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Just back from a research trip for the third Moss Reid novel. Checking out areas around Pisa and the nearby port of Livorno, Genoa via La Spezia, then across the border to Marseille and finally ending up in Languedoc-Roussillon. No expenses spared (actually a lot of them spared but that’s another story).

No, I won’t spoil the plot. Suffice to say that in among all the notes and photos of the Continent I also took a few photographs of Dublin. From the air of course. As you do as a sort of “tourist in your own town”.

Not that I’m a great photographer by any means. These weren’t even for the book. Just personal snaps.

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I hadn’t bothered on the flight out from Ireland. The weather wasn’t great – it was still the beginning of April – and I didn’t have a window seat. Besides, take-offs aren’t the greatest time to take pics; compared with coming in to land, it can be more a mad dash or desperate struggle as the aircraft noses up at a crazy angle in its rush to the clouds. (Why do clouds come so quickly in Ireland? And why does that angle seem even more steep and gravity-defying when you’re watching the aircraft from the ground?)

The return journey to Ireland was different though. I happened to have a window seat. The weather had picked up. I’d been away for a while so the home turf was a bit of a novelty. Maybe that’s the real reason why I began to snap away once we’d crossed the Irish Sea as, one by one, various Irish landmarks – and seamarks I suppose you’d call them – came into view.

European geography is not my strong point, but I reckon that on this particular route to Ireland from the south of France you fly overland until reaching the northern coast of Brittany or Normandy. After that it’s straight across – OK, diagonally across – the Channel and onwards to the Irish Sea to Dublin via the western tip of Cornwall.

Among the first slices of Ireland to come properly into view were north Wicklow, Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire’s harbour with its walls reminding me of a spider crab’s claws, followed by Blackrock’s seafront and Dublin Bay.

Soon we’re at the sandy mouth of the Liffey; you can begin to make out the sandbanks of Clontarf and Bull Island and, much further in the vague distance, the chimney stacks at Poolbeg.

The Pigeon House

In Dublin some of us have a bit of a thing about chimneys. The city doesn’t have many tall buildings, so the two red-and-white striped chimneys at the Pigeon House still stand out after all these years. The stacks were decommissioned in 2010 after four decades in operation; in all likelihood they’ll be pulled down soon, despite their iconic status. I reckon most Dubliners look on them far more fondly than the Spire in O’Connell Street, though I doubt it’ll be an issue in the forthcoming local elections.

Anyway, nearly home now. Things are beginning to look more dramatic.

We fly over the peninsular hill of Howth. Its distinctive little harbour, with yet more claws about to embrace the neat rows of white boats moored at the marina.

Ireland’s Eye

The aircraft begins to make a final steep turn by the little island of Ireland’s Eye. In all my life I’ve never visited Ireland’s Eye. Shame on me. There are tourist boats to the island several times a day, and down there that must be one of them now.

No one lives on the island today, yet the place has a history of famous murders and Martello Tower defences from the Napoleonic age. Has anyone ever used the island as a setting in a crime fiction?

From up here in the air that lump of land doesn’t look anything like an eye. And why should it? I have vague classroom memories of the island’s name. How it started off as Eria’s Island, Eria being a woman. Eria became confused with Erin (Ireland), so Eria’s Island became Erin’s Island. Then when the Vikings popped up and decided to use “Ey” – the Norse word for “island”. Hence Erin’s Ey, which eventually turned into Ireland’s Eye.

Cemeteries and marinas

The aircraft doesn’t care about any of this. It continues to bank left at Portmarnock and across the suburbs and fields of north Dublin, between the cemeteries at Balgriffin and Dardistown – from the air, is it the neat symmetry of cemeteries and marinas that makes them stand out so? – and onwards to the runway at Dublin Airport.

With some of Europe’s great cities you get this feeling that they have been cleverly designed to be seen from the air: arriving at London City Airport in the heart of the docklands, or flying across Paris by night. Dublin might not have its skyscrapers or boulevards or spectacular architecture, but it’s not so bad all the same.

Because that’s the thing about coming home in this way. The chimneys and sandbanks, ports and harbours, the little islands with funny names. Taking in all the oh-so-familiar sights, from an ever-so-unfamiliar height.

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