Phoenix Park history

A history

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Nolan sets well-known events in the Park's history beside accounts of its buildings and institutions, as well as obscure subjects like park rangers' uniform regulations.
Irish Times

zoo datePhoenix Park remains both a part of and apart from the capital city of Dublin.

Lands were leased to Sir Edward Fisher who in 1611 built a country residence on St Thomas’ Hill, later the Magazine Hill.

The area had a spring of clear water, which in Irish would be fionn uisce; “phoenix” would be a near-enough anglicisation of this sound. The house was called “The Phoenix” and the name remained.
Dublin Zoo began life in 1830.

ormonde arrives from cityJames Butler, the Duke of Ormonde, was appointed Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy in 1644 by Charles I and re-appointed in 1661 by Charles II.

Ormonde introduced deer, partridge and pheasant onto the lands.

A perimeter wall was commissioned by Ormonde to encompass the park.

Phoenix House fell into decay and in 1735 a magazine was built for the storage of arms and explosives for the Dublin regiments.

In 1745, the park was officially opened to the public and Lord Chesterfield, the Lord Lieutenant planted chestnuts and elms along the central avenue, which bears his name.

When in 1772, Sir John Blaquiere was named Bailiff of Phoenix Park he received a four-roomed cottage, which he extended into a large Georgian house. Lawyer Napper Tandy challenged Blaquiere in a Dublin court following the latter’s annexation of some 30 acres of the park for his new residence. The court found in favour of Blaquiere and stated:

It was only by leave of the King the citizens had liberty to recreate themselves under restrictions such as not riding on cars, not bringing in dogs or guns, and not sending their servants to air their horses during the fencing month.

The nineteenth century saw the most extensive development of Phoenix Park.

Some few years after the Napoleonic Wars ended, and the prospect of a French invasion of Ireland had receded, the Ordnance Survey took up residence in the park, in Mountjoy Barracks, in 1824.

In 1842, a police depot was built for recruiting and training the Irish Constabulary, which had been formed in 1836.

People's Flower Gardens
The People’s Flower Gardens were laid out in 1864 beside the park gates and opposite the recently completed Wellington monument.

On the evening of 6 May 1882, Chief Secretary, Lord Frederick Cavendish walked through Phoenix Park. His Under Secretary, Thomas Burke joined him. They were stabbed to death by members of the Invincibles, a revolutionary nationalist group, six of whom were hanged in Kilmainham the following year for the killings.

Some 3,000 trees of all species were blown down in the park during the great storm of 1903. The only other comparable loss of trees was in the 1980s when Dutch Elm disease carried away 2,000 trees.

Motor car speed trials in 1903 saw the world land speed record being broken in Phoenix Park at speeds in excess of 84 mph at a time when a general speed limit of 20 mph was in operation on public roads.

During the Easter Rising of 1916, thirty members of the Irish Volunteers and Fianna Éireann captured the Magazine Fort on St Thomas’ Hill. They took guns and withdrew, after setting fires to blow up the magazine’s ordinance; but the fuses burned out before reaching the ammunition and little damage was caused.

In 1921, Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, a Catholic, served as last of the Irish viceroys and in 1922, the last Chief Secretary, Sir Harman Greenwood, departed Ireland.

A new Irish constitution in 1937 provided that Ireland would have a President, known as An t-Uachtarán, and an official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin, the former Vice-Regal Lodge.

In May 1941, Dublin was bombed by German planes. One bomb fell in Phoenix Park, beside the Dog Pond and the Phoenix Cricket Club. The blast reportedly shattered windows at Áras an Uachtaráin and the American Legation. The occupants of the pump house near the Dog Pond escaped injury but the house had to be demolished. Buildings in the nearby Zoo were also damaged by the blast.

man cycling In the mid-1950s the park welcomed the Rás Tailteann, the Irish national cycle race, to its roads and it has been racing through the park ever since.

In 1997 the world-famous Tour de France took a slight diversion — through Ireland and Phoenix Park.

A papal mass in 1979 saw almost one in three citizens of Ireland assembled in Phoenix Park to see Pope John Paul II celebrate mass.

Three years later, the murder of nurse Bridie Gargan (27) in Phoenix Park on 22 July 1982 shocked the nation. Her killer, Malcolm McArthur, attacked her with a lump hammer while attempting to steal her car.

boy soccer ballThe Irish soccer team under manager Jack Charlton were welcomed home in 1994 from the World Cup by hundreds of thousands of people on the Fifteen Acres.

In 1995, President Mary Robinson held a reception at Áras an Uachtaráin for the Heaney family when Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney returned to Ireland in triumph with his prize.

In 2002 the Irish World Cup soccer team under Mick McCarthy had a homecoming in Phoenix Park, this time in front of the soccer pavilions, the crowds standing on the park’s own pitches.

In 2003, athletes competing in the Special Olympics used the park for Olympics cycling events, and the defence forces ran fundraising events in the park to help the Olympic effort.

Members of the Garda Síochána for their part carried the Special Olympics flame around Ireland in four torches until the runners all arrived together at Áras an Uachtaráin to be greeted at a reception by President Mary McAleese on 20 June.

Throughout the centuries, Phoenix Park has played host to the lowly and the mighty alike. Its story continues as an integral part of Dublin and the wider world.

For more detail read

The comprehensive book on Dublin's own national park.

In the shops now

ISBN 1-904148-78-6

or order online here

Copies of Phoenix Park a history and guidebook are a welcome addition to your corporate or conference goodybags.

Brendan Nolan has reported on Phoenix Park as a freelance journalist for several decades and was a professional observer at many of the events of the late 20th century related herein.

He was born in Chapelizod in a house beside the churchyard of Le Fanu and counted Phoenix Park as his personal rambling ground through his growing years and beyond.

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"Brendan Nolan's comprehensive history and guidebook of Phoenix Park is a masterpiece." Community Voice.





"Author Brendan Nolan provides a fascinating read."
Irish Independent.

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