Started Early, Took My Dog

That’s not true at all, to be honest.  It was 10:30 and we don’t have a dog, although Cassia asks for one every single day.  It’s a line from an Emily Dickinson poem that I’ve always liked because it pretty much tells a whole story in five words, a talent that I don’t have.  I need lots of words.

Last week when the younger kids were going around the country on bus trips with their summer programme I found myself with the most free time I’ve had since coming here.  Cassia finishes school at 1:30 which doesn’t allow a huge window for going into town but the bus trip days didn’t finish until 4:00, giving me a giddy and previously un-dreamt-of amount of freedom.  I did try to convince the teenagers to come and have adventures with me but somehow I didn’t make the idea of going on the bus into Dublin to wander around and look at things sound cool enough.  The great thing about teenagers, though, is that you can leave a list of jobs on the table and go without them.  So I did.

I didn’t do anything particularly exciting.  I just went, that was all, but I thought I’d show you anyway. Pretty much it’s a display of blurry pictures of power poles, because I was taking them from a moving bus, but they’re Irish power poles so they have novelty value.  So come with me on a trip into a thousand-year-old city that changes every day.

You don’t get anything of the 700-metre walk from home to the bus stop because I was eating my toast.  I had started early, after all.

I waited at the bus stop at the corner of Sallyglen Road and Rochestown Ave in the lovely summer sun


and, once the bus came, went past Aldi.  The Aldi, a lovely cheap supermarket with truly excellent apple turnovers, was built not long ago and all this free land beside it was part of the construction site for a while.  They had their Portaloos along the edge right by the bus stop and if you were sitting on the top deck you were treated, while you waited for people to disembark, to the back views of all the builders popping in for a whizz without bothering to shut the door.  Five feet away.  When the Aldi was finished this was bare dirt and we were all on the edge of our seats wondering what would go there.  A nice shoe shop maybe, or – ooh, I know – a Marks and Spencers Food Hall!  Yes!  It’s a huge amount of ground to be left undeveloped, you could fit high-density housing for many many people, and possibly that’s in its future but for now here’s what they’ve done:



You maybe can’t tell from the photo but the whole thing – and it’s big – is planted in wildflowers.  All the red bits?  Flowers.  It’s like a great big urban poppy field.  Nicely done, somebody.

We passed some houses and came into sight of the sea




and saw a girl with lovely red hair, because there’s always someone around with red hair.  It comes from the Normans, I believe.  Noah has a friend named Patrick with blazing hair, which shows that Noah’s got a good handle on what Ireland is all about.  Presumably in ten years’ time red-haired Patrick will have discovered Guinness for the trifecta.


Now we’re going through the seaside village of Dun Laoghaire.  You also see the Anglicised version, Dunleary, and thanks to a visit to the local Maritime Museum I now know why.  Dunleary was the common spelling in the olden days – days less tolerant of Irish – until it was re-named Kingstown in 1821 in honour of the English king.  By 1920, however, the English monarchy had fallen way out of favour and the town was again given its traditional name, Dun Laoghaire (meaning ‘Fort of Laoghaire’, referring to the ancient Irish high king Laoghaire Mac Néill, who used the area as a base for raids on Britain and Gaul in the 5th century.  Traces of his fortifications can still be found) with its Irish spelling.  So now you know too.



Something about Ireland is, there are flowers everywhere.  Gardens, streets, windows, parks, people just love their flowers.  We arrived in winter and the place – even the central city where we were – was awash with daffodils.



Very tiny peek of sea there at the bottom of Marine Road.


Then we head into Monkstown.  I don’t know why it’s called that.


It has lovely, lovely shops and restaurants and this spectacular church with more history than I could tell you in a dozen posts.  It has fantastic stained glass windows in the Persian Carpet style (it’s really called that, I didn’t just make it up), i.e. intricate geometric patterns, used in Protestant churches in a time when the use of anything hinting at Papism – religious icons, images of people etc – was a hellfire-level offence.  Of course, as with almost all of the most impressive churches and cathedrals, it started life as a Catholic place of worship and was confiscated along the way.


The kids and I did a tour of the church during last year’s Summer of Heritage programme.  Nobody wanted to but it was free and making them do free stuff is one of my personal superpowers.  It was worth it though because there was a treasure hunt inside with very decent-sized bags of sweets as the prize, so they came away happy.  Also there were all sorts of carvings of animals, Green Men and other cool stuff so although they weren’t quite falling all over each other afterwards to tell me how thankful they were for being taken there, I know they were thinking it.

