Saturday, October 27, 2007

Flann O'Brien - On the (Vico) Road

I was fascinated upon first reading The Dalkey Archive, many years ago, as the very first page began with a wonderful lyrical description of a local landmark; I'd already gathered from the title that it might have something to do with the area, but I didn't expect it to jump straight into something so familiar. Of course, the rest of the book is pretty fantastical, but there are constant local and historical references amongst all the intrigue and farce.

For this blog I decided a few months ago, at the end of the summer, to take my camera and retrace the route of the first page and its description of the lovely Vico Road. Not surprisingly, the book travels a lot faster in print than it does on foot, but the essential sequence of things is still valid. Let us take a journey... like the Joyceans who traipse around Sandycove and its Martello tower, Flann O'Brien's character follows a slightly more humble and less erudite path around the sleepy (and prohibitively expensive) environs of Deilginis...


Dalkey is a little town maybe twelve miles south of Dublin, on the shore. It is an unlikely town, huddled, quiet, pretending to be asleep. Its streets are narrow, not quite self-evident as streets and with meetings which seem accidental. Small shops look closed but are open. Dalkey looks like an humble settlement which must, a traveller feels, be next door to some place of the first importance and distinction. And it is – vestibule of a heavenly conspection.

Behold it. Ascend a shaded, dull, lane-like way, per iter, as it were, tenebricosum, and see it burst upon as if a curtain had been miraculously whisked away. Yes, the Vico Road.

The road itself curves gently upward and over a low wall to the left by the footpath enchantment is spread – rocky grassland falling fast away to reach a toy-like railway far below, with beyond it the immeasurable immanent sea, quietly moving slowly in the immense expanse of Killiney Bay. High in the sky which joins it at a seam far from precise, a caravan of light cloud labours silently to the east.

And to the right? Monstrous arrogance: a mighty shoulder of granite climbing ever away, its overcoat of furze and bracken embedded with stern ranks of pine, spruce, fir and horse-chestnut, with further on fine clusters of slim, meticulous eucalyptus – the whole a dazzle of mildly moving leaves, a farrago of light, colour, haze and copious air, a wonder that is quite vert, verdant, vertical, verticillate, vertiginous, in the shade of branches even verspentine. Heavens, has something escaped from the lexicon of Sergeant Fottrell?

But why this name Vico Road? Is there to be recalled in this magnificence a certain philosoper’s pattern of man’s lot on earth – thesis, antithesis, chaos? Hardly. And is that to be compared with the Bay of Naples? That is not to be thought of, for in Naples there must be heat and hardness belabouring dessicated Italians – no soft Irish skies, no little breezes that feel almost coloured.

At a great distance ahead and up, one could see a remote little obelisk surmounting some steps where one can sit and contemplate this scene: the sea, the peninsula of Howth across the bay and distantly, to the right, the dim outline of the Wicklow mountains, blue or grey. Was the monument erected to honour the Creator of all this splendour? No. Perhaps in remembrance of a fine Irish person He once made – Johannes Scotus Erigena, perhaps, or possibly Parnell? No, indeed: Queen Victoria..."

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