Drumcondra: a tale of two halves

Croke Park’s famously leafy home suburb divides neatly into Victorian and 1930s housing

Always described by estate agents as “the leafy suburb of Drumcondra”, I didn’t know just how green it really was until a recent visit. My old friend Jim, born and bred in Drumcondra and back living there after the obligatory time in London and New York City, offered to show me around. But first I was introduced to an unusual member of his household, Bertie Aheron, who is . . . a heron.

Despite being a 10-minute walk, just 2km, from Dublin’s O’Connell Street, the Tolka River runs through Drumcondra, and teems with wildlife. Jim was able to point out fluffy little white egrets, swans and squirrels, black moorhens with carmine beaks as well as the grey herons.

“Bertie had been eyeing up our back garden from the other side of the river for quite a while,” explains Jim, “but it was only after our dog died that he ventured across. He carried out a full investigation, stalking around like a Special Branch agent, poking his head around corners and into the dog’s kennel, investigating every blade of grass.” Satisfied, Bertie laid claim to this prime bit of heron real estate; Jim feeds him “a carefully curated selection of small fish”.

Apart from the Tolka River and the canal, an aerial view of Drumcondra also reveals an unusually large acreage of open green space in the suburb. Once a rural idyll outside the city, home to the great houses and estates of the wealthy and landed, many of those properties were bought up by the Catholic church in the 19th century as the original owners moved further afield. They included All Hallows College, St Patrick’s College and Holy Cross College, as well as convents. The extensive lands surrounding these institutions mostly remain intact to this day, and are often open to strollers and dog-walkers. A whistlestop tour reveals enough greenery and walks to exhaust any canine, any day, and the grandeur of the institutional buildings and their landscaped grounds is truly impressive.

Drumcondra became a township in 1878, and between then and 1900 housing stock was built to accommodate skilled workers and newly emerging middle classes. So the north Dublin suburb has a good mix of modest redbrick terraced homes, larger, more imposing Victorian housing, some original Georgian houses and later 1930s houses.

Drumcondra Road, on which most shops are to be found, runs from the canal at Binns Bridge to the Tolka River, where it changes from Lower to Upper, and then continues as far as the Swords Road, on the way to Dublin airport. Drumcondra village is generally considered to stretch from the canal to the Skylon Hotel, where Drumcondra Road becomes fully residential.

Lower Drumcondra Road has shops on only one side and has been planted with trees down the meridian — well done, Dublin city council. The Dart station is just at the top. Retail on this part of Drumcondra Road seems very stable and unchanging. Returning from London in 1989, I lived a while between the Perki Chick takeaway and the Spar. Further up, beyond the institution that is Quinns Pub, a change has taken place, however: the old orphanage at the top of Clonliffe Road has had a surprising regeneration.

The Chocolate Factory is a creative community concept pioneered by Val Ruttledge, which started out in the old Williams & Woods building on King’s Inn Street and has now spread to other locations, among them the former Sacred Heart Home at No 40 Drumcondra Road.

The building, now known as ABC Drumcondra, houses 70 small and artisan businesses, as well as a food and crafts market — where you can barter your veg — on Saturday and Sundays. One of the most popular businesses is Shouk, a Mediterranean street food restaurant run by Irish-Israeli chef Alon Saloman.

“Many people have told me that ABC Drumcondra was a big factor in their moving to the area,” says manager John Fitzgerald. “It’s such an excellent family resource. We have dance schools, a theatre school and a music school [Tempo Music School run by Robert O’Connor], Montessori and preschools, a gym, MMA and yoga, as well as shops, cafes and start-up business spaces.”

Further up the Drumcondra Road is my favourite part, a — very — leafy section that runs from the ABC building to the beautiful shopfront of Kavanaghs Pub. There is only a short run of retail spaces here, four shops set back in a beautiful location with large terraces in front.

Once known for housing Celia Larkin’s beauty shop, three of these four shops have recently come under the aegis of chef Paul Breen of the Lovely Food Company. Having been head chef in various companies and having set up and run new restaurants on many occasions, Breen decided to do it himself.

“It was 2011, in the teeth of the recession, but it was time, and I decided to go ahead,” he says. He opened the Lovely Food restaurant in Terenure first and the Drumcondra restaurant followed in January 2015, along with the Food Hall/Deli Bread & Butter, two doors down.

Lovely Food is to extend next door in July. The restaurants are fronted by seated terraces looking out on the greenery of Drumcondra Road and the Archbishop’s House — Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is a great fan of the Mars Bar cheesecake, according to Breen — and are very family and dog-friendly.

Tracy Kennedy and Julie Walsh sit down beside me with Ronaldo, a cute and wriggly pup. Kennedy and Walsh grew up in Drumcondra in the 1970s and 1980s and love it. Walsh lives in Finglas, but would “move back in a heartbeat” if she could.

“We used to play around Croke Park, swinging on the turnstiles and being allowed into matches for the second half. We all went to the same school, sisters, cousins and now daughters,” say the two friends. “Everyone knew everyone and we had street parties in summer. But the area has become a lot more expensive since the regeneration of Croke Park. Most people have to move out to get on the housing ladder now, and it can be hard to buy back in.”

Croke Park was redeveloped between 1993 and 2005. Its regeneration and the new DCU campus at St Pat’s — DCU has also taken over the All Hallows campus — are probably two of the top influences on Drumcondra. Croke Park brings in visitors and the new campus brings students but this area is also popular with families.

Martin Doyle, director of Sherry FitzGerald Drumcondra, says: “Drumcondra is an area of two halves. There is the Victorian part, around Lower Drumcondra Road, Hollybank Road, Homefarm Road; and the rest, built in the 1930s.”

