A Grand Stretch in the Evenings

 

Now that there is a stretch in the evenings, I’m planning to bring you ideas for things to do in the Phoenix Park. Given the fact that we are talking about spending time in the great outdoors, you might be afraid that it’s all going to be very strenuous and exercise-led (after all the Phoenix Park is host to many a Fun-Run, 5k Run, 10k Run and even the Dublin City Marathon) but I’ll ease you in gently today with the simple and relaxing act of sun-set watching.

 If luck is with you, then the Phoenix Park will yield bounty upon bounty. A simple stroll can see you bedazzled not just by a sun-set but by the rich variety of life in the park. I’m thinking joggers, stragglers, joggers, walkers, dog-walkers, joggers, self-talkers, sports-people and of course a huge number of joggers. This is of course in addition to the herds of deer that stand around grazing when they are feeling energetic or sit around and nonchalantly people-watch when they are not.

But if you are feeling more like the deer and you too just want to look on in admiration, then another feature of the park (apart from the ubiquitous jogger!) is the vibrant and colourful scenes that Mother Nature and the topography of the Phoenix Park offer particularly at this time of year. The blinding sunshine of an Easter weekend can be complemented by the last vestiges of snow on the Dublin mountain-tops. The dark thunderclouds that can disappear in the space of minutes can be replaced by a bright sunshine that looks like summer but can still feel a little bit like Winter.

One of the most beautiful sights in the park is the sunset. When it is spectacular, it really can be the greatest show on earth and I can never see one without giving thanks for the design and geographical appointment of this space.

The clocks going forward may mess with my body-clock for a time but once they have ‘sprung’ forward, the park has an extra hour to show off and I find that this time of year reveals a hint of the whole Summer and indeed the whole year until the clocks go back again. It’s Mother Nature’s way of teasing me with the promise of Summer, even though as we all know, Summer in Ireland may eventually be a disappointing event weather-wise.This makes no difference however at the end of March because Spring offers hope and hope springs eternal. Even though it’s just one solar hour it is pregnant with promise.

Here’s a lovely photo I’ve found taken by John Brennan which shows off in a picture that which words alone cannot do justice to.

More anon dear readers.

Sun Setting in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Sunset in the Phoenix Park

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Ireland’s Six Nations Rugby Champions are honoured with civic reception in Farmleigh House

We all have to share things and the Phoenix Park is no different. So I mustn’t be greedy and try to keep it all to myself  and my dog.

It has to be available to one and all, as it is a public space. This is all par for the course as we live in a young-ish Republic and all are equal under law. So today, Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park (more of which another time) is being used to host a civic reception for some very special gentlemen… the current Six-Nations Rugby champions – namely Ireland.

I should perhaps explain that the official purpose of Farmleigh House is to act as the official state guest-house for visiting dignitaries. In fact Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers have all been féted here at one time or another since the state took over control of the house from the Guinness family in 1999. But today it’s the turn of the mighty Irish team who although not Grand-Slammers are still champions and as such deserve a cup of tea and a sticky bun at the expense of the state.

The great and iconic Brian O’ Driscoll will be there in perhaps his last official outing as part of the Irish rugby set-up and so too will the other heroes such as Jamie Heaslip and Jonathon Sexton and it this honouring of our sporting heroes that makes me think we should have more civic receptions to honour our ordinary heroes and that we should perhaps make them more public.

Now, one of the many interesting things about Farmleigh House is the herd of long-horned cattle that graze in the main paddock to the front of the impressive Georgian façade.

Long horn cow like the ones at farmleigh House, Phoenix park

Typical Rugby Player

It struck me that the rugby team are all kind of big, especially the props and second rows, so I was wondering if any egg-chasers accidentally take the wrong turn, might we see them as a permanent fixture there!

Rugby player line drawing

A typical long horn cow

 

Farmleigh House Phoenix Park

Farmleigh House Phoenix Park

So long until next time…

 

Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy drop in

Last week Beyonce and Jay Z were in Dublin to do some concerts.

You may have heard that on Monday last, they decided to spend a quiet afternoon bringing their 2 year old daughter Blue Ivy to the Phoenix Park where they spent a while in the playground in the Phoenix Park Visitors centre. This is the playground we use and we are very happy to share it with anyone including the rich and famous.

