Stillorgan Bowl RIP

There is something very eery about looking at the shell of a partially demolished building. It’s a stark reminder of the fragility and transient nature of absolutely everything. We take buildings for granted and assume they will be around forever.

Driving through my old stomping ground of Stillorgan recently I saw the old bowling alley being demolished. I had to pull over and let all the memories flood back.

Even though I’m originally from Stillorgan, this is my first post on my old hood on this blog. In some ways, I’m guilty of not really doing Stillorgan justice. I assumed that history happened elsewhere, in pretty coastal towns and villages like Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire and Dalkey. Stillorgan is a salubrious suburb, but somewhat sleepy and uneventful. It doesn’t have any real village character left.

But I was wrong. Like everywhere else, Stillorgan is steeped in history. The name is a Danish or Anglo Norman corruption of Teach Lorcáin, ‘the house or church of Lorcan (Laurence)’, possibly signifying St. Laurence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin, who Kilmacud parish church is named after.

Stillorgan is best known as a suburb of modern firsts. The first shopping centre in Ireland. One of the first branches of McDonald’s outside the city centre, and the first bowling alley in Ireland, which even predated the shopping centre across the road.

Stillorgan Bowling Centre, as this advertisement describes it, opened in 1963. The Sixties were a time of enormous economic growth in Ireland, when Dublin rapidly expanded into its then semi-rural hinterlands.

The Stillorgan Bowl was an instant hit. Generations of people went bowling to celebrate a birthday, or just shoot the breeze with their pals and have some fun.

Bruce Springsteen visited Stillorgan bowl twice, which was rebranded as Stillorgan Leisureplex. In 2012, Springsteen reportedly booked out the whole building for his band and crew. The Boss enjoyed it so much that he returned after playing Croke Park in 2016.

Darkness on the Edge of Town: The Boss visits Stillorgan

At one stage the bowling alley was open 24 hours a day. The café specialised in an enormous all-day full Irish breakfast, served with chips, beans and a large mug of tea, making it a popular stop-off to refuel for cab drivers, truckers, and all manners of revellers and night owls.

In recent times the site itself became the subject of a highly acrimonious ownership dispute. Planning permission was eventually granted for 232 apartments in blocks of up to eight storeys. The larger Blakes site across the load is also earmarked for development, which was a popular family restaurant for years and formerly traded as the Swiss Chalet before 1982.

The Stillorgan Bowl’s eventual closure and demolition is sad news. It was part of the social fabric of the area, along with Nimble Fingers, Blakes, Beaufield Mews (also gone), Kilmacud Crokes, Baumanns and the Galloping Green pub.

In Imaginary Cities, a wonderful work of creative non-fiction, Darran Anderson explores the past, present and future of urban and suburban development.

“All cities contain their eventual ruins,” Anderson writes. “So too do lives. And in the long scheme of things, ruins are the best we can hope for. They are traces at least, marks on oblivion. We may not be able to defeat death but we can hope to temporarily elude the second death, the one that erases evidence that we every really existed to begin with. This urge is one of the fundamental drives of art. It is, in part, why we build.”

16 Comments

  1. Eamonn having been born and bred in Stillorgan Having loved my youth and times , it is sad to see it slowly vanish
    Beaufield Mews a brilliant restaurant ,
    The Old Ormond cinema , Swiss Chalet then , Blake’s
    Now the Bowl For what ?
    Progress ? Enjoyed your article it was brilliant Ironic that Nimble Fingers has lasted the longest. Must prove there is a child in us all
    Thank you Eamonn
    Ps. Are you the same guy who writes in the Sunday Indo
    Regards
    Paul.

    1. Thank you for reading and your very kind words Paul! I don’t write for the Sindo, but contribute to the Irish Times occasionally and used to write for the Indo, so we get confused quite a lot! Thanks again. E

  2. Great article, sad day indeed and I remember many great times throughout the years in Stillorgan bowl, parties when I was a kid, adult nights out when they were opening late in Friday and Saturday and only a short time ago when my son had his gaa party there. This is not progress the life is being drained out of Stillorgan

  3. My cousin from Stillorgan spent all her time there and was World Indoor Bowling Champion in the 1970s , it was a great meeting place and hangout. Sad to see it go.

