September the Eighth is the feast-day of Our Lady in Dublin and Professor Patricia Dunne never missed the chance to attend the ceremony that was held in the Whitefriars Street Carmelite Church.
In case you’re wondering, the simplest way to get there is to come out of the Front Gate of Trinity College and walk straight ahead. Keep going until you reach the bottom of South Great George’s Street. Here you should turn left and walk up the hill. Carry on past the expensive restaurants of Fade Street and keep going until you reach the bottom of Aungier Street. All you need to do is cross over the road and you’ll find the Carmelite Church up ahead of you on the right-hand side.
The sun was shining and Professor Dunne was pleased that she hadn’t worn her heavy raincoat. The weather in Dublin was always so difficult to predict. You could leave your house when it was raining and find that five minutes later the sun was making you regret you had worn too many layers.
Professor Dunne lived in rooms overlooking Front square in Trinity College and the walk to the church normally took her fifteen minutes, even allowing for the throngs of tourists who flocked to Dublin all year round. Today, however, the crowds seemed bigger than normal and the pavements were full of visitors, some looking lost and consulting maps, others looking more confident that they knew where they were going. A friendly-looking elderly gentleman and his wife stopped just in front of her. Both were wearing walking shoes and matching rain jackets. The gentleman had a backpack.
‘Excuse me, ma’am,’ said the gentleman. ‘Do you come from round here?’
The gentleman’s accent said Texas. His face said content with his lot. Professor Dunne stopped and smiled.
‘Dublin born and bred,’ she said. ‘Where are you trying to get to?’
Professor Dunne’s accent was that lovely blend of gentle lilt with a slight inflection that would tell anyone who knew the city that she had been born and raised on the South Side.
The city is divided spiritually and geographically by the River Liffey that makes its magnificent way through the heart of Dublin. Those born south of the river are Southsiders, those born North come from the Northside.
If you ever find yourself wandering about and can’t decide whether you are on the South or the North, then all you need to do is look at a street sign. Postcodes south of the Liffey are even numbers, postcodes on the Northside are odd.
You will also see this on the more traditional forms of postal addresses where street names are followed by Dublin 2, Dublin 12, or Dublin 7, depending upon where the recipient resides.
‘We’re looking for the Carmelite Church, somewhere on Whitefriars Street.’
‘Why yes of course,’ Professor Dunne replied. ‘I’m headed that way myself. Why not come with me?’
‘Really,’ said the elderly man, sounding very relieved. ‘That would be great.’
‘Right so,’ said Professor Dunne. ‘We’re headed down Dame Street until we bear left and walk up the hill.’
It turned out that the elderly gentleman was retired Lieutenant Charles P. Mallory and he was on honeymoon with his new wife, Sandra.
‘We’ve only been married three weeks,’ beamed Sandra. ‘Chuck and I were childhood sweethearts who went our separate ways after High School. Four marriages and sixteen great-grandchildren later we realised we still felt the same about each other as we did when we were sixteen and so here we are.’
‘Here we are, indeed,’ said Chuck. ‘I always knew that she was the one but you know …’
Chuck sighed. Sandra squeezed his arm.
‘You great, big soppy thing, you,’ she said.
Professor Dunne smiled.
‘It’s nice to see you both so happy.’
‘What about you?’ asked Sandra. ‘Is there a someone for you?’
‘Sadly not,’ said the Professor. ‘It never happened, I’m afraid, and never will now.’
Chuck wasn’t so sure.
‘You never know,’ he said. ‘You never know.’
Oh, I think I do, Professor Dunne said to herself.
After the service, Professor Dunne gave Chuck and Sandra a brief history of the Whitefriars Black Madonna over afternoon coffee and Victoria sponge in the tearoom attached to the church.
‘I owe most of everything I know about the church and the Madonna to Dr. Daphne Desiree Charlotte Pochin Mould,’ Professor Dunne confessed.
‘What a wonderful name,’ said Chuck.
‘Yes, isn’t it?’