Up along the altar there was a long backdrop of gorgeous mosaic of great age.  Recently they managed to raise the money to have it restored, an extremely expensive and time-consuming job because there are very few people with the necessary expertise and they had to import someone.  Why did it need restoration?  Well, back in the sixties the devout ladies of the church-decorating committee decided that this ancient vine-patterned mosaic was taking away from the beauty of their flower-arrangements so they painted over it.  In beige.


Although, as I say, the stories associated with this church and area would fill a library so I won’t even try, I will give this lady a mention as part of my kick-ass Irish women theme:

‘First lady of Spectroscopy.  Dame Margaret Lindsay Huggins (nee Murray)(1848-1915) spent her childhood at 23 Longford Terrace, where she was a contemporary and neighbour of Sir Howard Grubb, where they they shared an interest in optical instruments. Margaret even constructed a small telescope herself to map stars by night and sunspots by day.   Indeed, it is said that Grubb had a hand in bringing together Margaret and her future husband Sir William Huggins already a distinguished astronomer.  They were married at Monkstown Church of Ireland on 8th Sept 1875.  He was 51, she was 27.


Although she often portrayed herself as her husband’s able assistant, it is now accepted that she was the main impetus behind a programme of photographic spectroscopy.  Spectroscopy is the analysis of electromagnetic radiation (including visible light) to determine the properties of an astronomical object.  Much of her work relates to the study of the Orion Nebula, which showed that the nebula consisted of gases rather than stars as previously believed.’

Do you see that?  She lived over a hundred years ago, she didn’t have a penis, and she more or less invented spectroscopy.  What are the chances?  Kick-ass, that’s what I’m telling you.

And, just so you’re fully up with the programme, since it mentioned the unfortunately-named Sir Grubb, also a Monkstown local:


‘Sir Howard Grubb and the Periscope.  Although the principles of the periscope were well known beforehand, Sir Howard Grubb(right) (1844-1931) was the first to design a practical periscope for use in a wartime submarine during WW1.  He had worked with his father’s firm, the Grubb Telescope Company, which helped to build the Leviathan, mentioned at no. 3 above. Grubb telescopes were also supplied to the Dunsink and Armagh observatories.  There is a plaque on his house at Longford Terrace, Monkstown.  By the date of the 1911 census he was living in no 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.’

And just because I think his facial hair is so impressive let’s do one more:


‘Radio Waves and the first sports commentary on radio  George F Fitzgerald (1851-1901), TCD (Trinity College Dublin) physics professor was the first to suggest that an oscillating current in suitable circumstances would produce radio waves.  His work, together with that of Maxwell and Hertz, laid the groundwork for Marconi’s wireless telegraphy.  In 1898, in a collaboration between Marconi and Fitzgerald, the first sports commentary on radio took place at the Dun Laoghaire Regatta.  His writings on the speed of light pre-date Einstein, and he attempted to fly a glider in TCD sports ground.  He spent much of his youth in Monkstown, and his father was rector at Kill o the Grange.  The Fitzgerald Crater on the Moon is named after him.  It is 110km in diameter, with some sub-craters. Unfortunately, it is on the far side of the moon, never seen from earth, and only visible from satellites.’

Moving right along.  Behind the red-hot mess is one of my top-five Happy Places.  I ♥ M&S, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.


We’re now in Blackrock where Amy goes to school.  She walks past this octagonal church which also had a free tour with a treasure hunt and chocolate buttons.  They know how to promote heritage in these parts, I’m telling you.


Then we head through Booterstown and you can see how close we’ve been to the sea all this time.  The tide’s out right now and it looks as though you could walk right over to Howth, that hilly bit in the background which is the northern headland of Dublin Bay.  We live on the southern headland.





This one’s looking towards the city and the two towers at the Poolbeg Generating Station, visible from almost anywhere in Dublin.


A few more houses:







A park:


More churches:



The commuter train level crossing:


And St Vincent’s Hospital, controversial site of the new National Maternity Hospital:IMG_7443

Now we’re coming into the posh area of Ballsbridge with its Georgian architecture.  In Georgian times the width of your front doorway, the fanciness of the decorative fan arrangement above it, and the number of steps up to it were all signs of wealth and status.





