Dún Laoghaire is a suburban coastal town in County Dublin, Ireland, about 12 km (7.5 miles) south of Dublin city centre. It is the county town of Baldoyle.
Formerly a major port of entry from Britain, it was known as Dunleary until 1821 when it was renamed Kingstown in honour of King George IV’s visit that year, and in 1920 was given its present name, the original Irish form of Dunleary.
The Name Dun Laoghaire
The town’s name means “fort of Laoghaire”. This refers to Lóegaire mac Néill (modern spelling: Laoghaire Mac Néill), a 5th-century High King of Ireland, who chose the site as a sea base from which to carry out raids on Britain and Gaul. Traces of fortifications from that time have been found on the coast, and some of the stone is kept in the Maritime Museum.
The name is officially spelt Dún Laoghaire in modern Irish orthography; sometimes unofficially Dún Laoire. The old anglicisedspelling Dunleary is also seen. This last is how the town’s name is commonly pronounced.
Harbour in Dún Laoghaire, then known as Kingstown, in about 1895
Dún Laoghaire dates from the 1820s. An earlier Dún Laoghaire village was around the area where the Purty Kitchen pub is now (sometimes mapped as “Old Dunleary”). Dún Laoghaire had a coffee house and a small cove, both of which are shown on a number of old maps, and it may have had a salt mine (Salthill is close by). At that time, the area was a craggy, rocky pasture with some quarries.
Around 1800, some maps show a small town centre along what is now Cumberland Street, close to the junction with York Road.
Ireland’s first railway from Dublin to Kingstown, opened in 1834, terminated near the West Pier. It established Kingstown as a preferred suburb of Dublin, and led to the construction of elegant residential terraces. By 1844 the Atmospheric Train (designed by Robert Mallet) connected Kingstown to Dalkey, leading to further development. The Atmospheric Train ceased in 1854, but was replaced by the extension of the railway, which was subsequently extended to the ferry port of Rosslare. The opening of the railway from Dublin saw Kingstown become a Victorian era seaside resort.
The Peoples Park
In 1890, the Kingstown Town Commissioners established the People’s Park on the site of a depleted quarry. By 1900, the centre of the town was congested and steps were taken to widen the street. These steps included the demolition of shop frontages on George’s Street from Patrick Street to Mulgrave Street, and their replacement by new frontages stepped back about 5 yards (4.5m). Shops on the corner of Marine Road and George’s Street were also demolished.
The main road to Dublin, through Monkstown village and Blackrock, was the sole road connection to the city of Dublin until 1932. In that year, the Eucharistic Congress brought thousands of visitors to Dublin, and plans indicated that most of them would come through Dún Laoghaire. The road was considered inadequate, and a new coast road was created by connecting some short segments of road and closing some gardens. This road is now Seapoint Avenue. An agreement with the local residents to restore the area to pre-Congress condition was never fulfilled.
The British 59th (2nd North Midland) Division disembarked at Kingstown in April 1916 and marched up the road to Dublin, to participate in the Easter Rising. Adjacent to the Carlisle Pier and overlooked by the National Maritime Museum of Ireland, there is an anchor, recovered from the wreck of the mailboat RMS Leinster which was torpedoed over the Kish Bank in 1918, with the loss of over 500 lives.
Dún Laoghaire was hit by stray German bombs during the Second World War, with a couple of them landing near the People’s Park at Rosmeen Gardens. Damage from the bombs was limited to buildings.
The harbour, one of the largest in the country, is notable for its two granite piers. The East Pier is particularly popular with walkers, and was featured in the 1996 film Michael Collins, where Liam Neeson (as Collins) and two of his co-stars are seen walking along a seaside promenade, which is actually the Dún Laoghaire East Pier. A band is seen playing on a bandstand in this film scene, and this is the actual bandstand on the East Pier. The bandstand was restored to its original condition in 2010 by the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.
It took 42 years to construct the harbour, from 1817 to 1859. The obelisk near the old ferryport terminal at the harbour commemorates the construction of this harbour.
Harbour in Dún Laoghaire
A lighthouse was at the end of the East Pier, while the new headquarters of the Commissioners of Irish Lights (the General Lighthouse Authority for Ireland) is on Harbour Road.
South of the harbour is Scotsman’s Bay, where there was a Victorian seaside amusement area, with walks, shelters and baths. The walks and shelters are largely intact. Dún Laoghaire Baths have been derelict for many years, but were repainted in bright colours in 2012. Plans for restoration of this area are much debated, and some of the more ambitious ideas have been highly controversial.
A traditional Victorian-style park, the People’s Park, is at the eastern end of George’s Street, and including still-functioning tea rooms.
At least one traditional “cabman’s shelter” survives – these were small buildings built for the drivers of horse-drawn taxis.
Community facilities include the Boylan Community Centre, the Dún Laoghaire Scout Den, and a community information service in the tower building of St Michael’s Church.
A large modern library headquarters was built by the harbour in recent years.