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ICONIC Dublin’s Poolbeg chimneys are a hug for every returning traveller glad to be home

If you've been away, feasting on their paint-peeled exteriors can be as uplifting as the first gulp of a pint of porter


The Poolbeg chimneys may not be the Taj Mahal or Pyramids but they’re part of Dublin’s fabric

The Poolbeg chimneys may not be the Taj Mahal or Pyramids but they’re part of Dublin’s fabric

The Poolbeg chimneys may not be the Taj Mahal or Pyramids but they’re part of Dublin’s fabric

They are Ireland's twin towers, Siamese red and white smokestacks, duplicate colossuses standing sentinel over Dublin Bay, watchpersons at the city gates.

They are divisive, an inanimate equivalent of Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane: cherished and unloved in similar measures.

The Poolbeg chimneys - one towering 680 ft 9 inches, its marginally taller sibling advancing a foot higher into the clouds - sing different songs to different audiences.

To some they are ramshackle, a decrepit eyesore, a carbuncle on the face of Anna Livia, a blemish the metronomic wrecking ball dance should urgently topple.

To others - and I happily include myself in this group - they are listed buildings, reassuringly familiar treasures, elderly and a little battered, but, in their way, enduringly beautiful.

And most of all: A symbol of home.

Any time I fly in over Dublin, I find myself peering from the window, seeking out comforting landmarks.

Howth Head a verdant, snoozing giant rising above the churning seas; or, across the bay, Dun Laoghaire's piers stretching and curling outwards into the water like the antennae of some monstrous seaborne creature.

But it is the first intoxicating sight of Poolbeg's old ladies, almost human in the way their ageing faces are lined by the passing years, that whispers céad míle fáilte to so many.

It is reminiscent to me of the sense of warmth I felt as a child when I was wrapped in a loving bearhug by my dear grandmother.

Their appearance down below as the plane makes its final approach is the one that tells so may returning emigrants, even briefly absent holiday-makers, that they are back in the city or country of their birth.

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For Dubliners they are particularly evocative.

If you've been away for any time, feasting on their peeled-paint exteriors can be as uplifting as the first gulp from a pint of porter, the first crisp from a packet of Tayto or the initial Kerrygold-smothered bite from a slice of batch loaf.

I recall vividly their appearing like guardian angels, a celestial apparition of crimson and cream emerging from the mist, at the conclusion of an endless and exhausting voyage back from Australia.

The thrill of their blinking lights felt like the old town winking a welcome, Áth Cliath inviting us back into its bosom, one flap of their seraphs' wings instantly and gloriously evicting homesickness from our chests.

In an everchanging, too quickly transforming world, those chimneys are a constant, a familiar milepost.

The guardians of Irish life have been guilty of grotesque acts of cultural vandalism across the decades.

The failure to preserve Wood Quay, allowing the historic Viking settlement to be interred below those hideous bunkers that house the city council was to understand how it must have been for the ancient Romans to awaken and find the Visigoths at the gates of their urban paradise.

If demolishing the gorgeous Theatre Royal felt stupefying in its myopia, replacing that playhouse of erudition and class and joy with the Stalinist Hawkins House was as wantonly ignorant as spray painting vulgar graffiti onto the Book of Kells.

Georgian squares and old city quarters have been desecrated in the name of progress, history erased time and again in flourishes of unspeakable ignorance.

Presented with a blank canvas outside the GPO and an opportunity to create something unforgettable, somebody thought it prudent to vomit The Spire into existence.

It is as if the decision-making illiteracy runs on an endless reel.

So, last week when reports emerged of a survey to determine China's ugliest buildings, some commentators here called for a similar list to be drawn up and deployed as the basis for the razing of buildings from the Irish landscape.

What was alarming was that they included the venerable chimneys among the structures believe disfigure the skyline.

This is madness.

It was like suggesting a beloved mutt be euthanised merely because the judges at Crufts deemed the poor fella something less than an aesthetic marvel.

Admittedly, Poolbeg's leviathan funnels cannot rival the Pyramids of Giza or the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal for history, majesty, or artistic merit.

Their job was to belch soot into the atmosphere and their wan features and faded glory are what you might expect from a couple with a lifelong 40-a-day, chain-smoking habit.

But if they are not classically alluring, still there is something pleasingly noble in their stoic, straight-backed stretching for the heavens, their defiance of the passing years.

Like those sentries outside Buckingham Palace, they stand unflinching and silent as the world drifts by.

Just by abiding, albeit only since 1971, they have invaded the city's story, become part of Dublin's heritage.

Mercifully, the wrecking ball is presently attacking Hawkins House, the eyesore that dominates an entire city block, casting its giant and ugly shadow over Mulligan's, Con Houlihan's sublime old Poolbeg Street local.

A city-centre Poolbeg Street reimagined is one thing, tearing down those Poolbeg twins that tower over the old docking village of Ringsend - Raytown itself - is another entirely.

And it is a reminder of an eternal truth.

It is those vandals who would pulverise history - and not the retired and dignified old ladies peering out over Dublin Bay - who continue to exhale the kind of hot air that is corroding to culture and toxic to everyday Irish life.

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