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On Monday, in a little park opposite the front of the Mater Hospital in Phibsborough, cherry blossom trees and yellow daffodils signal spring has arrived.
The Four Masters Park has a sculpture of an ornate high cross and another sculpture depicting a ball with handprints, placed on a tree trunk with a flame inside.
The little park is an oasis of green, but there’s no way in. The gates are chained and locked.
“I’d been looking at it locked up for years, passing by, thinking why, why is it not open?” says Sheila Ahern, a committee member on the Berkeley Road Area Residents Association.
Dublin City Council used to maintain the park and kept it well, Ahern says, but the Mater Hospital owns it and it’s always locked.
“I don’t care who owns it,” says Ahern. But there isn’t much green space around the area, so not being able to access the park “just seems such a desperate waste”.
By last summer, the Covid-19 lockdowns had focused local minds and they got together and started a campaign to get the park opened, she says.
Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll says she thinks that at one stage or another most local councillors have queried why the Four Masters Park is always locked.
On 8 March 2022, councillors for the Central Area agreed to a motion by Green Party Councillor Janet Horner, calling on the Mater Hospital to open the park.
A Mater spokesperson said on Tuesday that that might happen. “The Mater Hospital is hoping to be in a position to allow access to Four Masters’ Park to local residents and the wider community in the near future.”
A Bit of History
Ahern got interested in the park and started to look into its history, she says.
She found out that it was originally part of the Mater Hospital site and was originally called the Mater Plot, she says.
The park takes its name from the cross, which was commissioned by Sir William Wilde – father of the poet and playwright Oscar Wilde – who was a surgeon with an interest in art and history and was involved in commissioning artwork in Dublin.
Sculpted by artist James Cahill and installed in 1876, it is a testament to the work of four Franciscan monks from Donegal town, who in the 1630s compiled a written “history of the ancient kingdom of Ireland which became known as the Annals of the Four Masters”, says a council report, Art in Parks.
The park was only landscaped in 1963, says Ahern, when US President John F. Kennedy was set to drive past it on his way to Áras an Uachtaráin.
In 2000, another sculpture, Healing Hands by Tony O’Malley, was added. That’s the tree trunk with a ball of hands on top wrapped around a flame. “It was erected … to celebrate the third millennium of the birth of Christ,” says the report.
Ahern lives nearby. “The park was never open to the public,” she says, as far as she can make out.
Some people have suggested that if it were open some people might drink there or take drugs, but that is not a valid reason to keep it locked up forever, says Ahern. “That happens everywhere.”
“When it opens it will still be in the complete control of the Sisters of Mercy and the Mater Hospital,” she says. They will be able to close it in the early evening.
Part of the park may be needed for a metro station in the future, but there is no timeline for those works at the moment, she says.
Open It Up
Councillors have continually pushed for the park to be opened, says O’Driscoll.
Labour Councillor Joe Costello included a call to open the park in his submission to the consultation around the next city development plan.
The council is pushing for it, says Horner, the Green Party councillor. “There is definitely a commitment to work with the Mater to get it open.”
A spokesperson for the Mater Hospital says that it recently took over responsibility for maintaining the park.
Dublin City Council staff suggested that the hospital do a risk assessment and any necessary works before opening it up, she says. “It is intended to open the Four Masters’ Park once that assessment is complete.”
That might not be right away, due to an increase in Covid-19 patients in the hospital, as well as staff absences due to the pandemic, she says.
Ahern says she has heard that the park will be reopened at some point this year. Local residents would be “absolutely delighted” if it happens, she says.
Staff and patients of the Mater who could use it would benefit too, she says.
Not everyone living in the area has private outside space, she says. “It would just be lovely to have that little garden.”