Nowadays just being able to live in Ballsbridge at all is a sign of the same.



And here I got distracted by my own hand.  A few days earlier we’d been to Amazon’s summer family day – the Mad Hacker’s Tea Party – and a lovely girl henna’d me.  It’s gone now but I did love it while it lasted.


Finally we’re arriving in the central city.  Josh sometimes eats his lunch by the canal a bit further up from here and occasionally gets to see the locks being opened for boats to pass through.


Here we have the National Maternity Hospital, the other side of the St Vincent’s story and the birthplace of my first baby.  I will say that having parking available would add a little something to the experience.



We have arrived at Merrion Square with its Oscar Wilde statue so beloved of tourists, and also, on top of a plinth, a small green statue of his pregnant mother.  Oscar grew up just across the street at No. 1 Merrion Square.


Because it’s pretty cool I’m going to let someone with way more knowledge than me  – a writer for the website – describe it to you:

The surprising geology of Dublin’s Oscar Wilde statue

Gavin Kenny

Science Editor

Incorporating five beautifully colourful and exotic rock types from three different continents, the sculpture of Oscar Wilde in Dublin’s Merrion Square is truly a geological wonder.

The city of Dublin sports innumerable statues and sculptures of its famous former residents but most, quite literally, pale in comparison to the striking, multi-coloured sculpture of its beloved son Oscar Wilde. Since its unveiling in 1997, the work of art, commissioned by Guinness Ireland Group and executed by Danny Osborne, has earned its place as a regular stop on Dublin’s tourist trail. But not many people, geologists included, appreciate the true beauty of the work.

Walking up to the statue for the first time I was immediately struck by the shimmer of Wilde’s trousers and on closer inspection I found them to contain huge crystals of a mineral called feldspar up to a few centimetres across. My face right up against the statue I was then attracted to Wilde’s lurid smoking jacket. The materials were clearly natural yet they seemed to flow so fluidly. I was reminded of the Ancient Greek sculpture of Nike adjusting her Sandal – a marble relief from the Temple of Athena Nike at the Acropolis, Athens (410-405 BC), in which the sculptor makes solid marble appear to flow like fabric and hang almost weightlessly.

My interest ignited, a quick Google search later I came across a fascinating review of the sculpture and its geologically aspects by Prof Chris Stillman who spent forty years in College’s Geology Department. I soon learned of the extraordinary rock types used by Osborne to produce Wilde on his perch. The mesmerizing trousers worn by Wilde are composed larvikite – a coarse-grained igneous rock often known as Blue Pearl Granite due to its striking blue iridescence. The larvikite perfectly mimics a coarse tweed fabric and the effort of shipping it from the Oslo Fjord in Norway, is easily justified.

“The vivid colours, straight from the natural world, capture Wilde’s flamboyant character.  One can easily imagine Wilde, adorned by his unapologetic smoking jacket, shimmering trousers, and cheeky smile, flicking his head towards a US Customs Control officer to offer: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”

Wilde’s brash smoking jacket is a combination of green nephrite jade from the extreme north of British Columbia, close to the Yukon, Canada, and pink thulite from Western Norway that composes the collar and cuffs. The Canadian jade is from a zone of contact metamorphism where relatively rare ultramafic magma intruded the local country rock, while the Norwegian thulite was mined from veins in metamorphosed shales and sandstones.

Wilde’s black shoes and socks may take a back seat to their chromatic siblings but they are no less exotic. The black Indian granite, known as charnockite, is from southern India and contains a distinctive pyroxene mineral known as hypersthene.

Ireland too contributes a piece of its geology to the jigsaw. The huge rock on which the sculptor has perched Wilde is a 35 tonne boulder of quartz transported from the Wicklow Mountains where it had weathered out of a vein in the Leinster Granite. Osborne, who found the boulder himself, must be congratulated on placing Wilde so naturally. In the words of Wilde himself, “being natural is simply a pose,” but this reclining pose, as the subject faces his childhood home on Merrion Square, is a true demonstration of a master artist at work.

To complete the piece, Osborne employed the bare minimum of man-made materials. Wilde’s shoes are finished with delicate bronze laces while the head (modelled on that on Wilde’s living grandson Merlin Holland) and hands were original composed of porcelain. However, the head fell into disrepair and was replaced by a more durable jade one in 2009.

