Welcome to MERRION LIFE, our new series of posts designed to keep you in tune with features of the city we love so much.
To launch the series, and to celebrate the arrival of summer, we’re looking at the parks of gardens of the city, ideal for ‘Going Green in Dublin’.
Is this Dublin’s Wittiest Park?
Nearest to the Merrion Hotel are Merrion Square and St Stephen’s Green. Once upon a time, these areas were farmlands and swampy ground, but the same Georgians who built the original buildings of the Hotel on Merrion Row also did a wonderful job of laying out plantings and walkways. Originally the park at Merrion Square was for residents only, but since the 1960s it is open for everyone to enjoy. Look out for the statue of famous Irish writer and wit Oscar Wilde, who once lived at No 1 Merrion Square. His mother, Lady Wilde, would hold salons there, where the likes of Dracula Author, Bram Stoker, would discuss scary stories with fellow author Sheridan le Fanu.
Thank Guinness for this Park
Now we go just around the corner to discover St Stephen’s Green. This park is of earlier origins, having been originally enclosed in 1664, but we have Arthur Guinness, of brewing fame, to thank for its present form – he paid for it to be redesigned and opened to the public in 1877. You can find his statue in the park, as well as, among others, a bust of James Joyce, and a Henry Moore sculpture in the heart of the Yeats memorial garden. The park is open each day until dusk, when they ring a bell to let you know it’s time to leave. Bring some bread from breakfast to feed the ducks. The Little Museum of Dublin is at No 15 on the Green, and is one of Dublin’s most intriguing museums. Booking essential.
A Special Adventure at the Botanics
So far we have stayed close to home, but now we’re venturing further, to discover the National Botanic Gardens. Located in Glasnevin, they are absolutely gorgeous. Entry is free and, as they’re approximately 3km from the City Centre, you might want to take a car or taxi. Founded in 1795, the great curvilinear Palm House, designed by Dubliner, Richard Turner, was a model for the one he also created at Kew. There are exhibitions throughout the year, but for an intriguing take on what lies behind the careful planting, ask the Hotel Concierge for artist Jane Locke’s special book Illustrated Walks in the Botanic Gardens. Jane dreamed up an alternative history of the gardens, and her book, which is a special artist’s edition, will bring you on an imaginative, and imaginary trip through nature that you’ll never forget. Copies of her booklet are also available for sale at the Botanic Gardens themselves.
The Secret’s Out
Fresh from our artistic adventures in the Botanic Gardens (thank you Jane Locke!), we’re now on the trail of a very special secret spot.
The Iveagh Gardens used to be one of Dublin’s better kept secrets. Just behind the National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace (there is also a gate on Hatch Street), the gardens were once the lawn of the Earl of Clonmell. Now, with a yew maze, a rose garden and a waterfall, they’re a favourite spot for dog-walking city-dwellers and visitors in the know. In June, the Taste of Dublin event fills the gardens with food stands and cooking demonstrations. Admission is free, except for special events.
Lions, cake and polo too
Unlike the Iveagh Gardens, there’s no secret about the Phoenix Park.
Head to north west of the River Liffey for Phoenix Park and The Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge. The two were originally meant to have been connected, but the Lutyens-designed bridge was never constructed. There are rumours of plans to build it now, so let’s wait and see. Meanwhile, at Phonenix Park, one of Europe’s largest enclosed parks, you’ll find over 1,750 acres of grasslands, trees, walks, herds of wild deer, Dublin Zoo, a tea rooms, a Victorian Kitchen Garden (currently under restoration), as well as bike hire, sports pitches where you can watch players practice their hurling and camogie, and the All Ireland Polo Club, regarded by some as the oldest in the world. Check during the season for fixtures.
A little New Delhi in Dublin?
We’ve been on a tour of city centre parks, and some spots farther afield. We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, and have come to love Dublin’s green spaces as much as we do.
Finally, across the road at Islandbridge, the War Memorial Gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (who also dreamed up the imposing Government buildings of New Delhi), to commemorate the dead of the First World War. On the site of an important Viking and Medieval fording point, there’s now a pleasant walk along the Liffey, where you can see teams from Dublin’s various rowing clubs in action, especially at the weekend. The Memorial Garden itself includes pagodas, terraces and a sunken rose garden. It’s a car or taxi ride from the Hotel, but it, and the Phoenix Park make for a pleasantly relaxing morning or afternoon adventure.
For a longer day out, head to Kildare for the Japanese Gardens at the Irish National Stud, or go south to Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford, Co. Wicklow, or Powerscourt House and Gardens. You’ll find cafés and shops at each place, and admission charges apply.