In the year that we are celebrating the Easter Rising I was reminded of another great struggle when I recently visited Woodstock House in Wicklow. The Pikeman statue, a tall and arresting symbol of the 1798 Rebellion and a reminder of brave and bloody times, stands guard in front of the fine Georgian house.
It was built by Sir John Stratford in the 1770s and was designed by the famed architect and stuccodore Robert West who worked on many of the countries great houses. It has been faithfully maintained and a visit is a veritable walk through history. In the basement there is a museum showing what it was like in the ‘big house’ and the circular gallery offers a history of Ireland. Upstairs in the Yellow Room there are some fine paintings of Irish heroes, including Michael Collins, CS Parnell and Robert Emmett.
The tiled hall with its tall golden columns is particularly well preserved with the Dining Room off to the side. It was interesting to find out that due to its superb acoustics that none other than Rod Stewart and the Thompson Twins each used the space for recording in the 1980s.
Nowadays the house is the centre of Druids Glen Golf Course, one of the best and most beautiful courses anywhere and a regular on the ‘must play’ list for golfers. I saw it described as the ‘Augusta of Europe’ and on the day that I visited – a warm day under a bright, blue sky – I could only agree with the scribe. From the roof the view down the coast and over to the Wicklow Mountains beyond was stunning.
And of course there is more history in the name – Druids Glen. Apparently during the construction of the golf course a Druids’ altar was discovered near the lake (by the 12th hole). I don’t know what the Druids think of golf but they would certainly have been happy with what I saw the other day. It’s a magical place!
The Druids’ Altar
Filed under History, Ireland
It has played a part in Irish life for centuries and Dublin Castle had its origins back in time of the Vikings. It was originally settled on the high ground close to the Poddle and Liffey rivers and provided excellent an defence. However, with the Norman invasion in 1169 the old structure was demolished and a more permanent building was erected. King Henry II implemented this phase, which was completed in 1230 and was the beginning of the ‘Castle’ as we know it today. The Poddle was diverted underground and its water used to fill the moat that surrounded the fortress. Typical of Norman design there was a tower at each corner and the Record Tower (1228) is the only surviving one.
Over time many other buildings were added, especially in the Georgian period. The Treasury Building in the lower yard, the first purpose built office space in Dublin, was completed in 1714. In the upper yard the Bedford Tower, named for the Duke of Bedford who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was constructed in the 1750s. And it was from here in July 1907 that one of the most infamous events in the Castle’s history took place when the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen on the eve of the visit of King Edward VII. They have never been recovered.
As the centre of British power it was often challenged with it coming under attack during Robert Emmet’s short-lived rising in 1803 and Easter 1916. British power ceased on the 16th January 1922 when Michael Collins took possession on behalf of the new Irish Free State.
An exhibition of sand statues is now held every August in the upper yard. It has become a favourite with locals and tourists alike, with different characters and themes being addressed. While taking a photograph of Samuel Beckett a man beside me commented that ‘Becket was not only a sound man, but now he was a sand man, too.’ The striking image of the ‘Feet of Sand’ seemed very appropriate in a place with such sensitive political overtones.
Feet of Sand
Also in the upper yard are the State Rooms which were originally constructed for the Lord Lieutenant’s personal accommodation and entertainment. Nowadays, these lavishly furnished rooms – St Patrick’s Hall, Throne Room, State Drawing Room and State Corridor – are used for Government engagements including the inauguration of Presidents and State visit ceremonies.
St Patrick’s Hall
Pearse and flag.
The great house, The Hermitage, was built in 1780 for Edward Hudson, a successful Dublin dentist in 1780, and over the following years the grounds were laid out. There are forested areas where a fine selection of local flora and fauna is found, along with a number of follies, a hermit’s cave and a faux dolmen and Ogham stone.
In 1910 Padraig Pearse, who had opened his school St Enda’s (Scoil Eanna) in Cullenswood House, Ranelagh in 1908, decided to move ‘to the country’ when he visited St Enda’s Park. This was due to his interest in both teaching Irish (he was adamant about pupils being bilingual) and that they should have a strong interest in nature. The curriculum and teaching methods were very popular and soon attracted many students. However, with Pearse’s growing involvement in republican matters, the school’s prospects soon began to suffer. Only a matter of days after the fighting ended, he and his brother Willie, along with Thomas McDonagh (assistant headmaster and signatory of the Proclamation of Independence) were executed for the part in the Easter Rising. Without Pearse’s direction and energy the school, inevitably, went into decline. It was run for a time by their mother who, with the influx of funds after the executions, was able to buy the property. However, due to the falling numbers of pupils the school closed its doors for the last time in 1935. Following the death of Pearse’s sister (Margaret Mary Pearse) 1968, the ownership of the property was transferred to the State.
The Hermitage and renovations
Recently, the building has been extensively renovated with many of the rooms now on show as they were in Pearse’s time, namely; his study, the sitting-room, art gallery (with a number of sculptures by Willie Pearse) and a pupils’ dormitory. A large, timber three-legged table upon which Robert Emmet was decapitated is an interesting, if little publicised and macabre, item of historical interest. Outside, the gardens, courtyard restaurant, paths and bubbling fountain are a perfect place for a walk and quiet reflection. It’s a hidden gem!
St Michan’s Church, on Church Street, is the oldest parish church on the north side of the Liffey, and the building dates from 1686. The church was originally founded in 1095 and operated as a Catholic church until the Reformation. Since then it has served Church of Ireland parishioners for over three hundred years.
Gates of no return
The church is most famous for its crypts where the limestone walls have kept the air dry and helped preserve the remains. When our guide removed a heavy chain and pulled back the strong, iron door it creaked loudly and made a few of my fellow visitors a little less comfortable. I suspect if we visiting on a dark winter’s day the atmosphere would have been really heightened. Along the corridor there are a number of recesses where coffins rest, some on top of one another, and at the end we met The Crusader. The state of preservation is amazing, and once upon a time visitors used touch his long, bony hand – for luck! In another recess are the remains of the Sheares Brothers, John & Henry, who were executed for their part in the 1798 Rebellion. You can also see their Execution Order, and in the back is the death mask of Theobald Wolfe Tone. It is no surprise that Bram Stoker (the creator of Dracula) is believed to have visited these subterranean vaults. It is also reckoned that the body of Robert Emmet (leader of the failed 1803 Rising) was buried in an unmarked grave in the graveyard, but it has never been identified.
Inside, the church still retains its beautiful gallery and the stained glass window looked great with sun behind it. But most impressive of all is the organ which was built by John Baptiste Cuville between 1723-1725, and cost around £550 – a lot on money back then. Legend has it that George Frideric Handel composed and practised his famous oratorio Messiah on it, before its first performance at the New Music Hall in Fishamble Street on 13th April 1742. Thinking about the composer sitting there, in the candle light, as he worked away on his great work, was quite a good way to end my visit to one of Dublin’s most interesting places.
Magnificent interior & organ
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!
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.’
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.
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
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!