The Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland
Large Urban Parks Gold Award
Winning the Large Urban Parks Gold Award has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all that is magical about this historic people’s park. The Phoenix Park extends to over 700 hectares and represents a unique natural and cultural landscape that is both a historic park and an urban park enjoyed by over 10 million visitors annually. Commenting on the award Kevin Moran T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) and Flood Relief in Ireland said, “Huge congratulations to the OPW team at the Phoenix Park who work tirelessly to ensure it is a wonderful tranquil space in the heart of the City. This award puts the Phoenix Park on the world stage and showcases Dublin as a green city with the Park providing invaluable health, recreational and environmental benefits for so many communities”. This international award has endorsed the OPW management ethos for the Phoenix Park and I would recommend other organisations to consider entering the LUP Awards. The media and PR opportunities have been tremendous and have given us many new opportunities to promote Parks within both our own organisation and other government bodies in the state and more importantly with the public.
The Irish Government’s Vision for The Phoenix Park is:
“To protect and conserve the historic landscape character of The Phoenix Park and its archaeological, architectural and natural heritage whilst facilitating visitor access, education and interpretation, facilitating the sustainable use of the Park’s resources for recreation and other appropriate activities, encouraging research and maintaining its sense of peace and tranquillity.”
The Phoenix Park Conservation Management Plan 2011 guides the management of The Phoenix Park for future generations while addressing the needs of the current generation within the context of a National Historic Park. Our plan aims to balance the responsibilities to protect, conserve and enhance this unique landscape, environment, ecology, wildlife, built heritage and view of The Phoenix Park with active and creative policies to facilitate wider access and to increase opportunities for enjoyment, information, education and recreation for now and into the future. The Phoenix Park Conservation Management Plan may be downloaded from www.phoenixpark.ie and www.opw.ie
The Phoenix Park was established as a Royal Deer Park in 1662 by one of Ireland’s most illustrious Viceroys, James Butler, Duke of Ormond, on behalf of King Charles II of England. It provides a setting for a range of activities and amenities as well as acting as a location for a number of important public institutions and residences. As a natural and built park, enclosed over 300 years ago by a demesne wall, The Phoenix Park is unique in Ireland. Its location, size and use can be compared to similar large urban parks in other cities, including Regent’s Park in London, the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and Central Park in New York. Its present landscape and infrastructure is inherited from designs and managerial decisions taken between 1800 and 1880, in the main by Decimus Burton, who also worked in The Royal Parks in London, England. The Victorian People’s Flower Garden was designed during this period and was noted for its novel horticultural experimentation and floral displays.
In the centre of The Phoenix Park, Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence and gardens of the President of Ireland, dates from 1750. The kitchen garden has Organic status with the fruit and vegetables served at state events. The Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley served in The Phoenix Park as Chief Secretary between 1807 to 1809. Born in Ireland, the Duke later became Commander in Chief of the British Army and Prime Minister of England. The Wellington Testimonial in The Phoenix Park commemorates his great battle victories, including Waterloo.
Gas lighting was first introduced into the Park in 1859 by the Hibernian Gas Company and is a major visual element in the Park’s landscape. The Phoenix Park is one of the few remaining public areas in Europe that still relies on gas for public lighting. The decision to preserve this unique system was made to support the conservation of the historic fabric of the Park and to retain low levels of light pollution so that the Park can remain one of the few locations in Dublin where stargazing is possible.
Phoenix Cricket Club is the oldest cricket club in Ireland and one of the oldest in the world, having been formed in 1830. The All Ireland Polo Club was founded in 1873, making it the oldest polo club in Europe. With health and wellbeing to the fore, the park today caters for over 2300 recreational events including Athletics, Soccer and the Irish National Sports of Gaelic Football, Hurling &, Camogie (fastest ball & stick sport in the world) on an annual basis.
The Park’s importance for nature conservation including flora, fauna and biodiversity is as significant as its built and cultural heritage. Fifty percent of all mammal species found in Ireland occur within the Park and over forty percent of all bird species occurring in Ireland have been recorded therein. A herd of over 550 wild Fallow Deer have roamed the Park since the 1660s.
Woodlands and tree-dominated areas cover 31% and grasslands cover 56%. There are twenty-five different types of habitats include six types of woodland, five types of grassland, as well as hedgerows, scrub, ponds, streams and wet ditches. Among the 351 different plant species found in the Park there are three that are rare and protected. Almost all the semi-natural grassland in Dublin is located in The Phoenix Park.
The Park has over twenty-five kilometres of roads, seventeen kilometres of cycle trails, twenty-seven kilometres of surfaced footpaths and eleven kilometres of perimeter wall. The Park caters for an average of nine million car journeys per year, the majority of which are merely passing through. A recent initiative introduced by the OPW was the closing of a major section of the main road, Chesterfield Avenue to through traffic at weekends during the summer months. This has displaced a considerable amount of the weekend commuter traffic and has facilitated both passive and active recreational opportunities.
Over 260 major and medium scale events take place annually in the Phoenix Park ranging from triathlons to pop concerts to horticultural shows. ‘Bloom’ the annual horticulture and food trade show attracts over 110k people every June. The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre attracts over 1.6 million visitors annually to its interpretative centre, playground, Victorian kitchen walled garden and Café. An exciting programme of educational and interpretative events, exhibitions and an outreach programme is facilitated through the guide service at the Visitor Centre.
It provides a sense of place, locations for community cohesion and social inclusion, promotes cross cultural enjoyment and space for over 2,300 annual recreational events. The Park is also good medicine, in that it provides numerous opportunities for green exercise, which helps us all to lead healthier lifestyles. The major role of The Phoenix Park in the tourism economy at local, national and international levels is of immense importance. The range of science and learning experiences are numerous.
The long-term vision for The Phoenix Park combines its protection, conservation, enjoyment and tranquillity as an important unique historic landscape for the residents of Dublin and visitors to Ireland. Given the international significance of The Phoenix Park, it will continue to be a place, managed by the Office of Public Works, where people go to experience heritage, culture and nature, comparable to the best parks in the world. It is essential that the sensitive finite resource of The Phoenix Park is sustainably managed.
Management of such a vast and complex park, of great historical and cultural importance, must be both conservative and progressive. The essence of managing historic parks and gardens is continuity. That is, management must strive to maintain, for the benefit of the public, the valuable inheritance of the past, but must also address challenges and opportunities arising from the inevitability of change.