To many Dubliners, sport is a religion. For an ever-increasing number, it's all about faith through good works such as jogging, amateur football, cycling and yoga; for everyone else, observance is enough, especially from the living-room chair or the pub stool.
A round of golf is a highlight of many an Irish visit. Dublin's suburban courses are almost all private clubs, but many of them allow visitors on a pay-to-play basis. Tough times mean reduced green fees, especially if you book online beforehand. You'll generally need your own transport if you wish to head to any of the major courses.
One of Ireland's best courses is Portmarnock Golf Club, by the sea in North County Dublin; otherwise, there's wonderful golf to be played at Killeen Castle in Dunsany, County Meath; Carton House, just outside Maynooth in County Kildare; and Druid's Glen Resort, 45km south of the city in County Wicklow.
Sport has a special place in the Irish psyche, probably because it's one of the few occasions when an overwhelming expression of emotion won't cause those around you to wince or shuffle in discomfort. Sit in a pub while a match is on and watch the punters foam at the mouth as they yell pleasantries at the players on the screen, such as, 'They should pay me for watching you!'
Gaelic Football & Hurling
Gaelic games are at the core of Irishness; they are enmeshed in the fabric of Irish life and hold a unique place in the heart of the culture. Of the two main games, gaelic football is by far the most popular – and Dublin (www.dublingaa.ie) is the most dominant team in Ireland at the time of writing, winner of four consecutive All-Ireland Senior Championship titles between 2015 and 2018.
The big event in both sports is the All-Ireland championship, a knockout contest that begins in April and ends on the first (for hurling) and third (for football) Sunday in September with the All-Ireland Final, played at a jam-packed Croke Park, which is also where the Dubs play all of their championship matches. The All-Ireland's poorer cousin is the National Football League (there's also a National Hurling League), which runs from February to mid-April. Dublin plays its league matches at Parnell Park, which is smaller and infinitely less impressive than Croke Park, though a great place to see games up close. Tickets for league games can be easily bought at the ground; tickets for All-Ireland matches are tougher to get the further on the competition is, but those that are available can be bought online (https://gaa.tickets.ie) or at most Centra and SuperValu convenience stores throughout the city centre.
Women's Football in Dublin
The men's football team might get most of the attention, but the Dublin women's team won All-Ireland finals in 2017 and 2018, with the 2018 final – against a historically brilliant Cork team – attracting 50,141 spectators, the first women's game to break the 50,000 barrier and the most attended women's sport final in the world for that year.
Women's football – or Ladies Gaelic Football, to give it its proper name – is one of the fastest-growing participation sports in Europe. There are over 1000 clubs nationwide, a remarkable achievement given the sport was only properly established in 1974 (curiously, women's football is governed by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, not the GAA, even though they play by the same rules in the same grounds). The game's growth has accelerated apace in recent years, thanks in part to a cash injection and big promotional push by primary sponsor Lidl, the German supermarket group.
Although Dubliners are football (soccer) mad, the five Dublin teams that play in the League of Ireland (www.leagueofireland.com) are semi-pro, as the best players are all drawn to the glamour of the English Premier League. The season runs from April to November; tickets are available at all grounds.
The national side plays its home games at the Aviva Stadium; a relatively high pricing structure and the general mediocrity of the team means that home matches don't always sell out. You can buy tickets (€30 to €60) from the Football Association of Ireland.
Rugby is a big deal in certain parts of Dublin – generally the more affluent neighbourhoods of south Dublin – and the successes of both provincial side Leinster and the national team have catapulted rugby to the forefront of sporting obsessions. Three-time European champions Leinster play home games at the Royal Dublin Society Showground. Tickets for both competitions are available at the Spar opposite the Donnybrook Rugby Ground or online from Leinster Rugby (www.leinsterrugby.ie).
The premier competition is the yearly Six Nations championship, played between February and April by Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy. Home matches are played at the Aviva Stadium; tickets are available from the IRFU (www.irishrugby.ie).
Horse & Greyhound Racing
Horse racing is a big deal in Dublin, especially when you consider that Irish trainers are among the best in the world and Irish jockeys dominate the field in British racing. There are several racecourses within driving distance of the city centre that host good-quality meetings throughout the year. These include the Curragh Racecourse, which hosts five classic flat races between May and September; Fairyhouse, home of the Grand National on Easter Monday; and Leopardstown Racecourse, where the big event is February's Hennessy Gold Cup. The flat-racing season runs from March to November, while the National Hunt season – when horses jump over things – is October to April. There are also events in summer.
Greyhound racing has its aficionados, but 2019 revelations about the killing of dogs considered too slow have cast a dark pall over what was traditionally known as the poor-man's punt. Dublin's dog track is Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium in the Docklands.
Swimming & Water Sports
Dublin might have miles of beachy coastline, but swimming and water sports aren't as big a deal as they might be in, say, a destination where the climate is more conducive to being wet and outdoors. There are boating aficionados (and designated clubs) in the seaside suburbs of Dun Laoghaire, Howth and Malahide, but when it comes to regular old swimming, there's relatively little choice, although one option is the international-standard National Aquatic Centre. The relatively new sport of cable wakeboarding (waterskiing by holding on to a fixed overhead cable instead of a motorboat) is also available in the Docklands with Wakedock.
Need to Know
Football April to November
Gaelic sports April to September
Rugby internationals February to April
Two months Tickets for rugby internationals or the latter stages of the Gaelic championship.
One month Leinster rugby matches in the Champions Cup.
One week Local football matches and Gaelic league games.
Gaelic Athletic Association (www.gaa.ie)
Football Association of Ireland (www.fai.ie)
Irish Rugby Football Union (www.irishrugby.ie)
Horse Racing Ireland (www.goracing.ie)
Golf Union of Ireland (www.gui.ie)
Ladies Gaelic Football Association (www.ladiesgaelic.ie)