The Holly and the Iveagh. National Concert Hall. Unconsidered Trifles.

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These gardens have been described as Dublin’s (second-) best kept secret. I can’t tell you Dublin’s best-kept secret, because I don’t know it and even if I did know it, I still couldn’t tell you, or it wouldn’t be a secret any more. I’m rambling, as I did the other day, with time to kill before the Handel Concert. I wandered into Iveagh Gardens, as I did frequently many years ago. I was pleased to find the gate to Earlsfort Terrace open. Sometimes, the notice said, it may be closed, due to circumstances beyond our control. What might that mean?  Nothing has changed. A couple of androgynous angels still hold basins where seagulls alight to drink. A few strollers wander along the avenues of holly. A mother and toddler went past on a bike, suitably helmeted, as decreed by Health and Safety, a silent paean to love and absolute trust. The trees are thinking about putting out some leaves.  There are no florid flower-beds. Tautology there.This is a calm garden.

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That round building is the apse of University Church, beside Newman House. It doesn’t look like much from here but inside, it is a little Byzantine gem. It was said that Newman’s sermons and dissertations were the talk of Dublin in his time. He had a very laid-back notion of university education, something you acquired from your peers, other young gentlemen with a few years to spare, a little bit airy-fairy for 1950’s Dublin. I’m just about ready for it now, but any young gentlemen that I remember have turned into oul’ fellas.


I was impressed by the gardener who mowed the grass in the sunken garden. He trimmed the sloping edges by suspending the motor-mower on two ropes and swinging it back and forth like a pendulum. Pure artistry. He kept his feet on the ground–unlike the priest who lectured on divinity—and lived in the vicinity. That priest , later made a cardinal, was a world authority on hymns and paeans and angels. On one occasion his eloquence was interrupted by the racket of the motor-mower. Back and forth went the gardener…drap, drap, drap… until the priest became impatient. He rapped on the window and gesticulated to the gardener, indicating that he should hasten and desist and stand afar off and words like that. Words suitable to a man who communed with angels. The gardener eventually noticed him and raised two impolite fingers. The priest turned back to his students. “He says he will be finished in two minutes,” he informed them.

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I encountered an old friend, a chestnut tree that marked the seasons for me. Michaelmas, Hilary, Trinity. It is just about to unfurl its greenery. Hopkins the poet, who lived for a time in Newman House, wrote at length about the perfection of the five-fronded chestnut leaf. He was right. I doubt if he ever climbed that tree, as I did for a dare, sometime around 1960. Fools rush in where angels fear etc.. I did it partly to impress some young ladies who were sitting in the sunshine not far away. Angelic creatures.  It’s easy enough to climb up a tree. The snag, literally, is when you try to climb down. By the time I made it to safety, they were  gone. I should have kept my feet on the ground. I could still do it if I got a hoosh up to the first branch. Climb the tree, I mean, not impress angelic young ladies, alas.

Upstairs on the second landing there were glass cases displaying shards of pottery and other ancient artefacts, collected by Sir Flinders Petrie, (What a great name!) known to his Egyptian workers as The Father of Pots. He showed how fragments of pottery, reconstructed with clay or plasticine, revealed a great deal of information about ancient societies. Nowadays it’s all computer-generated images, producing perfect results, but I sometimes wonder if it’s wishful thinking. One day all the little flinders disappeared, to be replaced by a magnificent architectural model of the proposed new campus at Belfield. I never made it to Belfield. It came after my time. My memories are of Iveagh Gardens and Stephen’s Green. I saw no ivy, despite the name, just holly. Someone cut down this holly tree but it is sprouting again: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things..” Hopkins again.

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I went around by Harcourt Street to find a coffee shop. The Luas chimed at me. I remember the old trams and of course the steam trains. I’m glad I missed this one in February 1900. A right pain in the apse.

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I went for a pint in Dwyers pub. It isn’t Dwyers any more. It’s East Side Tavern, all dressed in black. I read the paper. I put it aside, content with my flinders of memory. I went to the concert and met my daughter and two of her children. Margaret’s choir sang wonderful things. Handel is your only man. We came out by the back door through an avenue of sarcophagi. I was back with the Egyptologists and their “wonderful things..”

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“How did you pass the time?” she asked. “What did you do?”  Now that she asks…nothing really.