The Liffey in Dublin - photo courtesy Wikipedia

Last Thursday a flamingo “flew the coop” in an escape from Dublin Zoo and ended up swimming in the grey-green waters of the Liffey!

The River Liffey in Dublin may bring to mind author Brendan Behan’s description of its smell in Confessions of an Irish Rebel, when he wrote, “Somebody once said that ‘Joyce has made of this river the Ganges of the literary world,’ but sometimes the smell of the Ganges of the literary world is not all that literary.” Or, more likely, the river brings to mind words from the well-known Dublin song by Bagatelle, “Summer in Dublin”:

I remember that summer in Dublin,

And the Liffey as it stank like hell,

And the young people walking on Grafton Street,

Everyone looking so well.

I’ve heard all manner of insult directed at this river, which flows through Dublin dividing the city into its North and South neighborhoods. I’ve heard it described as a ‘sewer’, as in the nickname given the monument to the personification of the Liffey, Anna Livia, which once graced O’Connell Street. Rarely referred to by its proper name, this sculpture depicting a woman with long flowing hair lounging on a rock with water flowing past her, was most commonly called “The Whore in the Sewer” – with ‘whore’ pronounced ‘hoo-er’ to rhyme with ‘sewer’. When a millennium countdown clock was placed in the river, it provided Dubliners with yet another opportunity to mock the Liffey, with their immediate label of, “The Time in the Slime”. Living up to its name, the clock actually did have to be prematurely removed from the river due to slime making it unreadable and its continual need for cleaning rendering it economically impractical!

However, since I have been visiting Dublin, the Liffey has never seemed particularly dirty to me nor have I noticed a bad odor emanating from it. I surely would have noticed slime and smell the day Eoin, a toddler at the time, and I walked across and along the Liffey a half dozen times… repeating a trek first north across the Ha’Penny Bridge, then back south across O’Connell Bridge, in an attempt to keep Eoin happy with a bit of distraction during a long day of shopping in Dublin’s City Centre! Had there been a smell the likes of the Bagatelle song, we could not have repeated that path as many times as we did that day! So, in recent years, Dublin has done a good job of cleaning and improving its portion of the river.

In any event, last week an 11-year-old flamingo male thought the river nice enough to risk leaving its flock at the zoo in order to taste freedom and a bit of Liffey water, until it was finally captured early Friday – and returned safely to the zoo to tell the tale to its less adventurous flamingo friends. What a sight that must have been to look down at the river and see an exotic pink Chilean flamingo mingling with the lovely white Liffey swans!