Tucked away on a hilltop near Dublin’s northeastern Clontarf neighborhood is the Casino at Marino…and it isn’t what you might think. No gambling at this casino – which takes its name from an Italian diminutive word meaning little house – just an interesting look at a very curious piece of building design.
This little house sits on a high hilltop looking over Fairview and Clontarf in North Dublin. It’s easy to miss, set far back from the main road to Malahide. From the gardens around the building, one can catch a great view of Dublin City Centre and the distant Dublin Mountains to the south, the Irish Sea coast to the east, and iconic Croke Park to the west.
The casino was ordered by a wealthy aristocrat after he settled in Dublin following a grand tour of Europe. The house (and its name) was inspired by the great cities of classical enlightenment in Greece and Italy, and its sole purpose was to promote and inspire intellectual curiosity and engagement in Dublin. It wasn’t a guest house, it wasn’t a summer villa, it wasn’t quite a garden decoration, it was just a curiosity in the otherwise grand gardens of the estate.
The building is packed with irregularities and mysteries – much more tasteful than the roadside trick houses with dimensional warping and shifting gravity on American highways. From the gardens, it looks like one large, square room with a massive entrance door. Four lions grin wryly at the corners of this actually cross-shaped building. Pillars that don’t quite make straight lines wrap around the entrance platform, and two large funeral urns mark the north and south ends of the roof.
Inside, the mysteries of the strange architecture are revealed: the building actually has three levels and sixteen different rooms. The pillars actually form a perfect circle around the Greek Cross shape of the building, and the large windows of the exterior are recessed and bring light to multiple rooms – specially-shaped glass panes act like window tinting, making it very difficult to see into the building during the day. The windows of the upper floor are completely hidden from view at ground level, and the fireplaces of the building open to chimneys cleverly hidden by the urns on the rooftop. The huge entrance door? Mostly fake, a human-sized portal opens from the lower third of the giant-sized doors to the main entryway.
For tourists, I would recommend a visit to the Casino as part of an extended North Dublin exploration or for an architecture-themed trip. It is a unique piece of local history and the tour is very well done, but it might be a bit too far out of the way for most casual two- or three-day visits.
Dublin locals have no excuse. A visit to the Casino (even if you have to wait for the first Wednesday of the month, when it’s free!) should be – in the words of a local friend – “Defo on the list!”
Visiting the Casino
- The Casino at Marino is operated by OPW and is open from May–October. Access to the building is by guided tour only, tours given hourly. Check website in advance for schedule changes.
- 2015 admission is €4.00 per adult, free on the first Wednesday of every month.
- There is free parking on the grounds, nearest Dublin Bus stop is Nazareth House. Use the Dublin Bus Route Planner or the Dublin Bus App to check the nearest bus line and schedule.