Everyone agrees that Wolfe Tone Park needs a bit of TLC. Home to the council’s portable staff toilets, its hard, dull appearance does little to entice people in.
And neither do the loiterers drinking cans at midday or people diving behind the historic tombstones on search-and-rescue missions for stashed drugs.
The local residents have been campaigning since 2006 to get some greenery returned to the park. Now, because of worries about its future, they’ve revived their effort and formed the Jervis/Wolfe Tone Park Community group.
Their goal: to see the park restored to its previous grass-filled, fully-fenced design of the 1990s.
Ups and Downs
Named after the adjacent Wolfe Tone Street, where the revolutionary was born in 1763, the park was originally a graveyard for St Mary’s Church. It was a final resting place for historic Irish figures like United Irishman Archibald Hamilton Rowan and Mercer’s Hospital founder Mary Mercer.
The land was deconsecrated and handed over to Dublin City Council in 1966, and the gravestones were moved against the wall, so the space could accommodate a public park. In 1998, a new design brought concrete to the space and gravestones were used as flagstones; there was no longer any need for a caretaker.
On a grey day, this grey park doesn’t resemble a graveyard in any way. But it is certainly no place for the living.
Standing under the trees for cover from the lashing rain, Ciarán Flynn, who’s lived facing the park for more than 15 years, explains its problems.
There’s the anti-social behaviour. There are the commercial vehicles that park there – without authorisation, according to the council. And there are the vehicles that drive across, which have cracked some of the 300-year-old gravestones.
Dublin City Council accepts that the current design of this “park/civic space” has not been fully successful, has not worked out as well as its designers had hoped.
“It is always a challenge to properly manage and maintain a space like this in an urban setting, where there inevitably are incidences of low-level anti-social behaviour,” said a spokesman for the council.
Despite the park’s problems, Flynn says it still attracts tourists. And, indeed, although the weather is miserable, during the hour that we stand there, we see walking tours and small groups of sightseers coming through.
Local residents want to see the park restored to its “former glory”.
Though it is generally accepted that having a park without railings reduces anti-social behaviour, Flynn says here that has not been the case – the problems have definitely worsened.
He hopes gates would stop drunk people having parties in the park at three o’clock in the morning, after the pubs close.
“At the moment, you can see it’s a hostile environment . . . You’d be brave to hang out there,” says Flynn.
The group has been lobbying councillors and has received the support of councillors Mannix Flynn and Ciarán Cuffe, as well as the Dublin Civic Trust.
Call to Action
The residents’ campaign originally began nine years ago with Ciarán Flynn and the late independent TD Tony Gregory leading the way.
The park had already been redesigned to blend in more with the rest of the concrete city, and then the last of the grass was removed by the council and replaced with “moon dust” (gravel).
That’s when locals began to take issue with the situation, says Flynn.
The grass was removed after The Box – a TV3 televised event – damaged it. The council promised to return the park to normal, but the grass wasn’t restored.
That first incarnation of the campaign eventually fizzled out. Then, in March of this year, Dublin City Council held a meeting to discuss the future of Wolfe Tone Park – and that reignited locals’ interest.
Flynn says residents weren’t informed of the meeting, and he found out late the night before it was due to be held. Representatives from the council, DublinTown – the Business Improvement District – and the local Garda station were there.
Widespread Support for Change
“The first order of business at the table I was sitting at – table number one – was the commercial value of the footprint of the space,” says Flynn, with disbelief. “There was speculation about what it was actually worth.”
Well-formed plans to extend the plaza into the bottom of the AXA building where there would be commercial premises were also suggested, he says.
DublinTown CEO Richard Guiney attended the meeting, which he describes as a workshop for the council to come back with plans for the park, and explains that it was just an opportunity to share ideas and that nothing should be assumed.
Guiney says he’d like to see the park become more popular. “Basically, it’s fairly well accepted that it’s not working as it should, it’s not as attractive as it should be . . . We’d like to see it being better used. That’s our thinking on it,” he explains.
He envisages a space where people can relax and stop off for lunch. What does he think of restoring it to its former green and leafy glory? He thinks having a green space in the city is quite an attractive idea.
Representatives of AXA were at the meeting too and, according to spokeswoman Andrea Cassells, “support the We are Dublin Town Group on their view for the Wolfe Tone Park”.
A neighbour of the park, Tom O’Rahilly, director of the Leprechaun Museum, believes the park needs to be made as active as possible, but that it should also be respected as a burial site.
In April, Mannix Flynn put forward a motion to restore the park, and the council passed it.
Dublin City Council is still in the early stages of developing a design plan, which “will likely involve restoration of grass to most of the park”, but it hopes to have draft plan ready before the year is out, according to the council’s press office.
Restoring the railings will also be considered and relevant stakeholders – including local residents – will be consulted extensively before a decision is made, says the council press office.
The park is often used for events like markets and musical events. The council has said that events organisers are asked to consult with local residents and businesses before an event takes place.
As part of this week’s Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival, Spiegeltent is coming to the park. It features a brass band. The residents – who are behind protected single-glazed windows just metres away – became concerned.
Dublin City Council issued them an invite to discuss the event, but when residents attended the meeting no representatives of the council were present, only people from DublinTown and the Fringe Festival.
Councillor Mannix Flynn, who was there, says he was shocked. “It’s not good enough,” he says. “It’s all too often you see this indifference.”
After they eventually met with council officials, the community group opposed the event. But they were informed the day before it was set up, that the council had granted it permission to go ahead.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson says the council spoke with residents about the event, and that further consultation would have been arranged if it had been requested.
Taking Back the Park
Ciarán Flynn says he’d like to see the Office of Public Works take over the site, because Dublin City Council has failed.
Flynn says he is genuinely worried about the future of the space – which, as it is, can be closed off to locals without a ticket. He’d like to see it given back to the people of Dublin, he says.
“We’d also like to put forward the idea that locals would actually work in maintaining and stewarding the area . . . I can’t see why that wouldn’t help curtailing some of the anti-social behaviour,” says Flynn.
Councillor Mannix Flynn says some organisations would like to see the park turned into a commercial concern. But he doesn’t want to see that happen.
People should be afforded a bit of down time, when they aren’t being targeted commercially, says the councillor. He thinks the space should be a place for “workers, children and shoppers to get away from the hustle and bustle”.
“You can’t give in to anti-social behaviour by making the place hostile to everyone,” he says.