Discover character, culture and scenery by the gallon along the Royal Canal.

Reaching across the north of the capital from Spencer Dock to its 12th lock city limit at Castleknock, the Royal Canal skirts a resplendent stretch boasting famine heritage, a sporting temple, a mathematical discovery and brilliant biodiversity.


Started in Dublin in 1790 and completed some 27 years later in 1817, the Royal Canal's primary purpose was to ferry freight and passenger transport from the River Liffey to the Upper Shannon in County Longford. After a 50-year closure, the picturesque Royal Canal reopened in 2010.


Follow its delightful Dublin City banks and you'll soon explore leafy environs like Drumcondra, Phibsborough, Cabra, Ashtown and Castleknock. From wild watersports to wonderful walks, gorgeous grub to GAA glory; you'll find plenty to enjoy along these beautiful banks.

Immortalised in song

The Royal Canal's waters around Spencer Dock are not only laden with portside history, they feature a musical current too. A stone's throw from his childhood stomping ground of Sheriff Street, today you'll find an artistic tribute to lauded Dublin musician, Luke Kelly. This unique sculpture by Vera Klute depicts the singer with his unmistakable head of red hair, deep in song. You'll find it parallel to the water at Guild Street and Sheriff Street Upper.


Beloved folk ballad The Auld Triangle, one of Kelly's most recognisable renditions, has Royal Canal connections too. Written by Dominic Behan for his brother Brendan Behan's 1954 play The Quare Fellow, the lyrics refer to the metal triangle of Mountjoy Prison which, at that time, clanged throughout the prisoners' day:


"And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle

All along the banks of the Royal Canal"


With the play set in the prison (the playwright himself was a one-time prisoner) and with Brendan's Russell Street roots just a stroll from the banks, the Dubliner became so synonymous with the canal that today you'll find a statue of him there. Perched near the second lock at Binns Bridge, Dorset Street Lower, a bronze Behan sits on a bench as if just waiting for you to stop and chat. The same sculptor, John Coll, is also responsible for the Grand Canal's poet cast in bronze, Patrick Kavanagh.

​A sporting stretch of water

​The home of GAA since 1891, the Royal Canal unfolds behind the Davin Stand or 'canal end' of iconic Croke Park, Drumcondra. On those blisteringly hot All-Ireland final days its towpaths brim with supporters on their way to the match. Music fans are also canal-front regulars, as the stadium hosts global superstars too, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and hometown heroes U2 among them. The third largest stadium in Europe, it's also home to the fascinating GAA Museum and the incredible 17 storey-high skyline tour – now there's a view you won't forget!

Footsteps of the past

As you walk along the canal's towpath, keep an eye out for some touching memorials near Clonliffe Bridge and later, locks five, ten and 12. At these points you'll find some small bronze shoes mounted on a stone plinth. They commemorate the 1,490 Roscommon tenants who were forced from their homes by their landlord during the Great Famine. Faced with starvation, the workhouse or forced emigration, the exhausted masses – escorted by a bailiff – were made walk 167km from Roscommon to Dublin, to board ships bound for Canada. Tragically, almost half died on board or on arrival in Quebec.


Today the National Famine Way  commemorates their walk. The final leg of this moving trail joins the Dublin stretch of the Royal Canal from the 12th lock, Castleknock.

Canal calculations


Not just an idyllic waterway, the Royal Canal has also been the site of a notable 'eureka!' moment. On the 16th October 1843, while walking along the canal with his wife, mathematician and astronomer Sir William Rowan Hamilton was struck by a flash of genius. During his wander, he suddenly made a breakthrough in the formula for quaternions he had been struggling with. In a panic to make note of it, he inscribed the formula with a penknife right where he was, on Broombridge near Cabra!


The original inscription, i2 = j2=k2=ijk=-1, is long gone but a plaque commemorating the discovery was unveiled in 1958 by then-Taoiseach and one-time student of quaternions, Éamon de Valera.


Every October 16th, The Hamilton Walk re-traces the great man's steps from Dunsink Observatory in Castleknock to Broombridge, honouring this remarkable discovery by the Royal Canal.

Terrific trails, beautiful biodiversity

An impressive 146km from Dublin to Longford, the Royal Canal's Dublin banks alone showcase some stellar scenery that simply begs to be explored. Ideal to experience on foot, follow the towpath along The Royal Canal Way – a fantastic National Waymarked Trail. Starting just off the North Strand Road, this trail goes all the way to the canal's Longford end point but ticks off plenty of the waterway's Dublin delights en route.


A one hour and 46-minute walk, follow the towpath to the city limit at the 12th lock and as well as enjoying Croke Park and Brendan Behan's statue from a new vantage point, you'll embrace the area's biodiversity too. Otters, coarse fish like pike, roach and perch, as well as stunning silver birch and hawthorn trees, butterfly bushes and more, are to be admired on the way.


Ready to discover the Royal Canal for yourself? Take your pick of ways to explore its towpaths on foot or via pedal power. Treat yourself at the many indulgent food destinations that surround its banks. Dive in and explore the waters by kayak or canoe; or soak up the area's one-of-a-kind character at its many compelling cultural attractions.