I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”
― John O’Donohue
The Liffey runs by our town but not through it. Running east to west it intersects the
Naas/Dublin road at its northern end. Curving leisurely through the strand, it meanders past
the old watering gates, once utilised by the British Cavalry, then onwards through the park
before coursing under the bridge that gives our town its name- Newbridge or Droichead Nua.
It continues towards the Dominican College sometimes at full spate if the dam at
Poulaphouca has been released. It rushes over the weir like a line of steeplechasers taking
fences at Punchestown.
At the weir, the river separates, and a small run is channelled from the main body of water
becoming the Mill Race which served the Dominican Friary, founded in 1756.
From the College, the Mill Race makes its way past the Mill Shed used for milling flour in
earlier times. Then it continues behind a row of 8 houses called Roseberry Terrace. The Mill
Race is part of the fabric of my childhood. There were dire warnings to all local children
about going near it. Unlike the field drains in which we occasionally came a cropper, the
Mill Race had a treacherous flow owing to its nature as a conduit of water power. Cautionary
tales about little Brian Doherty, only 5 years old, who followed the family cat out the back
door and was drowned; or the two Donnelly boys who fell in and were saved in a nick of time
by their aunt, were told as deterrents.
Another dread was eels. Aunt Nancy who lived on Roseberry Terrace used to regale me with
tales of her cat proudly dragging eels, some six feet long, into the house. Nancy would stand
on a chair until Uncle Blarney with the aid of a brush handle deposited it outside. We lived
on the commons, as the area was known. A little cul de sac of cottages most of which had no
indoor plumbing or running water until the early 1960s. So, under cover of darkness,
sojourns to the Mill Race with buckets of sewage were undertaken by the men. Luckily
enough, as far as I know, no one followed the contents of the bucket into the fast-flowing
The Mill Race re-joins the river about 500 meters further down. Just before the “Jetty” as it
was known to the big lads who used to go swimming there. There was a makeshift diving
board from which they would launch themselves into the water. We smaller individuals
watched in envy and awe at their prowess. We had to content ourselves with the shallower
waters at the park near the bridge. Children of the 50s and 60s, few of us had holidays at the
seaside. The park was our beach. We wore old sandals to protect our feet as the river bed was
rough and slippery underfoot. With skirts hitched into our knickers, we paddled in the
shallow water trying to catch pinkeens in trap bottles.
As a child, growing up near a river was something I took for granted. But with age comes
awareness and gratitude for its life-affirming presence. According to Heraclitus “No man
steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” To me, a
flowing river embodies the passage of time. Always going forward, unable to look or go
back it is a reminder to enjoy every moment of our life as it unfolds.