Saturday, 18 June 2011

Dining late into the evening in Little Jerusalem

‘Little Jerusalem’ ... a painting in Little Jerusalem in Wynnfield Road, Rathmines (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Little Jerusalem was once a popular name for the area west of Portobello to beyond and Leonard’s Corner, where the South Circular Road meets Clanbrassil Street. Towards the end of the 19th century, this part of Dublin attracted a large Jewish immigrants and refugees, many of them fleeing pogroms in the Baltics and Eastern Europe

Most of the Jewish families that once lived in Little Jerusalem have moved out to leafier southern suburbs, and while the Dublin Jewish Museum survives, all the synagogues in the area have closed their doors.

However, there is another Little Jerusalem close to Portobello – a Middle Eastern restaurant in the narrow street behind Slattery’s pub in Rathmines.

There is excellent Palestinian and Lebanese food in several Dublin restaurants, including the Silk Road Café at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle, the Cedar Tree (Byblos) in Saint Andrew Street, and Rotana Café in Richmond Street, near Portobello Bridge.

Four of us were in Little Jerusalem last night [Friday] for a meal. We brought our own wine, and we ended up staying there for 3½ hours. Although the place is a small shop-front with few tables – which makes booking essential – we never felt rushed as we relaxed in the ambience, enjoying the Egyptian and Lebanese music and the Palestinian paintings on the walls, which also display beautifully embroidered Bedouin dresses.

Despite the looks from the outside, this is not another take-away – although they do take-aways and deliveries. This Little Jerusalem is the creation of Abraham Phelan, who also runs the award-winning Silk Road Café. But you could say Little Jerusalem is more “ethnic” than the Silk Road Café, and it has the advantage of being open in the evening.

The vegetarian mezza or starters include but also foul moudammas (fava beans simmered in olive oil), hummus, musabaha (hummus mixed with chickpeas, lemon and olive oil), falafel, baba ghanoush and a variety of batata (potato) dishes, all served with freshly-baked naan bread that is closer in taste and appearance to Turkish bread than pitta bread.

For my main course I had a selection of vegetarian dishes in a mixed mezza, including some wonderful falafel. For non-vegetarian diners there are also traditional Palestinian and Lebanese dishes with lamb, chicken and fish.

We finished with Arabic coffee – as good as any Greek or Turkish coffee you’ll get.

Little Jerusalem, at 3 Wynnfield Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6, is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 5 to 10 on Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 to 11.30 on Thursday, and 5 to 12.30 on Fridays and Saturdays. Telephone 01-4126912 to make a reservation. They also offer cookery classes and outside catering.

Tallaght can be bright and sunny too

Sitting in the sunshine, sipping coffee, outside RuaRed, at the end of the Luas Red line in Tallaght earlier this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I have spent three mornings in Tallaght in the past week – two mornings at the hospital for tests, scans and consultations for my sarcoidosis and my Vitamin B12 deficiency, and one at a funeral in Saint Maelruain’s Church.

Sitting in the sunshine on Tuesday morning, sipping coffee on the terrace outside RedRua, the South Dublin Arts Centre, at the end of the Red Luas Line, and again at the Interval Café, beside the Civic Theatre on Thursday morning, I realised how much Tallaght had to offer. This is Tallaght’s emerging cultural quarter, with an arts centre, a theatre and a library that ought to be the envy of an Irish city or large town, and all within a short walking distance of The Square, the hospital and public transport.

Tallaght Hospital ... two mornings of tests and scans this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The concepts behind the development of Tallaght were fine – the problems lay with the way previous Governments allowed the economy to overheat – and it is sad to see so many ground level shop-fronts vacant, and to realise that some good concepts, including the Glashaus Hotel, have failed.

When its detractors talk of Tallaght as being like Eastern Europe they are unfair to both. There are many modernised and comfortable places to visit in Eastern Europe today, and I have enjoyed visits to Bucharest and Brasov in Romania in recent years, as well as visits to Hungary, Croatia and Albania.

If Tallaght is to be compared to Eastern Europe then compare it to the best that has been developed there over the past two years. But a fairer comparison might be drawn with modern industrialised cities in northern Europe.

On a bright, sunny day, Tallaght is bright and sunny too, with many cultural and historic attractions

Modern sculpture outside the library in the Civic Centre in Tallaght (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

RuaRed, for example, is a multi-purpose arts resource and a dynamic home for the creation and enjoyment of the arts. It opened two years ago in May 2009 and works with partner organisations and tenants to provide programmes are aimed at the wider community, and it seeks to promote a diverse, high quality and innovative arts programme.

Tallaght still has some leading “High Street” names, so it was a pity then, on Friday, to see so many of the shops on “High Street” – a modern creation linking The Square with the historic centre of Tallaght – are now closed, either because of a decline in footfall, or the failure of the tenants to negotiate downward rent reviews.

Back in the historic centre of Tallaght, it was good to in Saint Maelruain’s Church once again, even if it was for the sad occasion of a funeral.

I was a parishioner in Saint Maelruain’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s, my sons were baptised there, and I served in the parish on the select vestry and as a reader until my ordination in 2000.

Tallaght’s mediaeval tower and the pinnacles of Semple’s Church seen from the churchyard at Saint Maelruain’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The monastic foundation at Tallaght dated back to the 8th century and was associated with the Ceilí Dé monastic movement, also known as the Culdees, or the “Servants of God.”

Three outstanding religious texts, the Martyrology of Aengus, the Martyrology of Tallaght and the Stowe Missal, were compiled at the monastery in Tallaght, and the Rule of Tallaght and the Teaching of Maelruain reflect the spirit of the Ceilí Dé reform movement.

The Rule of Tallaght, drawn up by Saint Maelruain for the Ceilí Dé of Tallaght, prescribed the time and manner of their prayers, fasts, and devotions, the frequency with which they ought to go to confession and the penances to faults confessed. The Teaching of Maelruain sets out in detail the prayers to be said in the Ceilí Dé monastery. The Martyrology of Tallaght was a collaboration between Saint Maelruain and Saint Aengus, written about 790 AD. It is a prose catalogue of Irish saints and the oldest of the Irish martyrologies. The Martyrology of Aengus, also known as the Feiliré of Aengus or his Calendar, is a list of saints written in verse by Saint Aengus, possibly around 800. It was completed after the death of Saint Maelruain, when Saint Aengus returned to Disert-beagh, Co Laois.

In 1179, Tallaght was granted by Pope Alexander III to the Archbishops of Dublin, who later had their country residence on a site that is now home to the Dominican Priory.

Later in the Middle Ages, Archbishop Comyn granted Tallaght to the Deans of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and the Deans of Saint Patrick’s were the Rectors of Tallaght from 1228.

The tower beside Saint Maelruain’s Church dates from the Middle Ages, when it was part of the fortifications of The Pale.

The Deans of Saint Patrick’s remained Rectors of Tallaght until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in the late 19th century.

The interior of Saint Maelruain’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Tallaght (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The present church was designed by John Semple and built in 1829 from the rubble of the older churches on this site. The graveyard has some tombstones dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, and some even from the 17th century. The graves of the artists Oisin Kelly, Evie Hone and Elizabeth Rivers are in the new graveyard. The tower beside the church, which still serves as a belfry, Saint Maelruain’s Cross and the old stone known as “Saint Maelruain’s Losset” in the churchyard are testimony to the ancient history of this area.

“Saint Maelruain’s Losset” in the churchyard in Tallaght (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)