City Cycle: Down the Dodder

While on a recent hill walk with mates in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains, we ended up ‘having our break’ overlooking Lough Bray and sitting on the East flank of Kippure. Talk turned, as it does, to the fact that the Dodder river rose nearby and thereafter makes it’s may down through Tallaght and on though leafy South Dublin suburbs to the sea, at Ringsend. One of the guys had recently walked the river ‘from source to sea’ (about 25Km) so I made a mental note to have a random cycle along the middle part to see what it looked like. There are periodic and sporadic announcements in Dublin that ‘a cycle path is to be created along the river’, but I’m honestly not sure how much of those pipe-dreams to believe any longer.

I did however recognise that the path was unlikely to have any positive effects upon my road bike, so I hauled my trusty (and underused) Lombardo hybrid bike out of the garage and sprayed most of the contents of a can of WD40 on the chain and other moving parts. Feeling reassured, I set off for Oldbawn, which is – more or less – where the ground flattens out at the foot of the mountains.

I did have an ulterior motive. Pretty much every night, on her walk, my ageing and overweight dog splashes around in the Poddle ‘river’ which flows near my house. In reality its more of a stream, but she’s not proud and neither am I. However the Poddle is a river with its own story. About a kilometer beyond where I live – heading toward central Dublin – it ‘goes underground’ and – as far as I know – never surfaces again. It flows under Dublin’s historic City Hall and then into the River Liffey. And apparently it was the Poddle that created the ‘dark pool’ that eventually translated into ‘Dublin’ once the Vikings arrived and set up a settlement. So we’re not talking about a meaningless stream here, this one has quite a pedigree.

Final part of the jigsaw: I was recently in my wonderful public library in Ballyroan, and as I was exiting, my eye was caught by a Dublin County Council publication called ‘The rivers Dodder and Poddle’. Needless to say I grabbed it and, to be honest, it’s so good I will probably treat myself to a copy. It was written by Don McEntee and Michael Corcoran, two long time council employees  – an engineer and a draughtsman. As evidenced by the book, they REALLY know their stuff, and the book brilliantly reproduces many historic and old Ordinance Survey maps of the two rivers and, indeed, of most of South Dublin city. I can’t say enough positive things about this ‘living history’ book.

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So armed with added knowledge, I huffed and puffed my way out to Oldbawn and set off down the Dodder. The paved path runs through an open park on the Southeast bank of the river, (which more or less runs from SW to NE). It’s easy cycling, once you evade the many dogs being walked and children learning how to cycle without stabilisers. There are a few security gates to maneuver through along the way, I guess to prevent crazed motorcyclists, which is fair enough. Just before the M50 ring road, there’s a big weir on the Dodder. This used to be called Balrothery weir but is now – it seems – known as City Weir. It’s impressive, but what’s more interesting is the full story. Back around 1200 AD (no, really), this area was controlled by a monastery. And someone had the bright idea to create a sluice gate off the Dodder at this point and channel the water across to – yes – the Poddle, flowing about 1km to the North. This water then flowed down through Kimmage (where my dog splashes) and on down under Sundrive road, heading toward the city centre all the time (and slightly downhill).

Just beyond Sundrive road, there used to be a ‘fork’ where one channel headed off to the left. This was known as ‘city channel’ and wended a tortuous path across to a reservoir at James St. There it was NOT used to make Guinness stout (that started in 1759), but was effectively the city water reservoir, which delivered about eight gallons a day to the 140,000 or so citizens. Apparently it flowed on channels down Thomas street and thereafter down into the Liffey. I have – lest you ask – no idea how anyone living on the Liffey’s north bank was supplied. This fork was called ‘the tongue’ and had a wooden ‘divider’ in it which diverted some water left into the city channel. The rest stayed in the Poddle, and headed underground toward the city centre. At some point the wooden unit was replaced by a stone equivalent, called the Stone Boat. It’s still there – I looked. Which explains (finally!) why there is still a pub called The Stone Boat’ on Sundrive road  – I often wondered about that. So that’s what happened the water taken from the Dodder. QED.

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Quincy paddles in the Poddle

Back on my bike I continued to make good progress down the South bank of the river, the tarmac path is perfect for cycling. And remember, it’s all downhill, which helps. Under the M50 ring-road I kept going through nice, wild-ish terrain behind the playing pitches which are closer to the road. At the next bridge the underpass is at the road up to the Spawell roundabout. Sliding under there, I made good progress down toward Rathfarnham. I emerged from the park out onto the cycle path on the R114, and then a sharp left turn toward Templeogue bridge, with the river below on my left. The bridge proved quite an obstacle, as although there is an underpass, it does not seem to go anywhere. Painful.

