Iveagh Gardens: Dublin’s Greatest Secret Garden

Iveagh Gardens is a garden with more than meets the eye. It acts as a venue for festivals, concerts, and as a park to admire its fauna and flora. It has been around since 1865, hosting festivals such as Taste of Dublin and musical acts such as Garbage back in 2019. The gardens also hold the 2022-2023 Green Flag Award, an award granted to parks for the high standards of their facilities and also how environmentally friendly they are. 

Iveagh Gardens – History

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Image: Iveagh Gardens

Although Iveagh Gardens was designed in 1865 by Ninian Niven, the garden’s history goes back as far as three hundred years. The history of the gardens before 1865 begins with the Leeson’s family, who bought a part of the St Stephen’s Green park’s land to build a mansion and a brewery. Jumping forward to 1777, when the first house, Clonmel House, was built on Harcourt Street on the south-west corner of St Stephen’s Green, the 1st Earl of Clonmell bought eleven acres of Leeson’s Fields as a garden for this house.

Clonmel House’s garden specifically is what would come to be Iveagh Gardens, due to the proprietor John Scott buying eleven acres of land off Leeson’s Fields. The land bought by Scott would later be renamed in 1817 to Cobourg Gardens and shifted from private land to land open to the public for visiting. Some notable events the garden held during this time were a show commemorating the Battle of Waterloo in 1828 and another show in 1830 celebrating King William IV’s coronation.

The 1830s also marked a steep decline in popularity for Cobourg Gardens, and also faced clashes in terms of a conflicting development proposal in 1836. This was the result of a shift in ownership within that same year to Thomas, Earl of Clonmell, who intended on building a street going through the park. These plans never came to fruition however, meaning the gardens were safe but in poor condition due to neglect until Benjamin Lee Guiness bought the gardens from John Henry in 1856.

Benjamin Lee Guinness acquired the land to use it as a garden for his town house mansion Iveagh House. This led to Ninian Niven being appointed to design the gardens in 1863 and the Viceroy, the Earl of Carlisle, to lay the foundation stone of the buildings where ceremonies would be held in the gardens that same year. 

Its grand opening was hosted in 1865, bringing in an audience of 900,000 attendees on its first day open. The debt accrued from the costs incurred from the garden production, but paid off in 1871 when Sir Arthur Guinness (1840 – 1915), son of the late Benjamin Lee, and his brother Edward Cecil re-purchased the site (buildings and parkland) for £60,000. This purchase covered the accrued debt in question, and the events the gardens – banquets, concerts, exhibitions – continued for a decade onward.

From its opening day into the twentieth century, 1941 marked further developments on Iveagh Gardens and opened a newly-built gateway at the eastern end of the gardens. The gardens were left in the hands of UCD at the time, which made the gardens at the time a place known for students coming to relax after their studies. Ireland’s government then received responsibility over the gardens in 1991 and still look after Iveagh Gardens today. 

Iveagh Gardens – Festivals and Concerts

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Image: Visit Dublin

Festivals and concerts attract many people to Iveagh Gardens. Taste of Dublin (pictured above) is an annual festival hosted every summer that serves world-class food and drink of all kinds, hailing from various Dublin restaurants. Attendees get a choice between a day time showing from 12pm to 4:30pm and an evening time showing of 6pm to 10:30pm to choose from. The day shows are aimed more at families, whereas the evening shows are for adults. 

Image: Dublin Gazette

Another festival hosted on the Iveagh Gardens grounds is the Paddy Power Comedy Festival (pictured above), which is in the summer time too. The Paddy Power Comedy Festival is a comedy festival which hosts a number of comedians both mainstream and lesser known. This is a festival divided into four stages from biggest to smallest in size: The Bleedin’ Massive Stage, The Craic Den, The Only Joke Inn, and The Free Gaff.  For example, they have comics like Tommy Tiernan and Deirdre O’Kane on their main stage The Bleedin’ Massive Stage, and then lesser known, but no less entertaining comedians like Sinead Quinlan on The Craic Den and Michael Fry on The Free Gaff.

Image: Hot Press

As for the concerts in these gardens, the artists that have played here come from a number of different genres. Garbage is one such artist that has performed in Iveagh Gardens back in 2019 (their performance is pictured above), alongside others in previous years such as the punk band IDLES that same year and The Pixies in 2015. The gardens as a venue is known for using its outdoor space to accommodate the various music acts that have played there over the years. You can find out when all their events are on for concerts and festivals in the events section of the Iveagh Gardens website here.

Iveagh Gardens – Park Area

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Iveagh Gardens’s park area is an area rife with natural features and flora. Water fountains, trees, and various flowers are a common sight to see all around the gardens. One such standout feature of Iveagh Gardens is “The Cascade”. The Cascade is a waterfall feature in the gardens with a dazzling display of water crashing as it falls over a stone formation surrounded by vegetation.

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Image: Iveagh Gardens

Also within the repertoire of Iveagh Gardens’s park is its signature twin fountains facing each other (shown in the photo below). Situated at the left and right hand sides of the main Holly Walk pathway in between them, they are both fountains with marble centrepieces of human figures. One shows the figure of a human on the right, whereas the other on the left depicts that of an angel. 

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Image: Heritage Ireland

One other example of a standout feature of Iveagh Gardens is its rose garden (shown below). The rose garden is a circular arrangement of rose beds that acts as another one of the main draws of Iveagh Gardens. A particular type of rose within this space is the rosa comte de chambord specimen. With a gated perimeter around its area for further decoration and preservation of the roses, Iveagh Gardens’s rose beds are another part of the gardens worth viewing.

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Image: Iveagh Gardens

Iveagh Gardens – Conclusion

To conclude, Iveagh Gardens is indeed a great secret garden to visit in Dublin. Its rich history, varied festivals and concerts, alongside its unforgettable public park area make the gardens a must-visit for anyone that appreciates gardens and/or nature alike. The gardens are tucked away, waiting for you to visit at your leisure.

Address: St Stephen’s Green, Park, Dublin 2, D02 HX65

Opening Hours: 

Monday – Saturday: 8am – 7:30pm

Website: https://iveaghgardens.ie/ 

Matthew Lehane
Matthew Lehane

An upcoming MA graduate in New Media and Digital Culture in Utrecht University, with a BA in English, Media and Cultural Studies from IADT, and a QQI Level 5 qualification in Arts, Culture, and History from DFEI. The topics written (and edited) to date for Babylon Radio range from film, tourism, and photography, with a broader range to come during this internship and in future work.

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