Dublin Revisited In 36 photographs!

A year ago we were flaneuring the streets, pubs, museums and shops of Dublin, Ireland. As all good “everyday tourists” do on their one-year anniversary of a trip, I reviewed my collection of photos and revisited the many great memories of Dublin. 

Also this week, I received a lot of positive feedback from my Summer Sunlight photo-essay blog so I thought it would be fun to do a photo-only blog of Dublin.  I have picked 36 photos (there is no magic in the number) that cover everything from art to architecture, food to fashion, parks to plazas and of course beer and pubs.

In no particular order, the photos are in true flaneur-like fashion.  Let the photos aimlessly take you on an off-the-beaten path stroll of Dublin. 

If you want to know more about our Dublin adventures you can check out the links for learn more about the city, its people and places:

Dublin: FAB fun in The Libertines

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem

Dublin vs. Calgary /Apples vs. Oranges

Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green vs. St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park

Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library – Look but don’t touch

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

Everyday Tourist goes to gaol!

Parks: Calgary vs. Dublin/Florence/Rome

the poor

Bridges over the Bow!

Great river cities are often defined by their iconic bridges.  A recent trip to Dublin, Ireland gave me a better appreciation for just how important bridges are - not only as a means of transportation, but also as a means of celebrating local history and a city’s sense of design.

While Calgary lacks the 1,000s of years of history Dublin has, we do have several bridges along the Bow in the downtown with historical and architectural significance.  We have four historic bridges - Centre Street, Langevin, Hillhurst (Louise) and Mewata. Two are brand spanking new multi-million dollar pedestrian bridges by international designers - Peace and St. Patrick’s Island Bridges.  

Then there is the lesser-known Jaipur Bridge (named after Calgary’s sister city in India) that links Eau Claire to Prince’s Island.   And, we even have “No Name” bridges – 4th/5th Ave Flyover (three bridges - two for vehicles and one for LRT), the 9th St West LRT bridge with its pedestrian bridge below) and the Prince’s Island to Sunnyside bridge at the Calgary Curling Club.

Five bridges cross the beautiful Bow River at the northeast entrance to downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Jaipur Bridge recognizes the friendship and goodwill between Calgary and Jaipur, India.  In the winter the Bow River lagoon becomes a skating rink.  It is the entrance to Prince's Island Park on of North American's best urban parks. 

Centre Street Bridge

Did you know that the first Centre Street Bridge was built in 1906 by Archibald John McArthur so he could market his subdivision of Crescent Heights? So even 100 years ago, private developers were paying for urban infrastructure to facilitate growth!  The current bridge, which opened in 1916, was under construction when McArthur’s bridge collapsed in the 1915 flood.

 It’s best known for its four concrete kiosks each topped by a stately lion and two bison heads.  Designed by City employee James Langlands Thompson, they were patterned them after the lions in London’s Trafalgar Square.  The bridge offers spectacular views of the Bow River and city skyline, especially the juxtaposition of the Calgary Tower and Bow Tower.

Centre Street Bridge is a popular pedestrian link between upper and lower Chinatown. 

 Langevin Bridge

The current Langevin Bridge, opened in 1910, is named after Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Confederation.  It is a “Camelback” bridge as the framework of structural steel looks like a camel’s back in profile.

Langevin Bridge by day.

Like the Centre Street Bridge, this is the second bridge at this site. The first one, a wood truss bridge opened in 1890 was called the Dewdney Bridge (after Dewdney Street, now 4th Street SW).  It provided more convenient access for settlers who chose to live on the unserviced lots across the river and the brothels along Nose Creek.

Today, it is best known for its 5,600 LED lights that can be programed in 156 different colour configurations to celebrate holidays or charity events.  (Back story: there was no public consultation for this lighting project and it cost just $350,000 – sometimes you just have to do it!)

Langevin Bridge at night. 

Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge

This bridge at 10th Street has connected downtown’s West End to Kensington since 1922.  It replaced the Louise Bridge a steel truss bridge (1906 to 1927), which had replaced the original Bow Marsh Bridge (1888 to 1906). The former was named after Louise Cushing, daughter of William Henry Cushing, Calgary’s mayor from 1900 to 1901. 

The current concrete bridge coexisted with the popular Louise Bridge for five years.  While the original name of today’s bridge was Hillhurst, Calgarians continued to refer to it as the Louise so in 1970, it was officially renamed it the Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge.

Made of reinforced concrete with five 32m wide arched wall spans over its 172m length, the bridge was rehabilitated in 1997, with a design by Calgary’s Simpson Roberts Wappel Architects at a cost of $5.1 million. 

The Hillhurst bridge provides some of the best views of the Bow River and the downtown skyline. 

Mewata Bridge

Built in 1954, the Mewata Bridge (14th Street) was the first major river crossing built in Calgary since the Louise Bridge in 1921.  It helped facilitate post-war suburban growth in northwest Calgary and the establishment of a system of one-way streets in downtown. 

