The Iveagh Gardens is a lush Victorian green space in the centre of Dublin. Designed by Ninian Niven in 1865, many of the original features still survive. Despite being in the city centre, the location of the gardens is somewhat inconspicuous, giving rise to the nickname Dublin’s ‘Secret Garden’.
We first visited back in late April when Dublin was basking in unseasonably warm weather. I saw this as a great opportunity to take advantage of the weather by both walking from our house in the south of the city to the city centre – no better way to get your bearings in an unfamiliar city than on foot – and to let Pea enjoy an unstructured day of outdoor exploration.
It was almost midday as we were approaching the gardens so I stopped to pick us up a takeaway lunch. I had visions of finding a shady spot and enjoying a lovely, languid lunch with my boy. It didn’t quite pan out that way but we had a memorably lovely day nonetheless.
We did a quick circuit of the gardens first thing to get our bearings. There’s a rose garden, a maze, a couple of fountains and, best of all, a waterfall. The abundance of ageing statues, many of them missing heads or limbs, lends the place a sort of romantic Gothic feel. I have a penchant for old cemeteries and although to the best of my knowledge, the gardens have no history of usage as a burial ground, a creaky old church and crumbling gravestones wouldn’t feel out of place here.
We settled in the sunken garden to have our lunch. I let Pea out of his pram and assumed he wouldn’t be interested in wandering too far when there was the possibility of food. Wrong. He was so excited to be out in the open that I couldn’t interest him in food or get any peace to eat mine. He just wanted to run around or approach random strangers with little offerings of daisies or cut grass. He was having the time of his life. In the end, I felt that we both really needed to eat and hydrate ourselves. The only way to do this was to bundle him back into the pram and pass him little pieces of chicken to eat in his hands. Lesson learned – freedom is more appetizing to Pea than any meal and any future attempt at a picnic needs more careful planning.
After we’d eaten we went for a deeper exploration of the gardens. Towards the National Concert Hall entrance, we found a little foresty area with wood logs arranged in a circle. This kept Pea quite entertained climbing on the logs, picking leaves off the trees, exploring and touching everything he could. It was a great find, as the trees kept us in the shade too.
We then went to have a look at the fountains in the centre of the gardens. Pea busied himself with throwing pebbles and ivy branches into the water. Finally, we stopped by the waterfall. It’s magnificent, and Pea was completely captivated. It was tricky to drag him away, but he desperately needed a nappy change so there was no choice but to move on. We didn’t attempt the maze on account of a couple of shady looking characters hanging out in the vicinity and we didn’t take in the rose garden as the flowers weren’t n bloom – I’m looking forward to those on a future visit before the summer is out.
Iveagh Gardens are at Clonmel Street, Dublin 2. The entrance on Clonmel St is step free, there are some steps throughout the gardens and at the National Concert Hall entrance. The gardens are open all year round and are free to visit. Opening times vary according to the season and access is limited during June, July and August due to various events, so it’s best to check the website before planning a visit. There are no toilets, baby changing or cafe in the grounds. St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is about a 5 minute walk away and has baby changing facilities and an accessible toilet. Camden Street is a good bet for food or drinks nearby.