Tag Archives: clontarf

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


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‘It’s for You…’

Crisp and clear

Crisp and clear

A chilly, breeze blew across the cobblestones and the wedding group shivered, again. The photographer waved his hands wanting us to get closer and, when all was ready, he looked through the eyepiece and said out loud ‘Cheese.’
We grinned, smiled or whatever as the flash went off, briefly lighting the grey afternoon.
‘Don’t move,’ cried the photographer ‘another one, please.’ When he was finished we broke into small groups and stood about chatting about the ceremony while older weddinggoers, more familiar with such events, headed for the comfort and warmth of a car, and onto the hotel. It was a few weeks before Christmas and the day was crisp and clear, with the sun only a temporary, but welcome, presence.

We climbed into Tony’s car and we drove along the Coast Road, past Clontarf and a windswept and empty Dollymount Strand where the  last vestiges of the setting sun were reflected in the windows of the houses that looked upon Dublin Bay. And just beyond the beach, in the dark waters, the white horses were galloping ever closer.
At the hotel in Howth I stood in front of a big fire and warmed my hands. ‘Don’t hog it,’ cried Kate as she discreetly eased past me and bathed in the warm glow. She couldn’t hide her delight and cooed with pleasure. ‘I would love a hot whiskey, darling,’ she said and kissed me on the cheek.
‘You and the rest of them,’ I said and went to the bar.
I also bought drinks for Tony and Claire and went back and re-joined Kate who had now recovered and was ‘warm all over.’ That was great as I once again stood in front of the blazing coals. It was invigorating and soon I stepped away and let some other freezing souls enjoy the fire of Howth.

Fire of Howth

Fire of Howth

Bill, the groom, was my best friend and we had met on our first day in school. Growing up we played football for the same club; robbed orchards; mostly liked the same music; learned to drive within a few months of one another and later chased girls. It was the best of times, and I now wished him the best of luck in the new phase of his life that was just beginning. He and Caroline met at a barbecue two years ago, and he was now happily wearing a new wedding ring. And a smile wider than Dublin Bay.
I was delighted for the new couple and accepted a drink when Tony came back from the bar. It was early and the noise level was already beginning to rise. What would the night bring, I thought, and deep down an idea began to form? I tried to grab it but it was too quick for me, so I let it go and downed a mouthful of a creamy Guinness. ‘Cheers,’ I said to the other three, and ‘here’s to a great night.’

The conversation around the dining table was lively, as the eight of us had plenty of fun ribbing one another, something that we had done for years. That night it was particularly entertaining and helped along by mucho vino. They say that it loosens the tongue and Dave was on fine form telling jokes. ‘You dirty old man,’ laughed Kate when Dave told a particularly rude one. The time passed quickly and, with the speeches over, the dancing started. The DJ turned the music up and soon the floor was packed with giddy dancers.
Over the next hour or so I met and talked with friends and Bill’s cousin, Alex, who I had not seen for a long time. He had moved to Los Angeles and was doing very nicely in the music business and living near the beach. He invited me to ‘drop in’ anytime and I carefully put his business card away. And it was just after he joined the dancers that the idea came back, and this time I got a hold of it. I grinned, lost in thought, and then went off to find Kate, Tony and Claire. It was going to be a team effort but I knew that I would be singled out as the ringleader. I didn’t care, and for Bill, who had played pranks on me before, it was ‘pay-back time’.

I gathered the merry pranksters together and I laid out the plan.
‘You’re mad, he’ll never fall for it,’ said Kate, shaking her head.
But Claire loved it. ‘That’s a great idea, Joe, and crazy enough to work,’ she said and looked at Tony who was grinning his face off.
We spent another ten minutes going over the plan until we were happy. ‘Well, Claire, are you ready?’ I asked.
She took a last sip of wine, smacked her lips and nodded. ‘Let’s do it,’ she said and took up her position beside the public telephone at the end of the bar.
I spotted Bill dancing with an aunt, and I nodded for the game to begin.

