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Friday 24 March 2017

A twinkling Christmas oasis hidden in the capital

ILLUMINATING: Liam Collins at the lighting up of one of Dublin’s hidden gems, the Blessington Basin. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
ILLUMINATING: Liam Collins at the lighting up of one of Dublin’s hidden gems, the Blessington Basin. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

The Christmas lights elegantly wound around the weeping willow, reflecting on the water like a shimmering stick of barley sugar.

With nightfall, the water birds fall silent, except for the occasional screech of a coot or heron. But this water world is not in some dark corner of rural Ireland, but hidden within the bustling capital.

The rumble of nearby traffic and the wail of speeding sirens fail to break an illusion of a remote and special place, and the toll of the Angelus bell from Berkeley Street church adds another poetic note to the jumble of city sounds.

According to the artist Robert Ballagh who lives nearby, 'The Basin' is "one of my favourite places in Dublin, if not in the world".

This secret place is unknown to many, even those who may have passed close by, without realising that, through a gate at the top of Blessington Street, you enter a little oasis created by man but dominated by nature.

If you travel from the top of O'Connell Street along Parnell Square, through North Frederick Street, Berkeley Street and Blessington Street, you arrive at what is known as the City Basin.

Completed in 1814, it supplied water for the grand Georgian houses, the tawdry tenements and the famous Bow Street Distillery with 180,000 gallons of water a day until 1930.

In the years that followed it fell into disuse, its walls crumbled and it remained in a general state of disrepair until 1990. Gerry Crowley, from nearby Fontenoy Street, who wrote a history of The Basin, tells how in 1990 the Goethe Institute brought a German architect to Dublin to draw up plans for its grand restoration as a city amenity.

Like so many things, this encountered trouble from 'local residents' and the Germans ran for cover. But the city council were inspired to go ahead with a less ambitious restoration plan, and that is what we have today.

Last week the community came together to generate a little more interest in this hidden corner when the council lit up some of its more impressive trees and the former caretaker's cottage, while creating a simple but beautiful Christmas 'fantasy garden' for children on the edge of the water under the weeping willow.

"It's a little wonderland," said Councillor Ciaran Cuffe at a short and simple ceremony to mark the occasion.

"I didn't know about The Basin until I was told where it was and then I couldn't believe it," says Gabriel Byrne, whose company Fantasy Lighting have sympathetically done the lighting for the city council. "I love it when the community get together to do things like this," he adds.

"I didn't know about it either until I started working here," chimes in Ciara Dowling, one of the council workers who now help to look after this treasure.

Eventually, it is hoped to have a trail - for locals and tourists alike - starting at the top of O'Connell Street that will take people up to The Basin, out the other side at Phibsboro and on up to Glasnevin Cemetery and the Botanic Gardens.

You can do it today without much bother, but even people who live in the area but haven't looked around have missed this gem that appears so unexpectedly at the end of a city street.

Sunday Independent

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