The River Dodder is and has been a unique and valuable resource for the people of Dublin for generations untold. Once, it powered mills and drove industry – including a very curious hat factory – spurring on the growth of the city to the southwest. It has seen wars come and go, the Great Famine change the course of Irish history forever, and the recent economic boom and bust that keeps Ireland in the headlines today. In other words, this river has been through and seen a lot.
Today, the mills have been closed, the industry has moved on and the river now simply offers a clean and peaceful retreat from the busy city and suburbs – for humans and wildlife alike. Each spring, the river enthusiast community organization Dodder Action gets together for a hike down its entire 25 kilometer (15 mile) length, from the peaks of the Dublin Mountains to the Docklands and the sea. This year, I was privileged to join them.
The walk began near the peak of Mount Kippure, the source of the river. Two reservoirs supply the city with drinking water and control the flow into the flood-prone city at sea level several hundred feet below. In this first chapter of the hike, it’s almost difficult to believe the surrounding landscape is still in County Dublin. If it weren’t for the bright sunshine, the narrow, winding roads and pastures could have been mistaken for a scene from the the Wild West of Ireland.
One of the finest – and largest – of the Dodder’s many weirs (dams) is that in Firhouse. These human-made waterfalls harnessed the flow of the river, creating fast, powerful rapids and deep, calm pools. The walking route passes some dozens of weirs of all sizes and states of repair.
Many species of plants and animals make their home in this urban river, surviving in close quarters with humans. Trout are plentiful, and herons and other water birds patrol the waters and nest in the shelter of the riverbank. Numerous other species like otters, bats, and foxes use the river for food and shelter. Without a healthy river, these urban and suburban animals simply couldn’t thrive as they do, and Dublin would be just that much more dull and drab without them.
After the hills and the suburbs, the Dodder flows through Dublin’s City Centre, bringing a splash of life and color to the glass, steel, and concrete of the city. Once at sea level, the normally small river swells and recedes with the heavy tides of the Irish Sea, creating a new, unique habitat still traveled by sea trout and salmon. It ends in the Docklands, where the Grand Canal, the Dodder, and the River Liffey come together to meet the Sea and the rest of the world.
At the end of the long hike, the tired Dodder Action crew enjoyed a well-deserved rest and a celebratory toast in Dublin’s vibrant Grand Canal Docks, looking to the peaks on the horizon from which they had just walked.
I’ve enjoyed the River Dodder in small stretches – fishing, cycling, walking, and cleaning litter – but it had always been in my comfortable neighborhood. This was my first trek to the source of the river, and how memorable it was to see its different faces and attitudes. Thanks to the rest of the dedicated Dodder Action volunteer organization, I can confirm that every inch of this river is priceless and irreplaceable – worth protecting, responsibly enjoying, and preserving for our posterity.