From The Grand Canal To The Dodder –
Illustrious Lives by Beatrice M. Doran

Dermot Carmody

Beatrice M. Doran’s book is a collection of concise biographies of a number of extraordinary individuals who have dwelt at one time or another between the watery boundaries of the Dodder and the Grand Canal. Around 70 souls and their eclectic histories are lovingly condensed and presented here by the author. Their lives were lived between 1719, when the wonderfully-named actor and theatre manager Spranger Barry was born, and 2017 when Ken Whitaker, the economist and civil servant recognised as an important architect of the modern Irish state, died.

The illustrious lives in question include artists, writers, broadcasters, musicians, actors, politicians (including three Taoisigh and a President!), revolutionaries and academics. So depending on the areas of interest to the reader, they are bound to find some interesting characters to discover. A nice feature of the collection is Doran’s inclusion of suggested further reading with each of the potted biographies, should you wish to travel further into a particular illustrious life.

Many of the names found in the collection will be extremely familiar to most, the likes of Jack B. Yeats who lived in Marlborough Road and his Brother William Butler Yeats who was born in Sandymount Avenue. Knowing who lived at these addresses can in itself enrich one’s perambulations through the streets of Dublin 4, offering a connection with the rich human history of the area. In other cases you learn about the person behind a familiar name. Most have heard of the Chester Beatty Library but may not know much about the man whose name it carries. The successful New York born miner, travelled widely and built up his remarkable collection of Islamic and Chinese and Japanese books, manuscripts and artefacts, ended up moving to Dublin in 1949 were he bought a house for himself in Ailesbury Road and one for his collection in Shrewsbury Road. (A very successful miner indeed).

Even if you are familiar with some of the people in the book, or if indeed you knew them personally, you are likely to discover something about them of which you weren’t aware. For your reviewer, this was the case with the Berlin-born actress and cabaret artist Agnes Bernelle. I met Agnes and performed with her a number of times in the Late 80s and early 90s, and was somewhat aware that her family had fled to London from Germany in 1936 (her father was a Hungarian Jewish actor), but had not realised that during the war Agnes had worked for American intelligence, broadcasting to Germany on a shortwave radio station set up by the OSS, forerunner of the CIA!

Incidentally, Agnes was close friends with the English singer Marianne Faithful who herself could qualify as a subject for the book as she lived on Pembroke Road for a time in the 90s. I imagine another volume could be filled with tangents unfollowed like that. And such a sequel would be welcome, as Doran’s book is a beautifully edited and written compendium, a fascinating biographical tasting menu of some of the diverse onetime inhabitants of Dublin 4.

From The Grand Canal To The Dodder: Illustrious Lives by Batrice M. Doran is published by The History Press and is widely available at book shops and online.