Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Paddy's Day from Bull Island

Seeing that the weather forecast for St. Patrick's Day 2015 was looking favorable, and wanting to avoid the crowds of drunken foreigners in City Centre, we made plans to do something new, adventurous, and outdoorsy for the day. Having already visited so many of Dublin's human-made and natural highlights, we had precious few choices for new outdoor entertainment in the city.

We finally decided on North Bull Island, a small, sandy island on Dublin's north shore. We'd always meant to take a walk on this unique combination nature preserve/golf course/community beach, but it's a bit out of the way. With most of Paddy's Day to spare, we decided a quick ride on the DART to De Nort' Soide and Bull Island would be perfect.

This strange little island formed relatively recently, a consequence of the construction of the north and south walls out of the River Liffey into Dublin Bay. The wallsdesigned by Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame—created a strong tidal pull that helped keep the river mouth from silting and hindering shipping. When the walls were finished, the tide did indeed clean out the river into Dublin's Docklands, but all that silt had to go somewhere, and it ended up piling up just beyond the end of the north wall. The sand and silt pileup soon formed the island that Dubliners know and love today.

Poolbeg Lighthouse from Bull Island
Poolbeg Lighthouse from Bull Island

Much of the island today is a set-aside nature preserve for the many species of birds, plants, and mammals that call this unique little stretch of sand and scrub home. The grass is prickly, there are very few trees or woody plants, and the sandy soil rises and falls in rolling dunes throughout the island. This gives it a very alien feel—it's difficult to remember that you're still standing in Dublin City when looking at scenes like this.

Which Planet is This? Dublin's Bull Island
Which Planet is This?

We walked a circuit around the north side of the island, taking the seaward-facing beach one way and following the grassy dunes on the return. The impressive beach, known locally as Dollymount Strand, stretches for more than a mile, and on the hazy day we visited, it was difficult to see either end from the middle.

Dollymount Strand on North Bull Island
Dollymount Strand

We've heard this is a popular beach for sunbathing, kite surfing, and learning to drive (?), but on this chilly spring day, it was just a quiet beach with dog-walkers, families, and two Americans getting away from the scrum of the city.

Before heading into the scrubby grass, we asked a local walker if there were any established trails on the island. He laughed as he said, "Go wherever you want! The hares make the trails!"

We quickly saw what he meant, as the rolling dunes of the inner island were crisscrossed with small paths and dotted with rabbit holes.

On the way back, we passed one of the two (!) golf courses on the island. Both of them date back to pre-independence times, so I'll go ahead and blame the English for building (and Irish government gridlock for keeping) golf courses on a nature preserve.

After a nice walk on one of the most unique little habitats in Ireland, we were ready for an American-style St. Patrick's Day meal. I made some marble rye bread, and we assembled reuben sandwiches with some cobbled-together ingredients from the supermarket.

An Irish-American Classic!
A Midwest American Classic!

Yes, that's right, American friends: reuben sandwiches (and their sister dish corned beef & cabbage) are much more American than Irish. Although potatoes and cabbage are indeed staples here, I've yet to meet a corned beef fanatic, and Irish supermarket store shelves are far from heaping with corned beef choices. Want a traditional Irish "salty meat with watery vegetables" meal? Get some unspiced pork sausage, unsmoked bacon, cabbage, and potatoes and make Dublin coddle, a classic enjoyed all over Ireland... for some reason.

Hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday!


  1. Good choice getting away from "it"! Looks like a great day. A shame about the weather. St Paddy's ended up being as grey as the eclipse :P

    1. We had a great day out, weather regardless!


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