The come­back city

Dublin is re­cov­er­ing well from its mighty crash

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - SOPHIA MARTELLI

BOOMand bust have left their mark on Dublin. Cruis­ing through the out­skirts past the (in­dus­trial) es­tate of Sandy­ford — flimsy-look­ing build­ings, each as nas­tily de­signed as the last but in wildly dif­fer­ent styles — I dou­ble­take at a gi­gan­tic half-built, multi-storey car park. There are ‘‘to let’’ signs ev­ery­where and it’s all a bit rem­i­nis­cent of a Joni Mitchell song.

But the shiny new Luas tram that links this mon­u­ment to prop­erty devel­op­ment greed with the cen­tre of the city is quiet, ef­fi­cient and fast — and Dublin is, thank heavens, still the ‘‘fair city’’ of the song, the River Lif­fey me­an­der­ing un­ruf­fled and ma­jes­tic.

Many of the hand­some Ge­or­gian build­ings around O’Con­nell Street have ben­e­fited from a boom buff-up, with de­crepit ceil­ings painstak­ingly re­stored and ex­te­rior brick­work prop­erly pointed. Their grandeur con­vinces any vis­i­tor of Dublin’s ‘‘sec­ond city of Europe’’ sta­tus in the 18th cen­tury.

New features abound, too. In place of Nel­son’s Pil­lar (blown up by the IRA in 1966) is the Mon­u­ment of Light, a steel nee­dle stick­ing 121m into the air. Nearby on North Earl Street, a brass ver­sion of James Joyce, in­tro­duced in 1990, lounges on his walking stick in the man­ner of Char­lie Chap­lin.

Lo­cals have their own names for the pair of them — the nee­dle is the Pin in the Bin (north of the Lif­fey is gen­er­ally thought to be a bit rough) while Joyce is the Prick with the Stick. I imag­ine this is af­fec­tion­ate.

Over the river in the more re­fined south, around Drury Street, chic restau­rants with sharp ty­pog­ra­phy and a re­spect­ful at­ti­tude to her­itage abound; they’re good at food, too (The Wind­ing Stair, Chap­ter One, Pichet). At the bar in the ex­cel­lent Cop­pinger Row, restau­ra­teur Bene­dict Gor­man (who un­til the crash ran the beloved Mer­maid Cafe on Dame Street, as well as Gruel next door) is con­sid­er­ing a new ven­ture in the city. ‘‘It’s hop­ping here,’’ he ob­serves. ‘‘I set up a restau­rant in Ibiza, but it might be time to come back. The at­mos­phere is buzzing.’’

There would be no short­age of prospec­tive clien­tele: the city streets are busy with a youth­ful mix of Ir­ish, East­ern Euro­peans and the oblig­a­tory Amer­i­can tourists. Mean­while, over in the Lib­er­ties district, the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion con­tin­ues — Face­book’s in­ter­na­tional HQ is here and Google em­ploys 3000 staff in the city.

There’s plenty more on Dublin’s doorstep. Even though once small, charm­ing coastal towns such as Bray and Greystones have suf­fered a plague of golf cour­ses, mari­nas and ‘‘lux­ury’’ apart­ment blocks dur­ing the boom, you can still find Celtic magic. My host­ess Suki takes me to the Har­bour Bar in Bray, where there is a random power cut; its many nooks and cran­nies are lit with can­dles, log fires heat­ing each of the five sa­loons. Be­side one hearth a meet­ing is tak­ing place of an hon­est-to-good­ness witches’ coven, fea­tur­ing long badly dyed black hair, baggy cloth­ing and a con­ver­sa­tion about which phase of the moon each mem­ber had been born in. We leave be­fore any­thing prop­erly su­per­nat­u­ral takes place.

The next day, on a stroll around Kill­rud­dery House and Gar­dens, a few weeks be­fore it opens to the pub­lic for the sum­mer, I won­der if those witches hadn’t cast a spell — the lush and calmly stun­ning gar­dens are oth­er­worldly gor­geous with the pale grey 17th-cen­tury house in the cen­tre. I’m par­tic­u­larly en­am­oured of the or­angerycum-statue gallery, an 1852 ex­ten­sion in­spired by Crys­tal Palace and funded by the sale of the lady of the house’s an­ces­tral tiara. The or­na­men­tal stonework that crowns it

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Be­low ap­par­ently echoes the pat­terned band of the auc­tioned­off jew­ellery. We agree that it is a much bet­ter use of re­sources than a bor­ing old tiara.

Suki and I fol­low a plume of stone-dust smoke to find Andy an­gle-grind­ing flag­stones. It’s Sun­day, but there’s masses of prepa­ra­tion go­ing on: this yard is be­ing over­hauled and re­ju­ve­nated for events and a weekly farm­ers and craft mar­ket. It is a won­der­ful space of old tim­ber and stone, with 1.5m-high farm an­i­mals freshly painted on white­washed plas­ter by artist John Job­son, who lives up the hill. Longer-term plans for the kitchen garden in­clude re­build­ing the three large Vic­to­rian pit houses.

Lo­cals are both in­volved and fully be­hind the restora­tion works; Kill­rud­dery is be­ing em­braced by a com­mu­nity that it was di­vided from for many years. It’s good to see a stately home on an up­ward swing — who knows, maybe this four-cen­tury-old pile will out­last the in­dus­trial es­tates; it cer­tainly out­shines them.

By the third day of my stay I know for sure I have been en­chanted.

We ride (me on a horse for the first time since I was a teenager) along the ridge of the Lit­tle Sugar Loaf moun­tain, Dublin Bay and the sea spread out be­fore us. Later we drive into the Wicklow Moun­tains, find­ing dra­matic dark peaty lakes sunk deep in val­leys and edged by sandy beaches; from the hills above, such features look not un­like a creamy headed pint of Guin­ness.

The mist ex­pands and con­tracts our field of vi­sion; the soft heath­ery moor­land walking is gen­tle. We­sit on a rock be­side a lake, not a soul nearby apart from a dog shut in a house: the hound is bark­ing, an­swer­ing its own echo that rolls back from across the lake.

The 121m steel Mon­u­ment of Light A brass statue of James Joyce The other-worldly gar­dens of Kill­rud­dery House

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