Us Irish have a reputation for not being overly fazed by celebrity and in general we tend to leave a respectful distance between ourselves and any celestial superstars who happen to drop in. By all accounts, that’s what happened last week with the famous family being barely noticed by the other families there and so they mingled freely and openly. If it weren’t for their bodyguard, they could have been taken for just another family. 

Of course as always there was an opportunistic photographer to hand who managed to snap the superstar family doing ordinary family stuff. 

Have a look at this Youtube video to see more about the photos. It’s hilarious in and of itself.

The spot where they were snapped is really really close to us and so while we were out this morning at the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre, we thought it would be a bit of fun to recreate the scene with a less famous cast.

To faithfully recreate the scene from the original shot, ideally we too would only have had three actors starring – one to pose as Beyonce, (albeit a little younger) one as Jay-Z (albeit a little more grey) and finally Blue Ivy (albeit a lot older!). However you’ll have to appreciate the art of compromise that is keeping a family happy and so you’ll notice that there’s a few ‘extras’ in the form of the bodyguards (in blue and our little dog as back-up if the going got tough!).

Where Beyonce Jay-Z and Blue Ivy were snapped in the Phoenix Park - with a new cast!

Where Beyonce Jay-Z and Blue Ivy were snapped in the Phoenix Park – with a new cast!

Hopefully, you get the effect.

Here’s another one, this time without the body guards. Don’t tell them!

Where Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy were snapped in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Where Beyonce Jay-Z and Blue Ivy were snapped in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Happy Saint Patrick’s Weekend!

It’s a great weekend to be Irish.

It’s St Patrick’s Day on Monday and a Bank Holiday too so we have a long weekend to get out and about. There are events on all over the city but we’ll definitely find the time to explore the park.

I use the word ‘explore’ deliberately. It never ceases to amaze me that we live right beside the Phoenix Park, visit it every day and yet there are parts of it where we feel like tourists. Take the ‘Furry Glen’ for example. When we head down there and follow the route along the lake and venture up into the woods, we could just as easily be in the Dublin mountains on a day-trip and yet we are still only five minutes from our house. That’s the wonder of this vast and beautiful park.

On St Patrick’s Day itself, we’ll be going along to St Patrick’s Festival parade in Dublin City centre of course but first we’ll head over to the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre where there’s a children’s art workshop taking place from 11am to 12 for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish week). It’ll be a mad dash to the parade then, but luckily the Phoenix Park is so central that it won’t be a major problem to arrive in time to see the amazing visual display that is the parade.

It’s all very well to be planning our outings to the Phoenix Park on Monday but now I must dash because our little dog has been waiting patiently for his walk in the park today.

There is urgent dog-socialising and squirrel-worrying to attend to and if he is lucky enough there may be even the odd crow or magpie perched suitably low enough to circle and bark at in vain.

Of course the birds look on with a distinct air of total indifference, safe in the knowledge that a silly Jack Russell will never reach them in the branches but comically this thought doesn’t occur to the dog who becomes ever more excited and frustrated that his barks are falling on deaf ears. Eventually, something else will catch his eye and he’ll give up but it makes for a great spectacle of brain over brawn while it lasts.

Now if only there were a few snakes to bark at too but thankfully for us humans, St Patrick got rid of them a long time ago.

Magazine Fort

The Phoenix Park is enormous. It is 1752 acres. That’s a lot of acres. It is the largest urban walled park in Europe with vast open grassland areas, football pitches, woodlands (around one third of it is covered with trees) and even a few lakes and I’m looking forward to telling you about all of them.

This week, I’m going to talk about one of the Phoenix Park’s hidden gems – the Magazine Fort.

Now’s here’s a proof of Irish sense,
Here Irish wit is seen,
When nothing’s left that’s worth defence,
We build a Magazine.”

(Johnathon Swift)

A side view of Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park

Magazine Fort – Side View

Although sadly derelict, the magazine fort still has an imposing presence when viewed from close up. And of course it even imposes itself on our history, with many a tale centred on the fort, not least the two IRA raids on the magazine, both in search of arms; the first in 1916 at the outset of Easter week and the second in 1939 at the outset of a rather larger conflict which I don’t have time to go into here!

The fort, as one may surmise from its name is of course an entirely military concoction and whilst the Irish Defence forces handed over ownership to the OPW in 1988, it is the military history of the fort that gives it its special aura.

