Acting the goat in Dalkey

When you think of Dalkey, you probably think of its salubriousness, the untamed Dalkey Island and its goats, or perhaps its famous denizens. Yet like most small towns, there is a rich history of people, trade, culture and changing allegiances. Less well known than what writers have lived there is its historic maritime importance. In the 1300s, the Liffey was silted up and large ships could not navigate safely into Dublin Port. After a petition to the Crown by Dublin merchants, Dalkey Sound was used to unload goods bound for Dublin.
Another lesser known part of its past is the ancient tradition of anointing a king of Dalkey, an annual ritual that started in 1787. Coronation Day was a day of gaiety, merriment and political satire on Dalkey Island, but the practice was ceased after 1797 (when over 20,000 attended the coronation) due to the political turbulence of 1798. The tradition was revived three times in the 1900s.
At Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre, the town’s deep and interesting history is impressively re-created. Formerly known as Goat Castle, Dalkey Castle was the home of the Cheevers family of Monkstown, who owned it in the early 1600s. Dating from the 1390s, this fortified town house now presents Dalkey’s history through an interactive time-line, a well-produced video, scaled models, a writers’ gallery – documenting Dalkey’s old and current literary connections – and a live theatre performance. Actors from a local theatre company play the parts of those who inhabited the castle, dressed in contemporaneous attire and fluent in period English. On the day we visited, it was the archer (guard), cook and lord of the manor who showed us the castle, including the roof level parapet and walled walk, where guards or archers kept watch. All kept their composure throughout despite intense questioning and commentary from a young boy present. Also shown on the tour are the adjoining St Begnet’s stone church (10th century) and its graveyard.
To enjoy the tour and to have a good look at the exhibitions, you probably 1.5 – 2 hours. Like many tourist attractions in Dublin, it is pricey. The €8 for adults compares with €6 for the renowned Kilmainham Gaol. The visit is most worthwhile, however, and is the inspiring product of a relatively small town seeking out its past and present to show you every town has a story to tell.

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