A mid-century modern design, it was inspired by the recently completed Waterloo Bridge in London, England. Built using “box-girder” technology, it uses steel-reinforced concrete beams shaped like a tube with multiple walls. When built, it was the longest box-girder span in North America, the first in Western Canada, and the first in Canada to use the new technique of butt-welded, reinforcing steel.

Backstory.  In November 2016, a year after this blog was posted Norm Reid (now 94 years old and founding partner of Reid Crowther & Partners) contacted me to say he oversaw the design and construction of the bridge. 

St. Patrick’s Island & Peace Bridges

Much has been written about Calgary’s two new pedestrian bridges – Peace and St. Patrick’s Island - each costing about $25M. Both are quickly becoming postcard images of Calgary’s new urbanity. Together, they create a pleasant, circular stroll along the shore of the Bow River offering engaging views of downtown’s modern architecture, Prince’s Island and the new St. Patrick’s Island (opening this summer).

The St. Patrick's bridge shines onto the water rather than into the night sky creating an eerie atmosphere. 

The Peace Bridge looks more dramatic at night all light up than it does during the day - just my humble opinion. 

No Name Bridges

The 4th/5th Avenue Flyover at Edmonton Trail are the busiest bridges collectively transporting almost 60,000+ vehicles cars in and out of downtown every day, as well as pedestrians and bikes.  A spectacular introduction to our downtown for many tourists and business travellers, it deserves a name and an enhanced sense of arrival (perhaps they could be lined with the flags of the world as a way of welcoming visitors). 

The 5th Ave flyover (built in 1972), the 4th Ave flyover (built in 1981) and NE LRT bridge (built in 1982), create a brutalistic statement about Calgary as a futuristic city.  Brutalism was a ‘60s design movement focusing on the use of raw concrete as an exterior façade material.

The modern, white, minimalist West End LRT Bridge with its suspended pedestrian bridge underneath creates the perfect yin to the yang of the early 20th Century Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge to its west.   This bridge, opened in 1987, is an important legacy to the 1988 Winter Olympics, linking downtown and University of Calgary venues.  Perhaps “Olympic Bridge” is fitting. 

The Prince’s Island to Sunnyside pedestrian bridge built in 1972 and designed by Chandler Kennedy Architects is a bit like the ugly, older sister in Calgary’s family of pedestrian bridges. It carries the same number of pedestrians and cyclists as the Peace Bridge, but gets no respect.  As part of the Memorial Drive mega-makeover, the ramps to the bridge were improved, but the bridge itself hasn’t changed in over 30 years.  With some modern updating (maybe some LED lighting), it has the potential to be just as spectacular as the Peace or Patrick’s Island Bridges.  Perhaps it could be the “Remembrance Bridge” which would be in keeping with the Memorial Drive theme and it is close to where we celebrate Remembrance Day.

The LRT Bridge built for the 1988 Olympics also serves as a pedestrian bridge connecting downtown's west end with Kensington. It is just a few minutes from the Peace Bridge to the east and the Hillhurst bridge to the west. 

The  4th and 5th Avenue Flyover bridges as seen from Riverwalk.  The City of Calgary informed me that neither bridge has a name, but when taking this photo I notice a plaque tucked up on the concrete beam above saying the 5th Ave Flyover is actually the Henry Kroeger Bridge a former Minister of Transportation. 

The pedestrian bridge links Prince's Island to Sunnyside. A coat of paint with some LED lighting and this could be a signature bridge. 

Dublin bridge bag

Last Word

Doesn’t every bridge deserve a name?  Perhaps we need a public naming contest for our “No Name” bridges? Maybe there are better names than Centre Street or St. Patrick’s Island?

Many river cities have postcards and souvenirs celebrating their bridges. I wonder when this might happen in Calgary.



If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City 

Calgary the City of Parks & Pathways

Architecture River Cruise in Chicago 


Dublin vs Calgary / Apples vs Oranges

Dublin is a city steeped in history, dating back over 1,000 years when the Vikings first settled the area in 841 AD. However, while there are many buildings or ruins dating back to the Middle Ages, such as Dublin Castle founded in 1204 AD, most historical buildings are from the 18th century Georgian period and later. In the 18th century, for a short period of time, Dublin was the second largest city of the British Empire and fifth largest in Europe with a population of 130,000.  Today, Dublin has a population of 527,612 with an urban population of 1,110,627, which is very similar to Calgary’s. But that is where the similarity ends.

By comparison, while First Nation peoples have visited the Calgary area for centuries, it was just a little over 100 years when a permanent settlement was established. And, it is only the in past decade or so that Calgary has really become a global city. 

In 2012, while Dublin was ranked (based on global connectivity in the areas of accounting, advertising, banking, finance and law) as an “Alpha–“ city (Alpha++ being the highest ranking), Calgary is rated a “Beta-“city (Beta being the second highest ranking).

Anyone who visits Dublin can’t help but see that this city definitely puts the PLAY into the axiom “live, work, play.” The sidewalks, shops, restaurants and especially the pubs are full of locals.

Anyone visiting Calgary on the other hand, would think we are a bunch of workaholics as with our downtown sidewalks are empty except at lunch hour.  Calgary’s urban streets are dominated by the hoarding of the construction sites not people.

