The Dodder by bike
On See Dublin by Bike’s Private and Custom tours, you could take a spin along the Dodder river, starting at Cumberland Lock, next to the Liffey in the South Docklands.
This cycle begins at sea level and ends at the Pearse Museum, in Rathfarnham, once the home and school premises of Pádraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Rebellion. You need to be a little fitter for this one.
By means of tides, locks and the city’s topography, the Grand Canal, the Dodder and the Liffey come together in this once derelict part of the city, close to the buzzing Grand Canal Dock, known lately – and rather ambitiously – as the ‘Silicon Docks’. The impressive black and yellow building that houses Google’s European HQ asserts a functional presence on the cityscape here.
Cumberland Dock was the spot chosen for the cover shot of U2’s second album, October, in 1981. You can see them, fresh faced and barely out of their teens in that photo, with just sky where the Google building stands. There was no talk of the internet then, even the basic mobile phone was yet to appear.
U2 photographed in 1981 and (below) the same place now, with the Google building in the distance.
Did they dream then they would one day challenge the Rolling Stones to be the ‘greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world’? Probably.
As you carry your bike across the two lock gates, you’ll notice a rusting hulk of an abandoned ship. It’s the Naomh Éanna, the Coras Iompair Éireann (CIE) ship that served the Aran Islands for more than a quarter of a century. The ship, which was built in 1956 here in Dublin’s Docklands, ended its service in Galway Bay in 1986, now in her ‘retirement’ has many of her original fittings and machine parts under water.
As you cycle from the dock area with the Liffey on your left, you’re approaching the Dodder estuary. ‘By the time they reach cities, most rivers have deposited their personality’, the writer and environmentalist, Lenni Antonelli observed, so you have to look beyond the slime and the rusting prams and supermarket trolleys to appreciate this river and its history. It rises on Kippure Mountain and reaches the Liffey twenty-eight kilometres on. Look east across the river at Ringsend, once separated from the city by this estuary, until the river was brought under control and the marshlands were reclaimed in the 18th century. If you spot a small bird foraging in the mud it’s probably an egret. The birds’ plumage was once so popular for decorating hats that it threatened their survival.
Steps have to be negotiated at Bridge Street. At the top of them walk left over the bridge before turning right and cycling along Fitzwilliam Quay. The route is clearly marked as you pass Bath Avenue, then Landsdowne Tennis Club. Here it’s a kind of alternative, back door, view of the city. Straight away, the view of the Aviva Stadium is dramatic.
‘Locals’ near the Aviva Stadium.
Further up the river, on Brookdale Road, Donnybrook, the gateway to the Religious Sisters of Charity has a reference to Mark Aikenhead, who founded the Irish branch of the worldwide order in 1815 and is buried in the grounds. She was declared venerable by Pope Francis in March 2015, the year the order had just over 200 members, with an average age of 76. The tranquil grounds have echoes of a darker history: One of Ireland’s controversial Madalene laundries was operated here by the order up to the mid 20th century and is discussed in the 2014 Government commissioned McAleese Report.
Continue past the convent, along Brookdale Rd., then cross Eglinton Rd., down a slope to Brookdale round, and then to the Dodder path again. This is where the route gets really tranquil, where you’ll start to see the odd heron. Fish may even jump from the water.
The Dodder ‘shining like a National guitar’?
Tranquility is interrupted again as you leave the riverbank at Ashtons pub (or Gastropub, as they call it), join the Clonskeagh Road and cycle past the derelict Smurfit Paper Mills complex on the left. Make for green space again at the next traffic lights, turn right and re-join the Dodder path.
Looking towards the water from the path you’ll notice along the way rusting metal at the waters edge, remnants of the Dodder’s industrial history, when cloth mills were powered by the water. James Hegarty*, mentions that in the eighteenth century in this area of the river, there were two corn mills, an iron mill, a paper factory, and a saw mill which was owned by James Classon- who gave his name to the nearby bridge. Here at Milltown, you’ll pass a tall brick chimney, the preserved remains of the Darty Dye Works, just below the Milltown viaduct – or the nine arches bridge, built in 1846 as part of the ‘Harcourt Street’ railway line, and closed in 1958. It now was re-opened in 2004 to carry the Luas line.
* The Dodder Valley, Dublin Historical Record, The Old Dublin Society, 1939
This is a sample of what’s on offer on a spin along the Dodder.