Dublin part 1: This Is Your Liffey

Dublin GPO sm
Earlier this year during the first months of the pandemic, Sheltering-In-Place, I decided that since there was no travel back to Britain this year I would do a virtual tour of the island, and that was a fun and enlightening journey. I wanted to do another virtual tour, maybe of France, but the thought of it overwhelmed me a bit (the planning, fitting all the places into a certain number of pages, and pretty much everywhere in France is sketchworthy) so I picked up a much thinner sketchbook a mate gave me last year from Dublin and decided to do a shorter virtual tour around Ireland. This quickly became limited to just Dublin (there are only fifteen spreads in the book) as the paper was very thin, too thin for watercolour, and I knew I’d need to add a bit more paint to the Irish countryside. Well, mostly green, and probably grey for the sky. But a trip around Dublin, well that sounded pretty grand. My mate who gave me the book was in the process of moving to Dublin while I drew this, so I was thinking of him at the time, but also of my own family history, most of whom came from Dublin, from my grandparents’ generation backwards (3 from Dublin, 1 from Belfast). I still have loads of family in Dublin, the vast majority I’ve never met or know anything about, except for my great aunt and a couple of my mum’s cousins I met when I was a kid. I only just recently learned about the family beyond my nan’s generation, when my sister dug a bit further, finding out some very interesting things about great-great-grandfathers with big General Melchett moustaches. Nothing too exciting, just regular Dubliners going back years. We just didn’t really know much though, people didn’t talk about the past. It was a fun bit of discovery, but Anyway, let’s start this Dublin journey off with that most important of Dublin buildings, above: the GPO, or General Post Office, on O’Connell Street. The first time I came to Dublin in 1988 this was one of the first places we came to (right before going to eat at Beshoffs, which I’ll never forget because I poured sugar all over my chips and got upset). I knew about the 1916 Easter Rising – hard not to, I was brought up on the rebel music – and this was the epicentre, the headquarters of the rebellion it was here that Pádraic Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. So, a good place to start, but we had a lot of city to cover, in no particular direction. So let’s set off around Baile Átha Cliath.

Dublin O'Neills sm We move down across the Liffey to the corner of Suffolk Street, Church Street and St.Andrew’s Street, to the huge O’Neill’s pub. I’ve never been here but I like the look of the building. This was the page that convinced me I wouldn’t be adding paint to any other pages (though I gave it a go one more time). You’ve got to draw pubs in Dublin. If I should come back I’d mostly be doing that. In fact I’d go when it is most likely to rain so I’d have an excuse to go to more pubs. I hear the rainy season is shorter than people say though, it’s only from August to July. (I got no problem recycling jokes from my London tour bus days, feel free to use that for whatever city, Manchester, Portland, Brussels). This one is near the Molly Mallone statue. Molly Mallone wheeled a wheelbarrow through streets of all different widths selling coppers with muscles from Hawaii Five-O. 

Dublin Four Courts sm Here is the river Liffey, with the Four Courts along the north bank. The river isn’t green, it just appears like that in with the trees reflected in it. It’s not been dyed like that one in Chicago does on St.Patrick’s Day (is it Chicago, I don’t know, or care). Also, it’s just green paint on thin paper. The Liffey (An Life in Irish) flows from the Wicklow Mountains, curves around a bit and ends up in Dublin Bay. Dublin is centred on the Liffey and has some lovely bridges, the most famous being the Ha’penny Bridge, the iron footbridge which I did not bother drawing because it’s difficult and I couldn’t be bothered. I’ll draw it in person maybe if I go there unless it’s raining in which case I shall be in the pub drawing people playing bodhrans. Last time we were in Dublin my wife twisted her ankle on it. The bridge you can see is called the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge which is from the 18th century. I remember a fountain/statue that used to be on O’Connell Street called the Anna Livia which represented the female embodiment of the River Liffey, my great-aunt told me they called it the Floozie in the Jacuzzi. It’s moved somewhere else now. 

Dublin Christchurch sm And this is Christ Church Cathedral. We stayed in an apart-hotel near here last time we were in Dublin, six years ago, and went to the Dublinia exhibit located in the big section to the left. That was a lot of fun, learning about Dublin’s Viking history in particular. There’s a lot of Viking in Irish history, my great-uncle Albert Scully used to tell me that the Scullys had Viking origins, but I don’t think he really knew, but it would explain why I read so much Hagar The Horrible when I was a kid I guess. I did love Hagar. Sorry, Hägar. And Helga, and Hamlet, and Lucky Eddie. They did that advert for Skol on TV where they’re all singing Skol-Skol-Skol-Skol but Lucky Eddie doesn’t know the words. That might be where the Scully name really comes from, people singing Skol-Skol-Skol. Skol is actually from the Danish for Cheers, skål, though in fact the beer originated in Scotland. This is really off topic now. By the way I am aware that ‘Scully’ bears zero relation to ‘Skol’ but it doesn’t stop Americans mispronouncing my name to sound like Skol, or mis-spelling my name with a k despite seeing my name spelled with a c literally all the time. It comes from “O Scolaidhe” meaning “scholar”, and like so many Irish names has one of those nice little shields you can get on keyrings in gift shops all over Ireland. My family names are pretty common Irish names: Scully, Higgins, O’Donnell, McIlwaine (that’s the branch from Belfast), plus there’s Barrys and Kennedys and Crokes and Byrnes and more in my siblings and cousins families, plus who knows what. I do remember going to Rock of Cashel (the ancient seat of the Kings of Ireland) when I was 12 and being stunned to find so many graves bearing the name of Scully, along with the big Scully Cross, which is more of a pillar these days, because the top of it was blasted off when struck by lightning in the year of my birth. Moral: don’t make a Scully cross?

