The Phoenix Park – protect and conserve: The Irish Times view

It would be a betrayal of the park’s unique characteristics if its qualities are compromised

Since 1986, Dublin’s Phoenix Park has been designated as a National Historic Park, and for good reason: its enclosure in the mid-17th century, to protect the royal deer herd, is one of the most important legacies to Dublin of James Butler, the great Duke of Ormonde, as viceroy of Ireland during the reign of Charles II. Photograph: David Sleator

Since 1986, Dublin’s Phoenix Park has been designated as a National Historic Park, and for good reason: its enclosure in the mid-17th century, to protect the royal deer herd, is one of the most important legacies to Dublin of James Butler, the great Duke of Ormonde, as viceroy of Ireland during the reign of Charles II. Photograph: David Sleator

 

It is one of Dublin’s great boasts that the city has the largest enclosed public park of any European capital. But the Phoenix Park is more than just its size alone. Since 1986, it has been designated as a National Historic Park, and for good reason: its enclosure in the mid-17th century, to protect the royal deer herd, is one of the most important legacies to Dublin of James Butler, the great Duke of Ormonde, as viceroy of Ireland during the reign of Charles II.

The Office of Public Works, which is the park’s custodian, has prepared a draft strategic review aimed at enhancing the “visitor experience” of this uniquely valuable public amenity. Many of its proposals are welcome, including restoration of the Magazine Fort as a visitor attraction, although it’s questionable whether this would require a funicular railway. Similarly, there must be doubts about the provision and staffing of new “welcome pavilions” flanking the main entrance from Parkgate Street.

Installing an underground rail station in the tunnel beneath the park, to serve Dublin Zoo, seems fanciful at a time when there are much more pressing demands for public transport investment. More controversially, the review recommends creating a large surface car park at the Ashtown Castle Visitor Centre, where the annual Bloom Festival is held. It also fails to make recommendations to curtail the use of Chesterfield Avenue, the main route through the park, by car commuters while city buses are excluded.

The first priority of any plan must be to “protect and conserve the historic landscape character of the Phoenix Park and its archaeological, architectural and natural heritage whilst facilitating … the sustainable use of of the park’s resources for recreation and other appropriate activities”. That’s what the OPW’s conservation management plan pledged in 2011, in addition to “maintaining its sense of peace and tranquility” – which is, after all, why the park is so valued by Dubliners and visitors to the city. It would be a betrayal of the Phoenix Park’s long history if these qualities were compromised in any way.

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