For picture captions, please see foot of article.
Over sixty small brooks, rivers and watercourses criss-cross Dublin area, over a dozen through the city centre, including the Stein, Swan and Bradoge. In built up areas, most go unseen as they flow these days below ground.
The most famous of all, rightly, is the Poddle. Not everyone is aware that for centuries it provided our drinking water, powdered our mills and industries, ground our flour and kept the city safe from invasion. But it did.
Trying to follow the Poddle on foot is an adventure. It rises in Tallaght and forms a lake in Tymon Park, a beautiful spot. From here it flows overground for a few miles North, along Limekiln Road, under Wellington Rd and along the edge of Glendown Drive. This is just the early stages of a long, complex journey towards the city, At this stage it has another name: the “Tymon”.
Around Templeville Rd and Whitehall Park, it’s joined by a branch of another river and according to some, only here becomes the Poddle “proper”. This branch that joins is a section of the river Dodder which, incredibly, was diverted here by medieval monks from St Thomas Court Abbey, way back in 1242, in order to increase the Poddle’s volume and flow. To achieve this the monks dug a channel from Ballyrothery, near Firhouse, traveling west around 1.75 miles long to meet the Poddle. The reason why we’ll see later.
After this meeting of the waters, the Poddle goes under Templeville Road, then passes Wainsford Manor Crescent into the grounds of Kimage Manor, a fine 19th century house house in Tudor style. Into a tunnel as it passes more or less under the house, then reappears the far side. Between Whitehall Gardens and Wainsford Drive it disappears again below ground for a long time, only reappearing near the KCR, running along the wall to the side of the builders’ suppliers there. Then it runs past the end of Ravensdale Park then along the edge of a one sided residential road aptly named Poddle Park.
When Poddle Park meets Bangor Road the Poddle bears right through rough ground that’s almost impossible to follow. Instead I diverted through Blarney Park, out onto Sundrive Road in Kimage. You could try finding the Poddle behind the Supervalue at Kimage SC but no sooner would you find it than it disappears. It goes back into its culvert here to pass under the Shopping Centre and Sundrive Rd.
There’s a local pub here called the Stone Boat, the name a nice appreciation of history and the river. The Stone Boat was another piece of medieval river-engineering, more of which anon. You could glimpse of the Poddle down the short curving road beside the picture framing business to peak over a wall. But to get a more satisfying view turn left instead onto Kimage Rd Lower, then after a few hundred meters left again into a nice estate called Mount Argus View. The developer here did a super job here landscaping the river into this estate, making it an attractive amenity and helping somewhat to manage some of the flood risk downstream, which can be significant, even dangerous. I saw heron and ducks here. But although I spent about twenty minutes trying to spot the Stone Boat, I failed. But what is the Stone Boat?
The Stone Boat is an ancient, triangular stone, shaped like the prow of a ship. Other times it was called “the Tongue”. Its role was to divide the river into two branches. One forks North-west, becoming the city water course which historically supplied the City Basin at St James (now filled in). The other fork, right of the Stone Boat goes North-east, and retains the name Poddle. We’ll stay with this one. It passes Mount Jerome Cemetery. If you are feeling fanatical enough you can spot the Poddle in three different places around the cemetery. It runs in a slim channel southward out of the Cemetery behind Gandon Court. It goes through the middle of the cemetery and can be briefly glimpsed over the wall bordering the Muslim burial plot here. Finally, if you can get behind the previous Protestant, now Russian Orthodox church and if (not for the fainthearted this) if you clamber up on the metal contraption beside the wall, peer over and you’ll be rewarded with with the Poddle emerging picturesque from underground, running in its channel along the between the church and cemetery. Wild flowers peak out of the old stone walls of the channel, and very pretty it is too.
The river is soon back below the ground as it continues south towards the city, going under the hospice in the Harold’s Cross / Greenmount area, where it occasionally threaten to flood. Then under the Grand Canal, an unusual but by no means unique case of water flowing under other water. Then beneath the South Circular Road near Griffith College, alongside Raymond Street the far side of the SCR, then in a line just west and parallel to, Clanbrassil Street. All of this is underground. In fact, you won’t see the Poddle again except for two potential sightings.
Back when it ran overground in this area, it used to touch the ends of old, now vanished lane-ways here west of Clanbrassil Street, streets of of saggy old cottages with redolent names like Duckers Lane and Faddle Alley, where the legendary blind Liberties poet Zozimus was born.
