Dublin’s Alley Art Walks

People say that all big cities are alike. In some ways that’s true: the lonely anonymity of a crowd, plumes of diesel exhaust trailing buses down thoroughfares, and the dizzying cacophony of a thousand lives intersecting on a single street corner. But, each big city is also different. In Dublin, beyond the noise and bustle of Fleet Street, you’ll find a network of alleyways boasting some of the best artwork in the city.

Temple Bar

Art in the Temple Bar alleyways? I know what you’re thinking: I imbibed one too many pints of Guinness at Oliver St. John Gogarty. Alleyways are full of crumbled trash, heaps of wasted life slumped in doorways, and a Russian criminal element lurking about the shadows, waiting for me—the unsuspecting tourist—to cross their paths. I would be safer sticking to the main street!  The Icon Factory and Love the Lanes are working to change that notion, though, by transforming dark passageways into gleaming installations that celebrate Irish culture.

The Icon Walk, a multi-street exhibit with ten different sections, “showcases original artwork by many different local artists of Irish icons from many disciplines including: writers and playwrights, sports icons, musicians, and actors from the performing arts.” I recommend visiting their website and viewing their “before and after” pictures. It’s a collection that would earn Banksy’s tag of approval.

Icon Walk2

Icon Walk 4

Icon Walk 3

Icon Walk 5

Love the Lanes, a joint initiative between Dublin City Council and Temple Bar Company, also aims to reduce crime and reinvigorate the alleyways. I stumbled upon the tiled wall installation “Love Lane” by Anna Doran last October, and there are others I hope to find when I return in May.


Dublin Alley

Lanes Love 3

Lanes Love 2
Exercise caution, of course. Don’t go wandering around by yourself in the middle of the night in the name of art; I’m not suggesting that. However, do dare to leave the beaten path during the day and explore the hidden parts of the city. Next time you’re in Dublin, grab your camera and seek these open-air galleries stretched out over a brick canvas in the quieter, not-so-dangerous back alleys of the city.

Children of Lir

Children of Lir in the Garden of Remembrance

Long ago, in the dark, pre-Christian ages of Ireland, King Lir tragically lost his beloved wife and was left alone to raise his four children. Of course, no man is capable of remaining alone for very long, and he soon took another wife, whose bitter heart quickly hardened over her stepchildren’s love for their deceased mother. She used her wicked powers to turn them into swans. The legend veers off in several directions depending on what version is read, but it seems as though the poor children remained in their unfortunate state for several hundred years before the curse was lifted.

A sculpture  of the Children of Lir can be found with Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance.

OXO Boys

I like a bit of a mystery.

Captivated by the Georgian architecture in Dublin, I set out to photograph some of the doors and buildings for a later project. On this particular door, I found a note that read The OXO Boys. The OXO Boys…who are they?? I wondered. Did they like kisses more than hugs? Were they aspiring graffiti artists who didn’t believe in defacing public property, so they tagged it with paper instead? Were they clever painters, carefully hinting to the building’s owners that it needed a facelift? Or, maybe they liked to run naked through the streets of Dublin at night, advertising their exploits with sticky notes?

Well, if Google is correct, The OXO Boys are actually a folk band. I suppose that’s a far more practical explanation.

Mystery solved.

The Replacement Temples

When I visited Dublin in 2010 and 2011, The Temple Bar (within Temple Bar) had two painted panels flanking the front door, one of Lady Martha Temple and the other of Sir William Temple. I thought they really brightened up that stretch of road. Sadly, when I returned in 2012, the bright, colorful paintings had been replaced! I prefer the original, but I also don’t deal well with change…

I actually made a print of the original, and it’s hanging in my dining room. I had wanted to return and get a picture of Sir William Temple without a man standing in front of it so that I could have a matching set. Alas, that will not happen. Although, the man by Sir William does add a little charm to the photo.

The original Lady Martha Temple
The Original Sir William Temple

A Picture without a Picture

I’ve been reading Susan Sontag’s essays, “On Photography”.   A few pages into the first essay she writes, “Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”  She refers to snapshots as souvenirs – and that clicked for me, so to speak.  I don’t buy souvenirs, I take pictures.

However, on my first trip to Ireland I chose not to photograph one beautiful moment.  I felt that capturing it would somehow rob the moment of its magic.  1,000 words could never do it justice, but I attempted to describe for my memoir what didn’t feel right to photograph.  This short piece will be at the end of Chapter 6, about my first day in Dublin.

Lady in the Leaves

In a shaded courtyard somewhere outside the National Gallery, I sat down to rest my feet and lament my insensible choice of footwear. The wind gusted, and a squeal pierced through the sound of rustling leaves, attracting my attention. A few feet away, I saw her.

Alone, she drifted across the courtyard through a sea of autumn color. Arms outstretched, her weathered hands poked out from the tailored ends of her coat as the wind tousled the white curls above her wrinkled face.

Leaves like glowing embers showered from the trees, and she raised her arms to them like a child in the rain, smelling the sweet, earthy fragrance as they tumbled through her hands. Then she kicked through the brittle waves, her scarlet checks touching the gleeful corners of her pale-blue eyes as she watched them rise and fall.

Instinctively, my fingers ran across the buttons of my camera to collect the image before the moment vanished. But as euphoric notes burst forth with each kick of her polished shoes, I began to fear that the sound of my shutter would startle her out of her moment. And even if it didn’t, could I simply click and capture her joy – bringing her home like a cheap souvenir?

No, this flicker in time wasn’t mine.

I picked myself up, a hot pain radiating across my soles, and limped away unnoticed by the lady in the leaves. Her picture still hangs in the only place that it should, living and vibrant in my gallery of memories.


Since You’re Going There Anyway…

I landed at Uisce’s Irish Pub tonight with my friend Jen and asked David, the Bartender (and actual Irish immigrant), for some travel advice for my trip to Dublin in October.

David gave me more information than I could have ever hoped for and even said he’d hang a picture of mine on the wall if I returned with anything good from Ireland.   I was impressed!  He actually hauled his laptop to the bar and googled images of all the best places to go.  Also, when I asked him the important question, Bushmills or Jameson?, he answered Jameson.  He gained my repsect! 

Plus, he made a mean Manhattan. 

Camera:  Canon 40d
Location:  Same Traveller’s Pad;  Bellingham, WA