Best Of Ireland takes a closer look at some of the attractions that make the Dublin Docklands such a unique and captivating destination for locals and tourists alike…
Why the docklands are now one of the most exciting and vibrant areas in Dublin.
There was a time when a continuous cacophony reigned over Dublin’s famous Docklands. Back then, the port area was dominated by massive maritime industries. But change has been in the air for a long time. The ships still come into Dublin in large numbers, and trucks roll off and on with staggering precision. But the wider docklands area, which straddles both banks of the River Liffey, has been transformed into a vibrant business and tech hub that would be the pride of any European capital.
Tech titans Google, Twitter and Facebook are changing the way we communicate from behind gleaming windows set in shining examples of modern architecture on the southside of the river. Meanwhile, half of the world’s biggest banks and insurance companies trade in the sprawling nancial services campus of the IFSC on the northside.
The docklands have also become a thriving cultural centre. North Wall Quay has long been home to the 3Arena (née the Point Depot), a state of the art concert venue that has proudly stood Liffeyside for over 30 years. In that time it has hosted an array of legendary performers, from Frank Sinatra to Nirvana,
Elton John and U2 and been the site of world famous live recordings by icons REM, Bruce Springsteen and the late, great David Bowie. Closer to the city, Custom House Quay is home to one of the top-rated visitor attractions in Dublin. EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is an interactive showcase of how the Irish diaspora made such a big impact on the world, with adventure, adversity and triumph featured in hi-tech galleries.
An absolutely fascinating and engrossing experience, EPIC provides an incredible insight into Ireland’s cultural heritage and the remarkable influence its citizens have exerted around the globe. Visitors can avail of the tours on offer, or else opt for the self-guided option (with headset) and get their “passport” stamped along the way. With loads to see, hear, touch and read, the interactive EPIC exhibition offers an unforgettable look at the unique achievements of Ireland and its people.
It’s just one of the many gems in an area that continues to grow in popularity. Accessible by the Luas and Dublin
Bikes, the docklands makes for a great walk on a sunny day – traversing the Samuel Beckett Bridge, you can walk by the river and enjoy all of the modern architecture on show.
Indeed, the docklands are lled with an exciting range of activities and attractions just waiting to be explored.
CELEBRATING DUBLIN’S MARITIME HISTORY
An enduring monument to Dublin’s sea-faring past, the iconic Diving Bell has been a familiar sight on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay since it was restored and put on display in the late 1980s. In recent years, a major project was undertaken to transform the 13m tall, 90 tonne structure into a modern, interactive interpretive centre.
It was the rst project in Dublin Port’s ambitious plan to create a ‘Distributed Museum’ of attractions, spread across the Dublin docklands and into Dublin Port itself, with the aim of preserving the port’s industrial heritage and history. Charlie Murphy from Dublin Port has been working on the project
THE JEANIE JOHNSTON
The Jeanie Johnston is an authentic replica of the type of ship that carried Irish emigrants across the Atlantic to the New World. The original vessel made 16 journeys to America between 1847 and 1855, carrying over 2,500 people with no loss of life. Located on Custom House Quay, two minutes’ from EPIC, the stunning rigging of the tall-ship has become a landmark along Dublin’s quays. The 50-minute tour reveals what conditions were like, how long it took, and what awaited emigrants. jeaniejohnston.ie
‘Famine’ was commissioned by Norma Smur t and designed and crafted by sculptor Rowan Gillespie in 1997. The sculpture is dedicated to Irish people forced to emigrate during the 19th century Irish Famine. The location is historically signi cant, as it was from Custom House Quay that the vessel ‘Perseverance’ embarked on one of the rst voyages of the famine period. The steerage fare was £3. 210 passengers made the journey, landing safely in New York on 18th May 1846.
DINING AT THE CHQ
A must-visit dining spot is the CHQ Garden Terrace – located at the south end of the CHQ building, it offers spectacular views of the city while you kick back on your lunch-break. A welcome oasis amidst the bustle of the city, CHQ Garden Terrace is open at lunchtime MondayFriday, with the delicious food provided by the Bakehouse Express. Then there’s the CHQ Building’s Urban Brewing, where the architecturally dazzling Stack A restaurant offers delicious food in an unrivalled atmosphere. The experience continues in their Taps & Tapas and Vault Bar, where you can share some tapasstyle dishes and taste their exclusive, onsite brewed beer.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other essential stop-offs include the Ely Bar & Grill and its new Atrium Bar at the IFSC, where the menu boasts seriously tasty food grown on their own organic family farm in the Burren, Co. Clare; and the Rooftop at the Marker Hotel, where you can enjoy evening cocktails with an incredible view of the city. There’s also a wonderful range of cafes on the south dock, and popular desinations like Starbucks and Insomnia. Throw in healthy lunches at Fresh, Toss’d, J2 Sushi & Tea and Seven Wonders, as well as traditional Irish-based food at The Bakehouse, and the docklands boasts a truly brilliant array of dining options.
from the get-go. ”The idea is to open up the port to the city, and open the city up to the port,” he explains. Looking into the future, Charlie says that Dublin Port hope to be part of, “A heritage trail, where you can walk from the city down the quays, passing the Famine Memorial, EPIC, The Jeanie Johnston, The Diving Bell – and a number of other attractions that are soon to be rolled out – and nally arrive at the Port Centre.”
