October 15th, 1908
FROM THE ARCHIVES:A proposal to reclaim the Tristan and Isolde legend for Dublin by renaming the road from Kilmainham to the Chapelizod road after Isolde was put forward in this letter to the editor. –
SIR, – I am told it is proposed to re-name the road which commences where the South Circular Road stops at Kilmainham and runs to the Chapelizod road. Part of it, at present, is called Richmond Hill, part of it O’Connell road, and the rest un-named. Some of the residents suggest that the whole be called “Isolde road.” A few years ago, in a Dublin paper, I stated that the recrudescence of the Tristan and Isolde romance in Dublin would be of infinite value both from the sentimental and commercial points of view.
Thousands from all quarters of the world annually turn aside to visit the traditional tomb of Romeo and Juliet in Verona. When I sailed up the Hellespont in a crowded yacht, the sole inquiry was as to the spot where Leander swam across to his beloved Hero.
In Père la Chaise Cemetery I have seldom missed a small tearful group around the tombs of Abelard and Heloise. Yet Dublin and its environs were the scenes of the world’s greatest love story, and few know anything about it.
Along the highway in question, or very near it, in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, the City Fathers rode when “Riding the Franchise” to Isolde’s Hill, which lay directly across the Liffey, and must have been either the Magazine Hill or the wooded eminence to the East of it.
Isolde’s Font, with the great hawthorn tree which stood over it, was a bow-shot from the hill, and was undoubtedly the trysting place of the immortal lovers. It has entirely disappeared, and I have searched in vain for any clue to fix the exact locality.
This crystal spring or rill was near the Magazine Hill, for it gave the name Phœnix House (a name afterwards extended to the whole park), to the first Viceregal Lodge, which stood on the present Magazine Hill.
A great hawthorn hung over the silvery pool, and the green copse was haunted with the glamour of a love story that has no equal for passionate constancy in the annals of Venus.
Dubliners once believed that here the amorous Knight, the flower of chivalry and true manhood, clasped the white hand of the beauteous Isolde, and swore eternal fidelity. Isolde was certainly born in Dublin.
Never was our beloved city so glorified, and its fame so trumpeted abroad, as in these Tristan romances. I quote from one, by Gottfried of Strasburg [sic], written in Germany in the year 1210: “[. . .] The sun of beauty dawned not in Greece, it hath arisen in our own day, and the hearts and eyes of all men turn to Ireland, where the sun is born of the dawn – Iseult, daughter of Iseult. From Dublin doth it shine forth to gladden all men.”
The road leads directly to the scenes of these romantic associations, and the title “Isolde road” is altogether appropriate. I hope it will be adopted by the Corporation. – Yours, etc., W. A. Henderson.