“Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity?
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city”
Summer in the City
The Lovin’ Spoonful
The city turns its back on its canals. I suppose Venice is an exception to this rule, or indeed, other towns where the waterways became acceptable forms of public transport, and later, amenity and leisure. But in Ireland and the UK, where the industrial revolution quickly caught up and surpassed the canals as useful tools of industry, they sank into the background of industrial heritage, and in many cases, sank without trace, never to recover. A perfect example of this exists in old maps of Dublin’s inner city; places that can only be recreated with the critical yet creative eye of the keen historian.
I speak of the Grand Canal Harbour and City Basin. Some buildings still exist to give you clues to the existence of the reservoir and harbour, and the original line of the canal still partially exists in a far more modern form of transport: the Red Luas Line (Dublin’s swish new light rail system, ‘luas’ being the Irish for speed.). This section of the canal was used to bring fresh water to Dublin’s thirsty citizens in the late 1700s, allowing Guinness and other goods to be transported into the midlands as far as the Shannon by barge, and conveniently for that brewer, supplying water for the famous James’s Gate Brewery. But the basin and canal are gone since the mid 1970s.
The canal was therefore a once vital part of trade and commerce, soon to be replaced by the railways, and later, by road. The canal naturally arrived in tandem with large warehouses, industrial buildings and what are now other architectural remnants of a bygone era. Which typically today tends to spell neglect. (Although here we might discern a difference between the treatment of the Grand and Royal canals in Dublin, pointing to a well-known trope of north-side versus south-side which has been developing for centuries. But let’s leave that for now). I’m just trying to make the point that when you travel a canal into a city, rather than, say, a river or road, you are essentially looking at the rear of the place. The backyards. The allotments. The forgotten plots. The underbelly.
[This preamble was brought to you by unironedman braindump, inc., following this weekend’s long run into the heartland of Dublin’s docks.]
I had planned this long run a few week’s back, but then fate intervened, and I ended up doing a sprint triathlon instead. No harm done, fortunately. So with some cover locked down from a crew member, I arose before six in the morning on Saturday and went through the pre-long run routine; some anti-chafing cream into the nether regions, NipEaze plasters on the… well, nipples, obviously, and various gels and potions into the hydration pack. For those with a need to know the nitty gritty, I will be using SIS Beta Fuel energy drink on the long run next month, so I mixed up a packet of this with the water. I seem to be okay with these energy drinks, though I appreciate some folks just can’t stomach them.
Out the door at six-thirty and into the park. I am wearing two GPS watches. Both Garmins. One is my new, nifty and light-weight Forerunner 55, whilst the other – the Garmin Forerunner 910XT – is more reminiscent of something from the Age of Steam. Silly analogy, granted, but the damn thing feels like I have strapped a fridge to my right wrist, and despite assurances from one department of my brain that I will soon acclimatise to this strange new appendage, I find that all the way through the run, I am reminded that it’s there, never quite sitting comfortably. Still, there is some method to my madness, as I need to have accurate and faithful recordings of my attempt on Declan’s Way in July if I am to achieve the FKT. In theory, my 55 should see me out, as long as I don’t have a physical calamity en route. The 910 is a back-up. And I plan to have a third device in case either fail. Worst case scenario, my iPhone would do a sterling job, but I plan to keep that for occasional mapping and communications, and I know long-term GPS eats into the battery life. To counter this, I will have two power banks with me, and charging cables, so I can charge the phone on the go. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. I abandoned myself at the park gates on the Clonee Road, so let us pick up where we left off, shall we?
The weather of late has been mildly changeable. That’s charitable, really, because schizophrenic would be a better description. You can toast your buns on the deck one minute, then scarper for shelter the next as the rain lashes down. Clouds scud overhead like lost souls. Sometimes thunder rumbles. Then the sun comes out to dry away all your tears, only for the rain to find you again. It’s a rollercoaster, baby. It’s Irish weather. On steroids.
The morning times are going to be the closest you may find to something approaching ‘settled’. It’s nothing of the sort, of course; just a temporary ceasefire. But if you are planning a long run, my advice is to get out of the scratcher as early as possible.
The towpath at Lucan provides some shelter from the breeze, and there is heat even at this early hour, and soon my cap is drenched in sweat. I remove it for a while and let some wind and sun at my scalp. I reach the Deep Sinking, and soon the trees offer shade and the cap goes back on. We are mooching along at about 6 minutes per kilometre, which is about right. The gnarly towpath is managed without incident. The pair of swans that have started a new family along this stretch are still slumbering in their reedy beds, and further down, at Castleknock bridge, a row of Mallards are likewise breaking themselves gently in to the day; their heads tucked into their wings, and most ignore my passing, even though I mooch past, inches from their beaks.
The trusty Garmins both chime as I pass over the M50 Aqueduct and push on towards Ashtown. I have run this stretch before, back in September of 2020. The final leg of the Royal Triathlon was a run from Maynooth Harbour into the city centre, but I did that on very tired legs, and my mind was constantly distracted by the company, in a positive way, and by the need to stop at regular intervals to film short clips for the award-winning documentary that followed. (ed. I just can’t…).
