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Location Map ( geo)
Cameraicon.png View gallery (11)
From:  Templeogue, Dublin (O114280)
To:  Closh Cross (S847656)
Via:  Blessington, Tullow
Distance:  76.8 km (47.7 miles)
Meets:  M50, R137, R113, R136, R114, R759, R410, R758, R411, R756, R412, R747, R726, R727, R725, N80
Highway Authorities

Transport Infrastructure Ireland

Traditional Counties

Carlow • Dublin • Kildare • Wicklow

Route outline (key)
N81 Dublin - Tallaght
N81 Tallaght - Closh
On the N81 south of Blessington

The N81 is a cross-country route running south-west from Dublin via Blessington and Tullow to the N80 at Closh Cross between Carlow and Enniscorthy. Today, however, most traffic between the capital and County Carlow is more likely to take the vastly improved N7 / M7 / M9 route, which runs in roughly the same direction.

The N81 is the only national road emanating from Dublin that is of national secondary rather than national primary status. The first 4-km-long section of the route from its present starting-point of Junction 11 of the M50 – made up of Tallaght Road and Bypass – is, nevertheless, an important outer-suburban dual-carriageway corridor. Once clear of the urban area, however, the road assumes the kind of character more typical of its secondary route status.


Like Dublin's other N roads, the N81 used to begin well inside the metropolitan area of the Irish capital, but has been cut back to start on the M50 ring road. It does so at the M50's Junction 11, a fairly conventional GSJ roundabout interchange, with the roundabout under the motorway's main carriageway; there is, however, an indication of the N81's importance as it approaches Dublin, as the road begins as a dual-carriageway, and a filter lane and slip road takes traffic bound for the M50's northbound carriageway directly onto the motorway slip road without having to negotiate the busy roundabout.

Section 1: Dublin - Blessington

Heading south-west away from the city, then, the N81 is initially a major route, with two lanes in each direction. The dual-carriageway has a hard shoulder on the side heading away from Dublin, while a bus lane has taken the place of the hard shoulder on the side bound for the capital. Almost immediately after the roundabout is a pedestrian crossing, and the road is subject to a 60km/h speed limit. We are informed of the distances to Enniscorthy (109km, beyond the terminus of the N81 at Closh Cross), Tullow (69km), Blessington (21km) and Tallaght (3km) as the road heads into countryside broken only by occasional residential developments. The Glenview Roundabout provides access to those on the northern side of the route, while a T-junction controlled by traffic lights offers access to Avonmore to the south. The carriageway assumes the character of an tree-lined avenue after the speed limit rises to 80km/h, with a neatly-trimmed hedge and occasional trees in the central reservation.

As the road approaches Tallaght, there is a large retail and business park on the right, and a further light-controlled T-junction from which a side road leads to Walkinstown and Glenhills. A functional but quite spectacular cable-stayed bridge allows pedestrians to cross the junction safely, high above the level of road. The next junction - a crossroads - is similarly controlled by traffic lights, and a local road links our route to Firhouse and Oldbawn to the left and Tallaght Village on the right, which is a rather quaint way of describing a settlement which is increasingly an outer suburb of Dublin. After the crossroads, the N81 slims down to become a high-quality single-carriageway, with a smooth surface and modern kerbstones. The residential developments lining the route are set well back from the road, and a pedestrian crossing and a couple of further T-junctions controlled by lights offer the only impediments to our progress.

After Jobstown, the road slims down further, and the speed limit drops accordingly to 60km/h. You could be forgiven for thinking that you are completely out into the country by this point, as the road is lined by a hedge on one side and an old stone wall and narrow cobbled pavement on the other, while trees partially obscure the housing estates on either side. However, we soon re-enter suburbia as we approach the fairly recent Citywest development. This is where the former N82 - the short-lived link road connecting the N81 to the N7 - leaves our route via a lights-controlled T-junction to the right; that road is nowadays downgraded to the ignominiously named L2011, and the signage provides no indication of its connection to the N7.

Heading westwards from Citywest, the N81 finally leaves the growing urban sprawl of Dublin behind. It is now completely surrounded by rolling countryside, with only the occasion house or side road interrupting the greenery. The road is bordered by hedges and frequent rows of trees as it winds its way southwards, past the Lugg Forest. For some distance, the road shadows the course of the River Camac, although you could be forgiven for not noticing as the river is not visible at any point even though their paths cross shortly before the N81 reaches the Brittas Lake reservoir. Even where the route passes to the west of the reservoir, there is no sight of the water, as the road is in a slightly elevated position and the ongoing hedges and trees largely obscure our view of the surrounding countryside. The road actually passes close to the water's edge before leaving the reservoir behind.

Perhaps ironically, we do get to see more of the surroundings as the N81 enters the village of Brittas, the speed limit dropping to 60km/h and then 50km/h accordingly. There is open countryside on the left and a line of housing and the colourful Blue Gardenia pub to the right as we pass through Brittas, before reaching the junction with the R114 in what appears to be the centre of this small village. The Dublin Mountain Golf Club lies a short distance away along the R114, which turns back northwards towards the city.