The Magazine Fort and Moat in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

The Magazine Fort and Moat

It strikes one as a jaded and shabby relic of the British Empire for which we have found no use in these post-colonial times but if viewed in the right light (or frame of mind) one might think the British only left ten years ago and the fort has just become overgrown.

Looking up at the Magazine Fort in The Phoenix Park, Dublin

Looking up at the Magazine Fort

Set atop St. Thomas’ Hill, its location within the Phoenix Park was pretty obviously a military decision, as the heights commanded an excellent view of the city which in colonial times was essential given the amount of times we took to arms over the centuries. I have often heard that an artillery battery was stationed here and on the spot where the Wellington Monument currently stands. If true, then these two locations would have allowed the artillery an almost unparalleled view of the city and was probably a constant reminder to the natives about where power truly lay in the Ireland of those times.

Commanding view of Dublin city from the Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park, Dublin

View of Dublin city from the Magazine Fort

Commanding view of Dublin city from the Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park, Dublin

View of Dublin city from the Magazine Fort

These days I’m glad to say we live in less trying times and if you find yourself looking for things to do in Dublin and a visit to the Phoenix Park is on the cards, perhaps to the Zoo or Farmleigh House, I highly recommend a detour to the Magazine Fort if only to see the all-important view that the British military were so keen on. In addition to the elevated aspect, the architecture is a fine example of the solid functional kind that most barracks in Ireland possess.

Far from its intended use, these days the fort is largely overgrown with grass and makes an excellent parade ground for my own personal canine infantry. There are a number of paths worn through and it is obvious that my Jack Russell and I are not the only ones marching here. One of the most interesting things about the Magazine Fort is the dry ditch surrounding it. It’s actually a dry moat and my dog loves it there. He is up and down the bank like a furry rocket and contrives to look sad when we leave but then again he has a large personality for such a small dog.

My dog's favourite spot in The Magazine Fort Phoenix Park, Dublin

My dog’s favourite spot in the Magazine Fort

I cherish the park and its tranquility and its beauty and its wildlife and I always dread to think what could happen if we ever lost the run of ourselves and allowed developers to get hold of it. I am not anti-change though and for years I have thought that the OPW could renovate the Magazine Fort and use it perhaps as a library, visitor centre, museum or even an eatery if done with care. (It would have spectacular views). Quite simply there is too much history and beauty for this opportunity to be missed.

WELCOME TO PARK LIFE. THE BLOG ABOUT THE PHOENIX PARK

This blog is for lovers of the park and also for the just-plain curious.

I’ll try to include current affairs and events in the blog, as well as some historical pieces. This blog is for fun and designed to make people happy, please treat it with kindness.

“Spring is here, the grass is ris, I wonder where the flowers is?”

(Ogden Nash)

The first week of March has a special meaning to those fortunate enough to live near the Phoenix Park. The park itself of course just rumbles on regardless of the day, the week, the month or even the year. The denizens of the park are busy with the usual necessities. The deer are waiting for June/July when the young will arrive; the birds are re-nesting in the hope that winter is over and the foxes are dodging midnight cyclists and scavenging in Blackhorse Avenue dustbins in the hope that dinner is over.

The human element is changing also; the hordes of bike-riders are replaced by the gangs of runners and joggers, each sub-culture as distinct in its own mind as the proverbial chalk and cheese. Yet to the casual observer the subtle sartorial differences could easily be missed. The runners exude a serious intent, they are ‘feeling the pain’ but the joggers seem to be more laid back, almost as if ‘I’m jogging to the pub’ could be the mantra and the thought of feeling the pain is light years away.

The dog-walkers (I count myself amongst them) are here in huge numbers and these in fact are the real guardians of the park and its rules and civil codes (real or imagined). A cyclist would never admonish a dog-walker for not poop-scooping, yet another dog-walker would do so without compunction and that is one of the key messages in this beautiful urban park/wilderness/facility – it is all of ours! And you foul it at your peril dog-persons!

This self-regulatory aspect of the park is seen in many other ways. In all parts of the park and in every season, I hope to be able to bring a small part of the spirit of this unique space to the ‘cyber park lovers’ every week and that is why I have created PARKLIFE! This is my first attempt at a personal blog and so dear reader I beg your forgiveness, pardon and time. Come walk the park with me…

Next week… The magazine fort… a history and some ideas for future use.