Join me next time for part two of my virtual Dublin tour, when we visit another pub, a publisher, a campus, and I dunno, another pub.  

it’s been seventeen years since i set foot in dublin

Dublin Brazen Head sm
(Click on image to get a bigger view) And now a return to posting, with something very special. While I was back in the UK, my family and I took a little jaunt across the Irish Sea to Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland. In case you were unsure. This was a big deal for me; my whole family is of Irish origin, with many of them being either from Dublin o having lived there, and the Irish thing was a big part of growing up in my corner of north London, in my family and community. I grew up around all forms of Irish music from the Wolfe Tones to, er, Daniel O’Donnell. I own a lot of Ireland football shirts, and a few Celtic ones too. I like my lemonade red. However, I’ve not been back to Ireland in a really long time. Seventeen years in fact, so I have long been overdue a visit. I have been told how much the place had changed in the past couple of decades, with the influx of money and the housing boom (and the subsequent recession), and they even have motorways there now. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Dublin, and my mum, who came with us, hadn’t been to Dublin in even longer. We were then very pleased to see that, yes lots of things had modernized and there were way more people and traffic than years ago, but it was still very much Dublin, there’s no changing that! One evening, my mum and I got fish and chips from a local chip shop, where a group of kids, aged about nine or ten, just started chatting away to us all friendly like about this and that, as if they’d known us for years; that was the Dublin I remember! It was my wife’s first ever trip to Ireland, and my son’s as well, in fact the trip there was all his idea. We stayed near the Liffey not far from Christchurch, it was nice talking with my mum about various great-grandparents that lived not far from there; we of course do still have a lot of family in Dublin but haven’t seen them in decades, wouldn’t know them now. We did a lot of walking about, there were crowds, but it was just nice to be back in Ireland after all these years. My mum and I joked about the characters that used to go up and down O’Connell Street years ago, long gone now. On the first night though, everyone was exhausted, so by myself I walked a block around the corner to the Brazen Head pub to do my first pub sketch in Ireland – my one and only sketch in Dublin, as it happened. It was a lovely place, too.

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The Brazen Head proudly calls itself “Ireland’s Oldest Inn”, established in 1198. It has a pretty good claim too, and I’m basing that on at least one person saying so, so it must be true. The present building is from 1754 and the pub is referred to as far back as 1613 but it was built on the site of a tavern dating from 1198, apparently. It is said that Irish heroes Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins drank here (not at the same time necessarily), as well as literary figures such as James Joyce and Brendan Behan. Ah, I know this type of factoid from my London tour-guide days, the old ‘Dickens used to drink there’ story; Dickens drank everywhere, there was barely a pub he didn’t sink a pint in. I believe a lot of people came here though, and it is still popular – it was filled with a good mix of tourists and locals. I sat and sketched one of the bars (there are several bar-rooms) from a little table opposite. Live music wafted in from the bar-room next-door to this, There was an enormous amount to draw – for some reason there were a large amount of souvenirs from U.S. police departments (I can’t think of the connection between American police departments and the Irish). I had an Irish cider, which, given that my stomach was feeling very unusual all day, turned out to be a pretty bad idea. I finished up my intensely detailed sketch without adding any paint and wandered home (an apartment a block away) along the Liffey, feeling pretty sick. And I wondered, warmly, how many of my forebears stumbled along this very river feeling this very way (presumably after more than a single pint). I wonder how many of them were sketchers?

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It feels weird that this ended up being my only sketch in Ireland, having waited all these years to come back, but it was a pretty busy family trip, we rushed here and there about Dublin and took the train down to the beach at Bray, and then flew back to London. I did go back to the Brazen Head the second night we were there with my wife to watch some of the live Irish music, a bunch of guys surrounded by tourists sat on bar-couches playing traditional music. Sure, the sort you get in Irish-themed pubs everywhere, but this was in your actual Ireland and that was good enough. This was a brief trip, but it was really nice to be back. And I even stocked up on my favourite chocolate bar, Cadbury’s Tiffin. Erin go Bragh!

lá fhéile pádraig sona daoibh

blarney castle

Well, it is Saint Patrick’s Day, so a drawing of an Irish landmark in green pen on green card seems appropriate. Of course St. Patrick’s colour was in fact blue (which might be easier on the eye than this particularly lime-verdant shade) but who are we to quibble. But speaking of quibbling, I wish people would stop using the four-leafed clover on St. Patrick’s Day, the symbol of Ireland is the Shamrock, which typically only has three leaves. But then again Celtic football club, whose shirt I’m wearing today, uses four leaves in its badge and you can’t argue with them. Ah, we’re Irish, we can argue with whoever.  

So this is Blarney Castle, in Co. Cork. I was there when I was twelve, when I kissed the Blarney Stone (at first I kissed the wrong one), and got a little certificate that said I was henceforth given the gift of the Blarney, that is to talk a lot of nonsense from time to time – they got that right. I kept that certificate for years. I love when you kiss the Blarney Stone, they hang you upside down by your ankles at the very top of the castle, so you can see the long drop below (where kids are gathered to collect the coins that inevitably fall from your pockets).  All of my family originates from Ireland, all over the place. I grew up with the Irish heritage, all the music, the Irish festivals in Southport and Willesden, the red hair and sun-shy freckly skin, and lots of cups of tea, but I don’t like Guinness. I’ve not been back over there in about thirteen years; different place now, so I hear. Ah well, it’s not going anywhere. I’ll be back one day.

My favourite chocolate bar by the way is Cadbury’s Tiffin, you can’t get it in England, but it’s common in Ireland. Tiffin and a cup of tea, my idea of heaven so it is. Just sayin’.