From the Grand Canal to the Dodder: Illustrious Lives
by Beatrice M. Doran The History Press, £20.00/€23.00
With the lifting of restrictions and the prospect of fine summer weather many people will be thinking of getting out and about in Dublin and elsewhere exploring localities and trying to find out about their past history and the people, notorious and famous who lived in them.
Beatrice Doran’s new book will be an ideal vade mecum for those interested in what was part of the old Pembroke Township. These days local groups are not anxious to use that term, preferring to resurrect the old village names. So much of the area that this book explores would be thought of locally as Donnybrook.
This was still countryside up to about 1800. So much of what one sees today is a product of a building boom after the 1850s, a boom which still goes on, as this is an ultra-prime area for developers. But this book is not about who made the place, but those who have lived in it over the decades since.
Dr Doran has chosen to arrange the material not street by street but alphabetically. Which means that, say to explore Marlborough Road, you will need to draw up your own list of names. She has certainly assembled a great gallery of figures. But they are largely people with a national identity. There is nothing here about the characters of old Donnybrook, those often amusing folk who added splashes of eccentric colour to the district.
Missing too are those more ordinary, everyday, hardworking folk, ‘the plain people’ of Donnybrook who over time have also played a vital role in making the place what it was and is. But it is odd to think (as a long-time resident once told me) that into the 1950s Madame MacBride’s cows were herded along the ‘long acre’ on the banks of the Dodder for a free graze just as they might have been in the 1750s.
Rapid social change and constant redevelopment has meant that such a scene is now well and truly a thing of the past. But what Dr Doran gives us is an array of people of all metiers, some the sort of people we will all have wanted to know more about. Her book makes a fascinating chronicle of socialites, poets, painters, and activists which many will greatly enjoy.
This is the sort of book needed for more places. So let us hope that Dr Doran will explore further, moving on into the acres beyond the Dodder, into the areas around Montrose, Belfield and Trimelstown – and so on into Williamstown and Blackrock. But she must do it soon, for the developers, or rather redevelopers are closing in every day, and in a decade or so South Dublin will be a different place.