  4. Sad to hear Stillorgan Bowl is no more, Eamonn! I was there many times and it was a regular haunt of my father’s. Our old banger of a Ford Cortina was stolen from outside it back in the 90’s during the World Cup, much to my mother’s delight, but showed up many weeks later, just as the insurance money was about to come through! I’m a big Bruce fan and always loved the idea that Bruce liked the quirky vibe out there! I feel a lot of character is being stripped from areas now, which is sad. Back in the 90’s I remember how alive and creative the city and suburbs felt but now it seems this is being lost. Bring the grunge back, that’s what I say (or maybe I am just getting old and don’t like to see everything changing so much!). Great article!

    1. Great article. I recall when it was built, I was a second level student in Oatlands College then, it was a great place for us from various schools to hang out and play ten pin bowling when we had enough cash! I well remember its entrepreneurial creator/founder, Jack Murphy, his wife (who was a doctor I think?) and two of their children (Patriece and Con). One of my brothers had a great bunch of bowling friends and he and some of them even represented Ireland at international ten pin bowling events.
      Great memories indeed.
      God Bless you Jack (RIP) for creating a fantastic venue in Stillorgan.
      Beaufield Mews, Blake’s, Swiss Chalet and Papagallos were other great stillorgan places now gone.
      John

  5. Thanks for your article Eamonn.

    I had the pleasure of growing up in the area so I have great memories of Blakes/Swiss Chalet, The Beaufield Mews & the Stillorgan Bowl.

    My husband played in bank teams there in the 80s, I enjoyed many a nite in the 90s & in the 20’s I hosted. some birthday parties & playdates for my daughter who is now 9. She even said she was sad this pm when she saw it demolished. She said ‘look Mum, they have knocked down the Bowling Alley,. where will we go now.

    Thanks for stirring up the memories. They are well cherished.

    Regards
    Mary Louise ……

  6. Great article , conjured up many good memories.
    Grew up in Stillorgan and had many happy, fun times hanging out at the bowler .
    with my still best friends to this day

  7. My name is Eileen, I worked as receptionist at Stillorgan Bowl. I have the happiest memories always in my heart, it is here at this wonderful place I met my Dutch husband who was bowling for The Netherlands at the Irish Open. I worked with Paul Magee & Paul Daly, all treasured memories. I moved to Holland in 1992 & got married in 1996, every year myself & my husband returned to Stillorgan Bowl until he suddenly died in 2008. I have since returned with my daughter to show her where I grew up. (Stillorgan) her roots! To show her where I fell I love with her Papa .. thank you for this article & once again reminding me about the happiest days of my younger years❤️

    1. Hi Eileen. Lovely piece from yourself. The two Paul’s were great characters. Many memories.

      1. Plenty of memories Eileen, many a friendship and marriage started there, Inc my own! The Irish Open is legendary. Netflix would have plenty of material for a very entertaining docu series!

      2. Doyler, I’ll swing by and collect a brick for you later! I first worked as a shoe girl in 1984 earning a pound an hour taking in minging shoes from the public ( No antibacterial hand-wash then) 🤣 All of us that worked there had a huge sense of community, everyone looked out for each other. It was a safe haven for us all! We had somewhere that took us off the street and gave us life long friends. The bowling trips aboard were a fantastic experience. The craic we had was untouchable! 🥰

  8. Hi Eileen. Lovely piece from yourself. The two Paul’s were great characters. Many memories.

  9. Sad day for Stillorgan. I grew up there too and whenever our extended family was back in Ireland we all would go bowling. Truly the end of an era.

  10. Just learned of the Stillorgan Bowl demolition from a friend a few days ago. Me? Well, the golden years of Stillorgan Bowl were 1965-1969. I was a teenager then having moved to Stillorgan from Foxrock in 1964. What a great place to hang out! Bowled on many occasions but the game was a bit pricey for a teenager with not many half-crowns jingling in his pocket. The memory-lodged noise of the bowling balls hitting the pins. And the continental teenagers on English language residential courses strolling in and out in the Irish summer. Ah, memories. Sorry to see Stillorgan changing so much in character.

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