Guided Tour of Dalkey
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The township of Dalkey lies about eight miles Southeast of Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, on the coast. Its picturesque situation with views of sea and mountains make it one of the most attractive locations, often compared with Naples in Italy, and many Dalkey streets and roads near Italian sounding names.
Dalkey has become, over the years, a residential and tourist areas, having practically no industry to support it. In character it remains very much a village, which apart from the building of the two housing estates (one privately built, the other built by the borough corporation), has changed very little over the last hundred years. Tourism - there are four hotels in the area; small boats are hired for fishing; and ferrying visitors to the island - brings in the only local finance, apart from a small amount of lobster fishing which goes on, as far as possible, all the year round. Most of the working population, over and above the amenity employment, go to the city or south to Bray to work, as there is a good commuter rail service between these two places.
The entrance to the village from the main Dublin bus route gives a first glimpse of the interest to be found as before the sharp turn into the village itself there is a fine view of Dalkey hill with a building perched on top. The real interest starts just after you turn the corner within a few yards of the beginning of the main street, aptly named Castle Street. There were at one time seven castles on this street of which tow remain in an excellent state of preservation, and almost facing each other.
One - Goats Castle - has been added to at the back and is now the Town Hall.
The second is Archbold’s Castle. Both have been pronounced by competent authorities to be examples of the oldest and finest structures of their kind in the British Isles. They are believed to have been the dwellings of merchant princes, rather than military strongholds, erected as early as the 12th Century.
The Third building of interest is beside the Town Hall (or Goat’s Castle) and is that of the ruins of St Begnet’s Church (National Monument). It is surrounded by a high wall within which lies the church, claimed to be 7th Century and showing a definite pre-Romanesque style with evidence of alteration in the middle ages. A gravestone in the churchyard has an incised ringed cross with concentric circles which would put it in the period AD 650 - 800 (Francoise Henri - Irish Art in the Early Christian period to AD800).
After travelling through the main street, a turn left brings you to Coliemore Road; a large portion of the land between the road and the sea is owned by a highly respected religious order who run a primary and a day/boarding school for girls in a magnificent setting.
Further along the road on the sea side are two of the four hotels - one right at Coliemore Harbour . This harbour as it now stands was built in 1869, from granite taken from Dalkey Quarry, and claims to be one of the smallest in Ireland.
From the harbour local men will bring visitors the half mile or so to Dalkey Island.
The Island is twenty three acres in area, and excavations have shown signs of habitation about two thousand years ago. During 1575 it was used as a place of refuge from the plague then raging in Dublin, but how its only inhabitants are a herd of wild goats which are held in high esteem by the local inhabitants who take care to see that during severe winters they have enough to eat.
There is a fine Martello tower on the summit of the island and a battery of cannon on the southern end. These were part of a defence system against feared invasion at the end of 18th and beginning 19th Century. The ruins of another smaller church (also named St Begnet’s) possiblily older than the one in the village, but not so well preserved are situated not far from the landing stage.
The most interesting point about this area is however, that Dalkey, not Dublin was for many hundred years the main port on the east coast (from 1200 AD to 1600AD approx.) where the largest sailing boats of the time anchored in the deep waters of Dalkey Sound and passengers and cargo were rowed ashore in longboats.
On land right beside the harbour is a huge stone on which a metal plaque was fixed bearing the names of noted personages and their date of arrival there. Among those mentioned were
On one of the piers of the harbour there is an unusual looking building. It was the marine biology station attached to University College, Dublin where students come to study marine life. The deepwater of the sound, the rocky area and the sand banks beyond Sorrento point make it a compact area for investigation with easy reach of Dublin. Here can be found flowering plants, seaweeds, lichens, coelenterata, crustacea, molluscs, fish, and on occasion, mammals. It is now the clubhouse for Dalkey Rowing Club.
Further on towards Sorrento Point are two public parks; on the sea side Coliemore Park (locally known as Dillon’s Park)
and on the right Sorrento Park. Set into a rock face in the park (not shown here yet) is a fine metal mosaic of the poet and lutenist John Dowland, who was an intimate friend of William Shakespeare, and is believed to be Dalkey born.
The park also has a bandstand where public performances used to be given during the summer months,
and in suitable weather conditions wonderful views can be seen of places as far away as the Mourne mountains in the north, Wicklow and Bray heads further south with Ireland'’ ‘Bay of Naples’ Killiney Bay , and also in very good visibility - Snowdon in Wales.
Round the point one comes to Vico Road where the railway line runs parallel to the sea below, taking us toward Killiney and away from our area of research. However, on the right hand-side a short distance up the road we find the Cats Ladder.
This is a public right of way which climbs steeply up to Torca Road on Dalkey Hill, where we find Torca Cottage - the place where the great playwright George Bernard Shaw (from whom we receive much of our income for our National Art Gallery) spent his boyhood years.
From Torca Road one may climb further up to the summit of Dalkey hill (472ft above sea level) glimpsing above us the building seen on entering the village. On reaching this building its purpose is very clear - it was the lifeline for the Martello Towers along the coast - a semaphore station named Semaphore Castle, built in 1807 from where any attempted invasion by Napoleonic troops could be seen far out to sea, and the warning flashed all along the coast.
A few yards past it now stands a modern aircraft safety aid, surrounded by high railings, for the guidance of planes on the commercial routes which fly south from Dublin Airport.
Sheer cliffs drop from the summit down to Dalkey Quarry from where, between 1817 and 1859 was quarried the granite which went to build Dun Laoghaire harbour. The quarry’s steep cliffs from a favourable place for rock climbing.
The granite was transported down The Flags to Dalkey Avenue.
Before leaving the quarry there is one other item of interest - an old ships figurehead which was re-erected on the side of a house which was once a public house, but is now privately owned.
The whole quarry and hillside is thickly covered with bright yellow gorse, and the rock has a beauty of its own.
If we continue down to the bottom we come back to our starting point - the beginning of Castle Street - a comfortable afternoon’s walk, loaded with interest for anyone with eye’s to see, and curiosity to learn about what he sees, or to ask where, when, what, why, and how!