Pub Culture vs Café Culture

One of the biggest differences between Dublin and Calgary is that Dubliners hang at pubs while Calgarians love their cafes.  Dublin’s pub culture is one where people of all ages hang out, chat, listen to local musicians or watch sports – pubs are like a community living rooms. Hurling is my new favourite sport - an action-packed game that combines elements of lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, soccer and football. There is no hunching over the laptop while nursing a vegan soy peanut butter latte all day in Dublin!

There is literally a pub on every block, even in residential areas.  What is also great about pubs is that they don’t close at 9 pm like most cafes.  In fact, that is about the time things are just getting started with live music.  One of our most memorable experiences was listening to a Saturday jam session of string players from our front row bar seats in a little pub on the edge of a plaza in Smithville district with people from 5 to 85.  

There is a neighbourhood pub on almost every block and they have live music everyday of the week. 

Pedestrian Malls

Dublin has not one, but two pedestrian malls (one on each side of the river), both being magnets for locals and tourists looking to shop or people watch.  These streets are filled with one of the quintessential sounds of Dublin - the clickity clack of luggage wheels being pulled along their streets (the other quintessential sound is that metal Guiness kegs clanging as they are rolled down the sidewalk to a pub).  And it was not just one or two people; often dozens of suitcase-dragging tourists could be found along the Dublin malls.  I can’t remember the last time I saw someone pulling luggage down Stephen Avenue. 

Dublin had some of the best buskers I have ever seen. 

On the south side of the Liffey River is the Grafton Street Mall that links St. Stephen’s Green with Trinity College and is home to an eclectic mix of local, national and international shops.  On the north side of the river is the Henry Street Mall, dominated by department stores.  Both malls had literally thousands of people on them any time of the day. 

The fact that no tall office towers surround Dublin’s pedestrian malls could well be the key to their pedestrian vitality. 

Indeed, most of the people are in downtown Dublin to play. Those who are there to work are serving those who are playing.

It was very common to see tourist dragging their suitcases down the street.  This photo was taken at about 3 pm on a Wednesday. 

Parks / Public Spaces / Rivers

Though Dublin’s two urban parks - St. Stephen’s and Merrion Square are very nice, they are no match for Calgary’s Prince’s Island, Memorial Park, Shaw Millennium Park, Fort Calgary, Riley Park and the new St. Patrick’s Island.

Similarly, Dublin’s canal-like River Liffey, River Dodder, Royal Canal and Grand Canal, can’t compete with the natural beauty of the tree-lined shores and glacier water of the Bow and Elbow Rivers with their active pedestrian and cycling pathways.

Dublin's rivers and canals were very attractive as you moved away from the City Centre. This is at high tide, at low tide they can be more like mud pits.

Phoenix Park, at the northwest edge of Dublin’s city centre is a huge 1,762 acre park (for reference, Nose Hill is 2,780 acres) that includes the residence of the President of Ireland, the Victorian People’s Flower Garden, Dublin Zoo and a herd of free-roaming Fallow deer.  Calgary’s equivalent would be the combination of the Calgary Zoo, TELUS Spark, Tom Campbell’s Hill Natural Park, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Wildlands Park and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the eastern edge of our City Centre.


Ha'penny Bridge was probably the busiest pedestrian bridge I have ever seen. It functioned well to connect to pedestrian areas on either side of the river. It was experiential. 

I was most impressed with the 16 bridges that span the River Liffey along a 4 km stretch of Dublin’s City Centre.  I loved that many of the bridges were named after key figures from Dublin’s rich history– James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey, and O’Connell.  

The most popular bridge was the white cast iron Ha’penny pedestrian bridge, built in 1816 to replace the ferry service. Having had various names over the years, its current one reflects the ha’penny toll charged for first 103 years.

Today, over 30,000 people cross the bridge each day.  Perhaps in a century or two, Calgary’s Peace and St. Patrick’s Island pedestrian bridges will have the same traffic.

Calatrava has designed two bridges in Dublin. This is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, the other is the Jams Joyce Bridge further upstream. The bridge cost 60 million Euros or about $86 million Canadian.

Character Districts

The sidewalks of the International Financial District were mostly void of people. 

Dublin’s city centre is comprised of several character districts, each easily worth a half-day of exploration.  Although the International Financial Services Centre is a 12–block area of mostly new office buildings with a striking contemporary Convention Centre and new arena, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s 40-block downtown office core when it comes to daytime vitality. At night, both are relatively quiet, sterile places.

Calgary has nothing to match Dublin’s Viking/Medieval Area and Cathedral District with its St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library Galleries.

Temple Bar (originally St. Andrews Parish and a suburb of the medieval area back in about 1300AD) is home to hundreds of bars and ten of thousands of nightly party people (including many “stag parties” and “hen nights”) and spectators. The closest Calgary comes to having something like the Temple Bar nightlife was in the ‘80s when 11th Avenue SW was known as Electric Avenue.

This Trinity College sign says "Keep Off." Seems strange to have a piece of public art out in the open like this and not encourage people to have a closer look. 