‘Dr. Mould was a renowned photographer, broadcaster, geologist, traveller, pilot, with a strong interest in archaeology,’ Professor Dunne continued. ‘She was also this country’s first ever female flight instructor.’
‘She sounds like a remarkable woman,’ said Sandra.
‘She was,’ said the Professor. ‘She received her doctorate from the University of Edinburgh and moved to Ireland following her conversion to Catholicism. Once here, she developed a keen interest in Celtic saints, amongst many other things.’
Professor Dunne stirred her coffee clockwise. The other way just wouldn’t do.
‘In 1964 she published her short guide to the Whitefriars Street church. According to the guide, the foundation stone for the present church was laid in 1825 and the building was finished in 1827. This is important because Catholic Emancipation didn’t take place until 1829 and though the church has undergone significant change since, fundamentally, the building still speaks to an age when new tolerances towards the worshippers were just emerging.’
‘What about the statue itself?’ asked Chuck. What does Dr. Mould have to say about that?’
“Surprisingly, Dr. Mould makes no mention herself of the statue. Other commentators have suggested that the wooden statue dates back to the Middle Ages and was once used as a trough.’
‘A trough?’ asked Sandra. ‘How bizarre.’
‘Apparently, the statue originally had a hollowed-out back which meant it could be used as a means of feeding swine.’
Professor Dunne smiled.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said,’ the incongruity of it all is never lost on me.’
Chuck and Sandra smiled too. It seemed sometimes that the reason for Professor Dunne’s solitary existence could be explained by something as simple as an innocent aside.
‘Where did Dr. Mould live?’ asked Sandra, kindly changing the subject.
‘A small village in County Cork called Aherla,’ replied the Professor, not noticing that Sandra had tried to spare her blushes.
‘Cork?’ said Chuck. ‘That’s where we’re heading next on our honeymoon.’
He looked at his wife.
‘What a coincidence.’
Professor Dunne smiled.
‘The coincidences just keep coming,’ she said. ‘I’m headed down to Aherla for the annual Daphne Mould Festival taking place in four days time. The villagers have been keeping the Doctor’s name alive ever since she passed away on April 29th 2014.’
Chuck looked at his wife. She smiled and nodded.
‘We’re driving down tomorrow morning. It would be an awful honour if you accompanied us.’
‘I would be thrilled,’ said the Professor.
With the traffic restrictions in place in and around Trinity College, Professor Dunne agreed to meet Chuck and Sandra at the Hertz Car Hire centre on South Circular Road. This was a simple journey for the Professor and she had done it hundreds of times. With a small suitcase on wheels, the Professor waited at the bus stop on Dame Street opposite the Four Angels Fountain.
Known locally as ‘The Peeing Angels,’ the fountain is part of the memorial created for the highly influential nationalist thinker Thomas Davis by renowned Irish sculptor Edward Delaney. The four angels are blowing their horns to awaken the four provinces of Ireland to the possibilities of self-rule.
September in Dublin can be fairly brisk and Professor Dunne shivered slightly as she waited for the No. 122. Though it was unbuttoned, the Professor had chosen to wear her woollen coat. The weather down south could be awfully changeable and no-one, not least the Professor, wants to be caught in Winter weather wearing only a Summer coat.
She could have caught the No. 68 but that would have meant walking to a different stop. As she waited, the Professor marvelled at the life and energy of her city. With the recently-completed extension to the LUAS line, trams, buses, taxis and people, hundreds of people, swarmed around College Green, the part of the city in front of Trinity College and Parliament House, once the seat of Irish democracy, now the building is a branch of the Bank of Ireland.
If you took away the cars, you could easily imagine what this part of the city looked like in the early 1900s. Existing documentary footage from the period shows trams and people going about their business in much the same way as today. If it wasn’t for the phones everywhere, Professor Dunne mused, you could imagine the past and the present nicely combining to create a most charming tableau of the city.
Professor Dunne didn’t own a mobile phone. She despised the very thought of it.
‘Just imagine,’ she said to her sisters Sibéal and Iseult during the most recent of their weekly lunches, ‘how much more productive the world would be if it was able to pull its foolish face away from these infernal tiny screens.’
