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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Damien Hirst's £50m worth of ethically-sourced decadent bling puts me in mind of the peculiar skull-like shape of Co. Wicklow, where I grew up.

The Wicklow mountains are the brain matter, the Blessington lakes its (one) eye, Baltinglass, Shillelagh and Tinahely the teeth in its gummy jaw, the river Dargle the water on its brain, and my home town of Bray some manner of carbuncle under its hairline.

A landslide buried the Valley of the Geysers in Kamchatka the other day, and I wonder what I’d remember of Wicklow if it too disappeared under a landfill of greater Co. Dublin’s estate agent junkmail, discarded SUV owners’ manuals and other such necessities of modern urban living. For example:

When I used to take the Wicklow bus there was one driver who would stop at the long farmhouse by the road just past Newtown and nip in for a few minutes, leaving the engine running. Did he have a weak bladder? Was he carrying on with Bridey the milkmaid? If so, let’s hope the dose of clap she left him with compensates him in full for his taste in country and Irish music, as inflicted on his powerless commuters.

The grave of ‘Emily Dickinson’ in a small cemetery near Ballinaclash. A Ballinclashet is mentioned in Beckett’s Murphy.

The Bray Head Hotel at the end of the prom (and Bray is also mentioned in Murphy, I might point out), which appears to double as a morgue or filmset in waiting for an adaptation of J.G. Farrell’s Troubles, yet which never closes down, and whose barmaid for many years had a glass eye which she would occasionally unscrew and clean for the amusement of the zero drinkers in the bar.

The inscription ‘Christo Regi’ on the cross at the summit of Bray Head. Christo was a northsider from Clontarf who enjoyed trips on the chair-o-plane up the side of the Head and Reggie was his illiterate brother.

There was a bouncer in the Star Amusements beside the Bray Head Hotel whose surname was Beatty and who thus acquired the (very cultural) nickname of Chester. My youngest brother was a friend of his. He (Chester) was killed in a gangland hit in Dublin, staggering into the street before dying. Unless he actually was Chester Beatty, it strikes me. Hm.

A cousin of Beckett’s I met in Greystones Library once, first name Horner, a furniture seller by trade.

I used to sit on the spur between upper and lower Loughs Bray and think of Synge. Then I’d cycle to the high land over Roundwood, around Tomriland, and do the same. If you take the woodland trail in the Devil’s glen you’ll encounter one of his poems carved on a bench:

Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities and the sites of men,
Lived with the sunshine and the moon's delight.
I knew the stars, the flowers and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountain, moors and fens.

The story from Hugh Maxton’s memoir Waking of his uncle Bob stopping at Lawless’s Hotel in Aughrim for a lemonade during the War of Independence, only for the Tans to put in an appearance and start frisking everyone at the bar. Having spent the day blasting stones on his farm, he had some dynamite in his pocket. ‘When they were two paces or one away from Bob, his neighbour [whom he’d just informed of his predicament] broke out in execration heightened in the Wicklow whine of the man then and Bob telling it forty years later – No point searchin’ the fuckin’ Protestant fuckin’ bastard, ahny hoaw, fur he’s fuckin’ one of yees ahny hoaw.

Adam Duff O’Toole, Wicklow heretic. He denied the incarnation of Christ, asserted that the Virgin Mary was a prostitute, denied the resurrection of the dead and generally made a theological nuisance of himself before being burned for his damnable teachings on Hoggen Green in Dublin in 1328.

I remember the armies of sheep on the side of Djouce, and how they would flood out over the side of the hill the closer I got, always that little bit ahead.

There is a trailing branch in Kilmacurragh arboretum carved in the shape of a lizard. A Komodo dragon, I fancy.

I remember the coat of arms on the gate above Vartry Reservoir of the archers in the tower, the Grays’ coat of arms perhaps, Sir John Gray of O’Connell Street marble having built the reservoir whose contents floods out of Mr Bloom’s tap to fill his kettle in the Ithaca chapter of Ulysses.

The man in sideways brown trousers with the shovel beard who would mount the Wicklow bus every day and alight in Newcastle for the leisurely walk up the avenue of the psychiatric hospital.

The placename Aughavannagh, which I misunderstood to mean ‘blessed acre’. But that isn’t what it means at all.

The fact that it was an Irish-speaking priest in Kiltegan who saved Jack Mapanje’s life when he was allowed one telephone-call in Hastings Banda’s Malawi, and used his own Irish to tell his friend what was happening.

John Joyce moving to Bray because, he claimed, his wife’s family were much too mean to consider paying the train fare from Dublin to come and see them.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ghost tunnel on the side of Bray Head, before he changed his mind and excavated a second one further in.

That clodhopping Christian brother who taught me in Greystones. Once I was given a box of chocolates to bring into school for him, and rather than give him the sweets or take and eat them myself I ate the top half, and handed him the opened box with a few mangy sweets underneath all the empty wrappers I’d left inside. That showed him.

A Wicklow TD and junior minister for the environment telling the Dáil, in relation to Sellafield, that he ‘didn’t hold’ with radioactive waste at all, or even at all at all, his chief qualification for the job being apparently his experience as a fertiliser salesman.

And I remember the big boats in the harbour, loading, unloading, the dance of the forklifts, the orange-peel crinkle of the waves’ skin in the breeze.

That’s twenty Wicklow things. Now that I’ve remembered them I don’t know why I didn’t remember twenty other things instead, or why I remember any at all. Ah, Wicklow. I still have an unused Dart ticket in my back pocket if anyone needs one. With it being out of date you might have to blag your way past that sourfaced Northern git who made so many people’s lives a misery in Pearse Dart Station. There’s, that’s twenty-one things. Except no it’s still twenty, because Dublin doesn’t count.


Mark Granier said...

Ah, The Bray Head Hotel. We used to sneak into the disco there on occassion (through a toilet window I think).

Three of us (myself and my two cousins) got told to leave recently for.... well, for being too quiet and middle class I suppose, and having the effrontery to be 60% of the bar's population. Or maybe the owner remembered our criminal pasts.

"Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ghost tunnel on the side of Bray Head, before he changed his mind and excavated a second one further in."

Is that the one that you can just make out from the Wicklow-bound DART as it emerges of the Dalkey tunnel? It opens its pinprick of daylight like a tiny eye low down on Joyce's "snout of a sleeping whale" (which is actually impossible to see from the tower in Sandycove). Then the eye closes again. The DART rattles on. The whale goes back to sleep.

John said...

The sourfaced northern git is gone! But his replacements are just as sourfaced and even more vigilant today, I fear.

Thank you for the list, btw. Really enjoyed that post even if I only ever visit Wicklow once a year max.

Mark Granier said...

So, is your Brunel's "ghost tunnel" the one you can see from the DART? Do you know what I'm talking about? I can't be the only person who's noticed this, can I?

puthwuth said...

Apologies for the delay! Between the Ram's Scalp and the Brandy Cove, yes.

Mark Granier said...

Thanks Putwith, all too easy to imagine I'm talking to no one but myself through the cyber-fog.