Once bustling industrial hubs full of mills, warehouses, coal and dockyards, today Grand Canal Dock and Spencer Dock are vibrant hubs of a different kind. These characterful areas and their historic waters are home to fantastic food, cultural corners, picturesque panoramas and much more.
From musical history to pilgrims of the past, not to mention awesome architecture, watch out for some intriguing hidden gems as you explore these two of a kind destinations.
A dear Dubliner
Created to mark the 35th anniversary of his death, activist, singer, musician and founding member of The Dubliners, Luke Kelly is remembered with an eye-catching sculpture near Spencer Dock. Instantly recognisable with his curly russet locks, artist Vera Klute designed the piece which stands on the edge of Spencer Dock by Kelly’s childhood neighbourhood, Sheriff Street.
Known for his rousing rendition of The Auld Triangle, a tune forever associated with the nearby Royal Canal, this is the perfect spot to reflect on the departed Dubliner’s immense talent.
Argentina’s Irish Admiral
Three-minutes’ walk from the south end of Samuel Beckett Bridge along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, you’ll find a bronze sculpture that curiously connects County Mayo to Argentina. Unveiled in 2006, a statue of Admiral William Brown stands resolute on the quayside.
The Foxford-born navalman was the founder and first admiral of Argentina's maritime forces and is widely considered the father of the Argentine Navy. The bronze ode to Brown was cast in Argentina and is a replica of a sculpture that honours the great man in Buenos Aires too.
Inside Dublin’s diving bell
Easy to spot, especially if you’re crossing over Samuel Beckett Bridge between Spencer Dock towards Grand Canal Dock, the rust-coloured diving bell is a fascinating piece of dockland history. From 1871 to 1958, this 13-metre tall, 90-tonne juggernaut was used to build the quay walls of Dublin Port.
Designed by Bindon Blood Stoney, a renowned engineer whose credits included O’Connell Bridge, today it’s perched on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and houses a small interpretive centre. Inside the impressive diving bell, you’ll gain astounding insight into its remarkable role. Like a giant cookie cutter, the bottomless bell was lowered into the river, water was then pumped out of it and compressed air was piped into it. This allowed up to six men to climb down the funnel and excavate the riverbed from the inside, in preparation for the massive concrete blocks needed to create the quay walls. The process would then continue piece by piece, until the port’s riverbed puzzle was complete.
The moniker of Misery Hill
The street names around Grand Canal Dock hint at a history much older than its tech-hub status or even its long-established canal heritage. On Grand Canal Square, right by the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre , watch out for an unassuming sign marking Misery Hill.
Back in the 1200s, the docklands was the site of one of the hospitals that pilgrims, en route from James’ Street to Spain’s Camino de Santiago, would stop at before boarding ships and setting sail. These basic hospital sites were most likely built by monks and provided pilgrims with first aid and medical treatment before they embarked on their spiritual journey abroad.
Owing to this hospital’s very primitive conditions, it was widely considered miserable which over time evolved into the placename Misery Hill. Some 800+ years later, the name still stands albeit now surrounded by far happier sights, activities and attractions!
Grand Canal Square
Not quite a hidden gem, it is after all 10,000 square metres in size, Grand Canal Square does deserve a closer look though. You’ll spot it from the Viking Splash tour as it trundles through the water , you’ll cross it en route to an evening of fine dining at The Marker Hotel and you’ll admire its red beacons lighting up the air as you leave the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre after a star-studded show.
One of the city’s largest paved public spaces, Grand Canal Square was designed by American landscape architect Martha Schwartz. This innovative urban space boasts a red ‘carpet’ of sorts, that extends from the door of the theatre right out to the water’s edge. While another green ‘carpet’ intersects it, bringing an injection of grass, vegetation and seating areas.
Truly striking and almost space-age in style, with its angled, glowing light sticks peppering the waterfront – you can’t miss this not-so-hidden gem.
Among the inspiring architecture, buzzing restaurants and sleek outdoor spaces of Grand Canal Dock, a row of low-rise warehouses overlook the water from Hanover Quay. For more than 20 years, the recording studios within these unassuming buildings have been U2 HQ. This is where the seminal Dublin band recorded six of their 14 albums to date and unsurprisingly, it’s become something of a music fan mecca.
Covered in adoring graffiti, after some Bono-spotting here, be sure to take a five-minute stroll to the very end of the quay. At the locks connecting Hanover Quay to Ringsend, you can recreate a little U2 moment for yourself... These very locks are where the band shot the cover of their second album, October, in 1981.
And just a nine-minute walk around the dock to Ringsend Road takes you to another revered recording studio. Also closely associated with U2, seven of their albums have been recorded or partially recorded there, if the walls of Windmill Lane Recording Studios could talk…
Between its original location from 1978-88 on nearby Windmill Lane and its subsequent three decades perched by Grand Canal Dock, the studios have hosted the likes of U2, Van Morrison, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, Hozier, Kate Bush, New Order, The Spice Girls, R.E.M., Sinéad O’Connor and scores more. Book an exclusive tour of the studios and learn all about how these musical luminaries made magic behind the mic.
Discover more ways to explore Dublin Canals, check out our Highlights section.