Claire picked up the phone, dialled the front desk and asked for Bill. ‘I’m calling from California. Can you get him quickly, please, as this is costing me a fortune.’ She kept a straight face and her American accent was acceptable, especially as it was dulled in all the background noise.
Tony and I watched as a staff member came up the stairs and was pointed over to Bill. He leaned close to hear what she was saying and then he was off down the stairs two at a time. We let him get to the bottom before we made our way to the small landing, and waited.
Behind us, Claire now playing the part of Bill’s old, Californian flame, Debbie, waited as the receptionist handed over the phone.
‘Hello,’ he said and Claire answered with a big, friendly ‘Hi, there, Bill, what a surprise, eh?’
I could see him hold the phone close to his ear, concentrating on the words coming ‘all the way from America’. He was relaxed and crossed one foot over the other and talked with ‘Debbie’. Tony tapped me on the back and whispered, ‘He’s going to kill you.’ I nodded as Bill kept talking. I could just hear him say ‘…how did you find out?’ when Claire put the phone down. She was laughing hard and had to wipe the tears from her eyes.
‘Hello, hello, hello…’said Bill as the line went dead. He shook his head, handed the phone back and turned around. Then he stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. It was like a scene from a movie when he saw us and we couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
‘I’ll kill ya, Joe,’ he cried and scampered up the stairs.
He didn’t, thankfully, and The Night of the Caller has not been forgotten. And as time moves on I am very much aware that somebody out there has my number, and is just waiting to ‘make that call’.

'It's for You...'

‘It’s for You…’

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Bram Stoker – Creator of Count Dracula

BSCAbraham ‘Bram’ Stoker was born in 15 Marino Crescent, Fairview, on the 8th November 1847, the third of seven children and baptised in the Church of Ireland, Clontarf on 30th December. He was a sickly child and did not attend school until he was seven. As such, he spent much time reading and he noted years later ‘I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many  Stoker15 copythoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.

He made a full recovery from his early illness and studied Mathematics in Trinity College where he graduated with honours. He was a keen sportsman and was awarded Athlete of the Year, as well as being Auditor of the Historical Society and President of the Philosophical Society. Oscar Wilde was a contemporary who Stoker proposed for membership of the Philosophical Society. Years later, after Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol, Stoker visited him in Paris. Coincidently, Wilde had once courted Florence Balcombe who Stoker married in 1878. She was almost the ‘girl next door’ as she lived at 1 Marino Crescent, a few doors from the Stoker household.

Stoker was always interested in theatre and became the Dublin Evening Mail’s (co-owned by the great Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu) theatre critic and respected for his incisive reviews. After seeing Henry Irving, the greatest actor his generation play Hamlet in the Theatre Royal, and writing a review which the actor liked, the two met for dinner in the Shelbourne Hotel. Irving invited him to London to run the Lyceum Theatre and be his business manager, and he and Florence moved there in 1878. He acted for Irving until the actor’s death in 1905.

He travelled extensively with Irving, met many famous people, and all the time kept writing. He produced a dozen books, countless articles and short stories, but it is Dracula (1897) for which he is best remembered. The book has been a favourite since its release and is considered to be one of the most widely read books ever. It has never been out of print. More than 200 films have been made about Count Dracula and he has also featured in numerous stage and television adaptions. Stoker, himself, produced the first stage performance in the Lyceum Theatre on 18th May 1897 (8 days before the book’s publication) which Irving  thought was ‘dreadful’. Maybe the fact that it took fifteen actors four hours to perform had a lot to do with that! However, it is a magnificent achievement, and the sickly boy’s ‘fruitful thoughts’ have certainly been realised.

First editiion 26 May 1897

First edition 26 May 1897



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Erwin Schrodinger – Nobel Physicist who lived in Dublin

Erwin Schrodinger

Erwin Schrödinger

For a man interested in colour and who published scientific papers on the subject, the adjective colourful applies to Erwin Schrödinger who lived on Kincora Road, Clontarf  for seventeen years and certainly left his mark. Among his many achievements here was a series of lectures given in Trinity College in February 1943 on ‘What is life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell.’ This was inspirational to many scientists, most notably James Watson and Francis Crick whose work led to the discovery of DNA in 1953. A sculpture commemorating the achievement was unveiled on its 60th anniversary in the Botanic Gardens which James Watson attended.

