Cultural Heritage

A Marshy Common

The name St Stephen’s Green originates from a church called St Stephen’s in that area in the thirteenth century. Attached to the church was a leper hospital. Around this time the area was a marshy piece of common ground, which extended as far as the River Dodder and was used by the citizens of the city for grazing livestock.

In 1663 the City Assembly decided that the plot of ground could be used to generate income for the city and a central area of twenty-seven acres was marked out which would define the park boundary, with the remaining ground being let out into ninety building lots. Rent generated was to be used to build walls and paving around the Green. Each tenant also had to plant six sycamore trees near the wall, in order to establish some privacy within the park. In 1670 the first paid gardeners were employed to tend to the park.

“That no parsel of the Greenes or commons of the city shall henceforth be lett, but wholie kept for the use of the citizens and others to walke and take open aire, by this reason this cittie is at present groweing very populous…”

– 1635 City Assembly law.

The Centre of Fashionable Display

The Green became a particularly fashionable place during the eighteenth century, owing mainly to the opening of Grafton Street in 1708 and Dawson Street in 1723, and the construction of desirable properties in and around this area. The Beaux Walk situated along the northern perimeter of the park became a popular location for high society to promenade. Lewis’ Dublin Guide of 1787 describes the Beaux Walk as being a scene of elegance and taste. Other walks found in the park included the French Walk found along the western perimeter of the park, and Monk’s Walk and Leeson’s Walk located along the eastern and southern boundaries of the park respectively.

A Private Affair

By the nineteenth century the condition of the park had deteriorated to such an extent that the perimeter wall was broken, and many trees were to be found in bad condition around the park. In 1814 commissioners representing the local householders were handed control of the park. They replaced the broken wall with ornate Victorian railings and set about planting more trees and shrubs in the park. New walks were also constructed to replace the formal paths previously found in the park. However with these improvements, the Green then became a private park accessible only to those who rented keys to the park from the Commission, despite the 1635 law which decreed that the park was available for use by all citizens. This move was widely resented by the public.

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The Ardilaun dynasty on The Peerage.

Lord Ardilaun’s Gift to the People

Sir Arthur Guinness, later known as Lord Ardilaun, grew up in Iveagh House located on St Stephen’s Green, and came from a family well noted for its generosity to the Dublin public. In 1877 Sir Arthur offered to buy the Green from the commission and return it to the public. He paid off the park’s debts and secured an Act which ensured that the park would be managed by the Commissioners of Public Works, now the OPW.

Sir Arthur’s next objective was to landscape the park, and provide an oasis of peace and tranquility in the city. He took an active part in the design of the redeveloped park, and many of the features in the park are said to have been his suggestions. The main features of the redeveloped park included a three-acre lake with a waterfall, picturesquely-arranged Pulham rockwork, and a bridge, as well as formal flower beds, and fountains. The superintendent’s lodge was designed with Swiss shelters. It is estimated the redevelopment of the park cost £20,000.

After three long years of construction work, and without a formal ceremony the park reopened its gates on 27th of July 1880, to the delight of the public of Dublin.

 

“The picture is a truly delightful one and cannot fail to impress every visitor to the Green with the incalculable benefits which such an oasis must bestow on the city and its people.”

– The Daily Express, 28th July 1880.

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Durability Guaranteed: Pulhamite Rockwork, its Conservation and Repair, a booklet from English Heritage.

The Easter Rising

On Easter Monday 1916 the Irish Citizen Army attempted to overthrow the governing British powers in Dublin, by taking control of strategically-important sites around the city.

Rebels under the command of Michael Mallin and Constance Markiewicz seized control of St Stephen’s Green. Trenches were dug around the perimeter of the park, and the glasshouse was used as a First Aid station. Evidence of fighting can be found on the Fusiliers’ Arch at the northwest entrance to the park, where bulletholes can still be seen to this day on the structure.

