The River Below The Town

If Rivers could talk what stories they would have to tell, good and bad.
Unfortunately they can’t – at least, not in language we can understand – so
we have to tell their stories ourselves.
I’m from Bray in County Wicklow, and like anyone else from the town I
have plenty of stories about the town’s river, the Dargle. Most of these are
based around the Dargle’s location in Bray, but in truth the river has had
many adventures before it even gets near to the town. Rising from a source
close to Djouce in the Wicklow Mountains, it soon flows down the 121
meter Powerscourt waterfall – how about that for an adventure; that’s a
roller-coaster and a bungee jump rolled into one! From then its east to Bray
[and the Irish Sea] through the Glencree valley.
Historically the Dargle would have been called ‘’the river below the town’’
but as the population of Bray has grown it is more accurate these days to
say that it is ‘’the river that bisects the town’’. That’s not nearly as poetic
My grandfather lived in Bray all his life, which overlapped with the entirety
of the twentieth century. He was born on the ‘town’ side of the Dargle but
settled on the ‘Dublin’ side after he was married, only to move back across
in his old age. A lot of my back-catalogue of stories about the Dargle come
from him.
The Dargle has burst its banks in Bray many times historically. I remember
seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Charlie in 1986, with cars floating in the
overflow and homes beside the Dargle with downstairs rooms full of water,
the occupants being rescued by boat from their bedroom windows – rivers
can be cruel as well as kind. The same can be said of how people treat
rivers though – Bray has pumped factory streams and other waste into the
Dargle over the years, including inks and dyes which coloured the water
like a rainbow.
A river needs a bridge, and the bridge over the Dargle in Bray is an iconic
one. These days it has been renamed Fran O’Toole Bridge, in honour of a
favourite son of the town who was murdered during The Troubles on his
way back home from a gig in Banbridge with The Miami Show Band.
It was on 29 September 1995 whilst standing on the bridge that my most
treasured personal memory of the Dargle took place. I had just returned
from Waterford where Bray Wanderers had lost the first leg of the 1995-96
First Division Shield final 3-0. I was in a group of fellow supporters and the
mood was despondent. A swan came into view having crossed under the
bridge. A second then appeared. One of the lads stopped and said ‘’That’s
two swans that have crossed under while we have been on the bridge – if a
third comes through then it’s a sign that we can win our home leg 3-0 and
recover the tie!”. History shows that that is exactly what happened – Bray
won 3-0 at home on 01 October 1995 and won the Shield after a penalty
Rivers are soothing places to sit beside and let your thoughts ramble. Bob
Dylan sang ‘’If I had wings and I could fly / I know where I would go / But
right now I’ll just sit here contentedly / And watch the river flow’’ [on
‘’Watching The River Flow’’]. When I hear that song I imagine I’m the
protagonist and I’m sitting beside the Dargle.