Thursday, May 10, 2012

By the Sea in Dún Laoghaire

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
Pronounced "Dunleary," with an emphasis on the second syllable, Dún Laoghaire is a provincial seaside town in Ireland just south of Dublin. I am visiting family here before going north to County Antrim, and will return here again afterward before flying back to Boston. 

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
I love small seaside towns and was excited for this to be my first introduction to Ireland. Arriving to a new place, we never really know what to expect. This time the unexpected part was the familiarity. If you can picture a cross between Brighton, England and Portland, Maine with a touch of South Boston's waterfront area, you will be well on your way to forming a picture of Dún Laoghaire. Growing increasingly suburban as it stretches inland, there is a dense commercial center closer to the sea. Streets are generally narrow, with a system of even narrower hidden alleyways that are used as pedestrian shortcuts. The exception is the wide and highly traveled road that stretches along the waterfront. A sidewalk promenade follows the road with occasional interruptions and everything here is built on a large scale: a towering city hall, a string of grand hotels, an enormous modern theater. 

Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire
Dún Laoghaire is not an old town, and a lot of the design elements can be traced to the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Iron latticework, gilded pavilions, hotel walls painted in pastel hues. 

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
Walking along the waterfront, it is easy to imagine the heyday of this place. I can practically see the ladies in corseted frilly dresses strolling up and down the promenade with their parasols and lap dogs.

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
Of course now it all looks a little shabby. Peeling paint, rust. And on a drizzly weekday, the only people I saw along the promenade were hooded joggers and a couple of young mothers pushing strollers while talking on their mobile phones.

Pegasus, Dun Loghaire
Not that this detracts from imagining what the place used to be and what motivated people to create things like this elaborate minuscule pavilion. 

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
The distinguishing feature of the Dún Laoghaire waterfront is its two long granite piers. These start on the opposite sides of town, then curve inward until their tips almost meet. There is a red lighthouse on the East Pier and a green one on the West. It's as if they are looking at each other longingly across the water.

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
This charming view is, however, somewhat subverted by the intrusion of the Dublin Power station towers smack in between the lighthouses. You can see them in the distance here if you look closely. 

East Pier, Dun Loghaire
There is much more to Dún Laoghaire than this vast and quaint waterfront area, and in fact I haven't really described the town itself at all. But somehow the presence of the promenade, with its granite piers and rusting latticework and sea air permeates the rest of the town. The people are friendly, but reserved. An elderly man in a pub said to me that those who enjoy living here value anonymity. Otherwise they are miserable and can't wait to leave. So close to Dublin, this town does not feel as if it's anywhere near a capital city. It is its own universe, hidden in plain sight; a closed system.

Brompton, East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
I have been cycling despite the non-stop rain, mostly for transportation and exploring. The cycling is so-so. No bike lanes at all, but the roads are mostly calm except in the town center. I am not entirely comfortable with the left-handed flow of traffic yet, so I am afraid to ride on busy streets and sometimes take the sidewalk (as do half the cyclists here it seems). Cycling along the endless East Pier in a light drizzle and enjoying 3/4 water views has been my most memorable ride so far. I don't mind the rain and the cold here, but it does make taking good pictures difficult.

Overall I am trying to decide whether I like it in Dún Laoghaire. Is this the sort of place I'd want to live? In theory, it really should be. It's got the sea, mazes of narrow streets, stone houses, lots of wild vegetation, privacy, and genuinely pleasant people. But for some reason, it doesn't quite pull at my heart strings. I am comfortable here and do not even experience my trip as being abroad so far. But I feel a little detached from this town. Tomorrow I take the train to the North of Ireland.

46 comments:

  1. The light there has a pearly luster. At least during the duration of this photo series. How's the Brompton working out?

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    1. The sun was trying its hardest to shine from behind the thick white clouds, but never quite succeeding. There has been an ethereal milkiness over the entire town since I've been here.

      The bike feels the same as it did in Boston, which is a good thing. I am starting to realise what a difference it makes to travel with my own bike.

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  2. It shows that you are not feeling quite at home: the places you caught on film are both picturesque and... empty. Many of your previous blog entries are as much about the people as they are about the bicycle, so I can understand that there would be a feeling of disconnection if a few distant lights were the only things reminiscent of human presence.

    However, it may be that many inhabitants go to work in Dublin, being so close to the big city. So the town may be livelier on the week ends.

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    1. Keep in mind it was barely over 40F/5C next to the water and drizzling/pouring intermittently.

      But yes, the entire town is more or less empty-ish except for the main shopping street and the pubs. Even the high street is completely empty after 9pm though.

      I like it when there aren't too many people around. But whereas this seems natural in the countryside, in a developed town like this one it can be a little eerie. There are even foxes running around in the mornings...

