Square roots


Merrion Square is our favourite Dublin garden, even if the monuments are a bit peculiar. To celebrate its 250th birthday, REBECCA LYONSasks walkers, workers and wanderers who regularly pass by, what makes it so special


“Fáilte Ireland doesn’t realise what a stunning job the artists do,” laughs artists Thelma Mansfield, one of many who exhibit their work on the rails of Merrion Square every weekend. “Tourists come up to us,” she grins, “often with their maps upside-down, asking for directions.” But, like her fellow artists – with whom she is “great friends” – Mansfield is happy to help. She enjoys being close to the “fantastic” atmosphere of the park, while engaging in another favourite pastime of hers – people-watching.

“It was through seeing the colour and charm,” she says, speaking of the art-browsing visitors, “that I was encouraged to first paint a market environment.” Although, she admits it can get quite busy. “Sometimes you retreat into your car and have a cup of tea.

And sketch.”


“Make Merrion Square a Public Square” was Labour’s catch in the early 1970s when the 11.7 acre park was held by the Catholic Church. The plan was to build a cathedral there, and in the meantime only keyholders could use the space, which had been bought from the Pembroke Estate in 1930 for a pricey £100,000. Ruairi Quinn got his way in 1974 when the park was opened to the public. The park remains an important piece of cultural heritage for the Minister. “It’s the most extensive piece of Georgian architecture in Ireland,” he says, “and I think it will continue to be a much-used public place. I walk through it frequently.”


Aidan Fitzpatrick has been conducting business from 79 Merrion Square for seven years, and he’s far from tired of the place. As well as finding somewhere green and Georgian, “to lie down and have a rest” during lunch, Fitzpatrick has had the good luck to set up shop far from the rest of “congested” inner Dublin. “There’s parking outside the door, for my staff and clients,” he enthuses, before finishing with a simple, “it’s more pleasant here. Less busy these days.”


With more than 30,000 well-heeled Americans in town this weekend for the Navy Notre Dame game in the Aviva, designer Louise Kennedy is directing husbands to stroll in the park while their wives view her collection in the gorgeous surroundings of 56 Merrion Square. Business is brisk, but Kennedy can relax after hours in the top two floors of the house which has one of the finest views in the city – the Dublin mountain to the rear, and the square’s gardens in front. “I see more of the square from up here than from actually walking through the park, which is one of the most underutilised spaces in the city.” A resident since 1998, Kennedy was first drawn by the building’s uniquely balanced mix of “light and shade”. She knew she was home as soon as she walked through the front door.

“I was driving by, trying to find a place with really good karma,” she recalls. “I feel very privileged,” she says, “the vista is just breathtaking.”


Carmel Drummond, head gardener at Merrion Square Park, meets a lot of people in her line of work. “Because of the hop-on, hop-off buses,” she explains, “there are always tourists passing through.” They tell her all about their country, their plans. “It’s like travelling to different places while you’re working,” she adds. The heather-beds are Drummond’s preferred spot and with their colourful addition, the place remains “flowering most of year.” At the moment, “there’s a lot of grass-cutting going,” she says, “and we’re lifting about 12,000 plants.” As for her favourite statue, it’s Oscar Wilde. “I met Al Pacino once,” she recalls, speaking of the actor’s visit to the monument last year. What was he like? “Shorter in real life,” she replies, sighing.


Being one quarter of a 24-hour, crack team of doormen can’t be easy, but John Morrissey, who works at the Merrion Hotel, makes the whole thing look like child’s play. “I’ve been in the hotel business for 40 years,” he says, and he has been, among a things, barman at the K Club. “We take shifts. I look after the guests, meet and greet them, from 3pm to 11pm.” He’s seen it all, from the “tourists and the businessmen,” to the guests far too illustrious to mention. He’s never had to deal with any odd requests, but odd jokes. “I just laughed, and went on,” he replies.


“The dog barks his head off at the statues,” says Flynn-Rogers, speaking of her cairn terrier’s vocal dislike of Oscar Wilde. “He can’t understand why they’re not moving.” Flynn-Rogers has been using Merrion Square park for the past two years, and, as she and her dog, Riley, are both morning walkers, they get the complete experience of a city waking up. “It’s mostly politicians talking furiously on their phones,” she explains, “and gardeners going by with wheelbarrows.” Still, she and Riley like it, taking it all in from a bench on “top of the war-bunker” hill – which commands some of the best views in the park. “Riley likes it. He sits up next to me.”


“We all kind of share the work,” says Mary Coffey, midwife at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. Coffey considers her job to be far more than that – for her, it’s a vocation. “There’s a sense of belonging here, of being rooted by culture,” Coffey says of the area, before mentioning the “holy angel” flowers planted not too far from the hospital. Clad “all in white”, the memorial stands for the “little souls” of the children who have passed, and it’s a spot that she considers especially poignant. In a hospital where – according to Coffey – “everybody knows everybody”, it’s a place where both patients and staff can gather for comfort.

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