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Off Harcourt Street, down little Clonmel Street and through the entrance to the walled Iveagh Gardens, Richard Duggan is walking his dog Bryndley on a red leash.

Under leafy trees, the gravel of the path running around the park’s northern perimeter crunches underfoot, and the dog with its short, tiger-striped fur snuffles around.

It’s Thursday at lunchtime and the sunken sports pitch that the path skirts around is busy with school kids playing. A few times, Duggan and Bryndley have to make way for walkers and runners sharing the path.

With others who live nearby and like to use this park, Duggan has been campaigning to push the Office of Public Works (OPW) to keep the park open to local residents more this summer than in the past.

“I’ve been like a dog with a bone,” Duggan says, wearing a green and yellow lanyard saying “cheeky monkey” around his neck.

In recent years, it’s been at least partially closed for long stretches of the summer to host ticketed events such as the Taste of Dublin. Meaning Duggan and Bryndley – and others from the area – can’t do their usual walks.

Duggan says that, in a part of the city with few green spaces, it’s important to keep this one available to help people who live and work in the area maintain their physical and mental health. OPW staff say they and the park don’t serve only local residents, but also a wider public who like to come to the events.

At a meeting Thursday in Iveagh Gardens, and another later that day online, OPW representatives presented a plan under which the ticketed events would use less of the park, for fewer days this summer.

“It’s an improvement,” Duggan said later, but not enough. He says he’s going to keep pushing for more opening, more improvements, more engagement with locals.

The History and Use of the Park

The Iveagh Gardens, with a design dating back to 1865, are just 100 metres as the crow flies south-west of St Stephen’s Green’s 22 acres.

Tucked away from view behind rows of buildings, in the heart of a block bounded by Harcourt Street, Stephen’s Green, Earlsfort Terrace and Hatch Street Upper, it is less well known, but busy enough.

In 2022, 333,000 people visited its eight acres of lawns, trees, and paths, said Margaret Gormley, chief park superintendent at the OPW.

On Thursday, as Gormley spoke to a group of OPW staff, local residents, and public representatives – Labour TD Ivana Bacik, Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews, and Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne – a wedding party arrived for photos in front of the waterfall.

There are about 5,000 metres of paths in the park, and more than 300 trees, Gormley said. There’s a maze made of low hedges, and there’s a rose garden or “rosarium”.

The OPW has contracted consultants to do a year-long biodiversity audit of Iveagh Gardens, Gormley said.

Days Open, Days Closed

Last summer year, by Duggan’s reckoning, the park was at least partially closed to the public – so it could host ticketed events – for 55 days.

That’s for two things, OPW representatives explained on Thursday: Taste of Dublin food festival, and a series of music and comedy events run by Aiken Promotions.

The actual events don’t go on for 55 days straight nonstop. Taste of Dublin is four days, and the music and comedy are about 14 evenings

But there’s tents and stages and stuff to build, and during the construction, and once the gear is all there, local residents like Duggan and Bryndley can’t just walk through, stepping over electric cables and around tents.

So that’s why the OPW says it has kept part of the park and its main gate off Harcourt Street closed for that long stretch.

“50% of visitors normally enter the Gardens via the Clonmel Street gates when all gates are open,” Duggan says.

This year, the OPW has reduced the amount of space the events will take up, and the number of days they’ll be on – and added a break between them, Gormley said on Thursday. “We’ve pulled it in as tight as possible.”

In 2022, Taste of Dublin took up 80 percent of the “useable landscape” of the park during its time there, according to a slide from the OPW’s online presentation Thursday.

This year, the plan is for it to take up 50.4 percent for part of the time and 63 percent for another part, the slide shows. They’re expecting about 30,000 visitors between 6 June and 24 June, it says.

In 2022, the music and comedy took up 74 percent of the park, according to another slide from the OPW’s presentation. This year, the plan is for it to take up 48 percent of the park between 1 July and 2 August, the slide shows. They’re expecting about 16,300 visitors, it says.

With the tents and stages and all the kit confined to only part of the park, “Gates will be kept open at all times, except on actual event days,” Gormley said, though not always the main gate.

Overall, by Duggan’s count, the park will be at least partially closed for 51 days instead of 55 this year – and with that seven-day break in between. And the area the events take up will shrink from an average of 67 percent to an average of 55 percent, he says.

The main gate off Clonmel Street will be closed for 52 days this year, Duggan says.

Bacik, the Labour Party leader, who was at the meeting in the park on Thursday, said she likes to see the park well used.

“But I think the consensus is that the Taste of Dublin and other events have taken up too much of the park in the past, so it’s good to see they’ll be making some changes,” she said.

Duggan wants more. Among his asks: why can’t the events be put up and taken down more quickly? And why can’t the inner perimeter walk – where he was crunching through the gravel on Thursday at lunchtime – be fenced off from the events area and kept open all summer long?