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    2. By the way, the pics with the white clover fence are surreal : the canes are facing each other as if they were lovers by the sea side, with the odd one standing in the middle lol... I suppose the flakes of rust stand for time taking its toll on eternity...

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  3. Glad to see your new Brompton friend made it safely across the pond.

    Are you headed to the North of Ireland? Or Northern Ireland? I'm sure you're worldly enough to appreciate the difference, but I wouldn't want you putting your foot in it... :-)

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    1. potato potahto.. let's call the whole thing off :)

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    2. Technically Ireland is the name of an island/ geographical entity, not of a country. "The North of Ireland" is thus a fairly common colloquial way to describe the northernmost part of the island, which, if we look at a map, can include pieces of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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    3. I know this may seem tiresome and it's not very important but use of the phrase 'North of Ireland' here would identify you as a nationalist - someone who wants a united Ireland. Nobody is going to mind much but, coming from Boston might establish that suggestion in people's minds anyway. I doubt you'll get a punch on the nose for it- our sensibilities are exaggerated - but you probably want everyone to trust that you are a friend and that you don't have a political message.

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    4. For what it's worth I've heard people here say it both ways, and indeed nose punching did not result. I very commonly hear my Irish (not Bostonian) friends use the phrase in informal settings and I wouldn't say they are very political, though everyone has their opinion I am sure. We can't always aim to please everyone with our choice of terminology.

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  4. I assume you have either already been to County Antrim or have already researched the sites, but at the risk of stating the obvious, don't miss the hike out to the Giant's Causeway.

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  5. Oh, make me jealous and tell me you will be cycling through the Dark Hedges while in County Antrim? Surely you won't miss that while you are there!

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  6. and, in passing, how about the Brompton? numb hands (and butt) from the hard tyre ride? i love mine, warts and all, but have unforgivingly clear memories of this when touring

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    1. "numb hands (and butt) from the hard tyre ride?"

      Nope. But possibly this is a result of the spec choices. I will write more about it soon; would like to get some longer rides in.

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    2. you mean titanium? other than the (almost as numbing) expense, it's so so so tempting, it also contradicts the received wisdom that steel is more elastic/has more feel than aluminium etc, will be good to know if it works on a longer ride. is that a b17? i used one, but bizarrely found a sprung brooks better, for longer faster rides.

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    3. Before we talk titanium, are you riding with the soft or hard suspension? Makes a difference in my experience.

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    4. has there been a "soft"? i thought it was "normal" or "hard" - mine's normal. it made me think though, i'm on marathon plus' (lots of broken glass) which may explain some of it.

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    5. Titanium decals, Marathon tyres, six speed. Bought approx the time of your birthday I think. Us stalkers keep a close watch.. ;?)
      badmother.

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    6. badmother - It was more recently than that. And Kojak tires.

      derf - Yes, sorry, I meant regular vs hard. The regular feels pretty soft to me though.

      I have not ridden with Marathon+ tires on a Brompton, but after feeling the difference between them and other tires on a full sized bike, I want nothing to do with them. If I end up getting frequent flats I will reconsider, but has not happened yet.

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  7. I have travelled through Dun Loaghaire a few times while in Ireland. I also found it curiously inert. There was one evening, though, around Whitsunday, when the long rays of the sun came out and so did the people. The whole mood changed. That inertness turned into a gentle friendliness as seemingly everyone in the town came out for a stroll.

    I think it's a town that people tend to depart from and that gives it a certain sadness. I was there in the late '80s, though, before the Celtic Tiger.

    I prefer to remember the town as it was on that gentle summer evening when the light was beautiful. I hope that you get to see the town like that.

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  8. Have you seen this guy?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNEvSOx7j4A

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  9. Thanks for the last two (postal bikes and Dunleary) -- these two posts exemplify the qualities that I like about this blog: context, context, context. Bikes are great, I love them, I've been riding since I was four so, what, 53 years? -- and building since I was, what, 15? -- but bikes are only part of life and a blog that includes thoughtful observations (and good photos!) of surroundings and circumstances is far, far more interesting than one describing only riding.

    If you meet any Scotch-Irish Moores, tell them that a long-lost, half Asian (Filipina mother) relative named Patrick says says hello from ABQ, NM where the skies are so bright that mid-day in Dunleary would seem like twilight.

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  10. What an accomplishment! First packing a bicycle into a suitcase and then pedaling all around town in Ireland. I am impressed!

    As for wanting to live in some picturesque (godforsaken) sea-side town... um, I'd put that on the back burner. I used to have fantasies about moving to Port Townsend in Puget Sound. It's the sea-side town that everyone in Seattle dreams about moving to.... except, there's really not much to do once you get there.

    Imho a good working shangri-la needs things like libraries, museums, businesses, theatre and enough variety to make life interesting.

