North Bull Island: The Walk, Bull Wall And The Island’s History

north bull island
Photos via Shutterstock

Off the mainland of Ireland, and the shoreline of Clontarf, lies North Bull Island; a 5km long spit of land.

Inhabited only by birds and wildlife, the island has played a part in subduing the wild Irish Sea, and it’s home to one of our favourite walks in Dublin – the North Bull Island walk.

Conntcted to the mainland via the Bull Wall, North Bull Island is a fine (and always blustery!) place to spend an hour or two.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from where to park and the Bull Island Beach to where the walks starts and ends.

Some quick need-to-knows before you visit North Bull Island

bull wall dublin
Photo by luciann.photography (Shutterstock)

Although a visit to North Bull Island is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You’ll find North Bull Island just 10kms northeast from Dublin City Centre. You’ll travel through Clontarf, and can walk over on foot via either the wooden bridge or Causeway Road. Don’t worry; the causeway crossing isn’t tidal, so you won’t get stuck on the island!

2. Parking

Driving to the island is a great idea, but there aren’t any specific car parks on the island itself. Parking is available on a first-come basis along the Bull Wall. Warning: do not block access to the path.

3. Golf courses

Or, if you fancy a round of golf, there is parking available for members and players at the club. Alternatively, park at St. Anne’s Car Park on Clontarf Road, and cross over to the island on foot.

4. A fine spot for coffee and a ramble

Once on the island, you can go pretty much anywhere you like, so it’s ideal to ramble about, but do dress warmly as the winds can be fierce. Bird or wildlife watching is popular, and when you’re peckish or thirsty, head to the cafe Happy Out, near Bull Wall, and revive yourself.

A brief history of North Bull Island

happy out bull island dublin
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Prior to the construction of the Bull Wall, the mouth of the Liffey River had a history of silting up, which caused havoc to passenger and cargo ships alike. The Great South Wall was first in 1730, followed by a stronger stone pier in 1761.

At the same time, Poolbeg Lighthouse was constructed. Prior to 1801, Dublin Port authorised Captain William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) to investigate the continuing silting; the result of which was to build a second sea barrier, the North Bull Wall.

In 1819 the Bull Island Bridge was built, followed by the construction of the stone North Bull Wall. Bligh’s plan to use Venturi action was proved right, and the river mouth cleared from 1.8mtrs to a shipping depth of 4.8mtrs.

The island, formed by the growing displaced sand, has been used for shooting practice, a golf course, walking track, and military training facility, including trench warfare during World War I.

Whilst there have been numerous suggestions and plans to turn the island into a recreation island (the first drive-in movie premiered here in 1921), it has remained unfettered. Instead, it has been a haven for nature lovers, and accessible for day-trippers from the city. In more recent times it has also become a bird and wildlife sanctuary and reserve.

What to see around North Bull Island

One of the reasons that the area is one of the most popular day trips from Dublin is due to the sheer volume of things there are to see and do.

Below, you’ll find everything from the North Bull Island walk and Bull Island Beach to places nearby to grab a bite-to-eat.

1. Dollymount Strand (aka ‘Bull Island Beach’)

Dollymount beach
Photos via Shutterstock

All that sand sucked back out to sea has certainly found an appreciated home on the island. Bull Island Beach, or rather Dollymount Strand, is a 5km long stretch of sand that forms a spectacular pleasure beach.

With a wide beach that sweeps into the Irish Sea, and long grassy sand dunes behind it, the Dollymount Strand has become a very popular spot for soaking up the rays or splashing about in the refreshing sea water.

Should you plan to visit, you can access the beaches via the Causeway Road, or Bull Island Bridge, but do be aware that there are strong winds, and no amenities at the beach. The nearest cafe is Happy Out, at the Bull Wall end of the island.

2. Bull Wall

bull wall dublin
Photo by luciann.photography (Shutterstock)

Built as part of the defence against the River Liffey silting up, the Bull Wall is a stone sea barrier that stretches out into the Irish Sea from the southern end of North Bull Island.

One of the many benefits of the sea wall is the protected swimming and sea bathing it provides. But, be aware that it is very breezy, so dress warmly even on warm summer days.

There are no facilities or amenities to speak of on the island, but you can always finish your seaside stroll at the cafe, Happy Out. Grab a coffee, or an ice cream, and take in the view of Dublin Bay and the city’s skyline.

3. The North Bull Island walk

Now, in the map above you’ll see how we tend to tackle the North Bull Island walk, as we generally have to drive to Clontarf and park on the Bull Wall.

You can start this walk where you like, but the route in the map above just gives you and idea of where the trail goes.

This is a fairly handy walk and will take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on 1, pace and 2, whether you stray into St. Anne’s Park.

The North Bull Island walk is a great ramble, but be warned – you need to dress appropriately. Even on a fine day the wind here will cut you.

4. The golf course

If you fancy a round or two of golf, the St. Anne’s Golf Club welcomes and encourages visiting golfers to take to its greens. The course is located at the northern end of the island and offers its guests an enjoyable 18-hole course.

With sea views, and picturesque greens, there’s no such thing as a slow game; but do try to focus and not get too distracted by the spectacular scenery!

The golf club also has a Pro Shop, and clubhouse with full restaurant and bar facilities, and is only a short taxi ride back to the city centre if you don’t feel like driving.

Places to visit near Bull Island

One of the beauties of Bull Island is that it’s a short spin away from some of our favourite places to visit in Dublin (it’s also very close to many of the best restaurants in Clontarf!).

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Bull Island (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. St. Anne’s Park (7-minute drive)

St. Anne's Park
Photo by Giovanni Marineo (Shutterstock)

Located just opposite Bull Island is St. Anne’s Park, named after the nearby holy well. The River Naniken runs through the park and leads into several artificial ponds and waterways. There is a rose garden, arboretum, and cafe to keep you energised while you wander through the magnificent tree collection. Clontarf Castle is a stone’s throw away, too.

2. Howth (16-minute drive)

howth boat cruise
Photo by Peter Krocka (Shutterstock)

Well worth the drive, the coastal village of Howth is home to plenty to see and do. With a small, but active, harbour it is the very picture of an Irish fishing village. There’s plenty of things to do in Howth, from Howth Castle to the Howth Cliff Walk.

3. Dublin City (20-minute drive)

phoenix park walks
Photos via Shutterstock

Of course, the biggest attraction to Bull Island is its proximity to Dublin city. A quick 20-minute drive, or 40-minutes by train/bus, and the city’s attractions are yours for the discovering. Don’t forget to check out the Phoenix Park, the Guinness Storehouse and the many other Dublin City attractions.

FAQs about the North Bull Island walk and the history of the area

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Where does the North Bull Island walk start?’ to ‘What is the to see nearby?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Can you drive onto North Bull Island?

No. You used to be able to drive onto Bull Island, but this is no longer the case. You can park on Bull Wall, which is right next to it.

Can you walk around Bull Island?

Yes, the North Bull Island walk is well worth doing and it’ll treat you to views of the surrounding area, as well as the Wicklow Mountains and beyond.

Katherine is an food and travel writer with family-roots in Ireland. She enjoys hitting the road at every given opportunity, and can often be found with an atlas and notebook to hand planning the next big trip.

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