Kevin Gleeson finds tranquility on a stroll through historic Dublin 8.
By Kevin Gleeson
Oddly enough, the first time I started to realise what wonders might lie in my neighbourhood, I was standing in the sleepy little village of Guillemont, close to the battlefields of the Somme in northern France.
Inspecting the detail of the imposing Celtic cross in front of me, my guide Julia explained that the monument was erected to honour the 1,200 men from the 16th Irish Division who lost their lives liberating the village and that of neighbouring Ginchy during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Julia also explained that the cross before us was a replica of the wooden original now housed in a place called the National War Memorial Gardens, Dublin.
“Have you heard of this place?” Asked Julia. I was embarrassed to admit I had and that in fact, it was just a ten-minute walk from my front door. I had strolled there many, many times.
I’d often admire the four granite Bookrooms in the park’s Rose Gardens completely unaware that not only were these beautiful buildings designed by famed Victorian architect Edwin Lutyens, but that one of them was home to such an emotive part of Irish history.
During these surreal times many of us are noticing a change in our relationship with the outside world. I’ve never taken for granted the fact that Kilmainham Gaol, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Phoenix Park are all just a stone’s throw away from where I live.
Yet it’s only now, presented with the opportunity to slow down and take a proper look around the place I’ve called home for the past 15 years, that I’m seeing the area in a different light.
Confined to a 2km radius, and unable to pop into town on public transport, I’ve taken to maintaining my sanity by jumping on the bike to get out for some fresh air at least once a day. And what I have discovered has been wonderful.
Peeking through old, rusted gates at the now sadly neglected Kilmainham Mill, offers a new perspective of an 830-year-old building that catches my eye from every other possible angle almost every day. A stroll through Clancy Barracks in Islandbridge, now a mish-mash of swanky residential properties, offers fresh views of Island Bridge itself.
A bridge I must have crossed hundreds of times without giving a second thought now straddles the River Liffey with a new, ornate confidence hidden from the unsuspecting motorists above.
Thankfully most of the original barracks are still intact. Their exteriors at least restored to their former glory. A plaque placed high on the side of one of the buildings catches my eye, it reads: “Near this spot lies the remains of Dickie Bird B7, Troop Horse 5th Dragoon Guards. Which was foaled in 1850, joined the regiment in 1853 and served throughout the entire Crimean Campaign from May 1854 to Jun 1856. He was shot on the 21st November 1874 by special authority of the Horse Guards, to save him from being sold at auction.”
Waiting in line outside a nearby supermarket this week I spotted the familiar white towers of Guinness’ old barley-flaking silos, yet it took me a moment to realise what I was looking at. A usually familiar site is now practically unrecognisable from this new vantage point. Something we’ll all have to get used to in one form or another as we move forward, I suppose.
But while I’m desperately missing the ocean and travelling to far-flung places, for now, I’m more grateful than ever for the river that runs nearby and the adventures to be found in my corner of Dublin 8.