Irish Times, April 13, 2013
Lenny Antonelli walks the Dodder river through Dublin
By the time they reach cities, most rivers have deposited their personality: they're flat, dull, dirty. But the Dodder is different. Flowing from Kippure mountain to the Liffey, it's a river rich in whitewater and wildlife.
I set out from Ringsend, once separated from the city by the Dodder's sprawling estuary, until the river was brought under control and the marshlands were reclaimed in the 18th century.
But in the years that followed this area was lawless, a refuge for outlaws that was known for its burglaries and highway robberies, according to Weston St John Joyce's 1912 book The Neighbourhood of Dublin.
A little egret was foraging in the shallows of the river at Ringsend. Once rare in Ireland, these small herons are now common in coastal counties. When breeding they develop extravagant plumage, which was once so popular for decorating hats that it threatened the species.
Walking the Dodder gives you an alternative view of the city, showing you islands of countryside in the suburbs, and fragments of architecture that remind you Dublin was once built around its rivers as much as its roads.
But this was the wrong time to walk the Dodder. It had flooded after heavy rain and deposited all manner of rubbish along its banks. But every year the group Dodder Action undertakes a big clean up of the river, restoring it to wildness.
Snow started falling, but anglers braved frigid temperatures on the riverbank. After Donnybrook and Clonskeagh, the riverside paths wind through parklands, passing weirs, waterfalls and rapids.
A watercolour painting titled 'On the River Dodder near Rathgar' by the 18th and 19th century artist John Henry Campbell shows a dramatic country scene: tall trees looking over a waterfall, a farmstead on the riverbank, the Dublin Mountains looming behind.
Near Rathfarnham a grey heron, surely the most zen of all birds, stood motionless on a branch high above the river. As passerby told me this was also a great place to see foxes, and that there were mandarin ducks on this stretch of the river too. And a minute later, a group of strikingly coloured males — white, brown, blue, pine green and orange — flew past. At Bushy Park another man pointed out the best spots to see kingfishers and dippers.
Then near Firhouse a flock of starlings — called a murmuration — floated in unison across the dusky sky, creating all manner of shapes that dissolved as quickly as they formed.
Starlings form these huge groupings to avoid predators, keep warm and exchange information such as where good feeding spots are, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
In his poem 'Down by the Dodder', the Rev Matthew Russell, founder of the Irish Monthly, confessed that he had spent too long living near the river without exploring it.
"And so from life's loud, dusty road / A somewhat jaded plodder," he wrote, "I steal to this serene abode / And thee suburban Dodder!"
The Dodder, Ringsend to Firhouse, Dublin
Start: Ringsend Bridge
Finish: Dodder Valley Linear Park, Firhouse Road. Bus 49 heads to Pearse St from stop 3004 on nearby Ballycullen Ave.
Route: There are paths near the Dodder most of the way, but for some stretches you must detour away from the river. Bring any detailed street map to find your way.
Suitability: Easy, but the river rises quickly and floods during heavy rain so avoid it at these times. Walk on designated paths rather than on the bank itself. Bring walking footwear, rain gear, snacks, water.
Time: A leisurely five hours
Distance: Approximately 15km