Sunday, 21 June 2015
It’s not oversleeping when you’re on vacation, right? I didn’t even stir until 8:30am, which is really late for me. We staggered down to breakfast, then came back up and showered and got ready for the day. And—more of my proper vacation—my sweet Orla called and we set up a date for a mid-afternoon brunch later today.
In the meantime, Gerry and I cabbed up to the National Concert Hall. I find it fascinating that this gorgeous building was originally built for the 1865 Dublin International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures—a world’s fair! Some of the most interesting structures in the world today were built to house something for some Exhibition or Exposition, many of them from the Victorian era (think: Paris’s Eiffel Tower, Nashville’s replica of the Parthenon, Chicago’s Art Institute of Chicago … just to name three).
The building belonged to University College Dublin from 1908, but in 1981 it became the National Concert Hall.
But what, you might ask, were we doing loitering outside the NCH on a quiet Sunday morning? I’ll tell you. I’ve been slowly getting around to many of Dublin’s green spaces (not all—that would take the rest of my lifetime, and I have other cities and countries to see) and I’ve had the Iveagh Gardens on my list since 2012 but it just hasn’t happened. So Gerry made it happen. 🙂
Had I looked for the garden on my own, I never would have found it; it’s known as Dublin’s Secret Garden for a good reason. We walked along the front of the National Concert Hall, ducked under the arm of the gate leading to the stage door, passed through the parking lot, slipped past the trash bins … What’s that?
There are only three gates. The garden is completely walled. You won’t wander by it by accident—you’ll have to look for it, and know what you’re looking for.
Designated as a National Historic Property, the garden has a complicated history (which you can read here), but the green space as we know it now was designed in 1865 at the expense of Benjamin Lee Guinness, who acquired the land to act as a garden for his town house mansion.
We just about had the place to ourselves. We sat on a bench and just enjoyed the sun and the quiet.
The garden is described as “an intermediate design between the French Formal and the English Landscape styles.” The fountains set in the wide expanse of lawn are clearly the French Formal.
For awhile we walked all the paths, seeing what there was to see.
But wait—what’s that?
So we sat in the rose garden for awhile.
These are old-fashioned rose bushes that pre-date 1865.
We retraced our steps, exiting the same way we came in, and then walked across the big park and around to the Little Museum of Dublin, which is right on the other side of Stephen’s Green.
It’s what they call a people’s museum—much of what is displayed in the eighteenth-century Georgian townhouse was donated or loaned by Dubliners. It’s an interesting way to put together an exhibit, not always coherent but a lot to look at. The tour, though, is for the tourists. Too silly for Gerry, who lost patience quickly. So when they moved on, we ditched the tour.
Most recently the Little Museum purchased an archive of work by Christy Brown, the mid-century Irish artist, writer, poet who had cerebral palsy. You know him from his memoir, My Left Foot.
After the museum, we walked down past the Shelbourne Hotel to something I’d noticed the day before. It’s the sort of thing most people walk by and don’t even notice, but there it is, just a few steps from St. Stephen’s Green—the Huguenot Cemetery (here’s a bird’s-eye view).
Huguenots were French Protestants inspired by the writings of John Calvin, who fell under the hostility of the Catholic Church in the 1600s. More than half a million fled France, looking for religious freedom; some were encouraged to settle in Ireland by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde. Wikipedia says,
The Huguenots quickly established a thriving community in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland based on their skills in textiles, watchmaking and finance. Within a short time they had become an integral part of the commercial and civic life of Dublin.
They were welcomed. They married Irish folk. They integrated themselves into local society (read more here). Eventually they needed a cemetery. There are 239 family names inscribed on a plaque here, though I can’t imagine all of them having a member buried here.
Established in 1693, it was restored in the 1970s and is now cared for by the city. The gates are locked. I did what I could through the bars.
When we got back to the hotel, Gerry settled down to watch a game, and I called Orla, who came and picked me up. She lives in Ranelagh, a residential area now—but it was once a village just outside Dublin. It is—ahem—a very tony place. (Just how tony? Have a look at this realtor’s listing.)
“I want to show you something,” she said. “I think you’ll like it.” I’ve known this beautiful woman since she was a teenager, and—my heart swells as I type this—she does know me, and knows exactly what I’d like to see.
The park itself is spacious.
While we stood just inside the gate, two beautiful unleashed dogs rushed up the outside sidewalk and very clearly intended to come in. Orla and I looked at each other; what should we do? And about that moment their owner caught up and all three came in together. The dogs were very glad to be at their park.
From here we went to Orla’s place, parked, and walked into the village. And we walked through yet another green space—Ranelagh Gardens! (Her street dead-ends at the park. Very convenient!) Here’s an overhead view.
The Dublin City Public Library has this to say about this history of the park:
This small park is all that is left of the five acres of pleasure gardens which were created in 1775. Called after Lord Ranelagh, the intention was to copy the gardens of the same name in London. Richard Crosbie launched the first hot air balloon in Ireland from here in 1785. In the 19th century the gardens became part of the grounds of a religious order, but in the 1980s the gardens were again opened up to the public, albeit on a much smaller scale.
We were on our way to Cinnamon, a popular coffee house / restaurant right on Main Street in Ranelagh Village. It was crowded and had just the sort of ambience (noisy but not too noisy) for a pair of girlfriends to work their way through a pot of tea, brunch, and all the problems of the world. The chat was especially nice. 🙂
Afterward we walked back through the village and garden, had another cup of tea at Orla’s place, and then she brought me back to the hotel. As we pulled up I realized we hadn’t taken a photograph together.
For the rest of the evening Gerry and I laid around, reading, working, watching TV. It was the perfect finish to a lazy Sunday.