Another of my favorite places in Ireland is the little town of Dalkey about ten miles south of Dublin City. The photo above is Sorrento Terrace, which sits looking toward Killiney Bay to the south and the Irish Sea to the east. It is one of the most famous buildings in Dalkey, ranking right up there with the two castles and the Martello Tower. Because Killiney Bay is sometimes favorably compared to the Bay of Naples, the area took on many Italian names…the Vico, Sorrento, Monte Alverno, Capri, and San Elmo Roads.
I encountered Sorrento Terrace on my first trip to Ireland in 1990 when the friend of a friend took me to a house auction in one of these connected terrace houses. The occupant of the house had died and everything was being sold off. I bought a silver candleholder and some old linens. The house subsequently sold for the enormous sum (at the time) of 750,000 Irish pounds. A few years later, one of the houses sold for 4.5 million Irish pounds. At the height of the market, one of the houses sold for nearly 15 million! A far cry from the original sale prices of these lovely 4 story houses (see below). Today, the house on the right end of the structure is owned by director and novelist, Neil Jordan. Behind Sorrento Terrace is Dalkey Island. You can see the end of the island jutting out behind the building.
In 1991 and 1992 I stayed in an apartment that overlooked this idyllic view. I have taken dozens and dozens of photographss over the years, but this is my favorite. In 1991, I sent it to a local Dalkey artist, Derek Campbell, and he produced a large watercolor which has hung in my living room ever since.
The following is an article I wrote about Dalkey in 2003 about a trip to Ireland in the mid-1990’s. It was published in the short-lived local magazine, The Irish Scoop. I laughed when I re-read the article today because the days of late nights and lots of red wine are long gone. Late middle age has set in with a vengeance and we drink as much water at dinner these days as anything else!
Dalkey, a Little Piece of Dublin
It was a bright Sunday afternoon in Sandycove, ten miles south of Dublin. The plaguing rain had subsided, and the sun was brilliant over the Forty Foot, where a few adventurous bathers were braving the October waters. As I looked out the window, I told myself I was still suffering from jet lag, but actually it was more likely jet lag and the red wine from the night before. That’s the problem when you know a lot of people in Ireland–there are always late nights and a lot of good food and drink; a combination that can get you into trouble!
I decided a brisk walk down to Dalkey would either kill or cure me and set off down the road, camera in one hand, mobile phone in the other, just in case I needed rescue along the way. At Bullock Harbor, boats sat in a few inches of water, waiting for the tide to buoy them back into action, and one fisherman was selling the day’s catch to Sunday strollers out on the breakwater.
I walked along the road toward Loreto Convent and went out onto the rocks for a few shots of Dublin Bay, taking advantage of the sun while it lasted, then turned into the back roads leading to Dalkey. It’s an interesting little village, dating to pre-Christian times when Druids built a standing stone circle there. The Castle dates from the 12th century, and the town has a definite medieval look about it. Dalkey was the boyhood home of nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw, and today it’s the home of some of Ireland’s most creative people: Maeve Binchy, Van Morrison, and Neil Jordan to name but a few.
On this Sunday afternoon, Castle Street was crowded with cars and tourists. The locals were running into the SuperValue to do the weekly shopping, and visitors were heading in and out of the Heritage Centre, then stopping in at The Queens for lunch or a drink. I ducked into The Exchange bookstore to have a look around. The shop carries a large assortment of new and used Irish books, tapes and CD’s and has an extensive collection of local photos, maps and histories.
The new Maeve Binchy book tucked under my arm, I turned onto Coliemore Road, past the Dalkey Island Hotel and Coliemore Harbour, and then on to Sorrento Park where Dalkey Island peaks from behind the trees along the coastline. The island was inhabited as early as 4000 BC and was also used as a Viking base. The ruins of St. Begnet’s Church, dating from the 7th Century, are still there along with wild goats that are descendants of a herd put on the island in 1805. There are also selas that have taken up residence in the shallow waters in recent years.
By this time, I was was thinking of food but the sun was still shining, and I pushed onward toward the Vico and was rewarded with a glistening view of Killiney Bay in one direction and Sorrento Terrace in the other. Known as Dublin’s Riviera, Sorrento Terrace sits along a spectacular seafront and symbolizes celebrity status and great wealth in modern Irish society. Hard to believe that in 1923 more than 1,000 railway and quarry workers and their families lived in two-room shacks in this same location, or that in 1925 you could buy one of these grand houses for 625 pounds!
I thought about going down to the Killiney DART station and taking the DART back to Sandycove for a quick snack and a nap, but instead I got on the mobile and called some friends. A late lunch was quickly organized and I walked back to Dalkey and went into Finnegan’s Sorrento. Of course, the weather had changed by this time, turning sunshine and brightness into a cloudy and chilly afternoon, but warmth welcomed me as I walked into the pub and greeted my friends. We spent the rest of the afternoon lingering over lunch and wouldn’t you know…Maeve Binchy was at the next table!