There is plenty of choice, from two-bedroom period homes from €350,000 to €500,000, to large Victorian terraces at €700,000 to €800,000, adds Doyle.

Drumcondra has a good mix of shops and restaurants
Drumcondra has a good mix of shops and restaurants

“Griffith Avenue is one of the longest double tree-lined residential avenues in Europe, and commands prices from €700,000 to €1m. Behind St Patrick’s School, there is an old estate of local authority houses, which are incredibly popular. There are some mid-range houses but overall Drumcondra is an expensive spot with high demand.”

Two new developments on Grace Park Road, Grace Park Woods and Hampton, are selling well, he said.

Strolling on up the Drumcondra Road past the famous Fagan’s Pub, haunt of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and visited by Bill Clinton in 2000, food is definitely the business in Drumcondra. Not bad for a place which had only two restaurants in the 1980s, one of which, the Independent Pizza Company, is still there. “The demographic has become younger, their disposable income may not be huge but they enjoy a work/life balance,” says Breen. Choices include Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, burritos, crepes and tapas.

Thunders bakery on Drumcondra Road opened in 1969 and is still the cake bakery for what has become the Thunders chain. “Many of our older customers still remember the wedding cake or birthday cakes they got here,” says Drumcondra branch manager Martina Masterson. “We are always busy — the opening of DCU’s St Patrick’s campus and the building going on in Richmond Road have added to our customer base. There are simply more people in the area.”

Karen McHugh’s Restaurant 104, at No 104 Upper Drumcondra Road, is housed in what was Youkstetters pork butchers in an attractive run of redbrick terraced shops. Youkstetters opened in 1903, and was mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses.

McHugh’s father ran a grocery store in Drumcondra. They moved to Raheny, but she was always attached to the area, and was delighted to open in the former Youkstetters in 2007. “It was a homecoming for me; I felt like the circle had closed,” she says

She opened the Cheese Pantry deli with a small eating area, but food serving took over and McHugh rebranded in 2016. “We were seeing more young American tourists. There has also been significant new housing development, which is changing the demographic here to younger people. We are typically very busy for our gourmet brunch at weekends, a sign of the changing times.”

Responsible for a large slice of dining diversity in Drumcondra is restaurateur Ali Rashidi, who came to Ireland in 1992. He felt there was a market for a good restaurant in Drumcondra, and opened Il Corvo, an Italian restaurant.

“I looked at the many lovely homes in roads like Griffith Avenue and others, and at the queues to get into the Skylon hotel and Ivy House to eat, and I thought there was a need for more choice,” he says.

In 2002, he opened his second restaurant, Chilli Banana. “People had been so good to me in Drumcondra and I liked the area, so I decided to open a Thai restaurant,” he says. Tapas restaurant Casa Del Toro is his latest venture. Rashidi says the large houses in Drumcondra attract landlords, keen to capitalise on the local market for students. “To counterbalance that, a good supply of new affordable family homes is essential. Drumcondra is a lovely, friendly, quiet place and I’m very fond of it and its people. I would like to see that good atmosphere preserved.”

The lowdown

Amenities and attractions: Fagan’s, Quinns, Kennedy’s, The Cat and Cage and The Ivy House (with Carthy’s sports bar) are all famous Dublin pubs, in Drumcondra. There are plenty of restaurants, offering a range of cuisines. Croke Park is on the doorstep as is Tolka Park, home of Shelbourne Rovers FC. Rosmini Gaels (GAA) is based in Drumcondra.
Schools and colleges: St Patrick’s National School for boys is part of the St Patrick’s campus. Corpus Christi National School is for girls. Drumcondra National School is Church of Ireland and coeducational. St Joseph’s School for children with visual impairment is also coeducational. Dominican College Griffith Avenue and Mayfield College are both girls secondary schools and Rosmini community school is mixed. DCU St Patrick’s College is a training college for primary school teachers, while DCU All Hallows College offers postgraduate programmes. There’s also the Mater Dei Institute of Education, formerly the Roman Catholic seminary for the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Celebrity connections: Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen was born in Drumcondra. Journalist and broadcaster Eamon Dunphy grew up there, attending St Patrick’s National School. Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, pictured, was a fellow pupil, and kept his constituency office during his time as taoiseach close to his favourite pub, Fagan’s. Dermot Bannon, architect on RTE’s Room to Improve show, lives in Drumcondra.

Homes for sale in Drumcondra Castlethorn is building out Grace Park Wood, a development of three-, four- and five-bedroom homes off Griffith Avenue. Phase two has pretty much sold out, but a few five-bedroom houses are available. The five-bedroom, 187 sq m, end-terrace is €775,000. O’Mahony Pike has designed a mix of terraced, semi-detached and detached houses.Off the popular Griffith Avenue, No 7 Beresford Green is listed as a five-bedroom detached home but it also has two converted attic rooms with fitted wardrobes and skylights. The house is quite big at 250 sq m — 295 sq m with the attic space. The house sits on a big corner plot at the end of a cul-de-sac, so the south-facing back garden is not overlooked. sherryfitz.iesavills.ie

No 10 Susanville Road, a 68 sq m redbrick, has had a good makeover and extension. The two bedroom house opens straight into the sitting room, with stairs to the first floor. It has an extended kitchen with taupe fitted units, dining area with a glazed apex roof and a bathroom also on the ground floor. The dining area opens up to a small courtyard garden. sherryfitz.ie

credit – The Irish Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/drumcondra-a-tale-of-two-halves-q2w3pgmll#_=_