Trinity College is considered by many to be the heart of Dublin with its famous Book of Kells (an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book in Latin, created in 800AD). And though Calgary’s downtown Bow Valley College is no match for Trinity College, the SAIT campus is.  While SAIT can’t match Trinity College’s centuries of history, SAIT’s Heritage Hall, which opened in 1916, is as monumental as anything I saw on the Trinity College campus.  This along with SAIT’s striking uber-contemporary Trades and Technology Complex, the Art Smith Aero Centre, Brawn Fieldhouse and parking garage and the spectacular view of downtown and Bow River Valley makes SAIT a more inspiring campus than Trinity College.     

The Liberties, Dublin’s charming working class neighbourhood noted for its antique/vintage shops and street market, is no match for Calgary’s Inglewood community with its diversity of art galleries, shops, restaurants and music venues.

The Smithfield Plaza with its grocery store, hotel, condos and Jamieson Brewery was empty most of the time.  We did see a guy with walking a horse one day, but that was the most animation.   

In addition, Dublin has nothing to match Calgary’s ambitious East Village urban renewal project.  The closest comparison would be Smithfield with the renowned Jamieson Distillery as its anchor.  It has a few new condos and a hotel, but most of the retail at street level is vacant, except for an urban grocery store. It would be great if East Village could attract a cinema complex like the funky Light House Cinema with its eclectic mix of arthouse and Hollywood movies, as well as special events.  

Dublin’s trendy shopping streets like Camden, Rathmaines and Capel with their vibrancy day and night beat out Calgary’s 17th Avenue, 4th and 10th Streets and Kensington Road.

Last Word

Comparing Calgary and Dublin is like comparing apple and oranges. Dublin flourished hundreds of years before Calgary, meaning it had to adapt to a completely different history of innovations in technology, revisions in urban planning theory, as well as economic and political changes.  Like apples and oranges, I like both Dublin and Calgary. 

For comparison images of Calgary's urban culture check out these blogs:

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Calgary's got its mojo working?

Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Calgary's Rail Trail 

By Richard White, March 1 2015

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture. Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist 

This blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "Let's Compare Calgary and Dublin" on February 28, 2015.

Everyday Tourist goes to gaol

One of the most moving experiences we had in 2015 (perhaps in the last few years) was our tour of the Kilmainham Gaol (KG) in Dublin, Ireland.  Not big fans of guided tours, we decided to take the tour, as it was the only way to get inside. We were glad we did. Our tour guide made the experience so “moving,” sharing real life stories of the hardships and heroics associated with the Gaol.

At the end of the tour, we even both thought she was going to break down into tears when we were standing in the desolate “stone-breakers” yard, the site where several political leaders were executed.  Afterwards, when we asked her if she had any personal association with the events or people in the Gaol she said “No” but she, like most Dubliners, have a deep respect for their history and those who suffered for their beloved Ireland.

Kilmainham Gaol 101

KG opened in 1796 as a one of the most modern prisons in Ireland, yet the conditions were inhumane by today’s standards - no glass on the windows, no lighting, no heat; it was a cold, dark and damp place.  In the early years it was filled with prisoners detained for begging, stealing, assault, prostitution and drunkenness. 

The gaol doors have centuries of grime encrusted on them to create a rich patina. 

During the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1850, many women and children were charged with begging and stealing food and placed in jail.  Our tour guide told one story about a mother who stole a single loaf of bread for her starving children was thrown in the dungeon-like cells with a half a dozen drunks and murders who reeked of their own body fluids.

We were surprised to learn that women made up a significant portion of the population until 1881 when it became an all male prison. Persons convicted of violent crimes were routinely hanged in front of the gaol for everyone to see.  The last women to be hanged were in 1821.

In 1862, the spectacular east wing (large open space, high ceiling with huge skylight and grand staircase) was added based on the Victorian belief that the quality of prison architecture was crucial to the reform of the inmates.   The prison philosophy became one of silence and separation. Communication between prisoners was forbidden with most of their time spent alone in their cell so they could read the Bible, contemplate and repent their crimes.

In 1958, after years of neglect (prison was decommissioned in 1924) the KG Restortion Society was formed to preserve the Gaol as a monument to Irish Nationalism.  After years of clean up, the eventually turned it over to the state and it has become a major tourist attraction. 

Looking in the peep hole you see the open window which was too high for the prisoners to see out of and let in a only minimal amount of light. 

Political Prisoners

The hallways have a strange haunting glow that magnifies the decaying walls. 

The story of KG really begins with its link to Ireland’s violent political history of rebellions, guerilla warfare, imprisonment, hangings and executions in the mid 1800s. 

Following the failure of the Young Irelanders (inspired by the spirit of revolution in Europe) in 1848 and the Fenians in 1867 (a secret, oath-bound group sworn to overthrow British rule), the Gaol was cleared of common prisoners and security strengthened to accommodate political figures.

In 1881, the governing Irish Parliament Party rejected the British government land act and Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Party and his MPs were imprisoned from October 1881 to May 1882.

