Extract from Amanda Bell’s Undercurrents: a psychogeography of Irish rivers in haiku and haibun.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Since the medieval period, rivers in counties Dublin and Wicklow have been diverted to feed the city’s ever-growing needs. Between 1937 and 1947, the Poulaphouca reservoir was created by damming the River Liffey and flooding the valley of the King’s River, its small, acid-water tributary. Farms, woods and Ballinahown village were all submerged. Freed from the confines of the riverbed to range over fields and woods, small trout gorged themselves till they grew bloated and diseased. In 1978, when the water levels dropped to an all-time low, submerged rooftops appeared above the surface of the lake.
oooooooooooooogreylag geese graze
ooooooooooooooas the bog road reappears –
oooooooooooooofloating thatch reeds
My neighbourhood is suspended like a hammock over the River Swan, all seventeen kilometers of whose convoluted course have been culverted and converted into storm drains and sewers. Walking past the Swan Centre, Swan Leisure, Swan Cinema, Swanville Place, it is possible to remain completely unaware of the river network weaving its way mere feet beneath us. But sometimes the river will reveal itself, by sudden subsidence, or geysers of drain water erupting up through shores.
oooooooooooooohome from work –
ooooooooooooooof floating chairs
The main branch of the Swan rises near Kimmage Manor, and flows past Hazelbrook Farm, site of the original HB Ice-cream, and the former home of Miss North, the well-known water-diviner.
ooooooooooooootwitching branches –
oooooooooooooothe weight of catkins
ooooooooooooooin the breeze
As it makes its way towards the sea the Swan is joined by four contributing branches whose names are redolent of local history: the Roundtown Stream, the Blackberry Brook, Bloody Fields Water, and Baggotrath Brook. All five branches discharge into the Dodder Estuary near Ringsend. It may be that the river was named for swans nesting along the sloblands here before the land was reclaimed from the sea.
oooooooooooooofeathered with grey light –
The Poddle is the best-known of Dublin’s hidden rivers. It flows beneath Tallaght, Kimmage, Harold’s Cross and Blackpitts before entering the River Liffey close to Dublin City Centre. On its way, the river emerges from culverts to flow overground at Mount Argus, where the waters are split by a piece of masonry known as the Stone Boat or Tongue, built in the 13th century to divert a water supply for the Mayor’s citizens.
oooooooooooooothis stone tongue
oooooooooooooosplicing the water course –
The park at Mount Argus includes a flood storage pond to help reduce the risk of downstream flooding when the river has resumed its underground route. The grounds have an air of neglect; the water is littered and noisome in warm weather. The drive up to the church is lined by copper beeches, which cast deep shadows; and overlooked by the imposing Lourdes Grotto. The presiding spirit is that of St Charles, who joined the Passionist monastery there in 1847. He is remembered for his gift of healing the sick.
Last year a homeless man was found dead in the undergrowth. Rumour had it that the deceased was a character well-known locally for his foul-mouthed verbal assaults and early morning arson attacks. Reaction to his death was muted. When the arson resumed, it was assumed to be a case of mistaken identity.
ooooooooooooooby crackling skip-fires –
From late medieval times, the Patrick Street area was regularly flooded by disease-carrying water from the Poddle, damaging the vaults of St Patrick’s Cathedral and prompting Dean Jonathan Swift to take remedial action. In 1835, during the course of further flood repairs to the vaults, the Dean’s coffin was opened. His skull was removed for examination by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Details of the examination were recorded by Sir William Wilde, in an effort to determine the cause of the deafness and vertigo suffered by the Dean throughout his life.
ooooooooooooooroaring underground –
The periodic flooding of the Poddle continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In late October 2011, the equivalent of one month’s rain fell in twenty-four hours. A malfunction at the tidal floodgates meant that the floodwater could not escape out to sea, and erupted upwards through drains. The Poddle burst its banks and cascaded downhill from Harold’s Cross onto Parnell Road, while the canal in front spilled over its containing wall. Hospice nurse Cecilia de Jesus, unable to force open the door of her apartment against the rising water, was drowned.
ooooooooooooooswelling brown water
ooooooooooooooinundates basements –
oooooooooooooorags snag on branches
Amanda Bell is a freelance editor and award-winning poet. Publications include Maurice Craig: Photographs (Lilliput, 2011) and The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work: An Anthology of Poetry by the Hibernian Writers (Alba Publishing, 2015). In 2016 she was selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series, and the Munster Literature Centre’s Prebooked Readings for Emerging Writers. Undercurrents is her first solo collection. ‘This stone tongue’ was previously published in Presence 52.