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Discover old Dublin in this rough-around-the-edges, sports-loving suburb in the shadow of one of the largest stadiums in Europe. Just north of Ireland’s capital, Drumcondra is an area with little glamour but plenty of its own charm and character. It’s also one of the more affordable places to stay around Dublin, with a handful of decent hotels and a convenient location between the city and the airport. While you’re in Drumcondra, try some of our favourite things to do here.
If you can’t get to a match, the next best thing in this Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)-obsessed corner of Dublin is the museum in the bowels of Croke Park. The history of this spot is astonishing, with Hill 16 having seen the massacre of spectators by the British Army back in 1920, shortly before the Republic of Ireland won its independence. The organisation is traditionally associated with Irish nationalism, though that link has faded somewhat in recent years. The museum also allows you to try the sports, learn about their development over the years and snap up the odd souvenir.
Dublin’s heart is encircled by canals, the Grand Canal arching around the south of the city, and the Royal Canal around the north. The Royal Canal runs all the way from the River Liffey to Longford, in the heart of the country, where it joins up with the River Shannon, which in turn eventually joins the Atlantic coast. It’s in a state of modest disrepair these days, but walking the locks and exploring is still a pleasure. It’ll take you past the prison walls referenced in the iconic trad song “The Auld Triangle”, under Croke Park, and into a strange kind of city byway in its towpaths. It’s a great route to jog around too.
Dublin loves a good old-world sweet shop, and Kavanagh’s is one of the better ones; it’s not so much an overpriced reinvention as it is something that feels like it’s actually taken from 50 years ago. Pick up hard candies in paper bags by weight, served from glass jars. There’s a heap of the old favourites, from bonbons to sours, as well as plenty of friendly recommendations.
The latest addition to Croke Park is the Ericsson Skyline Tour, which takes you onto the roof of the stadium. There are regular stadium tours too, taking you into the dressing room and out onto the pitch, but unless you’re a GAA aficionado, this one, offering views across all of Dublin from your vertigo-inducing perch on a metal walkway over the Cusack stand, is the one to go for. You’ll get a nice view of the pitch too. The roof-walk requires at least modestly good weather, though there’s something incredibly thrilling about it if you are feeling brave and head up in a bit of a breeze.
Yes, we know it’s been covered, but GAA really is the big thing here. If you want to actually get stuck into a bit of the old Gaelic games, Drumcondra club Na Fianna is one of the clubs involved in the Experience Gaelic Games days, which give you a couple of hours of action in both football and hurling in the company of a solid player or two. Since many locals start playing the games as toddlers, this is a great way to get a taste of the basics from a company that will serve up your kit for you too.
Drumcondra is mainly about GAA, but this sports-obsessed part of the city has another love too, in local football club Shelbourne. Currently going through a low ebb in their history, the Tolka-side club play in a slightly derelict ground, Tolka Park, right in the heart of Drumcondra, but once gambled on joining the European elite. The club invested a fortune in attempting to reach the Champions League, breaking new ground for Irish club football in knocking out several higher-profile clubs in the process, in the early 2000s. They never quite made it, and financial catastrophe followed. There’s something reassuringly old school about watching them play now.
A sign of creeping gentrification in the once-overlooked suburb of Drumcondra, weekends herald the return of this indoor-outdoor marketplace, where street vendors sell artisanal food, handicrafts and gifts. The self-described boutique marketplace offers live music, a cute café and a handful of modest street-food joints. Although not quite a destination in its own right, it’s a lovely way to spend an hour or so if you’re already in the area.
Additional reporting by Justin McDonnell