09 June 2024

A short visit to Dublin
and Bray brings back
good memories from
40 and 50 years ago

Time moves on at McCloskey’s in Donnybrook … memories of poetry readings, drama groups and rugby matches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I was back in Dublin at the end of last week for a very short family visit, and we stayed for two nights in Bray, Co Wicklow, in the Martello Hotel on the Promenade, facing out onto the sea front.

Seeing the Bray People on a news stand in a nearby supermarket on Friday evening was a reminder that this was one of the titles in the Wexford People Group of Newspapers, where I had worked 50 years ago.

Until I left the Wexford People for The Irish Times in late 1974, one of my pleasant assignments each week was the design and layout of the front page of the Bray People.

Evening lights in Bray and a table at Butler and Barry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Bray has many family links and memories. Until, perhaps, the 1960s, an aunt had lived only three days away from the Martello, at Seanchara House, once known as Tullira, in Wavecrest Terrace on Strand Road. My parents first lived on Putland Road in Bray after they were married almost 80 years ago, at end of World War II in 1945.

I also remember many childhood trips to Bray, when I was able to sneak away and enjoy the thrills of the ‘Bumpers’ and the Ghost Trains or – when some of us were more adventurous – climbing Bray Head and pretending we could see across to the coast of Wales on the other side of the Irish Sea.

In more recent decades, I often enjoyed walks along the seafront in Bray or around the harbour, followed by coffee or lunch in cafés such as Carpe Diem.

Living near Milton Keynes for the last two or three years, it is difficult (though not impossible) to find the same opportunities for a walk on any beach. So, as we had dinner in Butler and Barry on one of those evenings, it was good to share the joys of looking out onto the sea below and beyond.

Friday was a packed day, with family visits in Rathmines and Knocklyon, and the Dart connections between Bray and Lansdowne Road were ideal for setting out on a walk through some of south Dublin suburbs that retain many sweet memories for me, and that allowed me to recall some key anniversaries that take place this year.

The former Bea House on Pembroke Park … memories of student days at the Irish School of Ecumenics 40 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

A short walk from the Lansdowne Road stop on the Dart line in from Bray brought me to Pembroke Park, off Herbert Park, and the house that was once known as Bea House when it was the administrative centre of the Irish School of Ecumenics.

I was burning the candle at both ends 40 years ago, when I studied post-graduate theology there in the 1980s while working at The Irish Times spending a lot of time campaigning with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

There were happy memories of Robin Boyd, who had been the director of ISE, Alan Falconer, who was my tutor and, at the time, also a neighbour, and Bill McSweeney, who supervised my dissertation, leading to my graduation through ISE from Trinity College Dublin in 1984.

Other part-time lecturers 40 years ago included Des Dinan, who was then working on his PhD and who is now a professor at Georg Mason University, while the visiting lecturers included Jürgen Moltmann, who died last week, and Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), who died two years ago.

There were happy memories too of many walks with other students from Pembroke Park through Donnybrook and along Marlborough Road to Ranelagh and lectures in Milltown Park.

I had to stop too to see McCloskey’s pub in Donnybrook, although it is now closed and has been sold. This had been a favourite ‘haunt’ in the early 1970s, when I was involved in poetry groups and poetry groups based around the corner in Muckross Park on Marlborough Road. And there was the house at 52 Marlborough Road, where I stayed those weekends I travelled up to Dublin from Wexford until 50 years ago, when I left Wexford and the Wexford People and joined The Irish Times at the end of 1974.

Street art in Rathmines last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

I walked on through Ranelagh, once again sought out the house in Old Mountpleasant where my grandfather had once lived, and then found myself on Belgrave Road, where I worked 20 years ago, from 2002 until 2006, when I joined the Church of Ireland Theological College, later the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

I stopped for lunch in Rathmines, visited my brother in Rathmines and once again visited the house in Rathmines where my father was born in 1918, and the house in Terenure where he spent his childhood.

By late afternoon, I was at the house where I lived in Knocklyon from 1996 until 2017, when I moved to the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick. At the polling booth in Firhouse, I bumped into an old friend and neighbour, Dr Vincent Kenny. We caught up on many shared memories in Delaney’s, also known as the Knocklyon, before I caught a bus to Blackrock Station, and the Dart to Bray.

Evening lights at Blackrock Station last week waiting for the Dart to Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on image for full-screen view)

I am working on a paper for Salvador Ryan’s next collection, looking at ‘Childhood and the Irish.’ Throughout the day, I found myself thinking of the various places James Joyce had lived as a child, including Brighton Square, Rathgar, and the house where he was bor, Saint Joseph’s Church in Terenure where he was baptised, the houses in Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, and back at Martello Terrace, Bray, where he had spent parts of his childhood years, and the place in Terenure where his mother was born.

But next Sunday is Bloomsday (16 June 2024), and perhaps I should tell some of those stories then and more of them in that planned book that Salvador Ryan is commissioning and editing.

Meanwhile, as I was on my own Bloom-like odyssey around Dublin 4 and Dublin 6, Charlotte was back in Bray, and decided to climb Bray Head. Sorry to say, she did not catch a glimpse of the coast of Wales either.

We had dinner in the Martello on Friday evening, and caught the plane back from Dublin to Birmingham yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, and were back in Stony Stratford by early evening.

The ‘Bray People’ … still going 50 years after I left in 1974 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

1 comment:

Christine Brown said...

Intensely interesting. Intriguing. Great reading