27 March 2015

Herons and weeping willows by
the River Dodder in Rathfarnham

Weeping willows by the banks of the River Dodder at Bushy Park and behind Rathfarnham village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

The daffodils are in full bloom and spring must surely have arrived. But the cherry blossoms on the tree at the front of the house are still very small, and many of the trees in the area are still bare, with a wintery look about them.

But the clocks move forward on Sunday, and the extra hour in the evening will make it easier to go for walks later in the day.

This was the first evening this year that I had an opportunity to walk most of the way home in daylight after work, and for over an hour I walked along the banks of the River Dodder, from the footbridge below the Loftus Triumphal Arch leading across the river into the grounds of the High School as far as Templeogue Bridge.

A heron poised to catch fish in the River Dodder at Rathfarnham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

At the small footbridge at the High School, a lone swan was squat on the opposite bank of the river, preening herself. As I continue on, a heron flew down from the trees and stood on the footpath, peering into the water, poised to harpoon any fish he could spy.

As I moved closer, he stood on the edge of the path, content to let me pass behind him, confident I was no threat, and as I continued he seemed to follow my footsteps, fearless and in search of a better vantage point.

Little could he have known that further upstream, above the weir near Rathfarnham Bridge, a handful of Polish-speakers with fishing rods were equally attentive and ready to spoil his prospects.

Bright yellow daffodils pushing through waste land and weeds by the weir near Rathfarnham Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Even at the weir, bright yellow daffodils are pushing through the weeds and rough patches of waste land.

I crossed Rathfarnham Road at the bridge, and continued on upstream until I was just below Rathfarnham Village. There a half dozen or so cement blocks allowed me to step across the river, and to join the path on the north bank, between the trees on the river’s edge and the high wall that encloses Bushy Park.

I stepped into the park briefly to admire the weeping willows that dip into the small artificial lake before continuing along the path.

Bushy Park covers over 20.5 ha and covers a large area between the suburbs of Terenure, Templeogue and Rathfarnham. This was once the grounds of Bushy Park House, first built in 1700 by Arthur Bushe of Dangan, Co Kilkenny, Secretary to the Revenue Commissioners. John Hobson became the owner in 1772 and changed the name of the house to Bushy Park, possibly after Bushy Park in London.

The third owner, Abraham Wilkinson, added almost 40 extra hectares to the estate in 1791. Five years later, he gave the house as a dowry to his only daughter Maria in 1796 when she married Sir Robert Shaw, who was MP and Lord Mayor of Dublin. Shaw had lived nearby at Terenure House, which later formed the nucleus of what is now Terenure College.

George Bernard Shaw was related to the Shaws of Bushy Park – his grandfather was a nephew of Sir Robert Shaw.

An invitation to see the willows by the artificial lake at Bushy Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Shaw family sold the house and grounds at Bushy Park to Dublin City Council in 1953. The house and 8 ha of grounds were then sold in 1955 to a teaching order of nuns, who then set up Our Lady’s School for Girls.

I continued along the river bank, behind Templeogue, with Rathfarnham Shopping Centre on the opposite bank; everywhere daffodils were pushing through the grass, along the river bank, in the open spaces, against the rear walls of the houses that face onto Templeogue Road.

In places, the bank is steep and almost as high as I am. As I pushed on, I unwittingly disturbed a second heron, who was below me on the shingles in the river bed, and soared up above the shopping centre before flying on in the direction of Bushy Park.

Eventually, I found myself at Riverside Cottages, a crescent of cottages built in 1909 and hidden behind Templeogue Tennis Club, looking almost like a rural oasis hidden from suburban life and the pleasures of the tennis club.

But the plans for a linear park along the banks of the Dodder are still a dream waiting for completion, and eventually to continue along my way I had to walk through Templeogue Village and on to the bridge at Firhouse.

The change in the clock on Sunday morning brings longer evenings and the hope of more walks by the banks of the river in Rathfarnham, Templeogue, Knocklyon and Firhouse.

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