    Thanks for the great cyber visit to Ireland!

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    1. Packing the bike into the suitcase took less than 5 minutes and that includes deflating the tires!

      I admit that my fantasy of living in "some picturesque (godforsaken) sea-side town" remains strong, despite evidence that in practice I enjoy day-to-day life in Boston better than, say, Eastport Maine...

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  11. An unusual, almost post apocalyptic entry. OK, it's Ireland, but some of thevphotos are more North Africa. The almost courting fence elements. The evaluation of the place as a potential residence. Next, you will be number 6.

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    1. Ha. Well I assure you Ireland is not exactly The Sheltering Sky. You did get me to check my new address though (no sixes!)

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  12. Yea! Congrats on your Brompton .. I will be ordering mine in 3 weeks. What lighting system did you choose? Did you go with the dynamo or son hub?

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    1. Both the Scmhidt SON and the Shimano hub are dynamo hubs, just different brands. My husband picked the specs for our bikes (we each have one) and they have SON dynamo hubs.

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  13. As I grew up in western Canada the words "not an old town" and "Victorian and Edwardian eras" almost seem contradictory!

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  14. Oddly, I'm feeling as if you've neglected the introduction of the Brompton into your life (lives). I realize that we did get the sneak introduction a few days ago, but never the 'aha!' moment (did I miss it?)
    Is it not a "Lovely Bicycle"?

    In any case, glad to hear your report of enjoying a homecoming of sorts. Cheers!

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    1. I felt cautious about this purchase and did not want to discuss it before forming a more solid impression. I realise this is different than how my other bikes were introduced, but it might be an interesting experiment. I will write specifically about the bike eventually. In the meantime, it's making itself increasingly comfortable here...

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  15. How nice to see photos of Ireland here. I look forward to hearing more of your trip in the north.

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  16. Thanks for this reminder of how beautiful Ireland is. I remember balmy holidays boating around the shores of the Suire estuary at Waterford.

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  17. I am looking forward to hearing more about your trip as well. I have never been to Ireland and think it would be a beautiful place for cycling. I agree with Bertin753 that this blog is so engaging because of the interesting contexts in which you situate and write about your bicycles.

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  18. I'd say the red lighthouse and the green lighthouse aren't looking longingly at each other so much as wondering how much it is going to hurt when they collide, given the angle of the horizon in that photograph...

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  19. Unless you've got bona fide family ties in Ireland or Northern Ireland, spending more than tourists' time in either country isn't that easy.

    Visas for Americans are expensive and rarely granted, and they are required for stays longer than 60 days, I think.

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    1. You mean the American fellows I saw on the train with enormous golf bags asking where's the best place to spot a leprechaun (not joking) aren't here to stay?..

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    2. That's precisely why the rules about overstaying. :-)

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  20. BTW, while you are in Dun Laoghaire you might want to go and see the Martello Tower where the opening chapter of Joyce's Ulysses is set. It might be a bit nippy for a dip in the forty foot, though.

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    1. Definitely my plan to visit it when I get back there. It was invisible in the fog earlier!

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  21. For the last number of years I have read your blog. It has inspired me in so many ways. Welcome to my home country .

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  22. Hello Velouria,from one of your County Antrim readers. The North Antrim Coast Road between Glenarm and Waterfoot is a wonderful experience by bike. Right at the foot of the Glens of Antrim where I go on regular training runs. I'll keep a look out for the Bromptons! Hope the weather is kind to you on your travels. Looking forward to more photos and reports.

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  23. Dún Laoghaire is a lovely, lovely place but I wouldn't want to live there. It's great to visit but too quiet to live, perhaps it's the sort of place you can retire to though. Lovely photos and write-up, thank you.

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  24. apologies if this is a tangent - but what camera do you use? I'm trying to get into photography and struggle to get the same kind of cinematic appearance (if that makes sense) you seem to

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  25. I have found that many seaside towns, including many in the United States, are not as charming as I thought they would be or should be. Half Moon Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area comes to mind. Even little port towns in Sicily have let me down. I am a big fan of island interiors and of the mountains more generally. I might conduct a more formal investigation of this. Could be the weather, could be tourism, could be historical trade patterns, could be maritime (sailor) culture. Who knows.

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  26. Found this entry via googling bicycle rules on the Dun Laoghaire pier. As someone who lives nearby and goes to Dun Laoghaire often, I was surprised at your "review". Then again, you were there on a grey weekday it seems. But there are usually loads of people walking the pier, on a sunny day they come on out masses. Sailing and other lessons happen there too. They don't have the bonus of a plethora of good restaurants, and it is a bit rough around the edges, but it really is a lovely old town. You should have gone down to the 40 foot, where the older generation goes swimming in all sorts of weather!

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