Four days after Parnell’s release, two senior officials of the British government were assassinated by members of the group called “The Invincibles,” an offshoot of the Fenians. Five members of the group were hanged at the gaol in 1883 for their role in the assassinations.  

The prison closed in 1910, only to be reopened in 1916 to house hundreds of men and women who participated in the Irish Republic’s Easter uprising.  Between May 3 and 12, 1916 fourteen men were executed by firing squad in the stone-breakers’ yard.  It was while standing in this yard, hearing this story that our tour guide’s voice cracked and many of us were moved close to tears.

When the War of Independence broke out in 1919, KG was used to hold captured Republican Army members, four of which were executed in the same yard.  The War of Independence differed from other rebellions with the introduction of guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army, British forces and Dail (a radical republican party who won a landslide victory in the 1918 general election but refused to take their seats in the British Parliament). This war ended with a truce in July 1921.

However, the truce didn’t last long as tensions eventually erupted in a Civil War from 1922 to 1924.  From February to September 1923 during the Civil War over 300 girls and women between 12 and 70 were housed in KG.  The War ended in 1924 and its last prisoner, Eamon de Valera was released – he later became President of Ireland.

As a mid-20th century Canadian, who has never fought in a war, never fired a gun, never had to physically fight for anything, it is hard to understand the intense passion and pain that was endured over centuries by the people of Ireland as they fought for their independence.

In the museum area there are lots of artifacts, but the most touching were the letters which tell very intimate stories. This one is about Joseph Plunkett who married his wife the night before his execution. 

The cross marks the spot where the prisoners stood in the stone breakers yard waiting to be executed by gun fire. 

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho

One of the highlights of our 2014 travels was the discovery of Boise, Idaho with its vibrant downtown and university campus.  We loved the markets, auctions, restaurants and the neighbouring Snake River wine district.  One of the pleasant surprises of our visit was the Old Idaho State Penitentiary (OISP), which started as a single cell house in 1872.

Like KG, the stories and the conditions the prisoners of OISP endured are almost unbelievable. It housed over 13,000 inmates, including 215 were women from 1872 to 1973. One of the most famous inmates was Lyda Southard (aka Lady Bluebeard) who killed several husbands to collect the insurance money.

The penitentiary closed in 1973 after riots in 1971 and 1973 to protest the horrible living conditions.

The penitentiary is like a campus with 18 distinctive buildings surrounded by a 17 foot sandstone wall that was quarried by the convict from the ridges of the nearby hills (today they are wonderful walking trails).   While the men were kept busy with the construction of new buildings, maintenance and/or agricultural activities (including growing the best watermelons in the state) the women were engaged in repairing clothing, taking classes and reading the bible.

While Boise was part of the Wild West of the 1800s, the violence and hardship seemed pale in comparison to what the Irish suffered to gain their Independence.

The Idaho State Penitentiary seem charming in comparison to Kilmainham Gaol. 

The sand stone wall, guard house and walkway.  

The women cells were in a separate building. While the conditions were minimal there was some colour and lots of light. 

Last Word

We are not big history buffs and gaols are not usually on our list of must see places, but sometimes you have to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.  Both were pleasant surprises.  One of the ten commandments of an everyday tourist is “Thou shalt never over research or over plan your trip.” 

By Richard White, February 25, 2015.  

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture. Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Boise Saturday Auction 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

Dublin: FAB fun in The Liberties

Irish Golf: The Good, The Bad, The Bold, The Beer, The Beauty

Irish Golf

When my Redwood Meadows golf buddies told me that one of their curling buddies had hooked up with Suneel Seetal of Seetal Golf Tours in Dublin who was organizing a 12-day, nine-round golf trip to Ireland, I immediately said I was “in”. Seven years since my Scotland golf trip and my bruises having disappeared, I was ready for another crack at those irksome links courses.  

My biggest decision was whether to take my own clubs or not. That’s because I decided to extend my Irish golf trip and make it a six-week European adventure. I didn’t want to haul golf clubs that whole time.

Luckily, one of my golf buddies, (“sly grey fox”) told me about ClubsToHire. Sure enough, I could rent clubs and a bag for the entire tour. The clubs would be waiting for me at the airport when I arrived and I could drop them off at the airport when I was done. How easy is that? And, the cost was reasonable - 40 to 60 Euros per week depending on the clubs you choose amongst their selection of top name brands. Just pack your balls and shoes and you are ready to play.  Bonus - I saved the extra luggage costs on the plane and the hassle of hauling a large oversized golf travel bag on trains, planes and automobiles.

I chose the RBZ TaylorMade set with graphite-shafted irons, thinking that it might be time to switch from steel to graphite.  I loved the irons; they seemed much more forgiving, longer and my back and shoulders hurt less than they did all summer, even thought I was walking more difficult terrain than my home course (sometime it seemed more like mountain climbing), carrying my clubs on my back rather than the push cart I used all summer.  Definitely ClubsToHire was a great decision.

My ClubsToHire are ready for the tour.

Now, On with the Tour…

Here is my summary of the good, the bad, the bold and the beauty of the courses in the order we played them, along with some pub fun.

