Thursday, February 20, 2014

On the Waterfront

Click on any picture for a larger version

Dún Laoghaire Borough Historical Society had a packed house in the Kingston Hotel (19/2/2014) for a talk by Tom Conlon which examined changes on the waterfront between the late nineteenth century and the present day, using old and modern photographs.

Most of the material for the earlier period consisted of photos from the National Library's Lawrence collection. On 16th December 1893, Robert French, the studio's principal photographer, had spent a whole day in Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown) photographing the area. He was fortunate to find a bay window in one of the terraced houses facing the harbour from which he could take a panorama of high angle shots of the waterfront to supplement those at street level.

Tom took these photos and examined some of the details they revealed about the period. For example we see horses drawing carts of soil along The Metals. Then there was the Dalkey horse-drawn tram, the sidecars, landaus and brougham carriages.

At the military end he took us through the history of the shifting position of a Russian cannon and the presence of a troopship in the harbour. He also managed to mention the Battery at the People's Park as an indication of the power of the British but without any reference to the Martello Tower, which was once at the centre of the park and of which network of defences the Battery was a part. He didn't include the site of the other seafront Martello, near the old Crofton garage, which had been demolished to make way for the railway around the 1830s. But then I'm mad about Martello Towers and presumably he is not.

Using his own photos, he showed how the same views looked today; mostly a serious disimprovement.

I have drawn attention before to the wonderful resource that is the Lawrence collection, which I have used extensively, in the 1970s, in my research of Killiney Bay in the late 19th century. The detail in these photos is phenomenal and many of the individual photos could provide material for a chapter in a book.

Tom Conlon

So what was I doing at this talk that had nothing to do with me really?

Well, I lived for twenty years in a suburb of Dún Laoghaire, Ballybrack, and had a lot of truck with that town.

You can see one of my favourite Dún Laoghaire photos below. I have christened it Beetle Juice, which you can work out for yourself. St. Michael's church burned down on 28 July 1965 and iconoclastic me got in fast for a photo, while it was still smouldering and before they put up the scaffolding.

Then there was the day in 1968 when I had my name taken by a Garda for attempting to take a photo of the town's phallic symbol, the George IV monument (below). Mind you, that was the day after someone had blown up one of the Kings bollix and the monument was to remain resting on the three remaining ones for at least the next twelve years.

George IV, who visited Ireland in 1821 gave his name to Kingstown, whence he departed, and also to Kingsbridge in the city centre. The people of Howth were not so obliging, restricting themselves to leaving the trace of his footprints in stone on the East Pier where he drunkenly disembarked.

And then there was the Boo. The Bamboo Café was run by the Bellini family and served up the best spaghetti bolognese I have ever tasted. My recollection is that they were from Milan. Mammy and Daddy did the cooking and Granny made some of the exquisite sauces. Franca served at table. I used to drop in with Brian Reynolds, and there was frequently a gaggle of foreign (mainly female) students around the place. It was eventually turned into a Chinese and the new owners changed the name. Fancy that.

Medlar's landau: l-r driver John;
back row Patrick, Nell, Connie;
seated Tess, twin babies Tess & Paddy, unknown lady;
front Mai.

And so back to the talk. Tom identified a landau in one of the Lawrence photos but didn't have a specific separate photo of a modern landau for comparison. So, I offered the above. The whole Medlar family and more, and all in the one landau. The photo dates from 1925 and the landau was part of Patrick Medlar's undertaking business, based in James's Street.

Mentioning this at the Q&A session resulted in Lorie Kelly (née Massey) coming across to talk to me and we had a chat. She will be retailing some of that to her 90 year old relative, one of the original (pre-split) Masseys.

1 comment:

Póló said...

I was perusing the Society's website just now, looking for an email address to forward the url for this post to, but couldn't find one.

The only non-snailmail contact was a single landline phone number.

I thought this strange and felt that the Society might be missing out on a lot in the social media world of email, Twitter, Facebook etc., but when I put this to them, via the landline, I gathered that they did not have the resources to manage this sort of e-media.

So I have tweeted an appeal for an e-person who might volunteer to manage that end of their business for them. We'll see what happens.