Katie Morrisroe, head of national historic properties for the OPW, was also at the park and online for the meetings Thursday.

“We think we’ve improved the balance this year,” she said. “We’ll look at it again in the autumn and see how it went.”

The Children’s Museum

Besides the events’ temporary summer takeovers of the Iveagh Gardens, another issue was on the minds of several of the people who gathered at the park and online on Thursday to talk to the OPW staff: the planned children’s science centre.

The OPW got planning permission in 2016 to build a new children’s science centre, including a planetarium, at the back of the National Concert Hall.

That would have included taking down that section of the wall enclosing Iveagh Gardens, so the museum would open out into the gardens.

Some local residents objected. That would change the “walled garden” character of the park, they said.

The OPW didn’t get around to building the new science centre before the planning permission expired.

But last autumn, it applied again to Dublin City Council for permission to build the children’s science centre – and again received it.

Among a group of people who gathered back in 2017 to protest the plan, was local resident Pom Boyd. She is still fighting it.

Boyd has appealed the planning permission to An Bord Pleanála. The board’s website says it will decide on that by the end of April, though it hasn’t.

On Thursday Boyd was at the park for the meeting with the OPW. Taking down part of the wall, “would totally change the park”, she said.

But the representatives of the OPW didn’t want to talk about the children’s science centre plan.

That’s with An Bord Pleanála, Gormley said. “We came here to talk about the park, not the planning issue.”

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  1. The problem with the 51 days the park is closed is that they are probably the 51 days where the weather is best in the year.

    1. And the state it’s left in means it’s only back to normal for the same event the following year.

    2. An extraordinarily disappointing article. Of the 330,000 people who use the gardens, per the article’s stats, a tiny number of local objectors (look at the photo!) are looking for a heckler’s veto on the use of spaces that benefit everyone in the city, and they get a generous uncritical write-up. Same problem in the valorisation of opponents of a children’s science museum. Love the Inquirer but you all need to develop a greater discernment about what are local private amenities and what are public amenities intended for the whole city’s population. I am a lifelong Dublin 7 resident and the vast majority of people in Dublin will never afford to live in the immediate city centre, but we spend our days there, getting the bus in, using common spaces, and attending events. Similar to the ongoing disuse of the once lively Portobello Plaza, wealthy locals in Dublin 1 and 2 want preferential consideration in the use of public spaces for their own use and the Inquirer is happy to present this as a ‘local residents’ or ‘neighbourhood’ concern because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the City’s structure. The recurring portrayal of central locations in the city as if they are small neighbourhoods where residents have the final say has to be addressed by this paper, which apart from its naivete about the wealthy of the city, is the best source of urbanist writing in Ireland.
      No problem criticising the closure of the park for private events. They are debatable, but please drop the elitist and exclusionary valorisation of local busybodies.

      1. Thanks for this thoughtful response to my article. I’ll keep that in mind in future.

        Although, I don’t see how a hotel taking over Portobello Plaza is related to privileging the views of local objectors.

        1. Thank you Sam. You do great work and our city is lucky to have you and the team but you are far too kind and sympathetic to local cranks. For example, quotes in the prior article about the Gardens with ‘local residents’ being opposed to a Children’s Science Centre, one pointing to the preservation of a wall, are so comedically villainous I am endlessly curious how it is deemed worthy of coverage. What an amazing amenity that could be and what a dreadful abuse of our planning laws by the objectors.

        2. Sam, read your own publication’s article and note that the local residents began complaining to councillors about skateboarders in 2018. Obviously accusations against them and a dislike of people using it as a public space at night led to its initial closure. The anti social behaviour allegations seem to mean people having sitting, having cans and talking to eachother in a public square.

  2. Let Aitken or any other private company build their own private for-profit venue for their private for-profit events.

  3. I have to say I agree with this comment. I have noticed that The Inquirer doesn’t generally challenge ‘local’ views and as a result these can come across as facts or reflecting a wider consensus. This article is a perfect example. A kids science centre would be so great to have in a city that has so few civic amenities. And it’s being taken to ABP by local residents because of a wall (!), and The Inquirer doesn’t question that or push back. Your publication is pro a better city and pro-urbanism which is great, but maybe consider more where local actions can lead and the long term effects. You are a great paper and raise things that few other media outlets do, but I do think you could probe interviewees more and challenge the local = inherently good mantra for stronger journalism.

  4. In general I find the OPW to be quiet possessive of the properties under it’s remit. It closes it’s parks in the evening long before DCC closes theirs. At the merest hint of snow the grounds of the Royal Hospital are shut to the public the same grounds which are shut tight@ 6pm winter & summer all in the name of health & safety. Except of course if you’re a large institution such as a bank you can hire this public facility for corporate use any time.

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