There are, it emerges, even bigger plans on the horizon. “We have bought back the old Odlums Mill,” says Charlie. “We’re currently working on the masterplan for a larger museum about the history of Dublin Port and the lives of those who worked there.”
In 2015, The Diving Bell was raised onto a two-metre platform, allowing public access to a water feature which has been installed beneath the structure, accompanied by a series of interpretive panels explaining the historical, social and engineering significance of the Diving Bell, and immortalising its creator and the brave men who toiled inside.
The Diving Bell was designed by the fantastically named port engineer Bindon Blood Stoney, a prodigious talent who was also responsible for the design and construction of many of Dublin Port’s quay walls. A ground-breaking piece of engineering innovation, the Diving Bell was used in the building of the Port’s quay walls from the Victorian era right up until the 1950s.
Dublin Port plans to make additional maritime attractions out of local landmarks within walking distance of the Diving Bell. The nearby Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridges have long been an iconic attraction for anyone travelling along the northside quays. Plans are afoot to construct a ‘greenway’ style pedestrian and cycle path from the northern perimeter of the quays to the east end of the port, allowing easy access to these fantastic port-side attractions.
At the Port Centre, on Alexandria Rd., close to the 3Arena, a ’60s quayside crane has been restored to its former glory, with an illuminated cabin for powerful night-time impact. It makes a striking addition to the city’s skyline. Standing in the shadow of Crane 292 is the Port Centre’s new Maritime Garden, now open to the public.
THE OLD LIFFEY FERRY
Following an absence of 35 years, Dublin’s historic No. 11 Ferry is returning to action on the River Liffey. First granted a charter in 1665 by King Charles II, the ferry was discontinued in 1984 following the opening of the East Link toll-bridge. The water-taxi has now been fully restored through a joint project between the Irish Nautical Trust, Dublin Port and Dublin City Council, and has already re-entered public service, both as transportation and as a training vessel. Fares cost €2 per 3-minute crossing, and will soon be payable through the Leap card.
Jimmy Murray of Irish Nautical Trust explains.
“The ferry was the only route for dockers on the southside to get to the northside to work on the ships,” he says. “I remember the ferry as a child and as kids near the river, it was part of our livelihood. After school, we’d work with the shermen. If we weren’t working with the shermen, we’d be helping unload the coal boats when they came in. I was shown how to drive the ferry when I was a young by Richie Saunders. After that I was hooked.
“Richie saved the boat from the scrap heap. He returned it to its original design, but in order to make it ready for modern day transportation, it needed to be completely refurbished. Dublin Port and Dublin City Council were amazing in helping out with the funding for that.
“With all the tech companies and the business at the IFSC, we have what we call the new-age dockers. It’s a real boom around the docklands at the moment, and we believe that this will be a service that ourishes. But it’s also a training vessel.”
As Jimmy notes, the ferry provides a unique glimpse into the capital’s past.
“The ferry offers a new generation on both sides of the city the chance to take a peek into the history of life on the River Liffey,” he says. “If they want to continue on the Maritime Training Course, then the ferry is there as their first introduction to this way of life. We have people with 30-odd years of vast sea-faring experience to pass on. While they’re doing their professional courses and certi cations, they’re being guided by this vast experience.
“There will be a few other journeys with the ferry coming up, but we have to keep them under wraps for the moment. We have a long term plan and it’s going to be very enjoyable, creative, historical, and the whole experience is going to be very community orientated.”
NORTH INNER CIT Y FOLKLORE PROJECT
For a fascinating insight into Dublin’s dockside and tenement history, the North Inner City Folklore Project is an invaluable resource. An engrossing collection of artefacts, photographs and recordings of the lives of ordinary Dublin people, the project is the passionate undertaking of local Terry Fagan.
Since the 1970s, Terry has dedicated his life to preserving the stories of the community he grew up in, capturing the rich, raw, and real history at the heart of Dublin. In doing so, he has amassed an astonishing collection of audio recordings chronicling the everyday lives of inner city Dublin and its citizens. They are housed in a small Visitor Centre that gives people an opportunity to experience the hardships of tenement life, and the harsh reality of those con ned to the nearby Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools.
