A Short Guide to Dublin's O'Connell Street

Dublin's O'Connell Street
© Bernd Biege 2016

O’Connell Street is Dublin’s main thoroughfare, the Irish capital’s widest (but not longest) street, and as near to being the “center of Dublin” as you can be. And even though eclipsed by the glitzy Grafton Street on the Southside, O’Connell Street and the surrounding areas are still the main shopping destination on the Northside.

From a tourist perspective it is quite easy—basically, everyone has to see O'Connell Street when visiting Dublin, and most visitors will not be able to avoid the large boulevard anyway.

Most buses run on this street, most Dublin tours touch upon this street.

O’Connell Street in a Nutshell

O’Connell Street is Dublin's main thoroughfare, with some impressive architecture—including the historic General Post Office. It also is effectively the center of Dublin and the home of the "Spire", the world's tallest sculpture.

Having said that, the area can be very crowded during office and shopping hours and may be a bit "rough" at night.

Formerly named "Sackville Street" O'Connell Street is, without doubt, the most impressive street in Dublin. Though relatively short, it is reputed to be the widest urban street in Europe. Numerous monuments, historic buildings, and a lively atmosphere await the visitor.

What to See on Dublin’s O'Connell Street

While O'Connell Street is ultimately just a typical city street and has some ugly spots, thanks to misguided attempts at modernization (e.g. the former Eircom and council offices, both now closed), its sheer domination of the city center north of the Liffey makes it unmissable in every sense.

Walking southwards from Parnell Square towards O'Connell Bridge you will see

  • The Parnell Monument, showing the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in full oratorical swing
  • A taxi rank with its own small Sacred Heart Shrine
  • The former Carlton Cinema with its painted fake windows
  • The "Spire", made from gleaming steel with an illuminated tip (reputed to be visible all over Dublin—this is a prime example of an Irish tall story, as the Spire isn’t even visible in the side streets of O’Connell Street, due to tall buildings being in the way), the world's tallest sculpture and nicknamed "The Stiletto in the Ghetto" or simply “the Needle”.
  • A statue of James Joyce a few yards away and in front of the Kylemore Café, in an almost Chaplin-esque pose, commonly known as "The Prick with the Stick"
  • The General Post Office, the main focus of the Easter Rising 1916, the main post office in Ireland, and boasting a modern museum to boot
  • Cleary's Department Store, albeit closed down for some time now and suffering through a sort of development limbo
  • The statue of Jim Larkin (trade union organizer “Big Jim” is exhorting the working masses to get off their knees, or maybe throwing his hands up in desperation)
  • The massive O'Connell Monument with an allegorical representation of all Ireland, still displaying bullet holes from the Easter Rising in some statues

The best way to enjoy O’Connell Street is as a flaneur (an aimless walker with time to spare, an almost forgotten art)—not by searching out certain hotspots, but by leisurely walking up and down the street, taking in the architecture, the artworks, and the people of Dublin. The street is always bustling and busy, even late at night (though a large amount of homeless and not-very-social people might at times make a negative impression after nightfall). And the best way to walk up and down O’Connell Street is the central reservation, where once the trams ran, rarely used these days, even when the sidewalks are clogged.

If you want to experience O’Connell Street in peace and quiet, come on a Sunday morning, when all Dublin seems to be almost deserted up to around 11 AM. If you want to experience Hell on Earth, try to navigate O’Connell Street on any shopping weekend just before Christmas in the mid-afternoon, when getting run over by a bus almost seems to be the best alternative to coping with the masses.