Enniscrone Golf Club

Founded in 1918 as a nine-hole course, Enniscrone, located on the west coast of Ireland in the County of Sligo next to Kilala Bay at the mouth of the River Moy, became a dramatic championship course in 1974.   The 7,300 yard, par 73 course plays hard (especially if you are from Calgary and are use to playing at an altitude of 3,438 ft) with lots of long carries over the shaggy towering windswept seaside dunes and blind shots.  The last four holes along the Atlantic Ocean are challenging and stunning.  Holes 12, 13 or 14 all vie as Enniscrone’s signature holes.

The one negative - there is no driving range, very problematic for me as I really wanted a chance to test my rentals on the range before playing.

Enniscrone has been called the Ballybunion of the west coast.  The course is well maintained and the greens are as challenging as you will find anywhere, but they do putt true.  This course should be on your “must golf” list if you are going to the West Coast.

We knew this was going to get bad when we saw the grass between the first green and second tee box.

It is a long carry to the fairway, but the vista was beautiful.

The dog legs and elevated greens make for some blind and bold shot making. 

it is a bad idea to miss the green.

Carne Golf Links

If you are into off-the-beaten path golf courses, Carne Golf Links is the place for you (from some of the tee boxes, you would think you could see Newfoundland).  This wild and natural course with the largest sand dunes I have ever seen (the size of small office towers) is the swan song of the late Eddie Hackett and in his opinion “there will be no better links course in the country.”  The course looks like Hackett decided there was no need to do much design, so he just carved out the fairways and created 18 greens as the lunar landscape has barely been altered. It is hard to believe this course only opened in 1993.

The golf course wasn’t in the best of shape when we played in early fall and we also found signage to the next tee box poor, especially where there was some construction. But it did produce my most memorable shot - I sliced my drive (no surprise there) onto the side of a monster sand dune and thought I’d never find my ball, but lucky me, there it was sitting up on some tramped down grass (obviously I wasn’t the first person to hit a ball here) and so I had a shot. I had to choke down to the bottom of my grip as the ball was going to be about waist high. I hit what I thought was a perfect shot over the dune to the fairway and maybe even the green. No such luck; we never found the ball – ah, the joys and sorrows of golfing Ireland.

You have to be really into golf to come to Carne as there is nothing else there - no shops, no restaurants, no museums, just you and the course.  This 6,690-yard course is merciless with its elevation changes, wind, doglegs around the dunes, elevated greens and tees and of course those undulating greens (a three-putt being the norm).

There is also a new 9-hole course called Kilmore that opened in 2013 and has been called the best 9-hole course in Ireland, perhaps Britain. If you are into unique golf course adventures, add this course to your list, but if I had to pass up one course on our tour, this would probably be it.

This doesn't look too tough.

This is the hole where my bad drive ended up on the side of the hill on the right, and my bold shot over the hill to the green ended up lost. A good golfer would have hit it back on the fairway and then to the green.

The rugged landscape at Carne makes for a unique golf experience.

Lahinch Golf Club (Old Course)

Lahinch Golf Club founded in 1892, was originally with 10 holes on each side of the road.  In 1894, old Tom Morris was commissioned to create an 18-hole championship course, which was then redesigned in 1927 by Alister MacKenzie (who co-designed Augusta National Golf Club). Today, there are two 18-hole courses, the Old Course between the road and the sea and the flatter Castle Course, named after the nearby ruins.  Lahinch has been called the “St. Andrews of Ireland.”

Most people play the Old Course, which is like the Old Course at St. Andrew’s on steroids.  The giant sandhills and the rolling terrain make Lahinch a much bigger challenge than anything I experienced in Scotland, where the links courses are generally flatter.

If you are looking for authenticity, this is it!  There is even a herd of goats on the course and if they are sheltering near the clubhouse, it is a sure sign you are in for a wet round. I was somewhat disappointed by the new clubhouse. I was expecting a historic clubhouse with lots of stories and maybe even a few ghosts of championships past. There is also no driving range, which I was beginning to realize is the norm not the exception in Ireland.  

Lahinch has what might be the quirkiest hole I’ve played. The 4th hole is a short par five named Klondyke. The target off the tee is a narrow fairway located in a valley between two very large sand dunes. Then it is a blind second shot over the Klondyke (a giant sand dune) in the middle of the fairway about 200 yards away from the green. The ultimate blind shot!

What is also great about Lahinch is that the town is right there so you can mingle with the locals at the pub after your round of golf.  We stayed at the Vaughn Inn, which was very handy as you could walk to town or to the golf course. 

It is a beautiful day for golf in Ireland.

This is a par 3.  Yikes. 

Someone missed the green, that would be me.

My bold sand shot was close enough to the pin that I was able to one put and make my par. Beauty eh!

TIME FOR A BEER. We had a great time touring around the town of Galway and The Oslo pub home of the famous Galway Bay Brewery.  The Goodby Blue Monday oatmeal IPA was a tasty treat.  However we did not find a Galway girl, but not for the lack of trying as the song Galway Girl was the theme song for our tour.  

