The Environs of Dublin

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter VI

FEW cities are more fortunate than Dublin in the beauty of their environs. On the east it has its noble bay, which by many travellers has been placed in rivalry with the far-famed Bay of Naples; on the north the villages of Glasnevin and Finglas, situated on the banks of the meandering Tolka, in whose picturesque vicinity Addison, Swift, Steele, Tickell, Delaney, and Parnell, had their constant or occasional residence—the rich meadows of Artane, and the green lanes and pleasant shores of Contarf, terminated by the magnificent promontory of Howth; westward stretches the Phoenix Park, with the beauteous vale through which winds the Liffey's silver stream, its steep banks enriched with gardens, pleasure-houses, and charming villas, backed by the blue chain of the Wicklow Mountains, extending towards the south; on which side lie the pleasant outlet of Rathmines, the bathing village of Blackrock, favourably situated in a sheltered nook of the bay, Kingstown and its fine harbour, Killiney Bay and Hill, and the magnificent sweep of coast extending from thence to Bray Head, forming a succession of picturesque objects which, for beauty and variety, is not approached by the suburbs of any capital in the world.

After leaving Leixlip we enter the county of Dublin, and passing through the richly wooded demesne of Colonel Vesey, bordering on the river, we reach the Spa House Hotel, near Lucan, erected for the accommodation of the numerous visitors who, some years since, resorted to a chalybeate spa, discovered here in 1758; the waters of which are said to possess singular virtues in cutaneous and some other diseases. Fashion, however, whose capricious taste merit cannot command, withdrew her favouring influence from the Lucan Spa, and it is now little frequented except by those who, attracted by the romantic scenery, spend a few weeks of the summer season in its delightful neighbourhood. From Lucan the road runs nearly parallel to the course of the Liffey, whose banks, enriched by ancient woods, overhanging the silent waters, or spreading into verdant slopes, never fail to elicit the admiration of every beholder. It would be impossible for a stranger to pass the demesne of Woodlands, the seat of Colonel White, without being struck by its eminently beautiful situation. The fine lawn in front of the house is girt by rich woods, in which are many romantic rides and walks, leading through sylvan glades or deep glens, where the sparkling of bright streams, and the glad sound of waters murmuring over their pebbly beds, or leaping down the rocks, soothe the mind to kindred repose.

But the chief point of attraction on this road—at least to the good people of Dublin—is the range of steep banks that rise above the river near Castleknock, which, from the extensive cultivation of strawberries upon their southern side, have received the name of "The Strawberry Beds." Here, in the genial month of June, when the fruit is ripe, the citizens repair in great numbers, and here they may be seen on fine sunny evenings sauntering along the sides of the river, scrambling up the precipitous banks, or seated in social groups in the little summer-houses and tea-gardens that invitingly tempt the "passing traveller to stay," and join in a luxurious repast on the delicious produce of "the Beds," which is sometimes eaten au naturel, but more frequently, as the old song says, "smothered in cream." Oh, the pleasures of a strawberry frolic!—none but those who have enjoyed one can appreciate it as it deserves. The drive down to "the Beds" on an outside jaunting-car, on a fine summer's afternoon, is delightful beyond description, particularly if you remember to secure your seat on the left side of the vehicle, by which means you may, while riding along the picturesque road through the Park, survey at your leisure all the beauties of the Lower road, and trace the Liffey's silver stream meandering through verdant meadows, and watering the rich valley where stands the romantic village of Chapel Izod, formerly the suburban residence of the viceroys of Ireland.

Indeed, I know of no place from whence a more comprehensive and finer view of Dublin may be obtained than from the eminence near the magazine in the Phoenix Park. From this point the spectator sees before him the entire extent of the city, its magnificent bridges, the domes and spires of its public buildings and churches; the beautiful "Nelson Pillar" erected in honour of the hero of the Nile, rising from the broad mass of houses; and close upon his left the "Wellington Testimonial," a lofty and massive, but not remarkably elegant obelisk, intended to commemorate the victories of the great captain of the age. The Phoenix Park is situated on the north-west side of the city, and whether we view it as a royal demesne, containing the summer residence of the viceroy, or an extensive place of resort for the recreation and exercise of the citizens of Dublin, it is equally worthy the tourist's inspection. Though hitherto little indebted to the hand of art for improvement, except in the immediate vicinity of the vice-regal lodge, and that portion which adjoins the Zoological Gardens and the grand entrance-gate, this demesne contains many picturesque spots, romantic glens, and wild retreats—where nature displays her choicest charms to those who love to seek her in her sequestered haunts. Numerous hawthorn groves are scattered through the park, which in spring time are loaded with snow-white blossoms, and give a delicious fragrance to the air. The open spaces between the woods and copses are for the most part irregular and uneven; the principal level plain, so to call it, is, "the Fifteen Acres;" though why so named, it would be difficult to determine, as its area is said to contain three hundred acres. This space is used for exercising the troops of the garrison: reviews and sham battles frequently taking place here during the summer season.