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Excursions in and around Dublin:
You can take the mainly coastal DART and the new LUAS trams through pleasant suburbs and housing estates to a number of interesting spots, and the bus (single and double-decker) and minibus network is extensive. Public transport is not cheap, but driving in Dublin can be a nightmare.
On the South Side:
Near Donnybrook; for hundreds of years the site of a major fair that became so famous for drunken brawling that it was banned in the late C18th, the elegant embassies on Ailesbury Road and Shrewsbury Road make these the most expensive squares on the Irish monopoly board!
You can walk or take the Luas tram to the bohemian suburbs of Ranelagh and Rathmines (where Oliver Cromwell defeated the Duke of Ormonde’s Catholic Royalist troops in 1649), but bus rides are necessary if you want to visit the atmospheric old cemetery at Mount Jerome, view the opulent new Mosque in Clonskeagh beside the extensive UCD campus, or see the magnificent archway of the former Palmerston estate. Rathfarnham was the scene of several major battles between the Norman “Bristolmen” of Dublin and the marauding Gaelic O’Byrne and O’Tooles in the C13th, C14th and C15th.
The Dublin Mountains (hills) are pleasant. Focal points include the old Hellfire Club ruin and the lead mining chimney on the hill called Katty Gallagher. Carrickmines Castle, recently excavated, was a major Norman outpost, and together with nearby Puck’s Castle also saw major fighting between Cromwellians and Royalists in 1649. .Johnny Fox’s pub in Kilcullen is rightly famous. Nearby, a plaque commemorates one of Daniel O’Connell’s “Monster Meetings” in 1823.
You can take the DART along the coast past Booterstown bird sanctuary and through Blackrock to Dun Laoghaire (formerly Kingstown, now pronounced Dunleery), an attractive Victorian borough featuring a long promenade and pier popular for strolling, where there are often buskers and entertainers in summer. There are regular ferries to Holyhead in Wales. It is very popular for sailing (mostly from the four clubs in the harbour), and has a new marina. The National Maritime Museum in the Mariner’s Church on Adelaide Street is worth a visit. Nearby is Sandycove, where the Joyce Museum is housed in another Martello Tower beside the ‘Forty Foot’ open-air sea swimming pool (called after the 40th Foot Regiment of the British Army, who were stationed there for many years).
Dalkey is an old village that has retained some atmosphere as an exclusive South Side suburb, and has several old castles, good pubs, expensive restaurants and a beautiful little harbour. Dalkey Island, just offshore, is a bird sanctuary and a popular diving site, with a Martello tower, a holy well, and a colony of very unfriendly goats. Killiney is an extremely exclusive outer suburb with a hilltop park and a long pebble beach around a beautiful bay, overlooked by some semi-detached castles. The view alone is worth the DART trip to Bray, a rather tawdry Victorian resort just across the border of Co. Wicklow.
I like Bray; the seafront amusement arcades, candyfloss stands, chip joints and fortune tellers’ signs do not entirely destroy a certain faded elegance, and there is a lovely promenade. It has a good Heritage Centre, and is also home to the Irish Sealife Centre, formerly the National Aquarium, featuring over 100 species of fish, shellfish etc. I particularly like the old part of the Harbour Bar, not too far from the station. Bray Head is a fairly easy hill to climb, and there is a chairlift for the lazy or unfit. There are magnificent views from the summit, and on a clear day you can see the peak of Mount Snowdon in Wales. Take the scenic cliff walk (if you are lucky you may see seals) around the headland to the pretty village of Greystones, with its attractive harbour. You can catch the DART back into the city centre.
Also in northern Co. Wicklow is the pretty village of Enniskerry, where I strongly recommend a visit to Powerscourt House and gardens and (separately) Powerscourt waterfall. General Winfield, later ennobled as the first Lord Powerscourt, led a Dublin citizen’s militia to victory against the Kavanaghs here in 1545. I particularly like the animal cemetery.
On the North Side:
It’s worth taking a bus to Glasnevin, a pleasant suburb with a fascinating cemetery and beautiful Botanical Gardens. I am told that the new Dublin City University (DCU) campus features several remarkable buildings.
Further afield, Castleknock. Chapelizod and the Strawberry Beds are also pleasant suburbs. The elegant Dunsink Observatory is a fascinating C18th Enlightenment oasis in an area of troubled modern housing estates.
The coast starts at Fairview, once a very fashionable suburb. Fairview Crescent, where Dracula author Bram Stoker was born, was apparently built deliberately to obstruct the view from Lord Charlemont’s Casino in Rialto, a charming Georgian folly. Fairview Park is notorious for “queer-bashing”.
The site of the Battle of Clontarf, where in 1014 Ard Rí Brian Boru beat a huge Viking army aiding King Sitric, the Norse ruler of Dublin, was in fact a long-drained marshy area near the old city. Clontarf is a pleasant but uninspiring suburb. Nearby St. Anne’s Park is attractive.
Bull Island is a wildfowl sanctuary with an interpretative centre, on a spit of sand dunes in Dublin Bay, accessible by a causeway. The beach, Dollymount Strand, is popular for swimming.
Howth is an attractive seaside town on Dublin’s northern Peninsula, accessible by DART. It features a popular yachting harbour, sea angling, good pubs and restaurants, and the ruins of Saint Mary’s Abbey, founded in the early C11th by King Sitric. Howth Castle is open to the public in summer and contains the small National Transport Museum, plus magnificent rhododendron gardens, the ruins of another ancient castle and a Megalithic dolmen tomb called Aideen’s Grave. There are walks up the Ben of Howth Hill and along the cliffs of Howth Head, and a Martello tower open to visitors. Boat trips are available to Ireland’s Eye, a small rocky island sanctuary for hundreds of seabirds, with the ruins of 6th Saint Nessans church and a Martello tower. Larger Lambay Island, with yet another Martello tower and an interesting castle, belongs to Lord Ravenscroft and is rarely open to the public.
The north Dublin suburb of Malahide has a nice marina and features Malahide Castle, owned and added to by the Talbot family from 1185 to 1976, so that it has a strange mixture of architectural features. It houses the National Portrait Gallery and the Fry Model Railway, which has a large layout of a miniature model of the railways around Dublin.
Newbridge House is a Georgian stately home at Donabate north of Malahide with an open farm and small Museum of Curiosities.
Skerries is a small quiet old seaside resort with friendly seals and views of the offshore Skerries islands.
Swords is famous for its ancient round tower.
North of Dublin
Northwards, Co. Meath and its tiny neighbour Co. Louth both feature lovely countryside.
I recommend a trip to see the ancient megalithic tombs in the River Boyne Valley. In the biggest passage grave, at Newgrange (c.3200 BC), the central chamber is only illuminated by sunlight at dawn on 21st December, the winter solstice and shortest day in the year.
You can also check out the site of the Battle of the Boyne (1689) and the pretty village of Slane; Lord Mountcharles’ Slane Castle has hosted many major rock concerts.
The Hill of Tara
Kells features an interesting ancient monastic site with a round tower and a splendid ornate high cross. There is also a ruined Norman keep
Trim Castle (refurbished by the Hollywood producers of Mel Gibson’s meretricious Braveheart) is very interesting,
There is also a (somewhat artificial) Gaeltacht area. An annual three-day race meeting is held at Bellewstown, and Laytown annually holds the only official strand races remaining in Europe.
Historic Drogheda is an interesting town..
just outside Ardee.
The coast is very attractive, particularly Carlingford Lough (from the Viking Carlinn’s Fjord), popular for sailing. The atmospheric village of Carlingford retains a medieval gate, and the Cooley Peninsula is great for horse riding