TIME FOR A BEER. We had a great time touring around the town of Galway and The Oslo pub home of the famous Galway Bay Brewery.  The Goodby Blue Monday oatmeal IPA was a tasty treat.  However we did not find a Galway girl, but not for the lack of trying as the song Galway Girl was the theme song for our tour.  

Doonbeg Golf Club

Doonbeg Golf Club a new links course designed by Greg Norman, opened in 2002.  In February 2014, the lodge and golf course was bought by Donald Trump. As one might expect it’s very much a luxury North American resort rather than a quaint small town Irish golf course.  This course was probably the least favourite of most players on our tour. The good news is there is a driving range so no excuse for a poor start.

The course is also unique in that it has five par 3s and five par 5s and will be remembered for the numerous 100+ foot high sand dunes. The signature 14th hole at 111 yards is the shortest hole I have played in decades. It is also perhaps the most difficult with the Atlantic Ocean just beyond the green; a deep valley in front so there is no room for error.  Depending on which way the wind is blowing and what tees you are playing, it can be anything from a fairway wood to a lob wedge. I missed the green, but was on the fringe.

The first hole is picturesque. 

This is one bad looking bunker daring you to try and carry it.

The ugliest bunker I have ever seen.

The ugliest bunker I have ever seen.

Who puts a bunker in the middle of a green? Bad idea!

It doesn't get more beautiful than this. You get some great views of the golf course while looking for your ball in the rough. 

Adare Manor Golf Resort

Adare Manor Golf Resort (AMGR) was our first parkland course and a welcome relief for most players on our tour – the links courses had beaten us up enough.  AMGR, established in 1900, is one of Ireland’s first and finest parkland courses.  Rich in history, set amongst the Franciscan Abbey (1300AD) and Adare Castle (1341 AD). It is also where I discovered Rebel Red, Irish red ale brewed by the Franciscan Well Brewery.  I’d give it a score of 95. Sorry, I digress.

We are thinking eagles today!

AMGR, as it was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., has a distinct North American look with tree-lined fairways and creative use of three lakes and the Maique River that meanders through the back nine.  It is rumored Jones thought the 18th hole could be the best par 5 in the world after he designed it.  It certainly was a challenge for our group as we were playing for day money and the final shot is over water to a large green.  You’d think that would be easy but even if you did choose the right club, you could easily be 100+ feet away from the hole and still be on the green.  This then meant you could easily three putt and not only lose the day money for best round, but also the putting competition.  One of our group made a 60 footer to save par.

I think everyone on the tour would rank AMGR as one of the top three courses we played.  Even if you don’t play well, it is like a walk in a park, a welcome relief from the wind, sand and ball searching on the seaside links courses.

Now that's big, bold and beautiful!

The bold golfer takes it over the sand trap and fades it onto the fairway so he can go for the green in two. Not me, I chickened out to the left and made par.

This is the 18th.  Doesn't look so hard, but it is.

Memories of Adare: An existential walk in the park! 

TIME FOR A BEER!  Our bus driver recommended Pat's place and it was a great spot.

It was here that I discovered my love of Rebel Red by the local Franciscan Well brewery.  

Yes it was a religious experience. 


Island Golf Club

Just 15 minutes from the Dublin airport, The Island Golf Club could be your introduction to links golf in Ireland.  Founded in 1890, it is an “au natural” course with shaggy sand dunes everywhere. Sometimes you feel like you are playing alone in amphitheater, as you can’t see out. The course is also unique in that there are many small water ponds that include life preservers – luckily we didn’t have to use them.

Unluckily, this was the only course where we got rained out.  Most us got as far as the 13th hole, the 220 yard par 3 signature hole with its bail-out area short and left of the green (or you can be a hero and take on the beach and hope you have chosen the right club and hit it flush).  Unfortunately at this point, we were soaked to the skin despite our rain suits and waterproof shoes.

 I think we all agreed that we’d like to go back and take on this course again

Love the tradition at The Island.

A typical hole with elevated tee boxes, fairways guarded by sand dunes and larger undulating crowned greens where the ball rolls off the green into a collection area also called a bunker. 

Boys I don't think this is going to let up, probably a good idea if we headed to the club house NOW!

Boys I don't think this is going to let up, probably a good idea if we headed to the club house NOW!

Definitely needed a beer after being rained out.  Five Lamps Blackpitts Porter was as smooth as a Guinness, but with more bite and flavour. 

Definitely needed a beer after being rained out.  Five Lamps Blackpitts Porter was as smooth as a Guinness, but with more bite and flavour. 

Druids Glen Golf Club

Druids Glen is known as the Augusta of Ireland for good reason - it has the same tranquility, natural beauty and dramatic holes as Augusta National. I would love to go back and play it in the spring when the trees and flowers are in bloom. Certainly my favourite course, it would be a pleasure to play this course every day.  I think I had my camera out as much as my golf clubs, with its 18 signature holes.

Though the course looks like it has been there for ages, this Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock-designed course only opened in 1995.  I think I will let the photos speak for themselves.

The pretty first par 3 is just a hint of things to come.

The pretty first par 3 is just a hint of things to come.

How beautiful is this?

