Dun Laoghaire thinking

Jan 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The traffic lanes were empty, the ticket kiosks very firmly closed.  It was hard to imagine that these acres of land were once among the best known in Ireland.  The old Carlisle Pier disappeared last year, its only relic a bare concrete jetty.  Now its successor, built for state of the art sea vessels stands silent.  The terminal building was open, a woman behind the ticket desk.  Two women sat at a low table in the waiting area, staring out through the glass walls of the building.  It seemed odd they should be there at all, according to Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, the next ferry departs on 15th March 2010, eight weeks from today.

If Cobh (Queenstown) was a harbour of a thousand tears, then Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown) must have seen a fair few.  It was the place for the boat to England.  The departure point for those leaving Irish soil to go across the water for a thousand and one different reasons.  Cobh harbour has an historical centre telling the story of migration, perhaps one day Dun Laoghaire harbour will have something similar.  Perhaps the tales collectively would not be so harrowing, but the individual pain was maybe as often as intense.

Ambling through on a January afternoon, trying to get in order thoughts on serious matters, conjuring images of those who caught the train to the old Carlisle Pier provided moments of distraction.

The imagined figures of the past mingled with personal memories of the place.

Stepping on Irish soil for the first time in August 1981, having travelled through the night, and sleeping in the sunshine on the wall outside the West Pier.  Returning to Dun Laoghaire on a September evening, to catch a night ferry that had ceased to run the previous week, and, being without cash, sleeping on the bench opposite the entrance to the terminal.  Gardai came in the night and shone torches in our faces, just to make the point that sleeping on a bench was something they didn’t like.

In December 1981, crossing in darkness to catch a train northwards for the funeral of a man whom I had not met, but whose daughter I would marry.  A year later, arriving again in the early morning to be met by the principal of the theological college in order to attend a selection conference that would change the course of my life.

If time really happens all at once, and deja vu is simply a recognition that Einstein was right, then a sense of it should be strong in this place.

A man goes in through the door of one of the yacht clubs.  Setting foot on this island nearly three decades ago, I would have once liked to have been someone who belonged to a club; the passing of the years, however, brought out a Groucho Marx tendency.

Sadly, thinking about problems doesn’t really do much to solve them.  Turning to walk back up Marine Road, I wondered where I might have been were it not for these acres of land.

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  1. The Hibernia, the Cambria, and even the Queen Maude. Contemporary experience of Dún Laoghaire in the fifties and sixties. The Maude was the more sickmaking of the three, lacking stabilisers. Steerage was a melée of discontented and impatient passengers and screaming children and babies. A real Babel.

    But it was part of the life of the times and the way out, temporary or permanent, for many. No question of flying, just the mailboat and the mail train from Holyhead to Euston. Misery.

    I learned my first words of Welsh on the mail train to London. I foolishly and innocently mentioned England to the steward while we were still in Wales. He was Welsh. Taught me “Iechyd da i bob Cymro, twll dyn i bob Sais”. Suited the republican ethos of the times. Not nice for the English, though.

    Still it was a sort of a Celtic awakening.

    And the railway spur, now closed. The Pav gone and the Victorian monument recently restored, not to mention the King’s 4th ball.

    You mentioned Groucho. Interestingly the Motor Yacht Club at the coal pier was, in part, set up because none of the others would accept Jews.

    Dún Laoghaire, a rich tapestry indeed.

  2. On mature reflection I think that should have been the Princess Maude 🙂

  3. Queen, princess – they are both contrary to Article 40.2 of the Constitution 😉

    Dun Laoghaire seafront would make a good location for a museum of 20th century Irish social history – all human life was there.

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