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The Slightly Bizarre History Of St Stephen’s Green In Dublin

The Slightly Bizarre History Of St Stephen’s Green In Dublin

The beautiful St Stephen’s Green is one of the most popular parks in Dublin.

Located in the heart of Dublin, at the top (or bottom, I’m never sure!) of Grafton Street, St Stephen’s Green is a must-visit for first timers to the city.

This nine hectare/22-acre park features commemorative sculptures, extensive trees and a children’s playpark among its many attractions but what we will explore in this article is the park’s slightly bizarre history.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the witch burnings that took place here to what to see when you arrive. Dive on in!

Some quick need-to-knows about St Stephen’s Green in Dublin

stephens green dublin

Photo by Gareth Byrne via Failte Ireland

Although a visit to St Stephen’s Green in Dublin is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

St Stephen’s Green is close to all the main Dublin attractions, such as Dublin Castle, the National Gallery of Ireland, Trinity College, The Little Museum of Dublin and the Molly Malone Statue

2. A fine spot to escape the hustle and bustle

While St Stephen’s Green is bang in the middle of a city, it’s a big, lusciously green space. The green has maintained the original Victorian layout, with some 750 trees and plenty of shrubs. There are spring and summer flower bedding plants that ring the changes in, season-wise, and a delightful herbaceous border.

3. Witch burnings

While the current parks’ landscape goes back to 1880, the area has a much longer—and more sinister—history. Until 1663, it was a marshy common at the edge of the city where farmers grazed their cattle and sheep, and it served as a venue for public executions and witch burnings. 

The history of St. Stephen’s Green

 

So why the name St Stephen’s? In the 13th century, there was a church called St Stephen’s on the land attached to a leper hospital. The marshy common extended as far at the River Dodder.

In the mid-17th century, the City Assembly decided the land could be used to generate income for Dublin and they marked out the park’s boundaries, with the rest of the ground to be let out for building lots. The rents were used to build walls and paving, and tenants had to plant trees to provide privacy.

Fashionable walking

In the 18th century, the opening of nearby Grafton Street and Dawson Street made the park a popular place, with many desirable properties built nearby.

The great and the good came to promenade the Beaux Walk along the northern boundary of the park. There was also a French Walk to the west. 

However, the condition of the park deteriorated in the 19th century as perimeter walls broke and the trees were in bad condition.

A mini restoration

Commissioners appointed by local householders were given control of the park and they replaced the broken walls with ornate railings and planted more trees and shrubs.

The Green then became a private park, accessible only to those with keys despite a 1635 law that said the park should be available to all in Dublin.

Sir Arthur Guinness

Sir Arthur Guinness, later Lord Ardilaun, grew up close to the St Stephen’s Green. In 1877, he offered to buy the land from the Commissioners and return it to the public.

He paid off the debts and landscaped the grounds with the aim of designing an area that promoted peace and tranquillity. The redevelopment is though to have cost £20,000 and the park reopened in July 1880.

The Easter Rising

The Irish Citizen Army attempted to overthrow the British in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916. They took control of strategic areas around the city, including St Stephen’s Green.

Michael Mallin and Constance Markiewicz led the rebels who seized control there, digging out trenches around the park’s perimeter. Bullet holes can still be seen at the Fusiliers’ Arch at the north-west entrance to the park.

Things to see in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin

One of the reasons that a visit to St Stephen’s Green is one of the most popular things to do in Dublin is due to the number of things there is to see and do here.

Below, you’ll find everything from the beautiful archway entrance and the various statues to the flora and fauna and more.

1. The archway entrance

stephen's green park

Photo by David Soanes (Shutterstock)

The Fusiliers’ Arch is at the Grafton Street corner and commemorates the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who died during the Second Boer War.

During the Easter Rising, several bullets were lodged in the archway at some point during the battle. These bullet holes can still be seen at the Fusiliers’ Arch to this day.

2. The statues

saint stephen's green

Photo by raul sanchez guitart (Shutterstock)

As you might expect, there is a statue of Arthur Guinness in the park, which can be found facing the Royal College of Surgeons on the west side.

Other statues and sculptures include the Three Fates, inside the Leeson Street gate, gifted to the Irish people by Germany in thanks for help with refugees after the Second World War. James Joyce’s bust faces his former university, and there is a bronze statue of Theobald Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 rebellion, and a bust of Constance Markievicz.

Incidentally, when Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria suggested that the park be renamed Albert Green and have a statue of Albert in it. The Dublin Corporation and the people of Dublin thought otherwise, much to Victoria’s chagrin.

3. The flora and fauna

flora and fauna

Photo by diegooliveira.08 (Shutterstock)

There are numerous Victorian flower beds with colourful displays of bedding plants, such as tulips, wallflowers, petunias and geraniums.

The lake is a home for many waterfowl, mallard ducks, swans, moorhens and others, as well as numerous birds and fish. There is also a Garden for the Blind that contains aromatic shrubs and herbs with the labels in Braille.

Things to do near St Stephen’s Green

There’s heaps of places to visit in Dublin a short walk away from St Stephen’s Green Park, from historical sites and museums to great food and more.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the Green (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Little Museum of Dublin (2-minute walk)

The Little Museum Of Dublin tour

Photos via The Little Museum Of Dublin on FB

Open every day from 10am to 5pm, the Little Museum of Dublin is housed in an attractive Georgian building, and is guided tours only, so should be booked well in advance to avoid disappointment.

2. Trinity College (7-minute walk)

st stephen's green history

Photo left: David Soanes. Photo right: JulianBuijzen (Shutterstock)

Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I modelled after Oxford and Cambridge, Trinity College is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland, and Ireland’s oldest university. Home to the Book of Kells and the Long Room, the tours here have rave reviews online.

3. The Iveagh Gardens (7-minute walk)

Iveagh Gardens

Photo by Nataliia Pushkareva (Shutterstock)

Designed by Ninian Niven in 1865, The Iveagh Gardens are close to St Stephen’s Green and another fine example of Victorian landscaping. There is a very nice fountain and a yew maze to explore. 

FAQs about St Stephen’s Green in Dublin

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Why is it called St Stephen’s Green Park?’ to ‘What happened in St Stephens Green in Dublin?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Were there witches burned at St Stephens Green in Dublin?

Yes! Until 1663, St Stephens Green Park was a marshy common at the edge of the city, and it often served as a venue for public executions and witch burnings. 

What is there to do in St Stephen’s Green Park?

At St Stephen’s Green Park you can admire the beautiful archway entrance, see the statues, check out the fauna and flora and people watch.

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