almost eerie, silence I felt that I was not alone. The work is indeed the stuff of genius, and I was happy to have made the journey.

 Leaving the church I noticed a ship’s oar at the bottom of the stairs that led to the organ balcony. It was from the Lusitania that had been sunk not too far from where I stood, in May 1915. I ran a finger along the blade and felt a shiver run up my back. It was a surprise to come across a reminder of that day when almost 1,200 people lost their lives, now resting awkwardly with the beauty and calm of Harry Clarke’s window.

Outside, I was confused by what I had just experienced. I was delighted to have seen Clarke’s work, and I was now determined to find out about the tragic events that had brought the oar to this beautiful place. The old saying that ‘one thing leads to another’ never seemed so true. Serendipity indeed.

Castlehaven Bay

Castlehaven Bay

 

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