In truth, I was fairly banjaxed, so any excuse to take a break was seized with both hands. This morning, I am definitely in better form. The previous long run marker a few week’s ago, when we turned at Pelletstown, is matched and we push on. Once inside the M50 ring road, the scenery changes quite quickly. The last vestiges of suburbia, back in Castleknock, are replaced with a juxtaposition of run-down buildings, industrial estates, and modern apartments. Indeed, the number of cranes puncturing the skyline is a handy barometer for economic progress, and on this score, Dublin seems to be booming.
To the north of Broome Bridge, the O’Connell Tower in Glasnevin Cemetery captures the skyline better than any crane. I make a quick pitstop at Lock 6, and admire the old Shandon Mills buildings. Here, even the fatigued runner will note the drop in levels, and the appearance of several double-locks, in quick succession. In the distance, two landmarks catch the eye. The first are the now-defunct twin chimney stacks of the Poolbeg Power Station. To the left, the colossus of Croke Park towers over the surrounding homes. It’s a sure sign you are getting close to the end.
At Lock 5, I understand the original canal terminated here, at Broadstone. The final stretch to the Liffey was a later addition. More info here, from the late, great canal expert, Brian Goggin. And to provide symmetry with its sister canal, the Grand, there was also a basin near the Royal’s terminus at Blessington Street. And history has been kinder to this piece of heritage, as it was restored recently and provides much-needed respite from the busy inner-city.
The locks come quickly, and we pass over Dorset Street. I had hoped to get a quick picture with the statue of Brendan Behan, but that seat is occupied. Perhaps on the way back I will have better luck. We cross the canal here and soon are under the very bowels of Croke Park stadium. Blissfully quiet this morning, though obviously home to some of Ireland’s great sporting achievements.
We’re on the home leg now, if I might borrow that analogy. We’re at Newcomen Bridge, and technically the 1st Lock. The rest is wider and tidal, and gives way to Spencer Dock before it meets the Liffey. Luke Kelly’s statue appears unscathed (it seems to attract strange acts of vandalism on occasion), and we find our way to the very end. Except it’s not. Not if we want to soothe that OCD symmetrical itch. Both watches confirm that we have not even travelled 20k yet. To do that, I cross over onto the quays at the Convention Centre and park up my weary bones at the MV Cill Airne which is moored on the North Wall Quay as soon as they tick over and beep confirmation.
I take stock of my surroundings. Dublin looks well on a fresh, Saturday morning. The sun is out, the streets seem relatively clean, and a fresh breeze cools me down. I take a short break to send Saoirse a photo to let her know I am still alive, and also to tell her I have beaten her into town (she will be here in the next hour or two, to work). Then I turn for home, and do the entire journey in reverse.
Another person has taken up residency beside Brendan Behan, so once again, I am robbed of the opportunity to do a selfie with the great man. Though I note with a smile by his attire that the young lad looks like a painter waiting to get a lift to work. I wonder did he know that Behan himself did a little painting and decorating?
I have a stumble near the allotments at Cabra, when I am somewhat curious about a pile of something that is either bark mulch or manure. Before my mind can work out which it is, I stub my toe on ramps put in place to stop motorbikes and quad bikes from terrorising the locals, and I pitch forward. It’s one of those times when you manage to somehow stay upright, but in hindsight, you perhaps think it would have been easier to hit the deck. My quads are certainly not impressed. On the plus side, I appear to have made a fool of myself without any witnesses, so there is that.
The gaps between the locks grow longer, and urban Dublin slips away gradually as we make our way beyond the M50 and into Castleknock. The Deep Sinking is tackled once again without any further stumbling, and then the friendly face of Gary appears to help me on the last stretch home. He was in the area, doing a parkrun, so when I sent him a picture earlier that morning from Broome Bridge, he planned on a rendezvous. That’s what friends and crazy runners are for.
Those last few miles seemed to pick up in pace, but no harm. This is a training run, after all, so I may as well eke the most out of it. The Forerunner 55 seems to win first place in terms of accuracy, but not by much. All told, 40k in just over four hours, with an average pace of 6:04 minutes per kilometre. Gary disappears as quickly as he appeared, and I throw down about a litre and a half of juice while the bath runs. I think was one will require quite a soaking!
Other news: Leitrim runner Ricki Wynne sets a world record for vertical gain by running up and down Croagh Patrick fifteen times in 24 hours. That’s 764m or 2,500 ft. each climb! And a bonus record for most ascents too. What an absolute legend. If you wish to donate to a great cause, here’s the link.
I have more or less finished the pond. I am sure I will tweak and twiddle it over the Summer and more to the point, it needs to settle down as regards water quality, and the plants need to grow. I will let the water establish itself, and maybe add some fish next year.
I bought a pair of posh socks. These are apprently endorsed by Danish Olympians and that’s good enough for me. I wore a pair on this run, and they were fine. I’m saving a brand new fresh pair for the long run next month. Can’t beat the feeling of new socks!
Odi and Bonnie remain our two faithful hounds. Charismatic, photogenic and charming are three words that I wouldn’t necessarily use in conjunction with either of them…
And lastly, a couple of images from this week: after the big mackerel sky recently, this formation was on my mind, and it made another brief appearance over the town, albeit not quite as spectacular…
And this is a Hogweed in the park. A much maligned but rather wonderful plant.