Where the Streets Have No Name
I have often found myself in the situation that I discover more about, and learn to better appreciate, the place I am living by showing a visitor around it. In the act of hospitality, it seems, both the host and guest earn something from the equation. So was the case in my final weeks in Dublin, when I began showing around a newly made Spanish friend from Alicante. In our spare time -- of which both of us had in heaping amounts -- I took to showing Jose around some of the sights of Dublin. Although I had been to all of them before, they seemed to take on a greater wonder as I shared them to foreign eyes.
Among the garden spots we checked out were Sandymount strand, with its impressive, sweeping tidal basin that empties out daily. It is unique in that one can walk "out to sea" on the flat, dry seabed for up to a kilometre, and turn back to get sweeping vistas of Sandymount, Dun Laoighaire and other parts of South Dublin. The Where's-Waldo-striped smokestacks of Poolbeg tower over in the near skyline, while dozens of marine birds swoop among the trees and scrubby hillocks of the Irishtown nature reserve, a converted landfill site that juts out into Dublin Bay. It is hard to imagine when one is walking along the sandy flats how the whole basin fills each evening when the tide comes in. But that is the case, and the whole concept was actually the setting for a recent art installation made of hundreds of used Christmas trees, which were "planted" in the sandy flats while the tide was out, only to be surrounded by gently lapping waters when the tide came in. In the moonlit cityscape, this sight must have been a surrealist fantasy.
Another day, getting the DART train from under the crumbling wing of the soon-to-be-renovated Landsdowne Road stadium, we headed out for Dalkey and Killiney Hill. Home to both the Irish national football (soccer) and rugby teams, Landsdowne is in pretty sorry state and in dire need of sprucing up, along the lines of the renovations carried out several years ago at Croke Park, the large G.A.A. stadium on the North Side of Dublin. My friend noted that the stadium where his local Alicante team plays is actually larger and more modern than Landsdowne.
Taking the DART southward, we passed along the marine marshlands and sandy flats in Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire, with impressive views out over Dublin Bay to the primeval rocky crag of the Hill of Howth. Curving inland, we reached out destination in the village of Dalkey, now an upscale suburb of South Dublin. Having a certain British colonial charm, Dalkey is certainly one of the more picturesque areas of Dublin, with Tudoresque shopfronts and a mediaeval castle. It is chock full of upscale little ethnic eateries and boasts amazing vistas out to sea from Sorrento Point. But perhaps the best views from the Dalkey area can be achieved by scaling Killiney Hill, which is home to a small park and towers over the local landscape.
Originally dedicated to Queen Victoria in colonial times, the park offers impressive panoramic views of Dublin city, out to the Dublin mountains in the southwest, the Wicklow mountains and Bray Head to the South, and the Irish Sea to the East. All this is framed in a bucolic, wooded setting atop the city, so it is really quite spectacular. The top of the hill is dotted with odd little follies, including a rocket-shaped monument, a strange Mayan-looking pyramid in miniature and other curios.
Winding down the far side of Killiney hill towards the area of the same name, one passes by a number of homes of the rich and famous of Ireland's arts and music scene. The large, walled-in homes and meticulously manicured gardens on the steep hillside boast impressive views out to sea, and a secluded, quiet corner of city in which to live. Among the more famous of the homes here is that of Bono from U2, which can be picked out by the ubiquitous graffitied messages left by adoring fans. A small alleyway next to the house winds its way down to a small entrance to Killiney strand, passing under a railway tunnel. Turning back to look inland, one can see the southern face of Killiney hill overhead and the impressive houses once more, this time from below. It's really quite a nice spot.