Saturday, 4 January 2014

‘Ye who now will bless the poor
shall yourselves find blessing’

The tide covered the sands and there were no cars on the beach at Dollymount after last night’s storm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

It seems every piece of coastline on these islands took a battering over the last few days, and that nowhere escaped the high tides, the gales and the storms.

This afternoon, council workers were diligently reinforcing the sea defences along the coastline in Clontarf after yesterday’s heavy battering, moving and replacing sandbags and clearing away some of the heavier debris that has been deposited along the seafront.

But the sunshine was strong despite the low temperatures, and I could feel the strength of the sun against my face as I walked across the wooden bridge at Dollymount and along the Bull Wall that link Clontarf with the Bull Island.

Walking along the wooden bridge connecting Clontarf and the Bull Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On my regular beach walks, I constantly wonder why local authorities allow cars onto our beautiful beaches. The breach at Dollymount is firm and flat and stretches for 5 km, and it is said many Dubliners learned to drive on this beach at low tide.

However, there were no cars on the beach early this afternoon. Traffic across the wooden bridge was slow, and cars could get no further than the entrance to the Royal Dublin Golf Club. The popular, narrow, sandy access to beach used like a road at weekends by motorists to gain access to the beach was now like a river as the waves continued to push the water in past the sand dunes.

A redundant warning at Dollymount this afternoon: ‘Emergency Access No parking This Side’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The signs on the northern side of the passageway read: “Emergency Access No parking This Side.” But with the long grass banked up behind the new flow of water this looked more like a reminder of the canal leading from the Bay of Fethiye into Çaliş in south-west Turkey.

The lengthy, sandy beach was covered by the tidal waters, and the quaintly-names Ladies’ and Gents’ Bathing Shelter offered no shelter at all, with the waves and debris lapping against the steps leading into the water from these concrete structures.

The exceptional winter sunshine and the aftermath of the storm had many walkers out on the wall. No-one dared wade down onto the beach itself.

The water covers the steps beneath the ‘Gents’ Bathing Shelter’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

From Dollymount, two of us continued on along the road by Saint Anne’s Park and through Bayside and Sutton to Howth. Once again, people were out in large numbers, attracted by the sunshine and the aftermath of last night’s storm.

We had two double espressos and two panini in Il Panorama, a pleasant if packed Italian-Australian café and wine bar on the seafront. The Perth was filled with mozzarella di bufala, artichokes and aubergines; the Alice Springs had pesto, fresh tomatoes and pecorino cheese.

Ireland’s Eye and the Lighthouse at the end of the East Pier seen from the end of the West Pier in Howth this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

But the sea was still calling, and we walked the length of the West Pier, past the restaurants and fish shops, to the end, to see Ireland’s Eye and the Lighthouse at the end of the East Pier across the narrow passages, and beaches at Clermont and the Burrow near Sutton to the west.

On the way back, we stopped once more to look at the mop-up operation in Clontarf. Between the North Wall and the East Wall, Dublin Bay was deceptively calm.

Looking back at the wooden bridge at Dollymount with the twin towers of the Pigeon House beyond (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Until now I have never liked winter – the cold, the snow and the ice may look pretty, but I have seldom enjoyed them, and at this time of the year I tend to cope with this attitude by planning or imagining summer holidays in the Mediterranean. However, we have had one of the most wonderful summers, and one of the warmest autumns in recent memory, and this has turned out to be a beautiful winter despite the harsh weather in the past two weeks or so.

Calm waters at Clontarf this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Yet the cold, the floods and the rains must be making life even more difficult for those who already find it harsh: the homeless, those living on the streets, those in sheltered housing or housing that is vulnerable in this weather, people who cannot afford adequate heating. And I am reminded of the words in the Christmas carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’:

Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps my good page,
tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master’s step he trod,
where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor
shall yourselves find blessing


Debris washing against the North Wall this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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