"Gateway to Ireland" Dun Laoghaire by Ruai

Dun Laoghaire Travel Guide: 51 reviews and 83 photos

Shabby genteel

When I was growing up much of Dun Laoghaire was almost the text book definition of this. An old port town that under British rule (from 1821-1921) was known as Kingstown, it had been a favoured dwelling spot for the ascendency (the old British backed ruling class sometimes known as the Anglo-Irish). It had (and has) some wonderful Victorian parks (late nineteeth century), promenades and a bandstand or two, where you could almost imagine an army brass band tuning up as ladies in crinoline swished past on their afternoon walks. Of course I do say faded as not much had been invested in it since that time and much had been vandalised. The tourist business of Dubliners coming to Dun Laoghaire had long gone by then (and taken with it most of the old hotels that had once overlooked the big harbour built to ensure that there would never be any problem in shipping in fresh troops if the natives got restless). There was still a ferry terminal and hundreds of small yachts which were to be found plying the waters of the mostly empty and very picturesque harbour.


But before it was a faded beauty and garrison town, Dun Laoghaire had had a long history. It is named after the fort (Dun) of King Laoghaire, high king of Ireland in the fifth century. There was probably a monastic settlement nearby. After the Norman invasion of the 12th century it become an outlying settlement of the Norman 'pale' or territory. The locals tended to get restless a lot and it took centuries to civilise them to the point where they could be trusted not to raid the settlements (which by then by the magic of osmosis had flowed from Norman to Anglo-Norman to English). In Dalkey nearby, you can still see two of the fortified merchants houses (really small castles) that provided the security needed. The decision to build the harbour in 1817 and then one of the earliest train lines in the world in 1834 to link Dun Laoghaire to Dublin 15 km away laid the foundations for the prosperous and fashionable Victorian town it then became. But there was always another side to the town, as the granite quarries of Dalkey and the port testified.

Literary description

W M Thackeray, who was later to find fame with the wonderful novel 'Vanity Fair', in 1843 wrote his 'Irish sketchbook', which includes a description of his arrival in what was then known as Kingstown. I don't think he liked it much. Still I enjoy his turn of phrase :-)

"A long pier, with a steamer or two at hand, and a few small vessels lying on either side of the jetty; a town irregularly built, with many handsome terraces, some churches, and showy-looking hotels; a few people straggling on the beach; two or three cars at the railroad station, which runs along the shore as far as Dublin; the sea stretching interminably eastward; to the north of the Hill of Howth, lying grey behind the mist, and, directly under his feet, upon the wet, black, shining, slippery deck, an agreeable reflection of his own legs, disappearing seemingly in the direction of the cabin from which he issues: are the sights which a traveller may remark on coming on deck at Kingstown pier on a wet morning--let us say on an average morning; for according to the statement of well-informed natives, the Irish day is more often rainy than otherwise. A hideous obelisk, stuck upon four fat balls, and surmounted with a crown on a cushion (the latter were no bad emblems perhaps of the monarch in whose honour they were raised), commemorates the sacred spot at which George IV. quitted Ireland."

"Before that day, so memorable for joy and sorrow, for rapture at receiving its monarch and tearful grief at losing him, when George IV. came and left the maritime resort of the citizens of Dublin, it bore a less genteel name than that which it owns at present, and was called Dunleary. After that glorious event Dunleary disdained to he Dunleary any longer, and became Kingstown henceforward and forever. Numerous terraces and pleasure-houses have been built in the place--they stretch row after row along the banks of the sea, and rise one above another on the hill. The rents of these houses are said to be very high; the Dublin citizens crowd into them in summer; and a great source of pleasure and comfort must it be to them to have the fresh sea-breezes and prospects so near to the metropolis.

The better sort of houses are handsome and spacious; but the fashionable quarter is yet in an unfinished state, for enterprising architects are always beginning new roads, rows and terraces: nor are those already built by any means complete. Beside the aristocratic part of the town is a commercial one, and nearer to Dublin stretch lines of low cottages which have not a Kingstown look at all, but are evidently of the Dunleary period. It is quite curious to see in the streets where the shops are, how often the painter of the signboards begins with big letters, and ends, for want of space, with small; and the Englishman accustomed to the thriving neatness and regularity which characterise towns great and small in his own country, can't fail to notice the difference here. The houses have a battered, rakish look, and seem going to ruin before their time. As seamen of all nations come hither who have made no vow of temperance, there are plenty of liquor shops still, and shabby cigar shops, and shabby milliners' and tailors' with fly-blown prints of old fashions. The bakers and apothecaries make a great brag of their calling, and you see MEDICAL HALL, or PUBLIC BAKERY BALLYRAGGET FLOUR STORE (or whatever the name may be), pompously inscribed over very humble tenements. Some comfortable grocers' and butchers' shops, and numbers of shabby sauntering people, the younger part of whom are barelegged and bareheaded, make up the rest of the picture which the stranger sees as his car goes jingling through the street."

Modern times

Dun Laoghaire and its surrounding area now has a population of about 200,000 (making it the third largest local authority area in the Republic of Ireland). Like most other places in Ireland, the rising tide of prosperity has seen a lot of money pumped into Dun Laoghaire, which I have to say has mostly been for the good. Much has been refurbished though its rather sad to see the last few hotels replaced by apartment blocks as Dun Laoghaire settles comfortably into being a commuter town for Dublin (there are still a couple left on the seafront but I don't expect them to last much longer). Funnily enough though it takes longer to get to Dublin on the train now than it did when the line was first opened (built by William Dargan, it was the first railway line in Ireland and one of the first in the world). Ah well, thats progress for you :-)

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Harbour walks, lovely parks, quirky buildings
  • Cons:Needs time to get to know
  • In a nutshell:discreet charms
  • Intro Updated May 21, 2007
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Reviews (46)

Comments (7)

  • junecorlett's Profile Photo
    Apr 16, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    Hello from South Africa.. and good tips, if I ever should go to Ireland.

  • Jan 31, 2008 at 10:41 AM

    The quality of the food is mixed. It's a faceless chain, but useful if there's a group of people who want different things; you can order a three course meal while your friend has a pint, anything goes.

  • MikeStarr5's Profile Photo
    Nov 30, 2007 at 7:01 PM

    Happy Birthday from Mike and Shelley in sunny "Barking Town" - Woof, Woof - Have a great day ! - Particularly liked your tip about the Viking Church by the way-

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Sep 2, 2006 at 3:32 PM

    Interesting page with helpful tips. I once stayed a couple of days in Dun Liri and explored Dublin and its lovely coastline from there. Your page brings back many memories. Keep up the good work. :-)

  • tini58de's Profile Photo
    Sep 2, 2006 at 7:04 AM

    Fascinating! Thanks so much for the tips (plus the extra tips on Dublin!) I will let you know what we did!

  • BeatChick's Profile Photo
    Aug 19, 2006 at 5:30 PM

    You've a beautiful page on Dun Laoghaire! We plan to stay here at a B&B whenever we get to Ireland. Nice info on the Martello Towers, too. Met a nice Irish gent named Seamus when I was last in Paris and we talked about Joyce.

  • May 14, 2006 at 3:02 PM

    Hi Ruaidri, Thank you for sharing your page on Dun Loaghaire. I lived there for about six months many, many moons ago! How things have changed!!


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