Phoenix Park - The Pride of Dublin

Dublin’s beloved Phoenix Park is one of the largest city parks in all of Europe, encompassing some 1,720 acres. The sprawling park, which turned 350 years old in 2012, was begun under the reign of Charles II as a royal deer park. Actually, the park was larger originally, as it reached across the Liffey River to the south, but was reduced in size when the Kilmainham Royal Hospital was built. I have a particular affinity for this magnificent park, as my husband’s grandmother once lived right across the street from this landmark.

The history of this parcel of land is fascinating and goes back much further than the reign of royalty. Archaeologists estimate that a community of Neolithic peoples lived some 5,500 years ago at the southern edge of the park on an elevated strip of land that lies between Knockmaroon and Islandbridge.

There is a Neolithic burial ground within the park boundaries as well, located west of St. Mary’s Hospital. Remains of three males, along with shell, bone and flint artifacts, were found interred there as well as four urns containing human ashes from the later Bronze Age.

In addition, Forty Viking graves have been found within the park, the largest Viking cemetery outside Scandinavia and include the skeleton of a woman who was buried with a pair of brooches made of bronze.


Phoenix Park is a showcase for both plant and animal biodiversity. A wide variety of deciduous trees such as ash and oak, sycamore and horse chestnut make up about a third of all the tree species in the park. A full 50 percent of all mammal species found in Ireland and 40 percent of all birds in Ireland are found in the park. Underscoring the public’s fascination with the Park’s natural beauty, nearly 1 million visitors a year enter the gates of the Dublin Zoo, located within the park.

In 1840, the Victorian People’s Flower Gardens were built, originally as a Promenade Grounds. The Flower Gardens encompass 22 acres and include picnic areas, a children’s playground, a large lake and of course, ever changing beds of beautiful flowers which showcase stunning Victorian era horticulture.

There are numerous monuments and buildings within the park and many of these structures were designed by famous well known architects, including Edward Lovett Pearce who designed the old Parliament building which is now the Bank of Ireland. Ashtown Castle, build in the 1430’s as a tower and later rebuilt with stone, is the oldest building in the park. One of the best known of the Park’s structures is the massive 116 foot Papal Cross erected for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, when one and a quarter million people, including my future husband and his family, came to the park to hear Pope John deliver his sermon.


The southeast section of the park is the location of the Magazine Fort, originally the site of the Phoenix Lodge, built in 1611 by Sir Edward Fisher. Later, in 1734 when the Duke of Dorset ordered a powder magazine to be constructed for the city of Dublin, the Lodge was dismantled. In 1801 an additional wing was constructed to house troops.

Phoenix Park has a darker history as well. There have been several murders within its boundaries, including the infamous Phoenix Park Murders of May 6, 1822 when Lord Frederick Cavendish, the personal secretary to Prime Minister Gladstone, was stabbed on the very day he took up his new position as Chief Secretary for Ireland, along with Thomas Henry Burke, Ireland’s most senior civil servant. In 1982, the brutal murder of a young nurse named Bridie Gargan as she lay sunbathing in the park, led to national outrage after it was discovered that the murderer, Malcolm MacArthur, was hiding in the home of a former attorney general. Today Park Constables patrol the grounds and the police force of Ireland, the Garda Síochána, has its headquarters in the park.

As large as this park is, there is really no way to see it all in a day. In addition to the Dublin Zoo, the Victorian Gardens, the Papal Cross and other monuments, there are playgrounds, Segway tours, ice cream kiosks, the famous Victorian tea rooms and the Phoenix Cafe. The Cafe has been voted one of the top ten independent cafes in Ireland and is well known for its scones, specialty teas, coffee, lattés and cappucinos. The Cafe offers a variety of freshly cooked soups, salads and homemade cakes as well as quiche. Diners enjoy a beautiful setting surrounded by lush trees and there is an outdoor dining terrace as well.

In planning a trip to Ireland, especially if you visit Dublin, the Phoenix Park should be first on your ‘must get there’ list of places to visit. You will soon see why the Phoenix is one of my very favorite places in all of the Emerald Isle.