From this point onwards, the N81 is sometimes lined by the hedges and trees that have obscured so much of the countryside along the route from Dublin, although they are now newer and further between. The landscape is becoming noticeably more hilly too, as we head southwards with the Wicklow Mountains to the east. From a T-junction to the left, the R759 heads into the mountains, and past the Kilbride Army Camp. An enormous sign also announces the proximity of the Lisheen Springs Golf Club. The speed limit rises to 100km/h for the first time, shortly before we cross the border from County Dublin into County Wicklow.

For some distance, the road flirts with the boundary between Counties Wicklow and Kildare, at one point even forming the line of the boundary, on the approach to Blessington. It also widens up, with a hatched area initially protecting traffic turning into the local access roads, but later presumably to prevent overtaking on the lengthy straight before we arrive in Blessington.

Section 2: Blessington - Closh Cross

The Marquis of Downshire's Memorial, Blessington

As we enter Blessington, the speed limit drops again to 60km/h and then 50km/h, as we pass an Aldi supermarket at the northern end of the town. The pavements near the supermarket are studded with bollards to prevent parking on the pavement as we head towards the town centre. The town is quite large, but fairly nondescript at this point, consisting for the most part of modern houses with light grey rendering, and an ultra-modern church which we pass on the left. After the church, however, we enter what appears to the older part of the settlement, which has a wide central street of the kind common in Irish market towns. There is a small Supervalu supermarket in the centre, as well as a range of other small businesses. In the heart of the town is a church of the more traditional variety, and a square with well maintained flower beds. A very modern Dunnes department store lies a short way west of the square, and there is also a new restaurant named the Lemon Tree and a branch of the Ulster Bank.

Heading out of town, we pass a cluster of other facilities, including a pizzeria, a tearoom, a jeweller, a physiotherapist, and the eponymous Hennessy's Bar and Hennessy's Hardware; a peculiar combination of businesses. Towards the southern edge of Blessington, the N81 has a T-junction with the R410 to the right, which heads westwards towards the ominously named Punchestown and ultimately to Naas. Before leaving the town, we pass some modern housing and the Blessington Further Education and Training Centre to the left, before the speed limit rises to 60km/h and we arrive at the Burgage Roundabout. This provides access to the Burgage Industrial Estate and Business Park, as well as the Lakeshore Holiday Village. The holiday village is on the west bank of the River Liffey, this section of which has been dammed to create the large Poulaphouca reservoir, although again there is not much indication of the road's proximity to this large body of water until we cross the border - briefly - from County Wicklow into County Kildare.

For the briefest of runs through Kildare before returning to Wicklow, where the speed limit has returned to 100km/h, we are treated to a beautiful view of an inlet on the River Liffey with the Wicklow Mountains in the background. As quickly as it appeared, it is gone again, as the road runs through a small patch of pine trees. The road's flirtation with this small forest coincides with its brief run through Kildare, as we are back into Wicklow by the time the open countryside returns. If we wish to remain in County Wicklow, however, we will need to leave the N81 at the T-junction where the R758 departs from the left, crossing both the River Liffey and the Poulaphouca reservoir as it heads into the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Sticking with the N81 will take us past the Blessington Nature Reserve and back into County Kildare, where the road opens up take take on hard shoulders for a while, and we are treated to some generous views of the bloated river and the mountains beyond. There is quite a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees dotted around in copses along this stretch, which is a very pleasant rural run interrupted only briefly by the tiny settlement of Horsepasstown. With the road narrowed back down, we reach the Poulophouca Hydro Station, which was commissioned during the 1940s to generate power for Dublin at the same time as creating the reservoir. Shortly afterwards, we cross the Liffey on a much older bridge, passing at the same time back into Wicklow.

From this point onwards, we could be forgiven for not knowing which county we are in, as the Kildare-Wicklow boundary now zigzags across the N81 several times. Only once we reach the T-junction with the R411, which doubles back to the right towards Ballymore Eustace, can we be sure that we are in Wicklow for good. As the road continues southwards, it open us rather more than before, with a narrow strip of hard should to either side and verges now distancing the hedgerows from the carriageway. After winding gently and undulating very subtly for several kilometres, the R756 crosses our path at a staggered crossroads; to the left we might turn towards Laragh and Wicklow town, or to the right for Dunlavin.

The character of the road continues to please as we press on through the countryside for several kilometres alongside the Carrigower River. We pass the Olde Tollhouse pub at a crossroads near the village of Donard, shortly before arriving at the T-junction on the right, from which the R412 heads back towards Dunlavin. The road widens to produce a central hatched area and filter lane for this turning, although the R412 itself looks narrow and uninviting. On the N81 we gain and lose hard shoulders in short order as we continue to enjoy uninterrupted views of the lush green surroundings. The River Carrigower flows into the River Slaney, which with our road now flirts all the way through Baltinglass, Rathvilly, and Tullow.