‘I don’t know,’ Iseult always said, herself schooled in the art of mobile technology by her triplet granddaughters Aoibheann (pronounced ‘eve + een’), Dechtire (‘deck + tir + ra’), and Rionach (‘ree + in + ock’). ‘It strikes me that one actually saves time by having a mobile phone.’
‘Saves time?’ asked the Professor. ‘How so, my dear?’
‘I have recently discovered that their inherent portability is somewhat liberating.’
‘Liberating? If one of these infernal things is a symbol of contemporary freedom then it is my sworn duty to make a stand for a different kind of liberation, one that is firmly founded upon the primacy of the printed page and not the tyranny of the circuit board.’
‘Come now, Patricia,’ Iseult said. ‘Smartphones have their purpose. If nothing else, we would both be able to telephone you in advance if neither of us were available to meet you for lunch.’
Professor Dunne laughed.
‘And what would be smart about that?’ she said. ‘You’re always available to meet for lunch. We all live within a thirty-minute walk of each other. Even if you weren’t free you could always leave a note with one of the porters at Front Gate. They all know me very well.’
‘I bet they do,’ teased Iseult.
‘We could, of course,’ smiled Sibéal. ‘Or we could leave a message on your phone.’
‘Now, you’re just being smart,’ said Iseult. ‘You know Patricia would never listen to her messages, even if she had a phone.’
‘Of course, I wouldn’t,’ said the Professor. ‘I would refuse to listen to any messages left for me simply in order to rob the infernal machine of one of its most important functions, thereby rendering it at worst, incomplete, and at best, not fit for purpose.’
‘You would as well, my dear,’ smiled Iseult. ‘It would almost be worth buying you a phone just to watch you attempt to undermine its very existence.’
The No. 122 bus arrived and the Professor sat at on the left-hand side. Her preference was for one of the raised seats on the newer buses before you got right to the back. Only once in forty-seven years of using Dublin buses had she ever sat on the top deck and that was only so she could avoid a particularly truculent student and the experience was so excruciating for her -–something to do with an over-exuberant body odour and a horse that broke free from its trap whilst going down Talbot Street – that Professor Dunne swore never again would she sit upstairs on a corporation bus. Now, all these years later, Professor Dunne would rather wait for the next bus than climb up the stairs.
The bus moved slowly along Dame Street and as she sat and looked out the window the Professor was struck by the recurring thought that it was never the cars that made the city streets so treacherous but the pedestrians. Though she chose not to take part herself, it appeared to her that it was jaywalking and not Hurling that was the national sport of Ireland.
Having never learned to drive, the Professor could only rely on other people’s testimony in relation to this matter. However, she had wholeheartedly agreed with a taxi driver who once told her that having spent decades of enduring colonial rule by the British being told what to do, crossing the roads when and when one felt like it was a decidedly beautiful if somewhat dangerous act of rebellion.
The bus stopped right by the National Boxing Stadium and Professor Dunne alighted. Hertz is just past the stadium and so it wasn’t long before the Professor found Mr. and Mrs. Mallory sitting in the reception area looking extremely eager to get started.
‘Good morning,’ said the Professor cheerily. ‘How are you both this morning?’
‘Professor Dunne,’ said Sandra and smiled. ‘We were just talking about you.’
‘Really?’ said the Professor.
If anything was going to get the Professor’s goat – as they say – it was the thought of being talked about. For many people, this is one thing that they crave. For Professor Dunne, quite the opposite.
‘My affairs are my affairs,’ she would say when Sibéal and Iseult teased her about her notorious insistence on privacy.
‘But you’re a published author who has spent her entire working life standing up talking in front of strangers,’ Iseult said.
‘Precisely, my dear,’ the Professor replied. ‘My teaching career has been a fine balance between loving what I do and wishing I didn’t know how to do it.’
‘But you wouldn’t have been any happier if you were doing something else, would you?’ said Sibeal. ‘It’s very hard to find a career that doesn’t involved working with other people.’
‘Unless you became an assassin or a nun,’ laughed Iseult.
