Back in Dublin a few weeks ago to test out the tramping ground of my main character, Detective Frankie Sheehan. We stayed in Ballsbridge and walked into town, stopping for food at joints that have been open for generations and still demanding a crowd. FX Buckley’s for an evening meal and a pint of Guinness. No wine with steak in Dublin, thank you very much. FX Buckleys is a steakhouse born of a two hundred year old family butcher business, famed in print by none other than James Joyce in his novel Ulysses. His character, Leopold Bloom who had a fondness for offal, off cuts and grilled mutton kidneys thinks in Ulysses: “Thursday: not a good day for mutton kidneys at Buckley’s, fried with butter, a shake of pepper.” On Bloom’s advice, even though it wasn’t Thursday, we steered clear of mutton kidneys and went for steak, and tasty is was too.
I’d forgotten the pleasant maze that is Dublin City, where the streets lean into one another and you never seem to be too far away from where you want to go, if you’re on foot that is. The Liffey, sluggish and steady beneath the crown of Ha’penny bridge is as good a landmark as any to get your bearings.
We paused at the top of Grafton Street, at Stephen’s green, where a piper played Danny Boy to a small crowd then on through the maze of shoppers and tourists, passing old Switzer’s, now Brown Thomas. I thought about the many trips to Dublin as a child at Christmas, pressed up against Switzer’s window watching an automated Santa wave through the pane. Magic.
At the top of Grafton Street, across from Trinity, I noticed something missing. Molly Malone has hitched up her skirts and hauled that wheelbarrow away from Grafton Street to make way for Dublin’s tram service, The Luas. She now sells cockles and mussels on Suffolk Street.
We doubled up on culture with this trip, buying tickets to see the acclaimed documentary maker, Werner Herzog. The talk was wonderful for me, expecting to hear about how he communicates story through film, it was a great surprise to have him state from the off that he would be talking about writing, his favourite writers and poets and his belief that his writing will succeed him far longer than his film making. Again, more Guinness.
On a grey and windy afternoon we drove out towards Fairview and then on to Clontarf. We crossed the wooden Bridge that leads on to Bull Island, parked up and took a walk. Cockle pickers bent against the wind, trousers rolled up to the shins, heads down over buckets, the Poolbeg Stacks looked on from a distance.
This area has such a fascinating history and the suburb’s promenade gives up views as far as the Wicklow mountains if you care to look. Clontarf is where Frankie grew up and Too Close To Breathe sees the case she’s working on veer towards it. As book two prods at my brain and temps my fingers to the keyboard, Clontarf is never far from my thoughts and I see many more visits there for me, and Detective Sheehan, soon.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite references to Grafton Street in literature. Patrick Kavanagh’s poem: On Raglan Road, which I’ve known by heart, it seems, my entire life.
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay –
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay –
When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.