19 June 2019

Why Rathgar residents
fear their community
may become a corridor

Residents in many parts of Rathgar are worried about losing their trees and parts of their gardens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in the Rectory in Askeaton this evening after two busy days in Dublin.

A late lunch in the new Damascus Gate restaurant in Terenure on Monday afternoon was a good way to prepare for two Church committee meetings in Rathmines on Monday evening, a full morning in Templeogue on Tuesday involving check-ups on health issues, including the present state of my Sarcoidosis and my B12 deficiency, catching up on research in the RCB Library in Rathgar, an interview with Ivan Yates on his ‘Hard Shoulder’ programme on Newstalk, discussing priesthood and clerical celibacy, and the launch of a new book in the Royal Irish Academy … all followed by an evening meal in Carluccio’s, sitting out on a surprisingly pleasant summer evening in Dawson Street.

Between Terenure and Rathgar, and between Rathgar and Rathmines a few times this week, I found many warm memories of Rathgar coming back to me. Two pairs of uncles and aunts had lived in Rathgar: one couple on Rathgar Road for most of their lives and another briefly on Orwell Road.

Later, in my late 20s and early 30s, when the Student Christian Movement was based at No 168 Rathgar Road, I was involved in the production of a number of magazines produced in the house, including Movement and Dawn, and Christian CND met there regularly.

A terrace of Victorian houses on Terenure Road East (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Rathgar is a beautiful suburb, although its boundaries may be difficult to delineate at times. At one time, when I was a part-time student in the Church of Ireland Theological College, its postal address was Rathgar. But by the time I came to work at what became the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, the post office had changed the address to Churchtown. Is Kenilworth Park in Rathgar or Harold’s Cross?

There are elegant terraces of Victorian houses, delightful coffee shops, a curious antique shop and some architectural surprises, such as Castle Lodge, and Rathgar is well-served by bus routes, including 14, 15s, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 49 and 83.

Last weekend, Rathgar and Terenure had their very own celebrations of Bloomsday.

But walking through Rathgar on Monday and Tuesday, it was impossible not to notice the Red Ribbon campaign, with ribbons on trees and posters on railings and gardens along Terenure Road East and Rathgar Road declaring, ‘Rathgar is a Community not a Corridor.’

Castle Lodge, a hidden delight near the junction of Rathgar Road and Rathgar Avenue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The National Transport Authority of Ireland has announced the core bus corridor project. This project claims it will deliver 230 km of dedicated bus lanes and 200 km of cycle tracks along 16 routes inside Dublin.

But for the past few months, people in Rathgar have been asking serious questions about these plans, raising issues about health and safety, and fearing the loss of a community and the loss of heritage.

Rathgar Road Residents Group launched the ‘Rathgar Community Not A Corridor’ campaign to raise awareness of the Bus Connects Corridor proposals. They say their goal is to save the local communities and businesses, to ensure safety for everyone, in particular children and the elderly, to protect the environment and to maintain the unique heritage of these areas.

They are opposing Route 12, which they say threatens to destroy the communities of Rathgar, Rathmines, Terenure and Rathfarnham.

But is this all symptomatic of the ‘Nimby’ approach – not in my backyard? Or is this a genuine concern for both the environment and for efficient public transport that is going to meet the needs of the mid-21st century and contribute towards the urgent reduction in Ireland’s carbon emissions?

The Red Ribbon campaign is visible throughout Rathgar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

One poster on the campaign’s Facebook page pointed out recently that, ‘from a purely CO2 point of view,’ the average tree can absorb about 21 kg of CO2 a year. The plans involve removing up to 1,700 trees, although it also involves replanting in many areas.

The math involved, as that poster calculated, is interesting, according to Ben Boles: 21 x 1700 = 37 tons of carbon absorbed by the trees every year, in an ideal scenario. The average CO2 emissions for new cars sold in the EU in 2017 was 112g/km. The average mileage on an Irish car is 17,000 km a year; 112g x 17000 = 1.9 tons of CO2 emitted by the average new car in Ireland in 2017; 37 divided by 1.9 = 19; 19 is the number of people that would have to commute by bus instead of private car to offset the loss of these trees.

He concludes the BusConnect proposals will significantly increase passenger numbers, ‘certainly by more than 19 anyway,’ and that from a purely CO2 perspective, this will be better for the environment than not doing it.

But the campaign has replied that replanting trees is not a direct offset for uprooting the present trees along Rathgar Road and Terenure Road East. The campaigners point out that the number of trees will still be much lower, and that in addition the trees will be a long way from maturity even when they are planted.

They argue that the average mileage of 17,000 km include long-haul travel outside cities and long distance travel by people outside Dublin, neither of which would be reduced by BusConnects.

They also claim that the calculated increase in passenger numbers is not based on any actual hard evidence, that more buses will be needed to accommodate the new route layouts, and that the carbon cost of the works themselves must be taken into account.

The number of planned replacement trees is nowhere near the number of trees about to be lost, and replacing large trees with small trees such as olive would still lead to ‘a huge reduction in carbon capture even if they replaced them on a ratio of 1:1, ignoring maturity delays.’