Professor Dunne frowned.
‘I’ve read far too much about the affairs of nuns in my years of study to know that a life like that would simply be far too chaotic for me.’
The Professor smiled.
‘An assassin, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I wonder how many years you have to study for to be one of those.’
‘I expect its more than study, dear,’ said Iseult.
The Professor looked horrified for a split second.
‘There is nothing more than study,’ she said emphatically. ‘You, all of people, should know that.’
‘On account of my three weeks at secretarial college followed by thirty-five years of being a full-time mother?’ Iseult said.
‘Precisely,’ said the Professor. It felt fun to be the teaser and not the teased.
‘Perhaps I’m the one in need of some highly-advanced assassination skills?’ laughed Iseult.
‘Ladies,’ said Sibeal. ‘Pack it in, the two of you.’
‘Yes, Mam,’ the ladies said and laughed as they spoke simultaneously.
‘What Sandra means,’ smiled Chuck, ‘is that we were wondering whether you would be able to recommend a scenic route for us to follow. We have plenty of time and would love you to give us a guided tour of your homeland.’
‘Within reason, of course,’ said Sandra. ‘You’re not a hired hand.’
Professor Dunne was pleased at the prospect.
‘I’d be delighted,’ she said. ‘I’m sure we can find some interesting places for you to see as we follow the road.’
‘Which road?’ asked Sandra.
‘It’s a figure of speech,’ replied the Professor. ‘The kind of non-specific phrase referring to getting to a place that has allowed centuries of Irish people to find exactly where they are going without any problems but has left generations of tourists and visitors completely lost.’
‘That sounds like some kind of road,’ laughed Chuck. ‘Still, I guess with a guide like you we should be fine.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ laughed the Professor. ‘Otherwise our gentle road trip might turn into an odyssey of classical proportions.’
Chuck chose a silver Audi A6 with automatic transmission as he said he liked the way that the Germans went about their business.
‘I’m talking now, of course,’ he felt the need to qualify.
The Professor smiled.
‘No need to qualify anything, Lieutenant Mallory,’ she said. ‘We’re all able to go about our daily business without the fear of our preferences for goods and services somehow betraying an alleged affection for totalitarianism.’
‘If you say so, Professor,’ smiled Chuck. ‘You can never be too careful in my book.’
With everything stowed in the boot and Sandra sitting in the back, Chuck pulled out onto the South Circular Road. Being after the morning rush hour the traffic was moving again and so once he was used to small variations like right-hand drive and left-hand driving, Chuck, Sandra and the Professor started out of Dublin.
‘Aherla is approximately 282 kilometres from here,’ said the Professor, ‘and our best bet is to get there via the M7 leading onto the M8.’
You need to follow the N7 road to get out of Dublin and as you do so you make your way through the most lyrical-sounding places; Inchicore, Bluebell, Ballymount, Newlands, Kingswood, Citywest, Rathcoole Broadfield Manor, Farmvale, Castlewarden, Kill, and Johnstown.
It was a lovely clear day and once he was used to cars filtering on to the road from his left, Chuck made good time. Sandra dozed in the back of the car. Professor Dunne didn’t. She sat up straight in the front seat.
‘I take it you’re not a fan of driving,’ he said.
The Professor nodded her head.
‘Having lived my entire adult life in the city I have never needed to do anything other than walk to where I want to get to. This is why I have never learned to drive.’
‘I see,’ said Chuck. ‘Dublin seems such a small city anyway that. I guess walking everywhere is a pleasure and not a chore.’
‘It most certainly is,’ she replied. ‘For longer distances there is always the bus or the train’
‘My whole life has been about big distances,’ he said. ‘The state, the country, serving overseas, moving around the world. I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to live a life of short distances.’
‘I do love big places and things far away,’ said the Professor, ‘only my big distance is a historical one. Being a historian is rather like being a time traveller and every book I have ever opened acts like a portal to transport me back to wherever my desire takes me. It may be a short distance between my eye and my hand but it doesn’t mean that the journey is a short one.’
Copyright © Barnaby Taylor 2018