Some long-time readers know that I’m a bit of an architecture buff and reading a recent post by exiled Irish blogger Football Cliches on urban design reminded me of one of my favourite locations to visit in Dublin. As I may have mentioned before way back in the Stone Age I attended a sprawling primary school situated on the edge of a beach in north county Dublin that would have given Hogwarts a run for its money. In fact that school was (the old) St. Fintan’s CBS in Cill Fhionntain (Sutton), on the secluded Bóthar an Choinicéir – Bóthar Dhroim Chléire (Burrow Road-Claremont Road). To one side of the chestnut-tree lined avenue is the Dublin-Howth DART line, to the other is the long strand of Sutton Beach, and between both is the sometimes higgledy-piggledy row of historic and modern houses which locals know colloquially as “Millionaires’ Row” (and with good reason).
Most of the houses have rear gardens butting up against the now much-reduced dunes that front the beach and many are of historic significance. Some are well-known in the locality by a variety of nicknames such as the Tudor House (officially Eskeragh, designed in 1898 for the now largely forgotten artist Mary Kate Benson) and the Witch’s House (to which I shall return anon). Other names reflected the real addresses and descriptions of the homes such as the Lakehouse – a large dwelling in a mid-20th century style backing onto the beach with a small lake taking up the front and an approach over a bridge.
Last evening I went for a walk down the Burrow with my brother, mother and pet dog, the first long visit in a couple of years. Sometimes one should not go back. The area is as beautiful and quiet (at night) as ever it was and it still maintains that air of enchantment that has beguiled so many others (including Jim Fitzpatrick, Irish artist and creator of the definitive “Ché” image, who now lives in apartments where my old school was situated) but the death of the Celtic Tiger has touched everywhere in Ireland, even here. Some of the storied, grey-walled mansions along the beach were in darkness, their tall windows curtained, leafy gardens overgrown, iron gates sealed with red rust. According to the faded notice on a wooden fence facing the road the once gleaming Lakehouse was demolished over a year ago and now lies an empty wasteland waiting for a new building that itself awaits a new economic boom that may never come.
And the Witch’s House… Officially it is Seaside, built in 1860 and with only a handful of owners since its construction one hundred and fifty years ago. However it now lies empty, a lonely building girthed by ankle-tall grass and overgrown bushes, and crowned on its high peaks by grey-green lichen. Both my mother and I have always loved this building and as with the loss of the Lakehouse actually felt the pain of its abandonment, only this time all the more keenly. It is strange how places and buildings can effect one, how they can take on the attributes of genuine affection or love even. My childhood was spent with the Witch’s House in the background, school breaks played in dunes that were far greater than they are now, along a wide foam-swept strand skirting a landscape of weathered buildings and wind-tortured trees that would fire anyone’s imagination.
Ah well.. Maybe one day I will find my own Teach an Cailleach.