After work each Friday, Owen Quinn heads straight to the Iveagh Gardens in the city centre.
Rather than mill outside a pub, he opts for the lush surrounds of this Victorian landscape. “But by the time you’ve got your second shoe off you’re asked to leave,” says Quinn.
He is frustrated by the gardens’ early closing time of 6pm. “Literally 6 o’clock on the dot, you’re hoofed out,” he says.
That’s if you can get in of course. Summer months are also busy for private bookings, with parts of the garden closed off for all of July, for example.
Some councillors and people who use the gardens say it’s time for them to stay open longer in the evenings, and that there need to be stricter rules on renting out this public space.
Last Thursday, workers rushed out of offices along Harcourt Street and out into sunlight, on what was the longest day of the year.
At 5:25pm, the gate off Hatch Street into the Iveagh Gardens was still open. Those spread out on the verge under sycamores had just over half an hour left in the gardens.
On the lawn near the rose garden, Emer Mooney and Paul Hynes were rolling cigarettes.
Mooney works nearby and comes in from time to time. But the closing times are too early, she says. “They should definitely be extended in the summer.”
That’s all that Owen Quinn wants, too. He, like Mooney, says that the nearby St Stephen’s Green, which is also run by the Office of Public Works (OPW), is often too busy.
“The Iveagh Gardens are beautiful, it’s really chilled out. There’s usually nice people there,” he says.
But because St Stephen’s Green opens until 9pm during the summer, there’s no need to keep Iveagh Gardens open longer, says an OPW spokesperson. Besides “this is mainly a business area”, they said by email.
Back in the gardens on Thursday evening, Mooney looks behind him. Today, there is a metal fence marking off the rose garden and this small patch near the Hatch Street entrance.
This is the only part of the Iveagh Gardens open today. Most of the area is still locked up five days after the Taste of Dublin festival took place here.
Five days is far too long to keep the main stretches of the gardens closed, says Mooney. “There’s no need for that to remain closed off,” she says.
The OPW didn’t respond to queries as to why it was closed still.
At the entrance, some citizens have shown their frustration with such abbreviated public space.
“YOU SHOULD NOT CLOSE THIS PARK!!!” reads one message, hastily scrawled on the cardboard map for Taste of Dublin, attached to the park’s outer railings.
“Thanks for opening the park on a busy summer evening!” reads another. Above that are the words “Not Good Enough!”
The month ahead is unlikely to please local park-goers who are frustrated by limited opening hours: parts of the gardens are set to close for all of July.
A Rundown Curiosity
According to the OPW spokesperson, the gardens play host to numerous events during June, July, and August, which means less of the gardens are open to Dubliners hoping to bask in the sun.
During this period access to the rose garden and maze area is available via the Hatch Street entrance until 6pm, the spokesperson said.
The other two entrances – at Clonmel Street and the National Concert Hall – are closed for 18 days in June, all of July and for three to four days in early August. It was the same in 2016 and 2017.
As some see it, though, it’s an unacceptable approach to public space.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says the commercialisation of parks has to stop. “You go into these places to get away from commercialisation,” he says.
Flynn says he remembers trips to the Iveagh Gardens as a child in the 1960s, when it was a rundown curiosity. “I loved it,” he says. “It was very interesting, very underused.”
Since the OPW refurbished the gardens in the early 1990s, it has gradually become more and more “sterile”, says Flynn. “It’s lost a lot of its curiosity.”
The OPW should at least match Dublin City Council on opening hours, says Flynn. Council parks open until 10pm in June and July, and until 9:30pm in August.
Concerts and events shouldn’t be held there either, says Flynn. “It’s really wrong.”
Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne isn’t so sure, though. Concerts provide a revenue stream for the OPW, she says. “It’s a really, really nice venue,” she says. “It’s a tricky one because it’s also a funding stream.”
Opening times are too limited though, says Byrne, especially during the summer months. “It is a heavily used park so they have to give consideration to the users also.”
Elsewhere in the city, some councillors are pushing to have private green space opened to the public.
Fitzwilliam Square should be open to all, says Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey. Right now, the small park surrounded by Georgian homes is only open to the square’s residents with a key.
For 10 years, Lacey has been calling for that too change, he says. “The notion that this square is locked when a lot of Dubliners are sweltering in the heat is just wrong.”
The square is managed and controlled by Fitzwilliam Square Association Ltd. (We couldn’t reach them for comment.)
Lacey says public access to the park is an objective in the city’s development plan – a document that the council has to refer to when planning the city.
“It’s a relic of old privilege,” says Lacey. “It’s a private garden because that’s how we ran our society hundreds of years ago. It shouldn’t be how we run our society today.”
Similarly, some argue it’s time for the OPW to reexamine its approach to the Iveagh Gardens.
Last Friday, at 5:52pm, Mooney and Hynes sat in the shade of a sycamore tree as a warden did the rounds, informing people the gardens would soon close.
Just because St Stephen’s Green is close by, “that’s no excuse at all” for the Iveagh Gardens to close so early. “It’s a public space,” says Hynes. “The public should have access to it.”
An OPW spokesperson said they have no plans to change the opening hours at Iveagh Gardens.