If you haven’t seen it, Once is a brilliant film about a guy and a girl who have been disappointed in love and are at a kind of lay-by on the road of life. It was shot on the streets of Dublin on a micro budget, and was a huge worldwide hit, winning stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova the Best Song Academy Award for “Falling Slowly.”
For me, the film is a vivid reminder of my life at one point, as most of the shooting locations were part of my daily life when I lived in Dublin. I wasn’t a musician, but a young writer, so busking to make ends meet wasn’t an option for me. But, I had many musician friends who did, so I knew that scene well. Watching Once for the first time brought me right back to my early years after college, and the bustle of Dublin in the movie is the next-best thing to being there.
Nearly all the locations in the movie are easy to visit, so it’s surprising that nobody is offering a “Once Walking Tour” of Dublin yet. In lieu of giving you my own personal tour, here’s a virtual walking tour and map I put together.
Busking Scenes – Grafton Street
The film opens near the top of Grafton Street just by Chatham Street in front of the Laura Ashley store, and the chase scene crosses the road and goes under the Fusilier’s Arch into St. Stephen’s Green, the large park in the center of the city (also featured — in even better weather — in the film Leap Year). Grafton Street is both a great street for shopping, a place to see and be seen, but also a main cut-through between the city center and Trinity College, and some of the residential areas on the South side, so it’s always thronged with people. And yes, the Hari Krishna’s come dancing and singing through it daily.
Repair Shop — Harold’s Cross
The repair shop scene was shot in Harold’s Cross on the south side of Dublin. It’s a real vacuum repair shop, so you can walk by and have a gawk if you care to. My wife loves the way the Da is always in his chair by the stove in the kitchen. That’s exactly where my Da sits, and most of the Irish fathers I know have “their” chair in the corner by the stove. It’s those little details that make Once such an accurate depiction of Irish life.
The only real attraction Harold’s Cross boasts is a stadium for greyhound racing, which is a spectacle everyone should watch once.
Dragging the Hoover — George’s Street Arcade
“Guy” and “Girl” walk through the eclectic George’s Street Arcade dragging the busted hoover behind them (my favorite image from the film) and have a cup of coffee in Simon’s Place Cafe (22 South Great Georges Street). The arcade is an institution, full of oddball art, and random ephemera. The last time I was there I found a stall selling Japanese manga next to tacky college-dorm posters, and funky jewellers next to antiquarian booksellers. It’s a great place for a wander.
Music Store — Walton’s
“Falling Slowly” was shot at Walton’s Music, 69/70 George’s Street, Dublin. According to Internet gossip, the store has had to ban people from playing “Falling Slowly” on their pianos. I pity anyone who works in a music shop, the best way to lose your love for certain songs must be the hear them played badly over and over again.
Recruiting the Musicians — Harry Street
The buskers they recruit for the recording session are playing on Harry Street beside a famous restaurant called Bruxelles. Out of shot is the excellent little pub McDaids, beloved of Brendan Behan and his literary cronies in the good auld days of Irish literary mayhem. It’s well worth having a pint there.
The statue is of the great Irish rock god Phil Lynott, lead singer and songwriter of the band Thin Lizzy, who grew up in Dublin. He died as a result of years of drug addiction in 1985, but he’s not forgotten, and Thin Lizzy remain very popular in Ireland.
The idea that one can simply find quality musicians on any street in the city is not very far fetched. Dublin (and Ireland, really) is full of excellent musicians. Check out a pub like the tourist-friendly Oliver St. John Gogarty’s in Temple Bar. They have music every night of the week, and if you get chatting with the musicians, you’ll soon discover that most are professional session musicians who are often asked to record with various famous artists who happen to be recording in Dublin. One of my favorite CDs is a collection of popular songs, “Gogarty’s Music,” by those musicians. I’ve found Irish dance teachers in the wilds of NC using it, and got talking with complete strangers who visited Ireland ten years ago and listen to it all the time. You can buy the CD from the musician’s themselves, and it’s one of those mysterious things that you keep coming across to remind you that the world isn’t such a big place after all.
Final conversation — Temple Bar
The morning after their triumphant recording session, guy and girl walk through Temple Bar, the trendy, cobblestoned heart of tourist Dublin. When I first lived in the city it was just beginning to be revitalized from a depressed zone of cheap rents and squalor, into the mecca of trendy bars, foreign films, art galleries, and expensive flats that it has become. I’m not entirely negative about the changes, as the area’s nightlife and galleries played a big part in my life once upon a time. But the old, authentic Dublin pubs have gone, and been replaced by some of the most-expensive pints in the city, so I generally choose to drink elsewhere now. One of the best bookstores in the city, the Gutter Bookshop, can be found in Temple Bar, along with the fabulous Project Arts Center, and the aforementioned Oliver St. John Gogarty’s pub, for which I retain a soft spot.
