The reduction of public seating in Dublin is a point of paranoia for residents of the city. Not to say that they’re wrong to feel this way. The removal of certain benches has been noticed and the Dublin Gazette recently ran a piece on how it feeds into the belief that Dubliners are increasingly being pushed towards paying to enjoy the luxury of sitting down after they leave their houses. Cranes blot the skyline all over town, adding to the cityscape and the tightening of the chest that can accompany images that conjure a capital making less and less time for leisure.
This isn’t the piece to harp on about gloom (don’t get us started on the demise of clubbing around Dublin). No, this is a reminder of what’s good. In this piece, we’re talking about a few of the best parks that Dublin has to offer. They’re green havens that stick out in the grey. They’re places of refuge when you need to clear your head. Lie down here and look up at the sky without machinery obstructing your view.
The largest enclosed public park in any capital city in Europe, the Phoenix Park holds a special place in the hearts of everyone who has had the pleasure of strolling through it. Anyone growing up in Dublin – or whose childhood involved a visit to the fair city – will have fond memories of what some Dubliners might call ‘the Phoeno’ (fee-no). Only a stone’s throw from the city centre, trust a local when they say that it’s wonderful to have such a grand garden to play around in.
Anyone growing up in Dublin – or whose childhood involved a visit to the fair city – will have fond memories of what some Dubliners might call ‘the Phoeno’ (fee-no).
Memories of hearing the lions roar at Dublin Zoo or racing up the slanted steps of the Wellington Monument stand out. That rare thing in Ireland, a day when the sun threatens to blister your skin, sees barbecues popping up around the country. Nobody’s back will be as swarmed as that of Michael D. Higgins, Ireland’s current president, as the quarters befitting someone in his position, the Áras an Uachtaráin, are located in a park fit for any president worthy of his title.
St. Anne’s Park
One of the most underrated parks in Dublin, St. Anne’s is full of wonder and history. It was the site for the legendary 11th-century Battle of Clontarf, a bloody clash that High King of Ireland Brian Boru won but also died in. So did his son, his grandson and as many as 10,000 others. Hard to believe so much blood was shed on these tranquil grounds. Within St. Anne’s you will find the city’s biggest rose garden a short distance away from a great number of abounding follies, Roman-style towers among them.
Dublin City Council has vowed to restore them from their current neglected state. Crumbling and covered in graffiti, the hope is that they will be returned to their former glory. Yet even in their wounded form, they give off an air of history. This can be mused upon over a coffee at Olive’s Room cafe near the Red Stables Art Centre. Check it out at the weekend when there’s an award-winning farmers’ market in the courtyard.
Beyond leisure, the park is a public space for exercise and recreation. It has ‘35 playing pitches, 18 hard-surfaced tennis courts, 4 Boules courts and a par-3 golf course. It also has a playground, fitted out with suitable units to complement the parkland setting, along with a picnic area, located close to the Red Stables.’ For those of you with canine pals, there is a dedicated dog park where pooches are allowed off the leash at specific times of the day.
St. Stephen’s Green
The largest of Dublin’s Georgian garden squares, Stephen’s Green needs no introduction. It’s located in one of the most popular spots in the city. If you’ve ever walked from one end of Grafton Street to the other, you’ve encountered Stephen’s Green. On summer days, it is a blissful experience to pick up an ice cream (right off the ground) and trot around muttering la-la-la to yourself as you take in the beautiful surroundings. Such behaviour won’t warrant a second glance. There’s a buzz in Stephen’s Green that is absent from other listed parks. All sorts hang out here but the park is big enough for you to avoid the more colourful characters.
It is not simply glib to state that it’s Ireland’s equivalent of Central Park, scaled down to reflect Dublin’s size. A note on its history: Access to Stephen’s Green was restricted to local residents before Lord Ardilaun, of the Guinness dynasty, pushed an initiative to have it opened to the public and later paid to have it laid out in its current form, acting as a representative of the people. There is a statue in his honour on the West side, the Luas stop side, peering down York Street, a street upon which the Royal College of Surgeons, also sponsored by Ardilaun, can be found. He is one of many famous Irish figures whose statues are located there.
A stone’s throw away from the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion’s Square is a beloved garden of Dublin. It recently held a terrific party on Pride weekend to celebrate the 50 years that had passed since the Stonewall riots in New York City. Terrific because it was what all parties should be: Joyous and fun. With Oscar Wilde outstretched in statue form in one corner of the park, it felt like an apt venue for the occasion.
It is a park located in a quiet corner of the city centre, complemented by a litany of fine sculptures and carefully-maintained foliage. On certain mornings, you can partake in a yoga class, flexing in the relaxed environment of a sleepy haven. Every so often, there’s an outdoor film screening, where, for a small fee, you can curl up with a blanket on the grass and watch a classic movie projected on the big screen. If you get peckish, you can buy a bite to eat from an onsite food truck. They’re rare occasions and we appreciate them all the more for it.
Dedicated to the memory of the 49,400 Irish soldiers who lost their lives in World War I, The National War Memorial Gardens are a fitting tribute for such heroism. Designed by famed memorialist Edward Lutyens, it features a beautiful Sunken Rose Garden and the Great Cross of Sacrifice that can be found at other World War I memorials around the globe. It is a shame that the threat of vandalism has closed off the North-East Bookroom (containing the names of all the dead) from the public but it can still be attended by appointment. Such uneasiness is justified by very recent history with two World War 1 statues targeted in the last year alone.
En route to the Phoenix Park, it’s well worth popping into what is regarded as a hidden gem of Dublin. On a nice day, you can sit by the Liffey and eat lunch. Perhaps you will even see a few members from the rowing club across the way take to the water. If you have an appetite for sport then you may catch a Gaelic match being played on an onsite pitch.