On Saturday 3rd July 2010 Dublin held its first, and highly enjoyable and successful, Dublin Squares Open Day promoted by the Dublin Civic Trust and sponsored by the Electricity Supply Board.
Fun for all the family in Merrion Square during the first Dublin Squares Open Day
A small group of us from LPGT went out to join in the fun. And fun it was! Not, I suspect, so much fun for the organisers Geraldine Walsh and Rebecca Jeffares and their helpers, who were run ragged trying to cope with unhelpful officialdom, last-minute no-shows by booked groups and high winds that meant the hot-air balloon was grounded. But great fun for locals and visitors unaware of the background dramas. And being Dublin, of course, the fun and the hospitality shown to us were not confined to the Saturday but included as well memorable receptions at the ESB headquarters and in private houses overlooking squares. A special highlight was lunch and a guided tour of Phoenix Park with its superintendent John McCullen, who has recently published an excellent book on the history of the one-time Royal Park.
For a Londoner, much of Dublin feels familiar, even on a first visit. The predominant building material is brick, with Portland stone and a less familiar silvery granite for the first-rate civic buildings; and the predominant style is Georgian and classical. And Dublin was of course once the second city of the UK.
As in all families with unhappy histories, the differences between the two cities are the more striking because the similarities are so close; the Liffey is narrower than the Thames and does not divide the city in the same way; the streets in Dublin are generally wider (thanks to the Wide Streets Commission) and have trams running down them; the houses are often bigger; and the C18 and Cl9 squares are many fewer but much larger. In common, sadly, both cities have had more than their fair share of architectural losses and of badly designed, badly sited recent buildings, those in Dublin being generally yet more obtrusive and damaging.
The events of Dublin Squares Open Day revolved around five squares; Parnell Square (the earliest, dating from the 1750s), Merrion Square (1762), Mountjoy Square (1793), Fitzwilliam Square and St Stephen's Green. Mountjoy Square is now the only private residential square; Parnell Square was developed around the former pleasure gardens attached to the Rotunda Lying-in Hospital and Assembly Rooms and now contains the Garden of Remembrance; the remaining three squares, of which St Stephen's Green, at a quarter of a mile across, is by far the largest, are well-managed public parks.
The events included guided walks, live music, Punch and Judy, children's treasure hunt and art workshop, food and drink sales, plant stall, a production of Twelfth Night, and Tango Argentino.
The parks and gardens and architecture of Dublin are good and most certainly worth an extended visit, but it was the people associated with Dublin Squares Open Day and their enthusiasm and generosity that made the trip so special. I hope that they will be able to make the Open Day an annual event.