Once Walking Tour
So, you can walk from Grafton St. to St. Stephen’s Green, around the corner to George’s St. and have a pint on Harry St. beside the Phil Lynott statue, and then stroll down Grafton St. across College Green and into the Temple Bar area all without getting a leg cramp.
Map Key: Sites in blue=main city-center places featured in the film; Sites in orange=other locations used around Dublin & nearby major tourist attractions.
If I was a tour guide, the map above would be the key stops on my walking tour. You’ll have to zoom in to see the map properly — perhaps as I get more proficient with Google Maps I’ll be able to get it to crop to the relevant area automatically. The walking tour is designed for your two feet (and many of the streets are pedestrian-only. But, you’ll likely need a car to reach the couple of locations outside the city center where key scenes were shot.
Girl’s Flat — Mountjoy Square
The girl’s apartment (or ‘flat,’ as we say in Ireland) is in Mountjoy Square. This is the highlight of the film for me because that’s where I used to live before I moved the US (in fact you can see “my” building over her shoulder before she gets on the motorbike. I lived in the same kind of no-frills flat in a drafty, old Georgian building, but without the community of immigrant neighbors learning English from bad Irish soap operas. Perhaps, the best way to orient visitors to find Mountjoy Square is to suggest walking up O’Connell Street from the spire towards the Gate Theater (and why don’t you stop in and grab tickets for a performance when you’re passing — it’s a brilliant venue). Keep going straight when O’Connell St. turns into North Frederick St. for one more block. Here you can pause and stroll around the Garden of Remembrance (where the Queen laid a wreath to honor the Irish war dead). Across the street are two places well worth visiting: The Hugh Lane Gallety of Modern Art and the Dublin Writer’s Museum.
Turning right from N. Frederick St. onto Gardiner Place, you’ll walk two blocks to Mountjoy Square. Three sides of the square look basically the same: tall Georgian Townhouses with characteristic fanlight windows above the front door. The building used for the exterior of the girl’s flat is on the opposite side of the square from O’Connell St. Word to the wise, however, the area can be a little dodgy, so be careful.
“Do ya still love him?” — Killiney Hill
When they take their motorbike ride, the go to a place called Killiney Hill on the south side of the city. This is the area some of the big shots live, like Bono, etc. I once went to a great party on the beach just below where the scene where he asks her if she still loves her husband and she answers in Czech was shot. Just take the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit, a train) from the city center (it takes a while), get off at Killiney station and walk back along the beach. Or, you could get yourself down there by car (or motorbike, if you have connections).
Don’t be tempted to swim here; the Irish Sea is cold, cold, cold and it’s always windy. As a general rule, the best way to experience Ireland’s east coast beaches is with a large bonfire, a nagin of whiskey and a lot of friends with musical instruments. (And I can say from experience that Killiney beach is perfect for this — the only drawback is the distance from city center hotels and the paucity of late-night taxis. But, then odds are if you’re partying on the beach you’re likely to be with a group of local friends anyway.
Final Beach — Dollymount Strand
The beach at the end is Dollymount Strand, but if you already visited the beach at Killiney, then Dollymount will be second best. The beach is on Bull Island, basically a large sand bar connected by a bridge to the mainland proper. The island is a bird sanctuary, so twitchers flock there (sorry, couldn’t resist). There’s two golf courses, and the beach is a popular place for kite surfing, if you enjoy your extreme sports. One word of caution, however, the strand is a traditional place for Dubliners to learn to drive (at low tide, naturally), so keep your eye out for over-excited teenagers terrifying their red-faced, anxious parents by trying to turn donuts in the family people-carrier.
Once is one of my favorite Irish films ever, and probably the most realistic and accurate of them all. If you’re in Dublin anytime soon, and you’ve seen the movie, you should check out some of the real-life locations (whether or not you wander around with the soundtrack on your iPod is up to you).
If anyone has noticed any other locations, please let me know in the comments. And, is the broadway show any good? I’ve been wary of going to see it as I fear it might disappoint without the authentic sights and sounds of Dublin.
Buy the Once soundtrack…
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