Last Sunday, I headed off to explore a less celebrated part of County Dublin-Portrane and Donabate. Little did I know that it would be my last run for at least ten days. Go thataway if you want to read why.
Portrane and Donabate have merged into one another over the years. Coastal villages in North County Dublin, it is impossible for the visitor to tell where one village meets the other. Not that I was there to find out. The mission was to jog amid unfamiliar surroundings and delight in some new discoveries.
I headed first for the windswept Tower Bay. Its glorious views include Lambay Island and Howth head in a broad sweep of sea and sky. The car park itself marks the start of a two and half kilometre cliff walk. A drizzly Sunday evening, however, was turning into a decidedly wet one. Reckoning that a cliff edge run on unfamiliar territory might not be the wisest course of action, I turned, instead, to explore the immediate vicinity.
With three towers in full view, Tower Bay is aptly named.
A Martello tower stands solidly along the shore. There are twenty six similar towers dotted around the east coast from Drogheda to Bray, with most of them concentrated around Dublin. Built in the late 18th, and early 19th century for defence purposes, at eight feet in width, their walls were made to withstand cannon fire.
Now converted into a private residence, this tower is more intent on relishing glorious views, than defending the republic from imminent attack. Portrane’s coast views are altogether less celebrated than neighbouring Skerries, or Howth but that has been to its advantage.
There is still a wildness about the place, a sense of isolation that is absent from its very popular neighbours. Yet, the throb of the city is just a cannon ball’s throw away from this tower, while it faces out onto stunning views of craggy headlands nd islands and a broad sweep of sea.
But behind the Tower Bay car park, the skyline is marred by the strange juxtaposition of two very different towers.
The one to the left, appears to be a round tower of ancient monastic origin. It’s hideous companion is a concrete water tower. Both stand in the grounds of Portrane Psychiatric Hospital which was once the home of the Evans family.
Something appears amiss on the round tower. The windows are too large and too many. Ancient monasteries were more preoccupied with defending themselves from Viking warlords, than feasting on views of Lambay Island. A quick google determined that the tower was built in 1844 by Sophie Evans in memory of her husband, George.
So it served even less of a purpose than its water tower neighbour. Nevertheless, it’s a pity that they are built so close together as their juxtaposition strikes a discordant note on the skyline.
As I jogged on through Portrane and Donabate I came across other curiosities and delights.
St. Catherine’s Church
St. Catherine’s Church is just up the road from Tower Bay. A ruin now, it is rather strange to see so much modern housing creeping up around it. Nevertheless, there is a sense of peacefulness about the place and it anchors the Portrane area in history with all the family names carved on tombstones over the generations
I stop for a quick peek around the place. The graveyard itself must be a goldmine for local historians and, had the rain not been bucketing down at that point, I’d have lingered longer.
I was fascinated too by the wild flowers that sprouted so abundantly and magnificently about the ruin. They remind me of a campanula-type flower I had in my garden many years ago, but whereas my garden’s version was more star like, these sported bigger, bluish purplish bells. Whatever they are, they add immensely to the visual appeal of the whole place.
Again, within Donabate itself. there old and new thrown together with little apparent thought for the overall effect. Smyth’s Pub stands out for its distinctive 19th century simplicity, timber casement windows and plain wooden doors.
St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church
And so does St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic church. It quite unusual as it is made entirely of red brick and has a magnificent rose window set in stone above the church entrance.
Running past both the pub and the church, I felt rather guilty as they were worth more careful consideration. I’d especially like to see the effect of that rose window in the church interior. But I am glad of so many excuses for a return visit.
By the time I had finished my run, the rain had settled in for the evening. Descending in long, unrelenting drops, it almost put paid to any more photo opportunities. But I was intent, before my departure, on capturing the other Martello tower in the area.
Balcarrick Martello Tower
This one, now in a state of disrepair, stands on Donabate’s Balcarrick beach. The interior is not accessible as the entrance is blocked up. But it’s still a thrill to be able to walk right up to those old stones and get a sense of what it might have taken to build such a structure
In my quick trot around Donabate and Portrane had come to an end and I knew I had merely skimmed on what this place had to offer. This area has the poker face of a seasoned card player, and keeps its very best cards close to its chest.
But I will be back, I hope, to uncover more of its secrets, and to enjoy the wildness, the history, and scenery of this unsung Dublin gem.