Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Calm after the storm and a last
walk on a beach for this year

A final walk on the beach in 2015 … on the beach in Balbriggan after Storm Frank passes by (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Storm Frank has swept across these islands and town and villages across Ireland, Scotland and northern England have been devastated by the high winds, heavy rains and swollen rivers that have burst their banks.

The River Bracken, which flows through Balbriggan, was flowing fast through Balbriggan this afternoon, its waters deep brown and heavy, its pace determined, but the river channel is well banked up and it looks like it never threatened to break its banks as it rushes down to the harbour.

The River Bracken is known locally at ‘The Canal’. It once formed a lake in the town, but this was reclaimed through land-fill in the early 1980s to form a public park and the car park where we parked.

According to PW Joyce, the river gets its name from the town, and the name is derived from the Irish Baile Breacain (‘Brecan’s Town). The river, in turn, probably derives its name from the Irish word breicín (‘little trout’).

However, local tradition says the true Irish name of the town is Baile Brigín, meaning the “Town of the Little Hills,” a reference to low hills surrounding the town. Others say the town’s name means Breaga, the area of a tribe or clan known as the Bregii tribe.

We parked in the car park where the small lake could be found until the 1980s. On the hill above us stood Saint George’s, the Church of Ireland Church founded over 200 years ago for the growing town the Revd George Hamilton of Hampton Hall, in the face of opposition from the Rector of nearby Balrothery.

The Railway Viaduct and the Lifeboat House built into one its eleven arches are two of the best-known landmarks in Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015; click on photograph for a larger image)

We crossed the car park, and walked through the round-headed arches of the fine railway bridge onto the small beautiful sandy beach beside the harbour.

The harbour was built by Baron George Hamilton of Hampton Hall in 1761 and is still a working harbour, although fishing vessels and sail boats were all tied up this afternoon and there was no sign of any activity.

William Dargan’s eleven-arch Railway Viaduct and the Lifeboat House built into one the arches are two of the best-known landmarks in Balbriggan. The viaduct was completed in 1844 as part of the Dublin to Drogheda line and was officially opened in March that year.

The Lifeboat House was once used to smoke fish and was later used as a storehouse. It is built of rubble stone with dressed limestone surrounds to the openings. It is said the upper part of the building was designed to provide sleeping quarters for the cox swain who gave up using it because of the noise of trains overhead. It has a fine slate root with a dormer window set into the apex at the front.

The original plaques with the date and initials of the station are placed on either side of the main entrance. However the rear of the building is covered with graffiti, and this part of Balbriggan’s architectural heritage needs attention.

Graffiti covers the beach-side of the Lifeboat House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Although Storm Frank had calmed down, but the waves were beating strongly against the beach.

The Front Beach is a natural inlet and crescent shaped, fitting neatly between a headland crowned by a Martello Tower to the north, the harbour to the south, and to the west the hills on which the railway viaduct is built.

This was probably my last walk on a beach for the year 2015. Two friends had invited us to lunch, and we stayed on until darkness fell. As we left, gentle lighting was highlighting the architectural beauty of Balrothery Church.

Calm after the storm … the Harbour in Balbriggan this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

1 comment:

George McAvoy said...

Thank you, Patrick, for this ramble round my home town. I too remember the "canal" which wasn't a canal at all! I believe it might have been a small reservoir which had something to do with the light industrial nature of the town. With all the seaside available to us my brother and I didn't spend much time up there, especially as it was home to a fairly nasty family of swans. The harbour and the lifeboat house were familiar stamping grounds for us and the Front Strand (never "beach") was our favourite hunting ground. We were baptised in St Georges and mother played the organ for many years. I left the town in 1959 when my parents emigrated. My father was ordained in Worcester in 1960 and I opted to continue my own path in TCD towards my own ordination in 1963. I occasionally visit with my family who wonder at the good fortune we had to grow up there. Have you noted the Victorian coat of arms still on the wall of the one-time factory near the ststion? Thanks again, and all the best for 2016. Keep beach-combing!