Killiney Beach

A very brief trip to Killiney Beach yesterday evening; two acquaintances had spent the previous scorching weekend there so it seemed like the place to be.

It’s a very nice beach with impressive foreboding cliffs but it was cold and dark (quite unexpectedly, given the week’s record so far) so we didn’t spend too long there.

The village – unlike the other south-side stops – is quite far from the village and I like to joke that Killiney is so exclusive they don’t even want the DART; well, it’s nice to see how they’ve addressed the signposting issue.

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Howth

Howth has rhodedendrons; I don’t know how they rank amongst Howth’s most famous features, but being the first bunch of flowers with their very own signpost I’ve ever seen makes me think they must be up there with the golf courses, fish shops and other delights of Howth.

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Last year I just missed the full bloom of the flowers so with the recent spell of good weather and the bank holiday weekend it was an easy decision. That’s not of true of course, there are no easy decisions for me: it was between this and a spin on the Jeanie Johnston (yesterday’s docklands fun).

The €80 fee swung it; the rhodedendrons charged practically nothing.

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It turned out to the right move anyway, however, as the bay was very foggy until about 4pm when the ship was due to return to the docks.

Splendid views of the bay were had by all. Notice how the sea is completely obscured by a mysterious mist. It was tempting to think that if it turned out to be a poisonous fog that turns people inside out how we would be the last go.

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Next on the non-existant agenda were the cliffs. This is a great walk and highly recommended. Every bit of the coast is photogenic. Here’s a small sample…

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There’s even a little “hidden” beach down a 100ft cliff. Somebody thoughtfully provided a staircase which even I felt comfortable descending.

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Here’s the cliff itself, with optional waterfall:

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After emerging from the cliff face, we worked out (from the map of Howth that has no scale) that we must have walked about 12 miles – add another 2 afterwards searching for a decent restaurant that would take two sweaty guys in t-shirts.

Thinking, perhaps, that he’d just taken a chance on two hopeful unknowns we got a hearty “fair play to yis, lads!” when we actually tried to pay for our meal.

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Docklands Festival 2006

This weekend saw the Docklands Festival return to the Liffey.

For reasons unknown I missed this last year and, since it had been voted one of the best festivals of 2005, I made sure to attend this time.

There were lots of artists out peddling their canvasses; a bit like Merrion Square on a weekend morning only on the river. They should do that every week, it was great. A big mix of stuff, from standard sketches of Dublin streets to moody atmospheric watercolours of Dublin streets to abstract pink sunsets and stuff (which we almost considered getting for the flat).

Our stomachs propelled us towards the food stalls, of which there were a huge variety. I couldn’t resist garlic bread (from a garlic-shaped stand) and later one of the group bought some orange – from a bright spherical orange-coloured stall.

Along the way we encountered music; samba, ska and, er, miscellaneous.

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Of course, there were ships too. The Jeanie Johnston was probably the most impressive. We agonised over booking for a sailing around the bay the following morning but decided it was just too risky booking something for 10am on a bank holiday Monday morning.

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My only regret was missing the duck race on the Saturday. 150,000 bright yellow rubber ducks launched from O’Connell Bridge and “raced” down to the O’Casey Bridge. There were a number of stragglers still around on Sunday, though.

Sandymount Strand

Wednesday was a glorious day. On the trek into work I remarked how lovely it would be to head out for a nice long wander after work. Against all form the sun was still shining at 7pm so, to as if to honour my half of the bargain, I hit the road.

No maps: just a bottle of water, a camera and a vague notion that Ringsend was at the bottom of the road.

Sure enough, it was.

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I soon realised I wouldn’t be seeing Fitzwilliam Square this evening (going out towards the sea in completely the wrong direction probably didn’t help); however, unbeknownst to me, Sandymount Strand lay ahead.

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I wasn’t expecting the beach “smell” a few minutes walk from my apartment but that was why I set out walking. A nice little park leads into Sandymount beach.

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The novelty of walking to the beach made the journey worthwhile by itself. Of course, everywhere is within walking distance if only you have enough time.

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What struck me about this beach – apart from the ginormous power station conveniently located nearby – was how far out the tide goes. This leaves acres of space for the actual sand and stuff.

