Words & Art by Derek Culley
Strange how a casual remark takes one on a journey. I was born in 1952 and raised in a working-class suburb on the west side of Dublin. Walkinstown was a new housing estate and void of any architecture other than been referred to as ‘that place with the big roundabout’. So, as I grew into my middle/late teenage years; with the freedom to go where I pleased to go to, St. Stephens Green was my chosen destination.
A 30-minute bus ride away, the bus would drop me off outside the Bank of Ireland on College Green, near Trinity College. Some days, when I skipped classes (the sun was shining!) I would do a session of pavement art outside the Bank of Ireland. Funds secured I would visit The Palace Bar on Fleet Street, near to the Bank. Fleet Street is now officially part of the Temple Bar experience!
Looking older than my years, I had a beard at 16, I had no problem being served a glass of Guinness. Then I would walk back to College Green crossing over to Trinity College; strolling through its cultured grounds. Home to academics in an ancient university with a world-renowned Library, housing The Book of Kells and The Book of Durrow; Trinity College was my Harry Potter moment!
Later, end of the ’70s, a contemporary art gallery, the Douglas Hyde Gallery was added to the College in the settings of its stunning environment. Exiting Trinity I would make my way to Grafton Street via Nassau Street. Coming out of the main entrance to the college; Nassau Street is a short walk to Grafton Street. What I found intriguing was its grand mixed array of upmarket shops – be it the high-end tobacconists/fur shop or book shop.
Grafton Street is a women’s paradise. With its variety of high-end to the middle of the range stores, it is a magnet for the young and sophisticated fashion goers, female and male. Never a fashion follower myself, other than observing well-dressed ladies, my two favourite venues were Bewley’s Café for a delicate (sophisticate’s) coffee and Captain Americas for the burger with artwork by Jim Fitzpatrick, (originator of the iconic image of Che Guevarra).
For Dublin can be heaven
With coffee at eleven
And a stroll in Stephen’s Green
There’s no need to hurry
There’s no need to worry
You’re a king and the lady’s a queen
Grafton Street’s a wonderland
There’s magic in the air
There’s diamonds in the lady’s eyes
And gold-dust in her hair
And if you don’t believe me
Come and meet me there
In Dublin on a sunny Summer morning
This famous old Dublin song captures the essence of Grafton Street, gateway to St Stephens Green (Stephens Green). But Grafton Street is also a conduit for both Cultural seekers and Pub Culture seekers with areas of interest and delight; accessible on its adjoining streets. An old district, there are antique stores, café bars, independent galleries and many municipal buildings which are architectural gems.
One such gem is the National Museum of Ireland (Archaeology) in Kildare Street, which is on the same grounds as Leinster House (Irelands Parliament House). I would spend hours viewing its Celtic stones and ancient artefacts such as the Ardagh Hoard which included the Ardagh Chalice and Tara Broach. From Ogham stones, The Bell of St Patrick, cross’s, the Lismore Crozier, manuscripts’, head carvings and Viking artefact’s; the Museum was/is a treasure trove of discovery.
Nearby, for a different experience is The National Gallery of Ireland, (NGI) situated on Merrion Square – where you can chat with the renowned, Anthony Quilty. With its vast range of works, NGI was instrumental in my lifelong appreciation and journey with the Visual Arts. My preferred route for Merrion Square would be to walk through the magical St Stephens Green (Stephens Green).
Stephens Green is 22 acres (8.9HA) of poetry. Even when with crowds or loud folks, it was a peaceful haven in a busy city. Two other parks are nearby, namely one at Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square.
Exiting Stephen’s Green at the Merrion Row end, I would stop and view the ‘Famine Memorial’ a world-class sculpture by Edward Delaney. Walking down Merrion Row I would pop into O’Donoghue’s Pub. A keen poet, I would immerse myself in the written language. Traditional Irish music and history jumped off the walls and ceiling. Nearby was the RHA Gallery (Royal Hibernian Academy) in Ely Place.
Famous for its summer shows, the RHA always showcased emerging and established Contemporary Artists in Ireland. Although for me, the David Hendricks Gallery at St Stephen’s Green was my favourite ‘go-to gallery’ for things contemporary. Nearby was my favourite art shop, Kennedy Art (supplies/shop) on Harcourt Street.
So, with my thirst for art and culture quenched I would make my way back down Grafton Street to quench my other thirst. Choices were plenty, with Kehoe’s Pub on South Anne Street, Bailey’s plus Davy Byrnes on Duke Street and most importantly, McDaid’s Pub on Harry Street; to name but a few.
Thankfully, because of those lazy hazy days and strolls I listened, looked and learned. Grafton Street / St. Stephen’s Green with its surrounding streets were a mecca and source of joy and learning which still reverberates strongly in my art practice today. My passion for Celtic design, Book of Hours and Celtic manuscripts is evident (for me) in my two works, ‘Golgotha-The Place of the Skull’ (above) and ‘Tamh-Lacht – The Wall’.
Thankfully, those lazy hazy days left me with a passion upon which a positive foundation was laid for my future art journey. And Yes, Walkinstown is still referred to as “that place with the big roundabout’!