The next time you are in Rathgar, walk around the area and see what you think.

Residents are concerned that many houses in Rathgar are going to lose their trees and parts of their gardens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

‘Thank heavens we are living in Rathgar’ is a delightful ode written by Harry O’Donovan and performed by Jimmy O'Dea sometime in the 1930s or the 1940s:

In these days of agitators,
Isms, schisms and dictators,
When one never knows whom one is talking to;
When we’ve princes picking winners
And we’ve plumbers at golf dinners,
It’s so difficult to really say who’s who.

Even at our rugby dances
One’s beset by vulgar glances,
And our finer sensibilities are shocked.
’pon my soul I’m not romancing,
We are more danced against than dancing,
And the flappers come and tell you they’re half cocked.
So, thank heavens, we are living in Rathgar.

O the solid, quiet refinement of Rathgar,
Where we have our evening dinners,
Where we never hear of Shinners,
And even those who can’t afford it have a car.
There are some quite decent suburbs, I am sure.
O Rathmines is not so bad or Terenure.
O we’ve heard of spots like Inchicore,
But really don’t know where they are;
For, thank heavens, we are living in Rathgar.

Someone must live in Kilmainham,
So it’s hardly fair to blame ’em,
And in Dartry they are almost civilised.
But in Fairview, goodness gracious,
Fellows tennis in their braces;
In Drumcondra all their shirts are trubenised.
Although it’s worth relating,
It’s really devastating,
At Baldoyle I saw my butcher in the ring.
So what with cinemas unsightly,
And the Gaiety gone twice nightly,
It’s no wonder that we’re proudly forced to sing …
That, thank heavens, we are living in Rathgar.
O the solid, quiet refinement of Rathgar.

In Killester they eat cockles
And those fearful things – pigs knuckles;
But you’ve never heard of tripe in Grosvenor Square.
O those accents on the Northside quite appal,
But they never get beyond Rathmines Town Hall.
They’ve so many kids in Kimmage
That they say life’s just a scrimmage …
(Oh I’m tired – I’m going to the Buttery to have one …)
So, thank heavens, we are living in Rathgar.

Dinner in Carluccio’s in Dawson Street, Dublin, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

After this book, we may
never think of Irish marriage
in the same way again

With Professor Salvador Ryan of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and Dom Colmán Ó Clabaigh of Glenstal Abbey at last night’s book launch in the Royal Irish Academcy

Patrick Comerford

I was at the launch of a new book, Marriage and the Irish: a Miscellany, on Tuesday evening [18 June 2019] at the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street, Dublin.

The book was launched by the art historian, Dr Rachel Moss, of Trinity College Dublin, and many of the contributors were there to celebrate this new publication.

Marriage and the Irish is published by Wordwell and is edited by my friend and colleague, Dr Salvador Ryan, who is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

There last night in the RIA were many of the contributors, including Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth, Miriam Moffitt of Maynooth, and Dom Colmán Ó Clabaigh, a monk of Glenstal Abbey and a mediaeval historian.

This new book follows the success of Death and the Irish: a Miscellany (2016), and is the second volume in a series, ‘Birth, Marriage and Death among the Irish,’ exploring the institution of marriage in Ireland from the seventh century to the present day.

The book includes 80 papers or articles by 75 writers, who are scholars from a range of academic disciplines, including History, Art History, Celtic Studies, English Literature, Theology, Sociology, Archival Studies, and Folklore, along with practitioners working in both religious and humanist ministries.

Our short chapters reflect on Irish marriages over the centuries, both at home and among the Irish diaspora.

My two three-page contributions are:

15 – John Leslie, the ‘oldest bishop in Christendom’, and his eighteen-year-old wife (pp 50-52); and

47 – Four Victorian weddings and a funeral (pp 163-165).

But more about these at another time.

The other topics covered include: Early Irish marriage law; secrets of the mediaeval Irish bed; why romantic trysts in churches had become so common in the later Middle Ages; 16th century Irish court cases concerning impotence, drunkenness, and dowries; domestic violence in early modern Ireland; a case of bigamy among the Irish in 17th century Portugal; clandestine marriages; ‘mixed’ marriages; a runaway romance in mid-19th century Sydney; the 19th century honeymoon; murder at a wedding in Knocknamuckly in 1888; the tale of the aristocrat and the actress; marriages during World War I; marriage and the introduction of the children’s allowance; marriage divination; marriage in Irish folklore; weddings among Dublin’s 20th century Jewish community; desertion and divorce ‘Irish-style’; marriage among Presbyterian and Methodist communities in Ireland; weddings and the Travelling community; finding one’s future spouse in the Farmer’s Journal; the Woman’s Way guide to successful marriages in 1960s Ireland; humanist weddings; and the introduction of marriage equality.

And there is much more.

The publishers promise this anthology may yet become an indispensable resource for everyone interested in the social, cultural, religious and legal history of Ireland. They even say that perhaps we may never think of Irish marriage in the same way again.

‘Marriage and the Irish’ is edited by Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth and published by Wordwell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)