Schrödinger was an only child born in Vienna in 1887 to middle-class, educated parents and was tutored at home until the age of eleven. Later he attended school, then university where he excelled and gained a PhD in Physics. World War I interrupted his progress and he spent it as an officer in the Austrian army.

DNA sculpture in Botanic Gardens

DNA sculpture in Botanic Gardens

After the war he had a number of different positions, married Annemarie (Anny) Bertel in 1920, before he was offered the chair in Theoretical Physics at the University of Zürich in 1921. He stayed there for six years, probably the most productive time in his career, before being offered the post of Max Planck’s replacement at the prestigious University of Berlin. And it was during his time in Zürich that he became interested in wave mechanics after reading a paper by Albert Einstein. Thinking about how to explain the movement of an electron as a wave his 1926 paper provided a theoretical basis for the atomic model. His groundbreaking work is hailed as a masterpiece, and one of the greatest accomplishments ever in in science. It subsequently led to new insights into quantum mechanics and other areas of chemistry. In 1933 both he and Paul Dirac (Cambridge University) were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ is his famous thought experiment that illustrates the problem of the interpretation of quantum mechanics when applied to everyday objects.

DIAS - Burlington Road

DIAS – Burlington Road

By that time he was aware that many of his Jewish colleagues were being dismissed from their posts and he decided to leave Hitler’s Germany. He went to Oxford University for three years before returning to Austria in 1938. The following year he accepted Eamon de Valera’s offer of coming to Ireland and helping establish the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS). De Valera, himself a mathematician, got ‘his man’ and made sure that Schrodinger’s visa arrangements were processed speedily. For Schrodinger’s needs were indeed complicated and had previously stymied him at both Princeton and Oxford, as he lived with his wife and his lover, Hilde March, with whom he had a daughter. Of his relationship with the fairer sex he said: ‘Poor things, they have provided for my life’s happiness and their own distress. Such is life.’ Colourful indeed.

Plaque in Kincora Road, Clontarf

Plaque in Kincora Road, Clontarf

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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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To the sea

To the sea - the walk ahead

To the sea – the walk ahead

The air was warm, the breeze gentle, and the tang of the salty air invigorating. It felt that summer had definitely arrived, as I slung my camera over my shoulder and headed for the Great South Wall.

It was my first visit here since the autumn when the day was bright and the breeze blustery. Today, thankfully, was totally inviting, and my arrival in mid-morning meant that there were only a few walkers enjoying the beautiful weather. And, of course, the unique scene and images of Dublin.

The building of the Great South Wall began in 1715 when it was authorised by the Dublin City assembly. It was built in response to the problems caused by silting at the mouth of the River Liffey, which prevented large ships from landing. Most of the wall is constructed from large granite blocks brought from the quarries in Dalkey, and it was, for a time, the world’s longest sea-wall. Building took many years, and the red-painted Poolbeg Lighthouse at the tip of the wall was constructed in 1820.

Poolbeg Lighthouse - looking great

Poolbeg Lighthouse – looking great

The view from the lighthouse – 360 degrees – of Dublin, is fascinating, especially for those who have never stood there before. You are in the middle of the bay, almost equi-distant from Howth and Killiney, with only ships travelling in and out of Dublin Port for company. It is a new way of looking at the city, and one not to be missed, especially on a bright, sunny day. 

Fantastic sky over Clontarf  (pic taken from Great South Wall)

Fantastic sky over Clontarf (pic taken from Great South Wall)

At the start of the wall is the Pigeon House, which was named after John Pigeon who ran a small hotel (built between 1793-95) that catered for travellers who had to be ferried to and from their ships. Sadly, it has nothing to do with the myriad of pigeons about the place! However, there are plenty of birds and animals to be seen as the GSW is now a Special Protection Area (SPA), and the adjacent Irishtown Nature Park is popular.

Being out on the water, and you do feel that you are floating on Dublin Bay, is a wonderful feeling and something that this hidden gem always delivers.

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