Dún Laoghaire or Dún Laoire, sometimes anglicised as “Dunleary”, is a suburban seaside town and county town of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Count. The town is situated about twelve kilometres south of Dublin city centre and is a major port of entry from Great Britain. From 1821 to 1921, the town was officially known as Kingstown.
The present town of Dún Laoghaire dates from the 1820s. An earlier Dun Laoghaire village was located around the area where “The Purty Kitchen” pub is now located (sometimes mapped as “Old Dun Laoghaire”). Dun 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 on which the town is currently located was a craggy, rocky pasture area with some quarries.
The events of the night of November 18th/19th 1807 were to lead eventually to the transformation of the area. On that night, the troopships – the Prince of Wales and the Rochdale – both of which had departed from Dublin, were driven on the rocks between Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire with the combined loss of over 400 lives.
This disaster gave new impetus to an existing campaign for a new harbour to be constructed near Dublin. By 1816, the legislation was passed authorising the construction of what is now called the ‘West Pier’. When King George IV came to visit the new port under construction in 1821, the name Dunleary was dropped in favour of the name ‘Kingstown’. The town returned to its former name with the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921.
Dún Laoghaire has one main shopping street, George’s Street, as well as two shopping centres: the Dún Laoghaire Shopping Centre and Bloomfields, the former dating from 1977. Recent years have seen some commercial development of the land around the George’s Street area, including the old Pavilion Cinema and Theatre site opposite the town hall. There is a regular antiques fair held bi-monthly on Sundays in the Royal Marine Hotel, near the harbour and a weekly farmers market held in the People’s Park on Sundays.
Dún Laoghaire has associations with many leading cultural figures, most notably James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.
Joyce’s stay with Oliver St. John Gogarty in a Martello tower in nearby Sandycove he later immortalised in the opening chapter of Ulysses. This tower, known as the James Joyce Tower, is in nearby Sandycove. It contains a small museum.
Samuel Beckett came from nearby Foxrock and is said to have experienced an artistic epiphany, alluded to in his play Krapp’s Last Tape, while sitting on the end of one of Dún Laoghaire’s piers. A bronze plaque marks the spot.
Dún Laoghaire is home to the Festival of World Cultures, a three day festival dedicated to music from all corners of the globe. It is one of the largest music festivals in Ireland attracting over a quarter of a million visitors to the town over a weekend in August.
A new purpose built theatre, the Pavilion, opened its doors in 2000. Built on the site of the 1903 ‘Kingstown Pavilion’, it serves as the Municipal Theatre for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and is a host venue for a number of important festivals including the International Puppet Festival, and, recently, the Dublin Theatre Festival.
St Michael’s Church is home to the longest-running series of organ concerts in Ireland, featuring the famous 1974 organ by Rieger Orgelbau which is the only organ of its type in Ireland.The National Maritime Museum of Ireland is housed in “Mariners’ Church”, which formerly served the British Navy, and is situated in the town centre, alongside a spiral walk, pond and public bowling ground.
A Carnegie library, with a modern extension, is located on Library Road, and hosts the county library headquarters. A new central library will be built alongside the maritime museum.There is a tiny oratory (4m x 6m) described as a “gem of Celtic Renaissance Art”.