The river now flows north traveling under Blackpitts. This whole area is honeycombed with underground streams, rivers and water courses. Our Poddle meets one called “Tenters Water” at the corner of Blackpitts/Fumbally Lane, then flows past the end of Mill St, up New Row, then meets another watercourse called the Commons Water, underneath where Patrick’s St/ Clanbrassil St meets Kevin St Upper and the Combe.
I’m not even going to tell you what happens just west of here, just south of Mill St. But the name is a hint. The medieval mill maintained by the monks of St Thomas Court was the reason the monks dug that channel mentioned, diverting water from the Dodder in Ballyrotheyback in 1242, (so that the Poddle was strong enough to power the mills here in the Liberities). This whole area is studded with archaeology. Some of this history and archaeology is covered in a separate article about the Mill area, here. But let’s stay with the Poddle and finish the story. At Patrick’s Street near the junction with Kevin Street, the river splits in two. Both branches flow north. Once upon a time, between the branches they sometimes created an island. This once gave the mighty cathedral here the medieval Latin sobriquet San Patricio in Isola.: St Patrick’s on the Island.
These two branches reunite near the western end of the Iveagh Trust flats (at a point underground between Bride Road and Ross Rd) then flow north to Dublin castle. More or less at at the bottom of Werburgh Street when the river hit the wall it’s channeled east to flow along the south side of the city and castle walls . (Remember that the castle itself once was the SE corner of the city) In the medieval era the Poddle was engineered by the Anglo-Normans rulers to wrap around Dublin Castle as a defensive moat. They even dammed it to keep it usefully high. A low moat is no use to anyone. This dam by the way, is where our street name Dame St comes from.
On the far side of Dublin castle, under Palace Street, the river again forks one final time. One branch runs west under City Hall, Dame St, Crane Lane into Temple Bar. Under old redbrick Dolphin House it turns back sharply east, under the Project Theatre, then reunites with the other under Bad Bob’s pub on Essex Street.
The other branch flows from Palace St directly under Dame Street and the Olympia to meets its sibling under Bad Bobs, as described. The reunited river then flows the last few metres, going diagonally under Essex Street, Dollard House, the Clarence Hotel and Wellington Quay to decant out into the Liffey. The Poddle finally join the Liffey, entering via a slightly sinsiter looking portcullis style gate set into the quays, more or less in front of the Clarence hotel.
This gate is visible from Capel Street (Grattan) Bridge. Depending on rainfall, the output here can be a trickle or a torrent. Few casual visitors on the bridge notice it emerging. Fewer still could guess at the odyssey that preceded it. And none could imagine that for centuries the River Poddle provided our drinking water, powdered our mills and kept the city safe from invasion. It was the Poddle, not the salty, tidal Liffey, that provided the water for Dublin’s brewing, tanning, distilling, as well as market gardens and scores of other uses. There’s one other, massive role it played in Dublin’s economy and industry. Long before coal, oil or steam, it was the source of power for nearly all our first mills and factories. It helped build this city. In fact, it’s likely that wihout it, Dublin ever would or even could have thrived. More simply put, there wouldn’t be a Dublin.
All this explains why, once they learn about it, people tend to treat this modest little stream with interest and affection.
That after all, is no more than it deserves.
List of Illustrations.
Map A: 1 Detail from a map by Clair Sweeney map, The Rivers of Dublin, DCC 1991
Fig 1 the River Tymon/ Poddle near its source, as it flows out from Tymon Park.
Fig 2 the Poddle at Kimage Manor, about to go underground.
Fig 3- a Heron fishes in the Poddle, at Mount Argus,
Fig 4- the Poddle flows under Bridge and over a Weir at Mount Argus
Fig 5- River Poddle flows behind Mount Jerome Cemetery & the Russian Orthodox church there.
Map B: (Fig 6) a section of the Poddle and interlinking water courses in the Liberties area, including Tenters Water and Commons Water. An expanded detail from Claire Sweeney’s book Rivers of Dublin.
Fig 7 John Speed’s Map of Dublin, from 1610. You can see the Abbey of Saint Thomas Court, (number 58 according to the legend here) behind St Catherine’s Church and in its patch of green, in the lower-
Fig 8 the Poddle approaches Dublin. An amazing artist impression of the medieval City, by Iain Barber. Courtesy of the artist.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dr Ruth Johnson, chief archaeological officer at DCC; to Dr Claire Walsh at Archaeological Projects Ltd; to Michael Hayes, online editor Architecture Ireland magazine; to Ciarán Ferrie of the Fumbaly Exchange. I need to acknowledge the large debt owed by myself and this piece to my main source, the wonderful book Rivers of Dublin, pub. DCC 1991, written by late Clair L Sweeney, formerly water engineer in DCC and the real and acknowledged expert in this field. We are all in his debt.