Before reaching Baltinglass, we pass close to the Castleruddery Stone Circle, before crossing the Slaney on what appears to be an old but greatly strengthened stone bridge. The river now flows close to the road on the left-hand side as we approach the town. Across the river, is Baltinglass Abbey. The town itself is a mixture of new and much older buildings, with a Supervalu right in the centre. A kinky crossroads with the R747 provides the option to turn left towards Kiltegan, Hacketstown (with its aerodrome), and Tinahely, while a turn to the right will take us towards Ballitore and the M9. We leave Baltinglass by passing another selection of buildings old and new, which stretch outwards from the town centre for some distance before the countryside returns. The speed limit raises to 60km/h and 80km/h accordingly as the town recedes, and we soon pass over the border to leave County Wicklow for the final time, and pass into County Carlow.

The road flows nicely but is quite narrow in places as we press on towards Rathvilly. Shortly before this sprawling village, the speed limit drops to 60km/h before a big sweeping bend takes us eastwards into the town. A right-turn from the T-junction on the outside of this curve sees the R726 head off towards Carlow. Staying with the N81, the road heads straight for the town centre. To get there, however, we must cross a narrow stone bridge over the River Slaney which is controlled by traffic lights and adjacent to a watermill. After a couple of twists we arrive in the spacious village centre, where there are two long rows of buildings and the road arcs to the right around the facade of the church. In no time at all, we seem to be leaving Rathvilly again, although for some distance there are houses dotted around and second church before we are passing sprawing housing estates. When the buildings have finally disappeared, the road returns to an 80km/h limit as it winds its way through farmland.

The N81 is quite narrow as it twists and turns its way through the gentle undulations of the land. It straightens out without widening as it approaches its meeting point with the R727. From this staggered crossroads, the R road heads west for Carlow (meeting the R726 in the process) or east for Hacketstown. From here we cover a very long straight before the twists return, and we pass a scattering of buildings as we wind our way towards Tullow.

Market Square in Tullow

When we arrive at that town, which apart from Blessington is the only settlement of any significant size through which the route passes after Dublin, the road passes through a familiar pattern of modern suburban housing where the limit drops to 60km/h, and gradually older buildings as we approach the centre. As we near the centre of the town, a large filling station and an Aldi largely obscure any view of the town's church until the road passes directly in front of it, although a fairly characterful 18th-century building housing the Gardaí offers an alternative view on the left-hand side of the road. A cluster of early 20th-century buildings house some local businesses as the R725 heads eastwards to Shillelagh. Entering the town centre, we descend along a very tight main street, past increasingly old and colourful buildings until we arrive in a long square which slopes towards our next crossing with the River Slaney. The square is gone and we pass another Supervalu before meeting the river at a sizeable and modern humpback bridge. Just after the bridge the R725, which has followed a multiplex with the N81 through the town, heads north-west to Carlow, while our road opens up a little and heads for the outskirts of the town. We pass a Tesco - the third supermarket in the small town of Tullow - which is accessed from a large four-arm mini-roundabout. After that there is more suburbia, including a very long terrace of single-storey housing to the right while open fields adorn the left of the route, before leaving the town.

Beyond Tullow, there is little more for the N81 to do other than make its way southwards, still following the course of the River Slaney, towards its end. The road is generally wider after Tullow than before, although still subject to an 80km/h through to the terminus, and through its final few kilometres we pass through open countryside punctuated by occasional houses and farms. On arrival at the N80, the N81 ends at an enormous but otherwise fairly standard T-junction, controlled only by a STOP sign. Here we are informed that we can either turn left for Enniscorthy and Rosslare, or turn right for Carlow, Ballon, and Waterford; similarly we should turn right if we wish to return to Dublin along the much quicker M9.


Until 2012, the N81 began right in the centre of Dublin, at a junction with the N11 at College Green, in front of Trinity College and right next to the Bank of Ireland (now located in the former home of the Irish Parliament). From there it followed Dame Street past Dublin City Hall, and Lord Edward Street, and Christchurch Place before turning south outside Christchurch Cathedral. From there it left the city centre by following Nicholas Street, Patrick Street, New Street, Clanbrassil Street, Harold's Cross Road, Templeogue Road and ultimately Tallaght Road to reach its current starting position on the M50. This is now all designated R137.

Under the revised Western Tangent plan, what became the N81 would have flowed straight onto it, via the underpass at Kevin Street. It is therefore possible but not guaranteed that at least some of the Western Tangent would have been designated N81. The entire section of road up to the canal experienced considerable widening and regeneration during the 1980s, as part of that failed scheme. This was envisaged as a major commuter route.


Related Pictures
View gallery (11)
The Marquis of Downshire's Memorial, Blessington - Geograph - 203190.jpgN81 south of Blessington - Geograph - 930250.jpgTraffic lights on the N81 in Tallaght, South Dublin - Coppermine - 16588.jpgR137 road sign.jpgOld Texaco Garage - Geograph - 1439460.jpg
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