Wednesday 26 July 2017

Mary Kenny: The town of kings

Dún Laoghaire's bicentennial celebrates a port which has seen all human life

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Ah, Dún Laoghaire! It seemed like a glittering jewel from the Côte d'Azur in our childhood, whither we would travel on the CIE train, which preceded the Dart, to swim in those fabled Dún Laoghaire baths, and afterwards to partake of an ice-cream at the immortal Teddy's, served by the very dapper Teddy himself. On Sundays, it was my mother's pleasure to walk the length of the Dún Laoghaire pier, there to look out to sea mistily, pondering on the oceans further away, just as in the opening pages of Ulysses.

First Communion treats consisted of high tea at the Royal Marine Hotel, whose lawn seemed to sweep down to the harbour - grandeur incarnate. All human life was in Dún Laoghaire: here was the scene where weeping emigrants departed on the old mailboat, with their battered cardboard suitcase, to build the highways and the high-rises in Britain, to make their fortunes - as some did - or to end their days in a lonely Kilburn bedsit.

And here was the Dún Laoghaire - then Kingstown - which welcomed a succession of English monarchs, the cheering crowds thronging the streets: first George IV in 1821, who drew no sober breath while in Ireland (but, respect - he did instigate those lovely Georgian buildings!) And then Queen Victoria, who sailed from Cobh (then Queenstown) and into Dún Laoghaire in 1849, with her family. The country was barely recovering from the Famine, but she wrote in her diary that Dún Laoghaire was "a most beautiful harbour - the whole scene glowing with lights was truly beautiful and heart-stirring. We were soon surrounded by boats of all kinds & the enthusiasm & excitement shown by the Irish people was extreme."

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