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‘St Stephen’s Green and 1916’ on the NLI online exhibition The 1916 Rising: Personalities and Perspectives.

Bibliography

  • McCabe, Desmond. St Stephen’s Green Dublin, 1660-1875 (2011)
  • Craig, Maurice. Dublin 1660-1860 (1952)
  • Fagan, Patrick. The second city: portrait of Dublin 1700-1760 (1986)
  • Guinness, Michele. The Guinness Spirit: brewers and bankers, ministers and missionaries (1956)
  • Kealy, Loughlin. The Georgian Squares of Dublin: an architectural history (2007)

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A guide to the Monuments of St Stephen’s Green Park.

Fusiliers' Arch

Dedicated to the members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who fought and died in the Second Boer War. Built in 1907.

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (1831-1915)

It was Patrick Pearse’s oration (“Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”) at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa that galvanised the nationalistic feeling which led to the Easter Rising.

Robert Emmet (1778-1803)

Emmet led the 1803 Rebellion against British rule in Ireland, for which he was executed in the same year. This statue of him faces the location of his birthplace on Stephen’s Green.

Lord Ardilaun (1840-1915)

Arthur Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun, was responsible for presenting the park of St Stephen’s Green to the citizens of Dublin in 1880.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

One of the most important figures in twentieth-century literature, and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Louie Bennett and Helen Chenevix

Both of these women were Irish suffragettes and trade unionists. Together they founded the Irish Women’s Workers Union.

Magdalen Seat

The inscription reads: “To the women who worked in the Magdalen laundry institutions and to the children born to some members of those communities – reflect here upon their lives.”

James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849)

Yeats said that “To the soul of Clarence Mangan was tied the burning ribbon of Genius”. Mangan, an Irish poet, was known best for Dark Rosaleen, among other works.

James Joyce (1882-1941)

One of the most influential writers of the early twentieth century, best known for Ulysses, this bust of Joyce faces the building of his alma mater.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

This bronze bust was the first monument of a non-Irish person in the Green, and was unveiled in 2011 on the 150th anniversary of his birth. Tagore was a celebrated Indian poet, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. A nationalist, he was also a close friend of Yeats.

Fianna Eireann

A nationalist youth group, similar to Scouts, closely associated with the Irish Volunteers. It was set up in Dublin in 1909 by Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markiewicz, among others.

The Three Fates

This bronze fountain was designed by Joseph Wackerle in 1956, and presented by the German government to Ireland. It commemorates Operation Shamrock, the Irish Red Cross project which resettled hundreds of refugee children from post World War II Germany.

Constance Markiewicz (1868-1927)

Markiewicz was a Countess and a Lieutenant, a suffragette and a socialist, and a leading figure in the nationalist movement. During the 1916 Rising she  was second in command to Michael Mallin, and held Stephen’s  Green. She was one of the first women in the world to be elected to Parliament, as MInister for Labour in Ireland in 1919.

Haslams Memorial Seat

In 1876 Anna and Thomas Haslam founded the first suffragette society in Dublin, the DWSA, later the IWSLGA. Through their work, they established the suffragette movement in Ireland, providing a group where later activists met and were encouraged. In the General Election of 1918, women over 30 were allowed to vote for the first time.

Thomas M. Kettle (1880-1916)

Tom Kettle was a leading intellectual and politician at the turn of the century. He was an advocate for the Home Role movement, and joined the Irish Volunteers. After the Great War broke out, he enlisted in an Irish regiment, and died at the Western Front in 1916.

Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798)

Wolfe Tone is celebrated as the father of Irish Republicanism. One of the founding members of the United Irishmen, and a leader in the 1798 Rebellion. Sculpted by Edward Delaney in 1967, using lost-wax bronze casting.

Famine Memorial

Sculpted by Edward Delaney in 1967 using lost-wax bronze casting. This is a memorial that commemorates the Great Famine of 1845-50.

View more images of the park, both current and historical, in the Gallery.

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