Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pat Liddy Royal Canal Walk

Earlier this Spring, the Dublin City Council Let's Walk and Talk programme continued with another guided walk by the incomparable Dublin historian Pat Liddy. This walk explored a neighborhood of Dublin we hadn't ever had reason to explore, the Royal Canal in North Dublin.

The tour began in the Phibsboro area, near the Cross Guns Bridge and the Porterhouse North. We arrived early and had time for a quick drink at the Porterhouse, as they brew some of our favorite local beers, like the Plain Porter.

Porterhouse North and Cross Guns Bridge Dublin
Porterhouse North and Cross Guns Bridge

Plain Porters Porterhouse North Dublin
Plain Porters

The walk followed the Royal Canal, Dublin's other canal. The Grand Canal flows through southern Dublin and on all the way across the country. It was used to carry freight commercially until surprisingly recently. It will have its own exploratory post, but we are on the Royal Canal today.

The Royal Canal was a split-off venture by a former Grand Canal employee who wanted his own darn canal to ship products from the industrial centers of Dublin out into the countryside. It was an engineering nightmare and an unmitigated commercial disaster, but it leaves us with a beautiful urban waterway today.

The Royal Canal and Croke Park Dublin
The Royal Canal and Croke Park

Old Mills and a Canal Lock Dublin
Old Mills and a Canal Lock

The canal, just like its Grand cousin, operates with a long series of manually-operated locks to navigate the changes in elevation. It was built on land much steeper than that of the Grand Canal, and thus required many more time consuming lock-throughs by shipping barges. 

The locks operate like locks on any other river, they wall off water of different heights. When a boat needs to pass through, the gate opens and the boat enters. The gate closes behind the boat and the water level is adjusted to the level of the opposite side. The other gates then open and the boat can pass. This process takes time, and only one barge can lock through at once. This led to traffic pileups and delays on the canal as boats overwhelmed the hand-powered locks.

Royal Canal Lock Dublin
Royal Canal Lock

The Canal passes by several important Dublin landmarks. In the distance from Phibsboro, we can see Glasnevin Cemetery and the National Botanic Gardens, both worth another post. We pass right beside famous Croke Park, home of Ireland's GAA Gaelic Sports organization and where we will see Penn State and Central Florida square off in our first American Football game in August.

Croke Park Dublin
Croke Park

The canal also passes by Mountjoy Prison, an old and still operational prison for Irish criminals. Apparently living conditions in the prison haven't improved or changed much since it was first built, and life inside is pretty rough. The prison does have some international fame via a song written about it by Brendan Behan, famous Irish revolutionary and writer. The song, The Auld Triangle, describes the sound of the large triangle rung in the prison to announce times for waking up, eating, working, and other regular prison activities.

Perhaps you've heard it?

It was somewhat falsely attributed to Justin Timberlake when we contributed supporting vocals to the track for the movie soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis. J.T. had to release communications that he was not the lead on the track. The song itself introduces us to such colorful terms as bowsy and humpy gussy. A statue of Behan on a bench sits across the canal from the prison today.

Brendan Behan Statue Dublin
Brendan Behan

Near the end of the tour, we passed by the famous Five Lamps. There are several vague references as to why this is some famous landmark. It sits at the junction of five streets, and has been at this corner for a long time, but it has somehow passed into local myth and legend. It lends its name to the Arts Festival and another of our favorite local beers. I guess it's just one of those things that gets a reputation that sticks. Only real born-and-bred Dubliners, more specifically Northsiders, are supposed to get it, so I guess I'll never qualify.

The Five Lamps Dublin
The Five Lamps

The tour finished up at Spencer Dock, the entrance to the Royal Canal from the River Liffey. We had a great time exploring and hearing stories about a part of Dublin we would probably never have visited. The canal is beautiful if somewhat littered as will be any urban waterway. The walkway follows the canal all the way to its source, so that may one day be a walking/cycling project for us to explore.

To take a self-guided version of this tour, just follow the canal. The walking trail sometimes leaves the canalside near rail lines and at certain bridges. It is strongly recommended to take the tour in full daylight, as the canal goes through some rough areas.

In the meantime, we'll be back at least in August for College Football! Get hyped!


  1. Great post Cory..As a Dub I learned some new information...the five lamps was used as a way of telling people they were annoying you and you'd like them to stop..."Do you know the five lamps?" If they were a Dub they knew what was going to be said next and would leave you alone..If they were a culchie they'd say they do know the five would come " well go and hang your bollix off it"...If you wanted to say someone was a real dub you could use the famous saying " He's more Dub than Rasher Tierny eating a bowl of coddle while telling a culchie to hang his bollox off the five lamps"

    1. Wow, that's a mouthful. Thanks for clarifying the Five Lamps mystery. Will sharing the secret with an outsider cost you your Dub card?


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