05 January 2018

‘A truly exhilarating experience’
in ‘Ballybunion’s Champagne air’

A winter afternoon on the beach in Ballybunion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Despite the storms and high winds that have swept across Ireland earlier this week, the weather has calmed down in much of the south-west, and the rain showers are interspersed with hours of winter sunshine.

Still resolved to keep to my New Year’s resolve to increase my daily walking average, two of us headed west from Askeaton yesterday afternoon [5 January 2018], planning a walk on the beach.

At this time of the year, Ballybunion in north Kerry is still surprisingly popular. Perhaps it’s because the school holidays have not yet ended, perhaps it’s because some people are grateful for a break in the wintery weather conditions.

We parked close to the beach, intending to go for a long walk on the beach. But as we parked the car, we noticed steps inviting us up to the Cliff Walk, and boasting:

‘You are about to embark on the spectacular Cliff Path Walk, where the grandeur of the Ocean, the magnificent cliff scenery, the fresh and invigorating Atlantic breezes, combined with Ballybunion’s Champagne air, offer you a truly exhilarating experience.’

A hidden breach on the Cliff Walk north of Ballybunion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

We found ourselves on a track we had not yet noticed.

The Cliff Walk is an easy one-hour cliff-top walk above the blue-flag beaches of Ballybunion. There are rocky headlands, high cliffs, sea stacks, caves, and hidden sandy coves.

The full Ballybunion Cliff Walk takes about an hour and takes in both the north and south beaches. The track is well-fenced without interfering with the breath-taking views.

Some caves are reputed to have been the lairs and hidden strongholds of chieftains, Vikings, smugglers and pirates.

All the warnings along the way cautioned us to stay to the marked paths. But the ground was soaked after recent rainstorms. Yes, we enjoyed the exhilarating experience and the Champagne air. But eventually our feet were soaked thoroughly, and we retreated to the safety of double espressos at Daroka, a cosy and welcoming restaurant and café on the corner of Cliff Road and Main Street.

The beach at Ballybunion seen from the Cliff Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A curious house in Lichfield
with links to Philip Larkin

Duart House at 31 Saint John Street … once a home of the Larkin family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

It is easy while walking around Lichfield to pay attention to the timber-framed Tudor buildings and the Georgian and baroque buildings. But sometimes it is the curious and the unusual that catches my eye, that stops me in my tracks, and leads to uncovering interesting historical or literary associations.

One of the curious and unusual houses on St John Street, for example, is Duart House at No 31, one of the many houses in Lichfield with associations with the family of the poet Philip Larkin.

At first, this appears to be two houses, with a two-storey section set back from the rest of the street line, and a three-storey section that is flush with the rest of the buildings on this part of the street.

Duart House is a Grade II listed building under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (List entry Number: 1218204), and was first listed in 1975.

This house, which is now in divided into apartments, once had a number of offices, and had been a family home before that. The attractive front door is in the two-storey section, set back slightly from the street front, and the matching front windows at the ground floor level show how this was designed as one building.

This is an early 19th century building. It has interesting stucco work and ashlar dressings, and a 20th century tile roof.

It is built on a T-plan in a Georgian style, but I wonder whether the building includes part of an earlier structure on this site. It is two storeys, with a three-window range and with a three-storey, two-window, double-depth wing to the right.

The first floor has a sill band. There is a top parapet, but a top frieze, cornice and blocking course to the wing, and there are coped gables.

The segmental-headed entrance to the right end has an interesting doorcase with long brackets to the modillioned cornice. There is an over-light above the four-panel door.

A segmental-headed window to the left end has a brick sill and a 4:16:4 pane horned sash window. A similar window to the wing has an ashlar sill and a 4:12:4 pane tripartite sash window, with panelled pilaster strips, and there is small segmental-headed window to the right end with a plate glass horned sash window.

The first floor has windows with brick sills over the band and 12-pane horned sashes.

The wing has windows with 12-pane sashes, while the second-floor window has four-pane sashes, although the lower glazing bars are missing. The wing has truncated lateral stacks.

I am not sure where the name of Duart House originated, but the house was known as Duart House when Gilbert Warren Larkin (188-1939) died here on 14 August 1939. This branch of the family had also lived for many years at both No 7 and No 10 St John Street.

Gilbert Larkin was a son of Councillor Herbert Larkin (1846-1924) of 7 St John Street, and was a first cousin of Sydney Larkin (1884-1948), who was born at 49 Tamworth Street, and was the father of the poet Philip Larkin (1922-1988).

Gilbert Larkin’s son was Alfred Larkin (1922-1974), who was born in Lichfield on 29 December 1922. He was also living at Duart House in 1947 when he married Pauline Clements of 49 St John Street in Saint Michael’s Church on 7 June.

The Lichfield Mercury reported on 13 June 1947 that the wedding reception was held in Duart House. Alfred Larkin worked in a tobacconist’s shop in Lichfield and died at 7 St John Street, Lichfield, on 7 August 1974. His widow Pauline died in 2001.

But for my search for Philip Larkin’s roots in Lichfield, I might have continued to pass this house, noticing its architectural curiosities and delights, but without asking questions about its place in Lichfield’s history.