Thursday, 25 July 2013
Naming babies and preserving buildings
over coffee in Rathgar and Harold’s Cross
A few weeks ago, I was having a quiet coffee on my own outside the Bijou Deli in Rathgar, reading the Guardian and watching the passing traffic – human and motorised.
I’m not one to pry – generally – but as I overheard the conversation at the next table, I reminded myself of how Maeve Binchy said regularly that listening to other people’s conversations on the bus, on the Tube, or in the lift gave her some of her best and most realistic dialogue.
It seemed that the couple at the next table had just started dating each other. The questions were routine, but important for establishing who each other was ... tastes in coffee, best friends, favourite movies and television programmes, best holidays ever, and so on.
I suppose anthropologists would easily identify is all as part of the preening and courting ritual. Inevitably, as they moved on to the next coffee, they started talking about babies’ names.
What would the royal baby be called? ... What names do like? ... What about Alexander? ... Do you like Cameron – not the prime minister, the name?
And then she asked him: “Do you like Irish names?”
“Like what? Like Rory or Seamus?”
“No, real old Irish names.”
“Oh, you mean like Fuinneog? Or Tráthnóna?”
“Yeah, what do you think?”
I had to start reading the paper in earnest to stop myself from laughing out loud.
As I was passing by the Bijou Deli again early this afternoon on my way to a funeral in Harold’s Cross, I was almost tempted to stop there again in the hope of hearing a similar conversation. I imagined a poor baby being brought to me to be baptised as Tráthnóna. Or a disturbed Prince Fuinneog wishing his parents had called him plain George.
I continued on to Harold’s Cross – which I had often thought deserved a decent café, and was delighted today to spot the very place: the Black Apple Café at 206 Harold’s Cross Road.
I only had a double espresso and a biscuit, but they have an imaginative menu that made me wish I had arrived there in time for lunch. They have tables out on the street, a sunny back patio, and friendly, helpful staff.
Last month, the Black Apple Café won the JCI Friendly Business Awards for the Best Eco Business in Dublin – meaning they have clear environmental standards and policies on energy, water, waste, disposables and pollution, and sourcing local ingredients and produce, rather than buying and selling mass-produced food.
It was packed this afternoon, but I am glad I managed to find a table at the window looking out at the main street in Harold’s Cross. The café opened in May last year, and I can only wish them the best of successes in the future.
Harold’s Cross has changed a lot since my parents lived in the area many years ago. The former Church of Ireland parish church beside Mount Jerome Cemetery is now the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The site of the Kenilworth Cinema is desolate, and there are many empty shops. On the other hand, the old Park Inn, which had been closed for many year, has been renamed and has bright wall paintings on the corner with Lower Kimmage Road.
Still, Harold’s Cross is the sort of Dublin 6 village that could do with a makeover and some TLC that would put the heart back into it. And the Black Apple Café makes a good start to that … I’m sorry I was engrossed in coffee and the Guardian this afternoon that I forgot to take photographs inside and outside. But I’ll be back soon with my camera ... and for more of that coffee.
Across the street from the Black Apple Café, No 201 Harold’s Cross Road is the house where the Quaker abolitionist Richard Allen (1803–1886) was born. This is a large red brick building dating from 1750, and it appears on Rocque’s maps of 1756 and 1760. Looking at the house from the street, the surviving 18th century features include the blocked front doorcase.
By1870, this was a ‘Female Orphanage’ with a small central path leading to the front door and an extended the north range (now No 199) with a Post Office. In 1936, the main building was still marked on maps as an orphanage. By then the north range was rebuilt, but the shop I remember as Healy’s grocery shop is now closed and derelict.
Many efforts have been made in recent years to have the complete building classified as a Protected Structure, and to ensure the protection of the railings and plinth wall in front.
But, looking at the building today, the windows are boarded up and it looks derelict; the front garden is overgrown, and there is sense that the whole site is being neglected. Are we about to lose another piece of Dublin’s architectural heritage?