Killiney Hill - A Dubliner's Secret World

Earlier this week, Grafton Street's resident busker band, KeyWest, released a video of the part they played in a proposal on Killiney Hill, which immediately excited me because it's where I proposed to my wife Ali. At the same time it struck me with panic, that's MY secret world, and I pictured thousands of people clamouring up Vico Road like a scene from a zombie film. I wanted to keep it a secret, but it's one of those things, like Brendan Joseph scarves & bow-ties, that you want to keep to yourself and yet want to tell everyone about too.

If you haven't heard of Key West, then you haven't walked down Dublin's Grafton Street or Shop Street in Galway on a sunny day. You'll see the five piece band play their covers and original songs surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd, singing and on the keys, with lead and rhythm guitars, bass and drums. Two of the lads, Kav and Glove are from Dublin, and the other three, Sam, Jimi and H joined the group from London after they all met on a trip to L.A.

What's quite unique about Key West is that they focus on busking rather than paid gigs. They have a huge online following with millions of views on YouTube and over 80,000 fans across Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. That's not to say you won't find them at Festivals or doing their own original sets on stage at shows! On Saint Patrick's Weekend, they'll be touring Abu Dhabi and Dubai, playing gigs in McGettigans Irish Pubs across the UAE.

So what brought them to Killiney Hill?

Dublin couple Cliff and Fiona took a walk up the romantic spot of Killiney Hill to celebrate her birthday. Killiney Hilll can be found 10 miles South of the City. Rambling trails rise 550ft from sea to summit between tumbling walls of stone, peppered with delicate flowers & ferns, concealing behind them gorgeous Mediterranean gardens, offering hundreds of paths to wander down & get lost on a sunny day.

Little did Fiona know though that Cliff had something special planned, and it was planned indeed. Not only did he wear a GoPro camera mounted on his chest which he convinced her was something he was testing for work, but he also didn't let on that he'd booked the band, and as far as she was aware they just happened to be gigging there. It was only when they announced Fiona's favourite song, 'Raglan Road' and dedicated it to herself and Cliff that he dropped discretely to one knee, and it wasn't until a woman pointed and shouted, 'Look it's a proposal' that she realised how elaborate the plan had been, and she of course, said yes.

A little treat for the couple was that when the band and Cliff's friends were setting everything up for the show they happened to bump into Bono and Ali Hewson who were out for their morning walk, and Bono said a few words to the couple on camera. Jokingly he warned Fiona, "Don't do this - there's a gang of his here... it's an intervention!" before laughing and getting real "Marriage is like an act of grand madness - you jump up on top of Killiney Hill and discover that you actually can fly".

And that's really what it's like. And there's nowhere more special to do it than in this bay within a bay, world within a world, a microclimate known as Dublin's Bay of Naples. There's nothing quite like the day you propose or the day you get married, or the awful time in between when everyone asks what's happening when and offers an encyclopedia of unsolicited but well-meaning advice. You'll find that most of the people offering the advice are just a few months ahead of you, so I'll stick to the practical with mine, which I'll share in a few posts on the site. 

What Brought Me There

Although we'd been up often when I was little, I first discovered Killiney Hill for myself when I was in boarding school in Drogheda. Many Saturdays and Sundays saw me get up early in the morning and travel on the DART across the bay where I'd get off at Killiney Station, glued to the window for the last stretch before getting off, and beginning my walk up the steep hairpin bends to the top of the hill. It's thrilling how thousands of travellers pass daily under this secret world as the DART train glides between it & the horizonless expanse of blue it looks onto.

Killiney Hill has inspired many of my pieces, from its influence in my signature pattern itself and pieces like Quies, to the woven silk Bow-Tie and Scarf that celebrate it, but Ali had never been and so I knew there was nowhere else I'd pick to ask her to marry me, and after giving her her engagement ring, which I commissioned from and designed with Maria Collins, I gave her a 'Killiney Hill' scarf, before opening and sharing a bottle of champagne. Her ring had a special story too, it's two little lights meeting in the deep blue sea of grace, and if you look at my journal entries you'll see a lot about that idea of 'drowning in grace'. 

Something I realised when I had that vision of what it meant to surrender to God's grace was that the only guarantee of having a relationship that lasts beyond feelings and whims is if both people are in that same place, then that's where they'll find each other. This is something that we'd talked about and shared a belief in, so although she definitely knew I was about to propose (I'd saved our first trip to Killiney Hill for the occasion), she had no sight of the ring beforehand, just like with the wedding I had no sight of Ali's dress or my ring until I saw them in the ceremony at the church.

Arriving at Narnia

As we climb the zig-zagging paths and lanes, we catch glimpses of Greystones & Bray to the South, and finally at the peak the views sweep to the South over the Wicklow Mountains National Park & to the North over Dublin City, and as far as the Mournes in Ulster. 

Looking over Dublin Bay to the North-West we take in nearby Dalkey Island, the harbours & ports of Dalkey & Dun Laoghaire, and beyond them in the middle of Dublin Bay, The Great South Wall, a masterpiece of 18th Century engineering, with its striking red lighthouse. Across the bay Killiney Hill is mirrored by Howth Head. Beneath us are dramatic exposed crags of rock engulfed in swathes of heather and gorse. 

Laid out as a public park in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's visit to Ireland and 50 years on the throne, and topped with a magnificent obelisk built as a famine relief project in 1741 when it was the private estate of the Talbot family of Malahide Castle, the very peak of the hill is known as 'Victoria Hill'.

As the steep roads with exotic Neapolitan names meander down the hill towards the beach & to Dalkey Village, lush mediterranean gardens roll out on either side behind castellated cut granite walls and around stunning castles & mansions. Cutting steeper still are those networks of narrow stepped pathways with wild flowers growing out of tall damp stone walls, and a secret road called 'The Metals' that travels in a straight line from the Dalkey side of the Bay right down to Dun Laoghaire Pier.

The colours in this scarf are inspired by one of my first visits to what I used to call 'My Secret World', an attempt to find the top of the hill using these paths, without the use of a map, and before my way... As I explored I came across plants of all colours, eventually beating down thickets of heather and finding myself in the middle of a golf course on what I learnt was George's Hill, an entirely different peak.