That’s where the pleasantness ended, unfortunately; it was getting dark so I decided to take the bus home. Although not the most frequent of routes (or regular, or reliable) I threw caution to the wind and waited.

40 minutes later I gave up only to see the bus whizz past while I stood stranded 10m from the stop flailing arms about. A short sharp kick to a lamp-post later I was on the DART. Even on the south-side the buses don’t work.

Castlebar

I have a policy of taking the train whenever possible.

To explain: as a techy I can see how aircraft have trains beat when it comes to technical prowess. However, flying itself is almost too easy: aside from distance and some other factors like proximity to emergency landing sites enroute then if there’s money to be made flying from Dublin to Dubai (or any two other seemingly unrelated cities) then there is essentially nothing stopping an airline from creating a new route.

Contrast this with the effort required to implement a new train line: this involves, at a minimum, years of planning, consultation and, sometimes for really important lines, calls to the public for their opinion on proposed routes. Lastly, just when you think it’s complete, a never-ending cycle of maintenance and upgrades begins.

That’s the distinction for me; the lines are what make trains interesting, not the hardware. The line symbolises trade, energy and, most importantly, a destination. Somewhere important. To me, the train line represents civilisation and a piece of history.

Ireland’s routes are fascinating for all these reasons. Ours are among the oldest in the world and, thanks to a policy of road-building which has lasted decades, virtually all of the lines still operating have a history extending back over well over a hundred years.

Consequently, when I have to travel outside the Pale I always look for a train route but rarely expect to find one. So, when I had to play two gigs in Castlebar this weekend I was delighted to discover that it lay on the Westport line. What are the chances?

There’s only 4 services to Westport each day and they leave from Heuston, which just so happens to be awkward for me to reach. Bearing this in mind I made sure to arrive at the Luas Connolly station precisely 14 minutes before the 12.40 to Castlebar was due to leave. By an amazing coincidence the next connecting tram to Heuston was due to leave in precisely 14 minutes. Fortunately for me, a short taxi ride fixes most planning disasters.

The Westport service looks disappointing at first: it’s a fairly old bone shaker-era train from Platform 6 which is about 3 miles walk from the entrance to Hueston Station. I’d been hoping to take one of the new bullet train (for want of a better description – they do look much cooler than anything else around here but they certainly won’t travel at 300kph), mostly because I couldn’t imagine when I’d ever see myself travelling over to Castlebar again.

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These trains are actually reasonably nice inside, however. The most disappointing part is the restaurant, where I rather shamefully declined to pay €4.25 for a BLT sandwich. A three hour journey needs more than that.

The scenery outside of the train is great though. Like all the Hueston lines it passes through the open countryside of Kildare. Shortly after that it branches off somewhere and ends up in Athlone (I had no idea Athlone had a train service), passes through Roscommon and some other places and eventually reaches Mayo. The gorse is in full swing at the moment so I caught a few blurry pictures.

Upon arriving in Castlebar I was very amused to note that there’s only one track. This might explain the 4 hour gap between services!

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Castlebar itself is a fairly…provincial town. I stayed “downtown” in a bed and breakfast just a few moments’ walk from the concert venue and the local pubs – in other words, just a few moments’ walk from everywhere.

Saturday afternoon was exploring time; a walking tour of the entire town takes almost 30 minutes. Along the way we encountered a brilliant little shop which, although primarily a music shop where we sampled some trombones, also had a pile of metal detectors and sold guns, too. What a combination!

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The nights in Castlebar were spent in a genuinely nice little pub which sold, I am reliably informed, fabulous Guinness. However, it has to be said that there was little else to do in Castlebar town but visit the pubs. Had I a car or simply more time I would have explored the region and probably enjoyed it much more.

The pub session made the chances of rising for a 7.58am train home on Sunday morning seem vanishingly small. However, it was either that or wait until 2.30pm for the next service.
Upon returning to Dublin, the taxi was enthused to hear that I was just back from Mayo. A beautiful part of the country, apparently, but once he heard I’d only been to Castlebar he offered his apologies.

It never stopped raining, either.