Dublin Strolls by Gregory and Audrey Bracken, Reviewed

It is usually when we play host to an overseas visitor or have children that we are faced with answering direct questions like “What is that building?” or “Who is that street named after?”

Sometimes, the architectural landscape is overlooked in our early education in favour of making sure we have digested every single lake, river, island, and mountain range in Ireland. But stopping to consider the names of streets, parks, and avenues reveals centuries of folklore, landowning families, political allegiances, and religious devotion.

Enter Dublin Strolls (Collins Press, 2016), a book not only rich in historical information but also architectural detail and routes for the urban explorer. These well-devised city trails are a manual to reading the city of Dublin.

The Bracken siblings have spent years putting together this 128-page publication. Architect Gregory devised the routes and pretty line drawings. Audrey undertook the research that brings these streets to life.

They have also published guides to London, New York, Paris, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Singapore. Being an A5 paperback makes this one a handy size for the urban explorer.

The years spent working abroad have given them fresh eyes for their native city. The book opens with a quick run-through of the historical layers, from Viking origins through the Medieval period and the Georgian and Victorian eras, right up to the present day.

The authors successfully manoeuvre the reader through the complicated political, religious, and social events that have left their marks on the city. They present modern Dublin in a positive light but without rose-tinted glasses; the excesses of the Celtic Tiger and the stag-party culture of Temple Bar both get mentions.

Dublin Strolls by Gregory and Audrey Bracken (Collins Press, 2016)

They stress that the people and culture make the city, including famous pubs and biographies of the city’s more-famous inhabitants. This rich tapestry includes Dublin folk songs recounting notorious areas such as Monto.

Audrey’s degree in English Literature and Classics shines through, with the book highlighting the fact that the city itself has been a character for many famous writers, most obviously in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Dublin Strolls is clear and concise, but it has flashes of action. “By the eighteenth century Dublin had begun to burst its medieval seams,” the authors write.

This book is a descendant of the traditional heavy architectural tomes but in an easy-to-read format with clear plans and fascinating snippets of trivia in the “Did you know?” sections. These are great for making one sound like a right little know-it-all.

Buildings are grouped by district rather than stylistically or chronologically, making it easy to dip in and out. There are 10 walks in all, each starting with a map and a rough indication of its duration, ranging from one to a couple of hours.

For the more adventurous rambler, there is also a “Further Afield” section, which takes in buildings and places a short ride from the city centre, Howth to the north and Dún Laoghaire to the south.

The book contains almost 100 hand-drawn illustrations, pleasing in their timelessness and a nudge to discover the texture, materials, and colours of the buildings around us. No matter how many street signs and benches and poles clutter the street, a building will not lose its form and features.

Some of my favourite, less-celebrated buildings are also nestled in the walks: the Gaeity Tower and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. As well as obvious candidates in convenient tourist hit-lists, such as Christ Church, the Guinness Storehouse and Stephen’s Green, there are hiddenish gems such as Tailors’ Hall.

The book has the lovely tone of a knowledgeable friend, and includes practical advice on the opening hours for public buildings and whether admission charges apply.

We are fortunate that Dublin is such a walkable city so far as capitals go. But many of us are too removed from our city, sat off the ground in cars and buses, while pedestrians participate in the street life, saunter through laneways, by the food vendors, cafés, markets — the gastronomy of the eye.

These walks are a chance to get absorbed in the city and lost in the navigation. With our lives so scheduled, it is a joy to have suggested routes that can be navigated at one’s own pace.

Even though I have spent eight years studying history, there are details that the eyes of an architect will pick out better than mine. I would happily trade one of mine for their kaleidoscopic ones that easily transposes what they see through their hand like a seismograph.

Gregory’s architectural background marries perfectly with Audrey’s historical and literary insights. For this I would recommend Dublin Strolls to anybody new to Dublin, or wanting to entertain visiting friends, or even those who just need to be re-energised about their city through a vibrant treasure hunt.

You will be delighted at just how charming this book and Dublin can be.


An exhibition of drawings from Dublin Strolls will run from Tuesday 19 April until 3 May at the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland at 8 Merrion Square. It will be open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm and entry is free.

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Emma Gilleece: Emma Gilleece is an architectural historian with an MSc in Urban and Building Conservation from UCD. She is deputy editor for Architecture Ireland and HOUSE+DESIGN.

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