We don’t do grand here in Dublin. Not architecturally. No shiny skyscrapers. No glass shards. The city is a low rise anomaly in a high rise world.
Same with nature. The Dublin Mountains are really hills, less than a thousand metres at their highest. The River Liffey is a third the length of the Thames.
The tallest structures in the city are a pair of decommissioned chimney stacks that stand on the Poolbeg Peninsula, at the mouth of the Liffey. You can see the chimneys for miles around, their distinctive red and white stripes as familiar to Dubliners as O’Connell Bridge or Trinity College.
You’d be hard-pressed to call them beautiful.
Their construction in the 1970s was greeted with outrage. The stacks broke the city’s horizontal axis; their jaunty colours were at odds with the muted greys typical of Dublin sky.
Still, the chimneys grew on us over the years. On still days, steam from the chimneys rose in a straight line; on windy days, it blew at a ninety-degree angle. When fog rolled in, only the tops of the chimneys were visible, floating over the peninsula in ghostly suspension.
Some of us started loving the chimneys, watching out for them on long flights home, using them to orient ourselves or plot directions. We noted their decommissioning in 2010, surprised to find our eyes still drawn to them, even in the absence of function.
We began to value their role in drawing attention to the landscape they interrupted; the way their height accentuated the sweep of the bay and the long, low stretches of the coast. We began to walk towards them on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, approaching from Dollymount Strand or Irishtown Nature Reserve.
In summer, we were rewarded with the sound of skylarks nesting in the chimneys; occasionally we saw peregrine falcons. In autumn, we watched hundreds of Brent Geese feed on the grass beside the chimneys, bulking up before heading back to Arctic Canada to breed in the Spring.
Recently, there’s been talk of taking down the chimneys, but the council passed a motion preventing their demolition. Now there are proposals to turn them into museums or tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, they stand at the city’s edge, greeting cargo ships and ferries, cruise liners and airplanes. The geese come and go.
Some of us are glad.