In addition to the beautiful use of wonderful natural materials, I love the cleverness of the sculpture. The vivid colours, straight from the natural world, capture Wilde’s flamboyant character so perfectly. One can easily imagine Wilde, adorned by his unapologetic smoking jacket, shimmering trousers, and cheeky smile, flicking his head towards a US Customs Control officer to offer: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” He struts on, head held high, his heavily polished, charnockite-granite-black shoes clicking loudly as he exits.’

It’s a shame that Oscar Wilde was treated so abysmally in life, and nothing makes up for that, but it’s pretty cool that so much thought and effort went into the statue.

And now I am going to take pity and let you go.  We’ll continue our tour another day.




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Summertime, And The Living Is Easy

Well, if you’re a high school student it is.  Do you know how long Amy and Daniel are on holiday for?  Three whole months.  Twelve weeks.  That is just excessive, amigos.  Right now we’re at the mid-point.  They have already had the equivalent of a full NZ-length summer school holiday and they have another whole one to go.  Ridiculous.  It should not be allowed until they’re old enough to be made to go down to the SuperValu and get a job.  Are you picking up what I’m laying down? By the time school starts they’ll be so used to living the teenage dream of doing absolutely nothing that it’ll take until Christmas to get with the programme again.  For the love of God.

One good thing about these overly generous school holidays is that the place is awash with holiday programmes and they all look awesome (although a fair few also look awesomely expensive).  There was a Summer Camp Expo at the local fancy-pants hotel a couple of months ago and we all went along and picked up pamphlets (and I got a free massage and little chocolately ball thing from the hippie stall).  They call them summer camps although apart from one or two they don’t involve staying overnight, much to Noah’s disappointment.  They’re day programmes that run for a week or two, or sometimes you just pick and choose individual days.


The fancy-pants (some call it Royal Marine) hotel.

The one that Amy was all excited over was the Connemara Maths Academy and it does look like something almost out of this world.  There are several variations depending on which outdoor activities appeal most and they’re all in spectacular venues like the stunning Kylemore Abbey.


Amy saw the list of activities:


and the photos on the website:



and read snippets from previous camps:

‘Day 4 CMA Summer Camp July 16-22

Cian kept everyone in track to finish their sound tracks in Music Technology workshops while James ran Challenges and puzzles including the Pythagoras Squares.
Tunnels and Team Tasks followed by Graham’s workshops on electricity and Sine Waves.
Surfing was a big hit! Kevin and his team gave everyone the basics in 5 minutes and then it was off into the Wild Connemara Surf!’

and she wanted to do ALL THE THINGS.

Her preference was the one offering aeronautics and a flight simulator, which would have all been excellent, except that it cost €800.  And it was less than a month away.  And we would have wanted to send Daniel too because based on all his testing over the years he should be a lot better at maths than he is and we’ve always believed that it’s a matter of finding someone who knows how to teach it in the way that his brain can hear it.  If anyone can do it it seems as though the very brainy types that run these camps could.  If you spend the morning surfing then the afternoon looking at the mathematics behind waves it seems to me you’ve got a better chance of capturing the interest and imagination of someone like Daniel than your average maths teacher.

But, €1600.  Hell no.  I see there are kids who go to two or three in a row at the different venues.  That is serious disposable income.  I am in awe.

After looking through a few more pamphlets Amy settled on a murder-mystery film-making course at the Gaiety School of Acting in the venerable Smock Alley Theatre.  She could also have chosen a Vikings themed one (she was tempted; they offered special tuition in stage combat which would obviously come in handy often in her day-to-day life in a house full of siblings) or Wicked, Grease or Hairspray themed musical theatre workshops.

smockalley smockalley2 smockalley3 smockalley4

Noah could have done Roald Dahl, Star Wars, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Witchcraft and Wizardry or Whodunnit themed camps and Cassia could have done Under the Sea, Disney, Adventurers or Storytime Stars workshops, and I did think about putting all three of them in, but then something better came along.

I had been suffering from too many choices for Noah and Cassia.  I wanted them to do them all, because they looked so good, but it would have become expensive pretty quickly.  Within walking distance there was art camp, Lego camp, drama camp, music camp and a variety of sports camps, as well as a couple of general bit-of-everything camps.  Most of them run throughout the holidays so if you had enough cash you could book your children into them all.  Josh was worried that I was about to do just that when I went along to their school one morning to find it covered in posters for a two-week summer camp at the Sallynoggin Youth and Community Centre just across the road. It was only open to children from their school and the neighbouring estate, so they would all know each other, and it was very very cheap.  Sallynoggin is considered a disadvantaged area and I imagine there was subsidising going on because I can’t see how they could have provided the programme they did otherwise.