So I came back up onto the R187 road, crossed Templeogue bridge, took a vaguely illegal right onto Templeogue road and on into Templeogue village. Leaving the familiar Templeogue Tennis Club on my right, I took the lane on the right just beyond Hollingsworth cycles, and down the back of the tennis club to the semi-circle of terraced artisan houses facing the river. Familiar territory, although the pathway deteriorated rapidly as I headed East toward Rathfarnham bridge. At this stage I was on the North bank of the river.

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City Weir aka Balrothery weir

With Tesco overlooking the next bridge, from the riverside bluffs on the right, I slid under the low bridge and was at the Southern tip of Bushy park, which hugs the river for the next while. The path is good for cycling, but there are a few ugly channels cut across it (to let water flow across into the river?) which deserve caution. In fact Bushy Park itself has a very pretty manicured lake, which seemingly is fed from a channel cut in 1937 from the Poddle back down into the Dodder, to let floodwater flow away and prevent downstream issues around Kimmage and Harold’s Cross. So in a way, the Dodder used to feed the Poddle, but there was a circular flow father downstream to control the waters. Interesting facts.

Eventually I got to the end of the riverside path along Bushy park, and I had to cross on foot at the ‘stepping stones’ that lie about 300m W of the bridge where the R114 (Rathfarnham Road) crosses from the south, heading in towards Terenure. There’s no way under that bridge so, still on the S bank of the river, I crossed the road at the traffic lights and down into the cul de sac of Dodder Road Lower, which adjoins the river. It was quite pleasant, marked with cycle paths, encouragingly. This offers a few options after about 1km but, with the big landmark of Ely’s Arch from the former Rathfarnham Castle visible on the right, I headed sharp left over the small footbridge and into the tiny Orwell Park. I stuck to the riverbank, with banks of Cow Parsley on either side, and soon I was cycling through the underpass that leads down into Dartry Park and on to the big weir on my right. This is a very pretty little spot, dropped into a big loop on the river, and with a cute little bridge just S of the weir. I used to bring my dogs here for walks a long time ago, and it’s one of my fantasy housing spots in Dublin (where I’d live if I won the Lotto).

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Dodder in Donnybrook

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Wild Garlic

I looped around the river and back out the other side, up the sharp and steep hill at Milltown. I dimly noticed a golf course green on the other side of the river, which I later realised belonged to the nearby Milltown golf club. By now I was (briefly) on the pavement, and then dropped back onto the river at the big weir just upriver from the Dropping Well pub.

Here  at Milltown bridge I switched banks and transferred onto the South bank of the river – now flowing roughly E-W. There’s a nice surfaced path along this side, which glides under the bridge at the end of Dundrum road and on to the ‘nine arch bridge’ that now carries the LUAS light rail in that direction. A few twists and turns later (uphill) through a nicely manicured park, and past the oldest (pedestrian) bridge on the river, I was at Clonskeagh bridge. So at this point, I decided enough was enough. I knew exactly what happened the Dodder after this, as it wound its way down Beaver Row to Donnybrook, Ballsbridge and Ringsend, emerging near the mouth of the Liffey. Plus the cycling from then on was largely on roads, so I headed homewards instead, finally crossing the Poddle about 300m from my house. I clocked up 20km round-trip, and certainly saw a few parts of the Dodder that had been unknown territory before this outing.

I’d also venture that there is great potential in building a cycle-way all along the river, but there are a few ‘black spots’ that will require some ingenuity to avoid cyclists having to dismount and trek around a barrier (such as a bridge). But it’s an idea worth pursuing and with the recent interest in creating greenways all over Ireland, why not aim for one that is in the heart of the city?

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Pollardstown Fen

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Pollardstown Fen

Postscript: I learned (from the book) that back in 1775 the Poddle was supplanted as the city water supply by the grand canal, bringing water into the city from County Kildare and Pollardstown Fen, which I had coincidentally visited about two weeks earlier. And in 2016 my son and I had cycled from our house on hybrid bikes all the way down that self-same canal to Newbridge. So I think I’m starting to see the big picture, and plan further explorations on two wheels to fill in some of the remaining gaps in my knowledge of the city and it’s suburbs.

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