Updated: Jun 18
Suburbs tend to get a bad rap these days but the experience of Dublin is as much about its outlying areas as the city itself. One of the first suburbs developed at scale was Dunleary which became a significant rail and sea transport hub in the first half of the 19th century. After repeated shipwrecks off the coast due to Dublin’s menacing easterly gales, construction of Dunleary harbour started in 1817 and when King George came to assess progress in 1820 the town was renamed Kingstown. In 1834 the country’s first railway line terminated here from Westland Row Station and with it came day-trippers and holiday makers and then a slow but steady migration of residents from Dublin. In a centenary celebration of sorts, Kingstown was finally returned to a revised spelling of its original name 100 years after George’s visit. Today the two arms of Dún Laoghaire harbour are amongst the longest piers in Europe and remain the town’s greatest attraction drawing thousands of walkers every day. At 1.3 kilometres the East Pier is the more popular given its smooth walking surface on two levels and there is a mini-weather station on the upper deck for anyone looking to brush up on their Beaufort scales. At the end of the pier treat yourself to a hot coffee or cold ice cream at a delightful little hole-in-the-wall café built into the ramparts of the port lighthouse, also previously used as a cannon launch. After completing the round trip of the East Pier, hard-core flaneurs will consider taking on the West Pier next; it is slightly longer at 1.5 kilometres with a more rugged surface (and sometimes called the Hairy Pier). It offers great views North to Dublin Bay and over to Howth and is well frequented by amateur fishermen as well as local punters fond of a “beer on the pier”. There is also plenty of action in the harbour itself with a small flotilla of sailing clubs based in Dún Laoghaire (but nota bene: there is an unspoken hierarchy amongst them and if you fancy becoming a member be advised that blackballing is still a favourite pastime at Dublin’s more exclusive clubs, so best to ring around first and see if you are still in favour). For amateurs, the National Maritime Museum is located a little off the beaten path a five minute walk from the harbour in the 180-year-old Mariners’ Church; reopened in 2012 its star attraction is the 10-ton working optic from Howth’s old Baily Lighthouse. For fans of Victoriana, the People’s Park at the end of the town has quaint tea-rooms still in operation with a recently renovated restaurant there run by Fallon & Byrne. Also revamped in recent years is the Royal Marine Hotel, originally built in 1863 with great views onto the water. (When Queen Victoria made her infamous visit to Dublin in 1900 she came via Dún Laoghaire and reportedly had a 16-course breakfast at the hotel. The Dubliners would later recall her visit in the ribald ballad Monto: “The queen she came to call on us, she wanted to see all of us, I hope she doesn’t fall on us, she’s 18 stone”. Victoria’s seaside jaunt is also remembered in a nearby fountain that became the subject of much post-colonial controversy when it was restored in 2000.) Upon reflection, for a first time visitor to Dublin, Dún Laoghaire is not only a good day out – it could serve as an ideal base for a couple of days or long weekend. For bookworms there is the new municipal library, built to resemble an ocean liner jutting out into the sea; there is also the Pavilion Theatre which hosts concerts and plays throughout the year. In addition to the many areas within walking distance (Sandycove, Dalkey, Killiney, Monkstown, Blackrock) there is an increasing number of small, independent cafés and restaurants worth a visit, including Two Beans Coffee, Le Chocolat de Fred, the Sunshine Café, and for pastries and bread head to Strudel Bakery on Patrick Street which is now one of the best bakeries in Dublin; for lunch or dinner try Hartley’s where the low key décor shows off the elegant proportions of a dining room originally part of Dún Laoghaire train station. And to walk off your indulgences, explore the well-appointed 19th century squares geometrically laid out around town – like Crosthwaite Park, Clarinda Park, Vesey Place and Royal Terrace – proving, if proof were needed, that there is life worth exploring in the Dublin suburbs.