Saturday, 9 January 2021

A first-time walk along
a stetch of the Dodder
River Valley in Firhouse

A new red pedestrian and cycling bridge spanning the Dodder was built and installed in November 2014 as part of the Dodder Greenway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I try to do something new or something different at least once a week. It keeps my mind open and inquisitive, and it usually involved exercise and walking, so it is good for both mind and body. In these times of Covd-19 restrictions and social distancing, doing something new does not have to involve traveling great distances, and it is interesting to find how many new, undiscovered and interesting places are on our own doorsteps.

Last week, I was in Dublin for a consultation with my GP, including a check-up on my pulmonary sarcoidosis and a much-needed injection for my Vitamin B12 deficiency. During that visit, I took opportunities to visit DĂșn Laoghaire, to research a photo-feature on the architecture of Kenilworth Square, to take a New Year’s Eve after-dark walk in Marlay Park, and to visit the Dublin Jewish Progressive community’s cemetery, just 2.5 km from my home in Knocklyon.

I also went for a walk for the first time along a stretch of the River Dodder between Firhouse and Old Bawn, along paths and riverside walks that have been newly opened in recent years.

During the years I was working in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute full-time (2006-2017) and part-time (2002-2006), I often walked along the Dodder banks from Rathfarnham to Firhouse. But this was my first time to walk further west on this stretch of the Dodder Valley Park and Nature Trail.

A new red pedestrian and cycling bridge spanning the Dodder was built and installed in November 2014 as part of the Dodder Greenway. It is a landmark, single-span, steel structure that was designed for accessibility and decreased impact on its environment, with near level access to both sides of the Dodder River Valley.

The bridge links the communities of Firhouse and Tallaght, midway between Old Bawn and the M50. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to view the river from directly overhead, allowing park users to experience the full grandeur of the Dodder and its riverbanks.

Winter skies in the Dodder River Valley between Firhouse and Old Bawn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Dodder River Valley is an important wildlife corridor in an urban environment, allowing protected species like bats and otters to pass through the urban environment at night-time when the park is quiet and dark. The public lighting along the bridge was designed to ensure there is no overspill of bright light onto the river below.

The lime-rich soils that underlie the slopes around the bridge support grasslands that are rich in flowering species. These include flowers such as Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Clover, Cowslips, Ox-eye Daisy, Fairy Flax, Wild Carrot and Pyramidial Orchids.

These meadows are also important for pollinating bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, and also for other insects like beetles, butterflies and moths.

The Dodder River Valley between Old Bawn Bridge and the City Weir at Balrothery and Firhouse is a proposed Natural Heritage Area and hosts a range of interesting habitats like wet woodlands, flowering grasslands, and natural gravel riverbeds. It also hosts species like Kingfishers, Heron, Otter, Dipper and Wagtails.

Two of us walked as far as the Old Bawn Bridge, which marks one of the earliest fords of the River Dodder. A three-arch bridge was first built there in 1800, but it was undermined by the frequent floods of the turbulent upper Dodder.

The current single-arch bridge at Old Bawn was built in 1840, spanning the point where the river drops down over the weir to become the wider, slower-moving middle Dodder that makes its way through Old Bawn Park.

At this point, the riverbank is lower on the left bank, along the park’s riverside path. Woodland covers much of this bank, with willows, alders, sycamore, birch and poplar trees. The riverbanks on the far side of the river are sometimes undercut by the power of winter floods, exposing the underlying glacial till, sands and gravel. As the river passes into the woodland, it splits into many small rivulets and streams that wind their way through the willow and alder trees.

The Dodder Valley is unique in being an urban river that still retains many of its natural river processes and its special habitat and species. All this has been on my doorstep since I moved to Knocklyon in 1996, but it took until last week for me to find and explore this part of the Dodder Valley for the first time.

The Dodder Valley is a unique urban river that retains many of its natural river processes and its special habitat and species (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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