Thursday, 4 January 2018

Three bandstands on
three Victorian seafronts

The Victorian bandstand on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire was restored in time for last year’s bicentenary celebrations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

We are still within the ’12 Days of Christmas,’ and in the past few days I have had a few post-Christmas strolls along the piers and promenades of Dún Laoghaire and Bray, where the Victorian bandstands are reminders that seafront strolls have been a popular way of getting back into shape for almost 200 years.

The East Pier in Dún Laoghaire, which is popular with walkers from throughout South Dublin, and the Victorian bandstand and shelter are important features of this pier.

The harbour dates from 1817, and the bicentenary celebrations last year included art, theatre, architecture, food, literature, the spoken word and sailing, with President Michael D Higgins opening the celebrations last May.

The Victorian shelter above the bandstand on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The harbour was built over a 42-year period from 1817 to 1859. As part of the preparations for last year’s celebrations, the bandstand and shelter were restored to their original condition in 2010 by the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.

Both buildings boast cast-iron filigree bracketing their columns. The bandstand has an ornamental dome, while the sun shelter has a slim, tough truss. Both structures have been restored between 2007 and 2010 to bring them back to their Victorian glory.

The detailed ornate brackets, dainty roof crests and ornamental features painted in crisp white make for a visually stunning centrepiece on the East Pier and they give the harbour an appearance more like a seaside resort than a bustling, busy port town.

The bandstand and the pier in Dún Laoghaire feature in the 1996 movie Michael Collins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Both the bandstand and the pier feature in the movie Michael Collins (1996), in a scene where Liam Neeson (Collins) and two of his co-stars walk along a seaside promenade that is Dún Laoghaire East Pier, and a band is playing on the bandstand.

Today, many people find the bandstand is a perfect spot to take a rest during a walk along the pier and to take in the views of the harbour and the bay. During holidays and summer festivals, the bandstand is often a venue for local musicians to entertain people.

The Victorian bandstand in Bray … originally there were three bandstands on the Esplanade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The bandstand on the garden side of Esplanade in Bray is the only bandstand from three that has survived through the changes of time. Like many Victorian bandstands, it is octagonal in shape and has decorative cast-iron columns that support a copper clad roof.

The Esplanade in Bray was laid out in 1859-1861 by William Dargan. It includes a concrete path that is four metres wide and that separates and protects the gardens from the beach and sea, with a number of openings to and from the beach and the gardens.

The other surviving buildings on the garden side include a small rectangular plan shelter built in cast-iron and timber and with a metal deck roof, and small kiosks wit copper clad roofs.

As the last surviving member of a group of three, Bray’s bandstand is a valuable, useful and decorative Victorian legacy that fits in with the 19th century buildings along the promenade.

The Victorian-style bandstand in Kilkee, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Earlier in the year, I also became familiar with the bandstand on the seafront promenade in Kilkee, Co Clare, on the Wild Atlantic Way. This bandstand, which is a protected structure was only built as recently as 1940. But it looks like other Victorian bandstands with its octagonal shape and design. Its felted octagonal roof is capped with a cast-iron spike.

Paul Conway architects carried out a project of conservation and refurbishment of the bandstand on behalf of Kilkee Civic Trust in 2014. The work included replacing the roof structure and finishes, and repairing the ironwork structure.

Despite its more recent date, the bandstand reflects Kilkee’s rich Victorian heritage, and a recent report suggested the bandstand as an ideal starting point for an interpretive trail of markers and footpaths leading visitors on a Victorian Heritage and Local History Trail around the town and the west end.

The sea wall and embankment around the bay began on the west side as part of famine relief work in 1846 and were completed in the 1860s. Kilkee has had a number of famous visitors over the years; the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson visited in the 1840s, and Charlotte Bronte spent most of her honeymoon in Kilkee in July 1854. In 1896, the Crown Princess of Austria visited the town.

At one stage in the Victorian era, the beach in Kilkee was divided into three parts, the middle part for men and the two outer ones for women. This arose when local magistrates heard complaints that men were bathing naked. Women were more modest, they entered the water by means of bathing boxes or machines that were towed out into the sea so that a lady could dip in the sea away from prying eyes.

The first bathing box erected in the West Clare resort in the 1830s was known as the Lady Chatterton, after the traveller and writer Georgiana, Lady Chatterton (1806-1876), later Mrs Dering, whose Rambles In The South Of Ireland During The Year 1838 was published in two volumes in 1839.

Lady Chatterton wrote at a time when tourism was beginning to develop, and her writing is marked by her high moral tone and her earnest desire to do good. She bubbles with enthusiasm as she discovers the hidden delights of Kilkee and West Clare, but she avoids the scenes of squalor and destitution.

These bathing boxes, used for changing until the 1950s, have disappeared, but the bandstand still stands on the seafront. Last month, the bandstand was the venue for an evening of carols organised by Kilkee Chamber of Commerce.

The Victorian bandstand on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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