Merrion Square

sights / Parks & gardens

Merrion Square information

Location
Dublin , Ireland
Getting there
Bus: 7 & 44 from city centre
Opening hours
dawn-dusk
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St Stephen’s Green may win the popularity contest, but elegant Merrion Sq snubs its nose at such easy praise and remains the most prestigious of Dublin’s squares. Its well-kept lawns and beautifully tended flower beds are flanked on three sides by gorgeous Georgian houses with colourful doors, peacock fanlights, ornate door knockers and, occasionally, foot-scrapers, used to remove mud from shoes before venturing indoors.

The square, laid out in 1762, is bordered on its remaining side by the National Gallery and Leinster House – all of which, apparently, isn’t enough for some. One former resident, WB Yeats (1865–1939), was less than impressed and described the architecture as ‘grey 18th century’; there’s just no pleasing some people.

Just inside the southeastern corner of the square is a flamboyant statue of Oscar Wilde, who grew up across the street at No 1. This was the first residence built on the square (1762) and during the Wilde tenancy was renowned for the literary salon hosted by his mother, Lady 'Speranza' Wilde. Alas, you can't visit the restored house (used exclusively by students of the American College Dublin) so you'll have to make do with the statue of Wilde, wearing his customary smoking jacket and reclining on a rock. Wilde may well be sneering at Dublin and his old home, although the expression may have more to do with the artist’s attempt to depict the deeply divided nature of the man: from one side he looks to be smiling and happy; from the other, gloomy and preoccupied. Atop one of the plinths, daubed with witty one-liners and Wildean throwaways, is a small green statue of Oscar’s pregnant mother.

Despite the air of affluent calm, life around here hasn’t always been a well-pruned bed of roses. During the Famine, the lawns of the square teemed with destitute rural refugees who lived off the soup kitchen organised here. The British Embassy was at 39 Merrion Sq East until 1972, when it was burnt out in protest against the killing of 13 civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry.

Damage to fine Dublin buildings hasn’t always been the prerogative of vandals, terrorists or protesters. East Merrion Sq once continued into Lower Fitzwilliam St in the longest unbroken series of Georgian houses in Europe. Despite this, in 1961 the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) knocked down 26 of them to build an office block – just another in a long list of crimes against architectural aesthetics that plagued the city in the latter half of the 20th century. The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland is rather more respectful of its Georgian address and hosts regular exhibitions.