The Phoenix Park, Dublin
Located in Dublin’s Phoenix Park at 203 feet tall it is Europe’s tallest obelisk. Building began in 1817 to honour The Duke of Wellington’s military success, especially his defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. At the base of the monument are four large bronze plaques, cast from canon captured at Waterloo, depicting the various campaigns that Wellington had been involved in throughout his military career.
Deerfield Residence of The US Ambassador
The original house dates from 1776, and was purchased by the British Government in 1782 as the official residence of The Chief Secretary in Ireland and it remained so until 1922. Some of the past office holders you may be familiar with include; Sir Arthur Wellesley, who became The Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, founder of The Metropolitan Police, and Lord Randolf Churchill, whose son Winston spent a number of years here as a young boy.
The USA was one of the first nations to establish a diplomatic relationship with the fledgling Free State, and in 1949 when Ireland became a republic, the legation was upgraded to a full embassy. In those early days the house was both home and office for the Envoy, however, now it is solely the residence of the US Ambassador with the embassy now located in Ballsbridge.
The Phoenix Monument
The monument, or to be precise, The Phoenix Column, is one of the earliest surviving features of the Park and is located in the centre of Chesterfield Avenue, which runs through the centre of the Park. On his appointment as Lord Lieutenant in 1745, The Earl of Chesterfield undertook a major refurbishment of the Park and the construction of the column was one of his first projects.
It is true to say that the layout of the park we know and love today has changed very little over the past 275 years or so as a consequence of his labours. Over its lifetime, the column has been moved twice but it is now happily re-installed in its original location as part of The OPW’s renewal plans for the Park.
The Papal Cross
A simple white cross made of steel standing 116 feet tall overlooking an area in the Park known as the fifteen acres. Manufactured in Inchicore, it was erected for the visit of Pope John Paul II who celebrated mass here on the 29th September 1979 to more than one million people. As an aside Pope Francis also celebrated mass here during his visit here in 2018, albeit to a much smaller congregation evidencing a sea change in attitudes to religion in Ireland in the intervening years.
Ashtown Castle (The castle hidden within a house)
Although the oldest building in The Phoenix Park, it was only discovered in 1978 when it was found within a much larger Georgian house - formally home to the Papal Nuncio, which was being demolished. The original date of the castle is uncertain, however, experts believe it was built in the mid 15th century as its design and construction mirrors similar buildings of that era.
In 1662 when the then Lord Lieutenant, The Duke of Ormond, was establishing the park as a hunting ground for Charles II, he purchased the castle and lands to enlarge the park. In the intervening years, a larger house was built incorporating the castle, and in 1782 it became home to The Under Secretary for Ireland.
Sporting activities in The Phoenix Park
The Park plays host to a huge range of different sports from Gaelic, Soccer, Hockey, Athletics and Motor Sport but two sports not immediately associated with Ireland have a presence here, namely Polo and Cricket. The All Ireland Polo Club was established on “nine acres” in 1873 and is regarded as one of the oldest Polo Clubs in Europe.
Cricket is well represented in the park, with two very active clubs.
The oldest of these, and perhaps Irelands most successful club, Phoenix Cricket Club, was founded in 1830 by John Parnell, father of Charles Stewart Parnell. The second is The Civil Service Cricket Club founded in 1833.
Perhaps one of the best known and most popular attractions in The Phoenix Park is The Zoo. The Royal Zoological Society of Dublin was formed at a meeting in The Rotunda Hospital in 1830, and the Zoo opened to the public the following year making it one of the oldest in the world.
The original stock of birds and animals were supplied by London Zoo, which had opened three years earlier. Over time, The Zoo has expanded and evolved, and in pre Covid times welcomed over 1.2 million visitors annually. From the outset the ethos of the Zoo was to focus on conservation of rare breeds and today it plays a very important, and indeed successful role, in the breeding and conservation of of endangered species with other European Zoos through The European Endangered Species Programme.
Áras an Uachtaráin
The original house dates back to 1751 when it was home to the park ranger. The house was purchased by the Crown in the late 18th century, as the summer residence of The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, his permanent residence being in Dublin Castle.
With the creation of The Irish Free State the role of Lord Lieutenant was abolished and replaced with a Governor General who became the Crown’s representative in Ireland, and due to concerns for his safety he took up residence in what we now call “The Áras”. With the appointment of a new Governor General in 1932, the house was vacated as he took up residence on the south side of the city. “The Áras” remained vacant until 1938 when Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland, took up residence. The building has undergone renewal and restoration over time but still remains home to our President today.
Located between The Peoples Gardens and The Zoo is an area of the park known to Dubliners as “The Hollow”. With sloping grass banks and mature trees this forms a natural amphitheatre, and at its centre is an octagonal band stand built in 1890 that gave the British Army Bands a stage to perform on. This is a tradition that over the decades has been proudly maintained by our own Garda and Army Bands, much to the delight of their audiences on Sunday afternoons.
The Peoples Gardens
This has often been described as a park within a park. Covering just 22 acres, it is situated beside the main entrance to The Phoenix Park at Parkgate Street. Laid out in 1864 to include an ornamental lake, picnic areas, Children’s playground and perfectly manicured flowerbeds it reflects the Victorian penchant for colour and neatness.
The revised layout was to replace the earlier Promenade Gardens which opened in 1840. A favourite of Dubliners for generations and as I grew up very close to the park, it was a regular family haunt on summer afternoons.
Over the past few weeks we have looked at many of the attractions throughout the Phoenix Park, some of which you will have been very familiar with others not. I am pretty sure todays final subject falls into the latter category; the Knockmaree Dolmen, or burial cist, from the Neolithic period predates the Park itself by some 4000 years.
Discovered in 1838 by workmen clearing this area of the park, the tomb was found to contain two intact male skeletons together with some ornamental shell jewellery, food bowls and flint knives as was the custom for burials of that time. When discovered the site was examined by The Royal Irish Academy, and from their report we can see that the capstone measured over 6 feet in diameter and is supported by smaller stones. The capstone shows signs of being water worn and is believed to have been taken from the River Liffey nearby.
This dolmen is similar to ones discovered along the south coast and is possibly the oldest monument to survive in Dublin. Have you seen it in real life? It really is something special and the perfect end to our #dublinstrollsphoenixpark series