The best thing about living in Dublin is that you are a stones throw away from the sea and the mountains, offering quick escape from the busyness of the city. The city centre itself has many green spaces such as the famous Stephen’s Green and the secluded Iveagh Gardens. But the jewel above all else is the beloved Phoenix Park. Known affectionately as “the Phoeno” or just, “The Park” and steeped in history, Dubliner’s escape to the wilds of the Phoenix Park for recreation, solace and nature.
Phoenix Park is a 7.07km2 walled park located just 2km west of Temple Bar. To put its size into perspective- that’s greater than twice the size of central park in New York. It is the largest walled public park in Europe. The park has many access gates but the entrance from the city centre is along Wolf Tone Quay to the Parkgate Street entrance. It’s vastness means that unlike Stephen’s Green, which can get a little over crowded on a good spring or summers day, you can find yourself alone in a quiet, unmanicured space with nothing to bother you but the sounds of nature.
The park is not named after the mythological bird but is rather an anglicisation of the Irish words Fionn Uisce which translates as clear water, attributed to a clear water spring.
The park was designated as a royal hunting ground in the 1660’s and populated with fallow deer and game by James Butler, the Duke of Ormond as Viceroy for Dublin under King Charles the II of England. Butler was responsible for building the original wall around the land presumably to enclose the deer and game.
Prior to this the land had been owned by the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem in the early 14th century.
From there the lands were confiscated from the Knights by Henry VIII, temporarily restored to them by Queen Mary and returned to Queen Elizabeth I.
The park became a public amenity in the 1740’s when the Lieutenant Lord Chesterfield opened it to the public. The tree lined avenue where he orchestrated the planting of elms and chestnut trees along its route still bears his name today.
From its ancient woods and expansive untainted meadows, to its glens, water features and sports facilities, the park also offers views of the Dublin mountains to the south. Fallow deer roam the park freely to this day and are a beautiful sight but don’t get too close during mating season!
The park accommodates Dublin Zoo which was founded on site in 1831 and opened to the public in 1840. The Zoo is situated on 28 hectares of park land. Farmleigh, an extended Georgian house in the park originally built in the late 18th century, is now the state guest house. It was an estate once owned by the Guinness family and is now a cultural centre which is open to the public for many events annually.
The park has a number of monuments and buildings of legacy which are now primarily occupied by state functions. The park also houses the President of Ireland in Áras an Uachtaráin, The Áras, (house in English), served from 1782 to 1922 as the residence of the British Viceroys and was known as the Vice Regal Lodge. From 1938 it became the House of the President of Ireland.
The Wellington testimonial, built to honor the Duke of Wellington for the battle of Waterloo was completed in 1861 and is the tallest obelisk in Europe at 62 meters. Ordnance Survey Ireland occupies Mountjoy House which was originally built in 1728 and was known as Mountjoy Barracks as it once held the mounted escort for the Lord Lieutenant who resided in the Vice Regal Lodge. The park houses the headquarters of the nations police force -An Garda Síochána, and also the U.S ambassadorial residence.
Amongst other notable attractions is The Papal Cross, a white steel cross erected for Pope John Paul II visit to Ireland in September 1979 and is the focal point of many a Dubliner’s Sunday stroll through the meadow passing the herds of deer as you go. Other attractions are the Magazine Fort, the south western located Furry Glen (a must for nature lovers), and The Peoples Garden. After all that and more, you might need a cup of tea in the Victorian Tea Rooms back at the Parkgate street entrance you may even catch a cricket match across Chesterfield Avenue from the tea rooms.
To fully understand why Dubliner’s love this space so much you really need to take it all in. To do this the best way to get around is by bike and you can hire one at the Parkgate street entrance and spend the day at the park