5: On Grattan Bridge On A Dull Grey Day

The Slug and Pah Wah drove from Bridewell Station down Church Street, along the Liffey towards Ormond Quay, onto the bridge, still known to most of unofficial Dublin as the Capel Street Bridge.

Officially, those bricks have undergone a metamorphosis and been rebaptised to take the name and bear the historic reputation of Henry Grattan.

Although loyal to the Crown and the British connection, Grattan had on the 16th April 1782 passed through ranks of Volunteers drawn up outside parliament house in Dublin, to move a declaration of the independence of the Irish Parliament.

“I found Ireland on her knees,” he exclaimed, “I watched over her with a paternal solicitude; I have traced her progress from injuries to arms and from arms to liberty. Spirit of Swift, spirit of Molyneux, your genius has now prevailed! Ireland is now a nation.”

Such a constitutional statement stood well with Spratt as indeed it had with his father, Festy senior, when he cycled all the way from Kerry to Buttevant in County Cork answering Redmond’s call on Irishmen to fight for the slight freedom of small and, as it transpired, the unrestrained freedoms of big nations.

He joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and, singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” left his young wife to care for Festy Junior, and Festy’s twin sister, Festina. All through the war he sang it, from Suvla and Sud el Bar to the Marne and the Marne again before being honourably discharged in 1919.

He returned to a republican Kerry countryside, its bleeding hills slightly deranged, where the boys of Barr na Sraide were fighting their sorrowfull way to victory, followed by immigrants’ raggedy deaths on the streets of London and New York…

So now its Junior’s day, young Festy’s way. And above the bridge the swish and swirl of screeching gulls is riding high and gliding on the back of a grey Dublin wind, indifferent to the buaboababbaum of the citizenry hurrying to and fro.

Beneath it all, the gull-pocked-rocked sky, the hubbub, and the hurley burley, beneath all of that Anna Livia Plurabelle is meandering her way from the solitude of the bog-brown peat pool between Tonduff and mist-wreathed Kippure to skirt the beaten tracks, once home to the wandering Aengus, that are now witnessing the comings and goings of a more secretive kind of visitor.

Unknown to the branchmen in the Morris Minor and they crossing Capel Street Bridge. Not far away from the further babbling of the murmuring brook which winds its way among the furze and fern wilderness, a number of people were digging into the soft peaty soil. They were constructing a dugout, a mountainy garage, where soon getaway cars would lurch and bump across white sandy paths obliterating faint sheep tracks before disappearing into the bog face.

“The fucking midges are eating me,” O’Donnell complained as he scratched at his scalp.

“Is it not big enough?” inquired Redican.

“Sure you wouldn’t fit a car in this,” scoffed Casey.

“A car!!” exclaimed Bates. “I thought this was for money.”

“Money!!” O’Donnell laughed, “an’ we without the Peacock entry fee between us.”

“That’s why I was wondering about the size,” explained Bates, “I thought youse were planning to rob the Bank of England.” He stood up on a large boulder and looked across the bracken blanket towards the barren granite tors on the summit of Three Rock Mountain. Somewhere, unseen, skylarks twittered. “This reminds me of my last poem…The beauty of the world….”

“Is in a boghole,” O’Donnell cut in. He handed up a shovel to Bates “Come down and start fuckin’ digging. We didn’t come up here to listen to you recitin’ bloody poetry.”

“No,” agreed Redican. “If we wanted a poetry recital we could go to McDaids and listen to John Jordan, talking to the ceiling while looking like El Greco’s St Francis of Assisi.”

“Except we can’t,” O’Donnell cut in again. “’Cause we don’t fuckin’ have the fuckin’ entrance fee!”

While the diggers dug on, with a lot more digging to do, glinting water splashed racing on to the Sally Gap. Nature just naturally getting on with being its natural self. Nature indifferent to the admiring gazes of the tourists who had left their cars unattended. And those vehicles under the watchful eyes of car thieves pretending to be courting couples in the nearby heather. As is, all of it, only natural.

So, beneath a dappled, no longer so gull-bothered, sky, our river runs. By the Poulaphouca Reservoir on to the unnaturally manicured fields of stud country. Here, Ragusa, winner, only four years earlier, of the Irish Derby, King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the St Leger, is stretched out, contentedly exhausted from fucking the long legged beauties, the Debs and Barbies of equine society. Further on yet, Anna’s murmuring waters slip to slide around gentle bends and on to Dublin County, past Chapelizod and Banks of willow weed, to a darkness where open fields surrender to housing estates in which, with poor mouths, lost and lonely children of an original sin praise Christ Pantocrator. Lord of all.

Past Eve and Adam’s then, past the Slug and Pah Wah in their Morris Minor unaware, actually fucking clueless, that deeply down in the dirt and gloom, further away than they can think, longer ago than they can dream, long before Cairbre, our Liffey’s lover, had married Fionn’s bright daugher, Ainé, a primeval oul’ row is burbling on.

This quarrel between the North Channel Mullet and the South Channel Salmon. How sad is it, the cold, dark, history of Ireland? How cold is it, how dark, the sad history of Ireland? Sad. Cold. Dark. All of these and none, ring the bright bells of Ballsbridge!!!