Fitzwilliam Square may become public park under council plans

Dublin park, once home to ‘belted earls and their ladies’, may open to great unwashed

Fitzwilliam Square park, the only one of Dublin city's five Georgian parks in private ownership, could be opened to be public for the first time under a Dublin City Council plan.

For more than 200 years the Dublin 2 park has been accessible only to keyholders, mostly the residents and owners of the 69 houses on the square, some of whom pay almost €1,000 a year for the privilege.

However, the council says it will seek public access to the park, and it plans to open talks with the Fitzwilliam Square Association with a view to opening the facility to more of the city’s population.

While the parks in Georgian squares at St Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square, Mountjoy Square and the Garden of Remembrance at Parnell Square are all open to the public, Fitzwilliam Square has been a private garden since it was first enclosed in 1813.


The association holds a 150-year lease of the park and controls the distribution of keys to building owners, who pay €950 a year for access, or tenants, who pay €550. Some “off-square” membership applications are also considered at a cost of €550 for a commercial subscription and €350 for a local resident.

St Stephen’s Green was designed as a public park, but was handed over to local residents and privatised in the early 19th century. It was eventually bought by Arthur Guinness and given back to the public in 1880.

Parnell Square, originally the Rotunda Pleasure Gardens, originally had an entry charge to raise money for the new hospital, built in the mid-18th century. The Garden of Remembrance, which takes up a fifth of the former park, opened in 1966.

Mountjoy Square was privately owned until it was handed over to the city in 1938. Merrion Square was the last of the other Georgian parks to come into public ownership. It was gifted by the Catholic Church to Dublin Corporation in 1974.

Previous approaches

In the following years the corporation, now city council, made approaches to the association to open the park to others, but these were turned down following a vote.

“Given the current emphasis on the importance of outdoor activities, and the lack of green spaces, I think it is right that the council would pursue this again,” said Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan.

“It’s time to facilitate Dubliners who have been locked out of Fitzwilliam Square for 200 years. There is no place in the 21st century for elitism or harking back to an era when belted earls and their ladies held sway.”

Dermot Lacey, a Labour councillor who has argued for the opening of the park to the public for decades, said the Covid-19 pandemic had shown the importance of public spaces.

“It is anachronistic, and it just isn’t right, that a small elite should enjoy what should be a public park in the centre of the city. I think it’s time the association took the proposal seriously.”

When contacted yesterday, the association said it was not available for comment.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times