Sky's the limit for new Croke Park walkway
IT is not often you get the chance to say you stepped out over the hallowed green turf of Croke Park -- especially at a breathtaking 44 metres above the ground.
On a rare balmy summer's day, the new Croke Park Skyline walkway rocked underfoot in the gentle breeze as I leaned out over the glass-fronted barrier to look down at the pitch far, far below.
It granted a view usually only glimpsed by those pesky seagulls soaring in from Dublin Bay on the hunt for a stray chip dropped by the throngs of match-goers.
For avid GAA fans, you could glimpse every inch of the carefully coiffured turf -- from the Hogan Stand to Hill 16.
Yet, it was with your back to the pitch that the view really came to life.
From the first platform, above the Hogan Stand, you could spot the 51-metre round tower of Glasnevin Cemetery and the famous Victorian glasshouses of the National Botanic Gardens.
There were a few other sites to be seen that might not automatically pop up on every tourist's itinerary -- such as the nearby Dublin/Sligo railway line and the grim cell blocks of Mountjoy Prison.
Under the clear blue skies, you could see as far as the Dublin Mountains and the bay, emphasising just how small the city really is.
For a skyline once dominated by cranes, only two could be easily spotted -- with the branding for Wexford TD Mick Wallace, whose construction firm built a block of flats near Croke Park, visible only a few hundred yards away.
For those not busy trying to spot their own house among the humdrum of buildings, there's an educational element to the tour as the dulcet tones of comedian Dara O Briain introduces visitors to the sites on the audio-guide headsets. This audio guide is included in the admission price.
The information panels also explain the historical significance of the sights glimpsed in the distance.
These include Kilmainham Gaol, the National Museum at Collins Barracks and the 62-metre high Wellington Monument peeking up above the buildings from the 707-acre green space of the Phoenix Park.
The current number one tourist site -- the Guinness Brewery in the heart of the city, which offers 360-degree views of the city from its glass-sided brewery bar -- can also be spotted from the new skyline tourist attraction, sponsored by Etihad Airways.
And Croke Park boss Peter McKenna also unveiled his lofty ambitions for the tourist attraction.
"For the tourists, there has been no vantage point in Dublin -- in London you can go to the London Eye, in Paris you have the Eiffel Tower," he said.
"Dublin didn't have a vantage point and I think this is a central location close to the airport where tourists can come and see the whole city and then they can decide what they want to see up close. From here you can see everything," he added.
Any voyeuristic peering into neighbouring gardens and windows is easily prevented as there are no telescopes, and your eye is immediately attracted by the buildings shimmering in the distance rather than the washing hanging on the lines below.
Now for the practicalities.
Before you ever set foot on the walkway, you spend around 15 minutes in a dressing room below where you are required to put a safety harness on and are shown how to clip the harness on to the steel wire running alongside the walkway.
Once you catch your breath after climbing 100 steps, you then clip your safety harness on to the steel wire and unclip at viewing platforms to walk around and take in the sights.
It may not be for the fainthearted but nor does it quite give the rush of adrenaline the more adventurous visitors might be seeking.
This fix may be delivered by the planned next stage in the attraction, as they are considering permitting abseiling off the 44-metre-high platform on to the pitchside.
Another option may be zooming along a zipline running along pitchside from the Cusack Stand to Hill 16. It would take a mere 35 seconds to spin along the 220 metres attached to a harness. That's in or around the time Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin will have to parade the Olympic Torch around the Croke Park stadium on June 6.