St Stephen's Green
- St Stephen's Green
Lonely Planet review for St Stephen's Green
As you watch the assorted groups of friends, lovers and individuals escaping the confines of the office, splaying themselves across the nine elegantly landscaped hectares of St Stephen’s Green and looking to catch a few rays of precious sun, consider that those same hectares once formed a common for public whippings, burnings and hanging. These days, the harshest treatment you’ll get at Dublin’s favourite lunchtime escape is the warden chucking you off the green for playing football or Frisbee.
The buildings around the square date mainly from the mid-18th century, when the green was landscaped and became the centrepiece of Georgian Dublin. The northern side was known as the Beaux Walk and it’s still one of Dublin’s most esteemed stretches, home to Dublin’s original society hotel, the Shelbourne. Nearby is the tiny Huguenot Cemetery, established in 1693 by French Protestant refugees.
Railings and locked gates were erected in 1814 when an annual fee of one guinea was charged to use the green. This private use continued until 1877 when Sir Arthur Edward Guinness pushed an act through parliament opening the green to the public once again. He also financed the central park’s gardens and ponds, which date from 1880. The main entrance to the green today is beneath Fusiliers’ Arch, at the top of Grafton St. Modelled to look like a smaller version of the Arch of Titus in Rome, the arch commemorates the 212 soldiers of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who were killed fighting for the British in the Boer War (1899–1902). Across the road from the western side of the green is the 1863 Unitarian Church and the early-19th-century Royal College of Surgeons, which has one of the finest façades on St Stephen’s Green. During the 1916 Easter Rising, the building was occupied by rebel forces led by Countess Markievicz (1868–1927). The columns are scarred from the bullet holes. Among the statues and memorials dotting the green, there’s one of the Countess in the southeast corner. Since it was Guinness money that created the park you see today, it’s only right that Sir Arthur should be present, and there’s an 1892 statue of him on the western side of the park. Just north of here, outside the railings, is a statue of Irish patriot Robert Emmet (1778–1803), who was born across the road where Nos 124 and 125 stand; his actual birthplace has been demolished. The statue was placed here in 1966 and is a replica of an Emmet statue in Washington, DC. There is also a bust of poet James Clarence Mangan (1803–49) and a curious 1967 statue of WB Yeats by Henry Moore. The centre of the park has a garden for the blind, complete with signs in Braille and plants that can be handled. There is also a statue of the Three Fates, presented to Dublin in 1956 by West Germany in gratitude for Irish aid after WWII. In the corner closest to the Shelbourne Hotel is a monument to Wolfe Tone, the leader of the abortive 1798 invasion; the vertical slabs serving as a backdrop to Wolfe Tone’s statue have been dubbed ‘Tonehenge’. At this entrance is a memorial to all those who died in the Famine. On the eastern side of the green is a children’s playground and to the south there’s a fine old bandstand, erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887. Musical performances often take place here in summer. Near the bandstand is a bust of James Joyce, facing Newman House, part of University College Dublin, where Joyce was once a student. Also on this side is Iveagh House. Originally designed by Richard Cassels in 1730 as two separate houses, they were bought by Benjamin Guinness in 1862 and combined to create the family’s city residence. After independence the house was donated to the Irish State and is now home to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Of the many illustrious streets fanning from the green, the elegant Georgian Harcourt St has the most notable addresses. Edward Carson was born at No 4 in 1854. As the architect of Northern Irish unionism, he was never going to be the most popular figure in Dublin but he did himself no favours acting as the prosecuting attorney during Oscar Wilde’s trial for homosexuality. George Bernard Shaw lived at No 61.