What really sets the project apart, however, is the man himself. Terry’s own history with the area runs deep. His mother was the last tenant to leave Corporation Buildings on Foley Street, and he and his father both served their time working at the nearby docks. His stories of the harsh life lived on the docks are illustrated with fascinating
artefacts including docker’s badges, pay books, and examples of the tools of their trade. Terry is a fountain of fascinating knowledge about the area’s history and, if you give him the chance, he’ll spin stories that truly beggar belief.
The Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, nearly met a ery end at the hands of its composer, Patrick Heeney – saved only by the quick re exes of its lyricist Peadar Kearney – metres from where the project is based. Terry will also regale you with tales of the notorious Monto, once the biggest red light district in Europe, and the (alleged) site of some eyebrow-raising tales involving both the King of England, and our own WB Yeats. The area was also surprisingly important to the revolution in Ireland, serving as a network for gathering and disseminating information for Michael Collins and others involved in the struggle for Irish independence.
In addition to the Visitor Centre, Terry also runs the Red Lights & Revolution walking tour of the Monto area, which includes stories of the ladies who worked there, the Great Lockout of 1913 and the 1916 Easter Rising. It costs €10 and lasts two hours which, in the company of Terry Fagan, is money very well spent.
LUKE KELLY STATUE
A short walk East from EPIC takes you to the Samuel Beckett Bridge. Turn left there, walk the length of Guild Street and just beyond Spencer Dock, close to the junction with Sheriff Street Upper, you’ll nd the new statue of the great Irish folk singer Luke Kelly of The Dubliners. Created by sculptor Vera Klute, it is a marvellously impressive, larger-than-life head, adorned by Luke’s famous hair.
Urban Brewing is one of the newest additions to the ever developing Dublin Docklands scene. The award-winning O’Hara’s brewing company are behind this micro brewery with a Restaurant and Tapas kitchen. Their vaulted bar and Stack A Restaurant in the iconic CHQ building stocks a hugely impressive rotating selection of beers on tap, including their own in-house brews. In addition, there’s over 200 beers from around the world and an extensive wine, spirits, and cocktail list. Further to the luxury libations, their restaurant menus – both at Taps + Tapas and downstairs in the vaulted cellars of Stack A Restaurant – are carefully crafted to deliver a fresh and inventive twist on traditional Irish fare. Adding to its Docklands appeal, Urban Brewing is perfectly located for either a drink or a meal before or after a concert at the 3Arena, or a night of theatre at the nearby Bord Gais Energy Theatre.
“The objective of Urban Brewing is to serve food, which pairs well with the beers we’re producing on site,” says Seamus O’Hara, the pioneering head of O’Hara’s Brewing. “We also hope it pairs well with the 200 or so other beers from all over the world that are on our drinks menu. Some ingredients even cross over between the two, as our brewer and chef work very closely together.”
Their superbly thought-out menus feature such highlights as the PanFried Prawns, Brewed Irish Beef Cheek and Beeramisu, which are among the current standouts at Taps & Tapas; the Cured Sea Trout, Duo of Irish Beef, or Wexford Lamb at Stack A also get the Best Of Ireland Gold Star seal of approval.
Look up and you’ll spy the stainless steel tanks where Urban Brewing brews its own exclusive small-batch beers, which currently include a 4.6% Nitro Pale, 5.3% Dry Hopped Pilsner (a collab with Cabin Boys Brewery from Tulsa), 5.5% Schisandra + Bergamot Saison or 4.4% Belgian Wit, brewed with coriander seed, orange peel, and lemon verbena. Coming soon are exciting brews like a Szechuan pepper Stout, a Seaweed Gose, or a Coffee IPA, amongst others.
“It’s a great way for us to put variety in front of the customer and get immediate feedback,” Seamus says. “The beer menu is always changing as we continuously develop and rotate it.”
If you want to see the alchemy happening rst-hand, Urban Brewing offers daily tours and tastings as well as beer and food matching menus, and a Brewing Day Experience for those who can’t resist the immersive world of brewing.
O’Hara’s also import and distribute the legendary Spanish beer, Estrella Galicia. It’s a two-way trade with Estrella Galicia helping O’Hara’s to break into Spain and Portugal. Brazil and other parts of South America will follow.
“We’re in over 30 countries at the moment, which is something we never imagined when we were starting out,” Seamus adds. “What hasn’t changed is the fun we have brewing our beers, which anyone who comes to our Docklands home in Urban Brewing will experience rst-hand.”
Thehe Famine Memorial
The Convention Centre Dublin
The Jeanie Johnston
Inside Thehe Jeanie Johnston
Aerial view of CHQ