So I signed them up, chose Tuesdays for my compulsory once-a-week mother help day because the other days involved bus trips (I have done my time on school buses full of over-excited wee ones, people.  Done. My. Time) and counted down the days.

Well, it was great.  Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were away days where they packed them on a coach and took them to Marlay Park, a great big park full of interesting stuff that we’ve never been to because it’s a long way by public transport; Clonfert Pet Farm in Maynooth (pronounced ‘Minoot’); Airfield EstateWells House and Gardens down Wexford way which had a Fairy Forest and a Gruffalo; and on the only wet day in the whole fortnight, the beach.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays they did painting and clay, scavenger hunts and ball games, a trip to the pool and a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, a barbeque and general playing.  It was run by three ladies who took no nonsense and called everybody ‘lads’ and were generally amazing.  I enjoyed my Tuesdays too.  Noah and Cassia ran off happily each morning and it didn’t start until ten so we didn’t even need to spoil our holidays by getting up early.  Win all around.


Although Amy also loved her theatre camp, it’s imprinted on my memory for entirely different reasons.  On the Thursday afternoon of that week the phone rang and the lady said Amy’s hurt herself and can you come please and I swear, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve had that phone call.  I had four children with me and was more than an hour away so Josh went.  They had been playing bullrush and she tripped and hit a wall hard enough with her face to snap off a front tooth and, although we didn’t realise until later when all the swelling had gone down, break her nose.  It was quite a mess although she, used as she is to breaking things, was far more concerned about the possibility of not being able to go to the last day of her workshop.  She had scenes still to act in and her group had already re-written them to accommodate her new look (something about a lunatic asylum – details escape me) and she wasn’t bothered at all by looking like she’d been run over by a combine harvester.

As it turned out, after a trip to the dentist she was able to finish her camp.  She did spend the weekend lying on the couch though.  The tooth couldn’t be capped immediately because of the mess her face was in and she spent a week looking like a pirate, but is back to normal now and we just have to wait and see if the root endures.  The nose may need surgery but we’ll cross that bridge when and if.

To be fair, she was due.  She broke a bone a year for three years up until last year.  As December approached we told her she’d better hurry up or she’d lose her streak.  When she said she was going ice-skating with her gym class, I cleared my schedule.  Seriously.  But she came home intact.  Now that she’s done a twofer it covers last year and this year so I can relax because it feels like everything’s as it should be.

Daniel hasn’t done a camp yet, and probably won’t.  There is an awesome-looking multi-sport one at Trinity College and I know he’d love it but he’s not one to go on his own.  He’d go with a friend but, despite my motherly prodding, hasn’t done anything about trying to organise one to join him.  The other kids would all enjoy it too but it’s not cheap and they’ve had their turn.  So he’s mostly spending his time lurking around home moaning about whatever I suggest.

Today, though, he wasn’t moaning.  At my book club on Wednesday the ladies told me about Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey, only three kilometres from our house.  There’s a pier that kids jump off, they said, and I thought, that sounds like us.  So when I woke to find the sun splitting the stones I made us all go.  Daniel and Josh rode there and the rest of us took a 5-minute bus ride and a 10-minute walk (we don’t have as many bikes as people, you see).

And wasn’t it fabulous.  Dublin is a beautiful city, the southern coastal edge where we live is particularly so, and Dalkey is the jewel in the crown.  Here is our morning:


The view from the top deck of the bus outside our house.


Fancy houses they have along Coliemore Road. You can’t see it well in the picture but this one has a gorgeous archy thing there.

IMG_7943 IMG_7945 IMG_7949



This is Dalkey Island.  In the Stone Age there was a spear-head making factory there; later it was where they kept their slaves.  Now it houses sea birds, a few feral goats and the Martello Tower you can see there.



You can’t see too well but the water was brilliantly clear.  Just like the Mediterranean.



No filters.  The sky was that colour.




Then we got down to business.


Then we went to a café in Dalkey for crépes and eggs Benedict.  Despite the eternalness of the summer holidays, occasionally the living is easy.


Posted in family life, Irish life, kids | 2 Comments