Relative Merit

Pigeon Towers from Dollymount Strand

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.


Early Bird
Early Bird


Categories Blog: Here and ThereTags , , ,

10 thoughts on “Relative Merit

  1. Oh nice shot, from below the grass level. I suppose I’d miss the candy sticks but – in reality – people would move on quickly and treat them as nostalgia.

    1. Hi Roy,

      You’re probably right. We adapt to all sorts of absences in our lives. Have to, I suppose. Still, imagine I’d be a little lost without the chimneys. And not just metaphorically! 🙂

  2. Yes, I am interested, though I am not Irish (I came from the Community Pool). No skyscrapers in Edinburgh either, apart from the blocks of flats at Wester Hailes-

    1. Hi Clare,

      Thanks for the kind feedback. I’ve always wanted to visit Edinburgh! Did a comparative study of Georgian Dublin and Edinburgh when I was at college (long time ago now), but never made the trip to see for myself. How dumb was that?

      Enjoyed your blog. So much variety! I love your sense of humour, and your writing style. How on earth do you find time for everything?


      1. Thank you. I don’t actually work, so there is time for other stuff.

        I have been to Dublin twice, saw the John Butler Yeats in the art gallery, went to a party in Dun Laoghaire. After the Referendum, we’re thinking of asking you back: the English are a bit too much for us, but with the Republic in as well, we and the Welsh could get one over on them no probs.

      2. Funny! We were going to ask you to join us in a Celtic alliance. We were thinking of calling it Scireland. Oh well. We’ll have to wait for the next referendum…

  3. Aileen, I feel quite fortuitous that I just entered your blog. For starters, I love the clean and elegant look of it, and your writing and photography are high quality! I plan to keep reading and follow some links to your published essays. I’m also an author, at work on my 3rd novel. Yesterday I finished a chapter set in Kerry County. I’ve never been to Ireland- although my mother-in-law comes from Kerry County. My book contains two chapters set in Ireland, the rest are set in NYC. I have an Irish writer friend, Colin Broderick, who has offered to help me out with some Irish vocabulary to give my Irish character a more Irish sounding voice, ie what would she call a country hick, or how wouyld she say “hot for him” or “shut-up.” Perhaps, in those exact words, I’m not sure. If you’d ever like to exchange some writing, and offer some Irish suggestions for my work, I’d be delighted 🙂 All best.

    1. Hi Rachel,
      Thanks for the kind words! Delighted to have you following along. Trying out some different things with this blog, so curious to see how it all pans out. Already meeting some great people! Enjoyed the excerpt from your novel and just ordered a copy. Looking forward to reading it now! Happy to trade tips with you. Will send you an email and we’ll take it from there!
      Cheers, Rachel!

  4. This is such a lovely piece, Aileen: it’s interesting to read how something purely functional has gradually become a landmark that people would miss.

    1. Thanks Sandi, I’m sure some people would be happy to see them go but for me, they represent home (in a way that other, more conventionally beautiful things don’t). Probably tells you something about me!:)

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