Tucked away to the south of Dublin‘s River Liffey and up against the Irish Sea, Ringsend is a stronghold of the traditional Dubliner, though it has developed fast in recent years. A previously largely working-class reputation has been set aside with an influx of the likes of Google, Facebook and the improved national football stadium (the Aviva) moving in just down the road.
This is still a distinctive community, though, with the suburb famed as the landing point of (locally hated) Oliver Cromwell‘s invading army, and home to the distinctive Poolbeg Chimneys, seen by many locals as a symbol of returning to the city. While central, it’s very much more a suburb than a part of the city’s heartland, but this is a suburb with plenty to explore. Here’s what we’d suggest.
Walk past Poolbeg, along the Great South Wall
This is quite definitely the symbol of Ringsend, and seen by many locals as a real icon of Dublin itself. The twin chimneys of the Poolbeg Power Station are located in Ringsend’s industrial estate, and famously visible as you enter the city’s port by boat. As you stroll past them, you arrive at windy beaches that are popular with kitesurfers, and then at the Great South Wall. The rustic port wall stretches more than a kilometre into the Irish Sea, forming a narrow, walkable sea road that’s best accessed only in moderate weather. At the end, you’ll find a distinctive red lighthouse, some rusty dock equipment and an utterly different angle on Dublin. There’s even a swimming club two-thirds of the way down, if you’re feeling brave.
Greyhound racing was once a major sport in Dublin, but it’s been in decline, with the recent closure of a major track in Dublin’s Harold’s Cross feeling like a critical moment. Shelbourne Park is still going strong, however, and as well as dogs chasing (artificial) hares around a track at high speed, the track does great deals on food and drink to try to bring in the punters. Gambling is a key part of the sport, too, naturally. If you’re staying in the city, there’s a free shuttle bus to the stadium on Friday and Saturday evenings, leaving from Burgh Quay, and you can grab a ‘how to bet’ guide to work out how to add a little spice to the races by risking a euro or three.
Glance at Irish revolutionary history through Boland’s Mill
This mill on the fringes of Ringsend, near modern-day Grand Canal Dock, played a key role in the Easter Rising, with Eamon De Valera (who later became one of Ireland’s most iconic presidents) involved in the rebellion at the site in 1916. It remained a major local employer until 2001, and while a number of the structures here are carefully protected in planning Irish law, Boland’s Mill is currently undergoing extensive redevelopment to turn it into a modern commercial and residential space. You can still see the iconic facade (above the red houseboat in the image below), which will remain in place even when the new, shiny mini-skyscrapers provide its backdrop in a few years time. In the meantime, some of the graffiti can be excellent.
Given Ringsend is all but surrounded by water (the River Liffey, its tributary the River Dodder, Grand Canal Docks and the Irish Sea all but surrounding the district), it’s no surprise that sailing and rowing are both popular here. Rowing is more established, with rival clubs Stella Maris and St Patrick’s hosting regular smaller competitions throughout the summer and also the annual Ringsend Regatta as a flagship event. St Patrick’s has been here more than 75 years. Sailing is a newer proposition, but Poolbeg Yacht Club has an 18-race series running through the summer, so there’s plenty of watery action to check out.
Stroll through Grand Canal Dock
This plush redevelopment around Dublin’s south city Docklands has proven so popular that it’s drawn in a host of major tech firms, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and home-grown payment company Stripe (sure, the Irish corporate tax system might have played a small role, too). It’s also become an upmarket alternative to the city centre, a business-heavy spot that still has funky art, a sizeable theatre (the Grand Canal Theatre, see below), loads of restaurants and bars, hotels, and a clutch of local kids who spend half the summer leaping into the dock’s waters. It’s a far cry from the industrial corner it used to be, and a symbol of Dublin’s rejuvenation.
Actor Colin Farrell was a longtime resident of Ringsend (though he hails from the other side of Dublin, in Castleknock), but for movie buffs, there’s a far more substantial cinematic legacy to explore. Naturally, Boland’s Mill appears in a number of Irish revolutionary films. More surprisingly, the region plays a role as Rita’s hometown in Educating Rita (1983), and has several streets that feature as market scenes in Agnes Brown (1999). In The Name of the Father (1993) and The General (1998) also feature the district, which evidently went through a 90s cinematic heyday. No coincidence, perhaps, given the impact of U2 at that time, and their studio’s location in Ringsend.
Hit up one of Ireland’s best theatres
The Grand Canal Theatre (now known by its sponsor’s name as the Bord Gais Energy Theatre) is one of the biggest theatres in Ireland that hasn’t crossed over to being dominated by the predominance of local music over theatre. Located in a shining glass building overlooking the canal (the building with the sloped roof in the image above), it hosts a lot of musicals and plays, alongside the occasional gig, performances dedicated to a few local stars, and kids shows. You never quite know what you’ll find here, but it’s garnered a solid reputation for consistently strong productions and is a generally pleasant place to spend time.