It looks even better looking back.

It looks even better looking back.

It just keeps getting better.

It just keeps getting better.

The bold shot is over the bush and fade it onto the fairway and not into the creek.  I was bold and successful.

The picture says it all.

As you can see I took more photo shots than golf shots.

Portmarnock Golf Club

Portmarnock situated on a two-mile long sandy peninsula covering 500 acres, makes it one of the most spectacular golf courses I have ever played. The land once belonged to the famous distiller John Jamieson (I recommend you bring a flask of his Irish whiskey with you when you play) and beginning in 1850, it was his private golf course. With the closing holes being both beautiful and brutal, for me there was a bit of a love-hate relationship. 

In the words of Bernard Darwin (grandson of Charles Darwin and World Golf Hall of Fame, British golf writer in the early 20th century), “I know of no greater finish in the world than that of the last five holes at Portmarnock.” Amen!

Portmarnock is well known for its lightening fast and true greens, many of being saucer-shaped or crowned greens, known for rejecting all but the best shots. I believe one of our group five-putted one green. It is definitely at the top of my “must play” list of golf courses in the Dublin area.

Portmarnock from the air.

The course feels very much like the link courses in Scotland - flatter with lots of pot bunkers.

There were several of these small lily-filled ponds. 

A slicer's nightmare.

These bunkers are just daring you to try and carry them.

County Louth (Baltray) Golf Club

When we drove up I really thought this was going to be a cow pasture but when we got our balls and saw the driving range, I wondered what the hell are we doing here. I have better buckets of balls in my garage than the dirty old balls we got from the dispensing machine and the driving range was more mud than grass - the first time I have every wished a driving range had mats.

However, what County Louth lacks in amenities it makes up for as a traditional, no gimmicks links golf course. Subtle rather than spectacular, I am OK with that. Established in 1892, the course has been tweaked several times, keeping it challenging for the low handicappers and fair to the high ones. Make sure you choose the right tee box. 

County Louth is best known for its par 3s, perhaps the best in Ireland. They are not long but they are challenging, depending on the wind.  From the green tees (6,338 yards), the par 3s are 143, 148, 131, 169 yards respectfully. However, you will have to use everything from a sand wedge to a fairway wood on any given day. To me, it is the par 3s that separate the great golf courses from the good ones.

The practice green is flat as a pancake, nothing like the greens, what's with that?  

You know its going to be a bad day when they have markers in the rough to help you locate approximately where your ball might be!

You know its going to be a bad day when they have markers in the rough to help you locate approximately where your ball might be!

Yep middle of the fairway off the tee, now the big decision do you hit short and try and roll up on the green or take your chances and hit is on the green. Just hit it!  Still loving my Clubs for Hire.

Yep middle of the fairway off the tee, now the big decision do you hit short and try and roll up on the green or take your chances and hit is on the green. Just hit it!  Still loving my Clubs for Hire.


Suneel with Dunbar tours strategically organized the tour so that we only stayed in three different hotels, making for a bit more driving each day to the golf course, but less packing and unpacking.  It also meant we had great accommodation and got to experience the buzz of Dublin with the small town charm of Westport, Lahinch and Galway.  

Stephen’s Green Hotel is perfectly situated across from the famous St. Stephen’s Green Park and just minutes away from Trinity College, Temple Bar and all of Dublin’s historic attractions.  It also included a hearty breakfast every morning.

Castlecourt Hotel in Westport, was a charming hotel with an animated bar where we all learned about the Irish sport of hurling (a combination of rugby, lacrosse and field hockey). If you think Canadians are passionate about their ice hockey, you should experience the Irish watching a hurling match at a pub.

Vaughan Lodge Hotel in Lahinch offered very comfortable rooms and we even had a special dinner prepared for us one night and the breakfasts were superb. We also made good use of the cozy bar for our nightly story time.

The Corner Stone was the official bar of our tour while in Lahinch.

The Corner Stone was the official bar of our tour while in Lahinch.

Guinness Time! It was music to our ears when we heard the fresh kegs of Guinness being delivered. 

Guinness Time! It was music to our ears when we heard the fresh kegs of Guinness being delivered. 

Last Word

If I had to golf seaside links golf courses everyday (I like to golf about 75 to 100 times a year from mid-April to mid-October, Calgary’s golf season), I would quit golfing.  Golfing in Ireland is totally different than golfing in Scotland or North America - the courses are more challenging due to more and larger sand dunes, more wind and the front of the greens are not designed to allow you to roll onto them.

I always thought link-style courses allowed you to roll the ball up onto the green, but in Ireland the front of the greens often have bunkers creating a very narrow opening to roll your ball onto the green.  The greens are also designed so that any ball with enough speed to roll onto the green usually has too much speed to stay on the green. 

Though it was great to be exposed to so many courses and some of the Irish country side, I think it would have been best to play fewer courses so you could play the same course two or three times to get a good feel for the nuances of the holes and the greens.  There are enough good courses in and around Dublin you could literally just use the city as our home base.  Contact Suneel and he will set you and your buddies up with a custom tour. 

By Richard White, January 17, 2015