Monday, June 15, 2009

Dublin can be heaven...

From the Evening Herald

By Susan Daly

Friday June 12 2009

Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? The residents of Dartmouth Square in Dublin 6 were singing to Joni Mitchell's tune when they found themselves locked out of their own private park four years ago.

Businessman Noel O'Gara had spotted a loophole that allowed him to buy the lease to the park from Dublin City Council for a pittance.

He locked out the residents and at one stage planned to turn it into a concrete car park. As Joni predicted in Big Yellow Taxi, he wanted to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

I lived off nearby Northbrook Avenue at the time and remember being both bemused and amused by the hullabaloo as O'Gara stood there brazenly flogging tiles from the disputed patch of grass. Bemused, because I had only been vaguely aware of the square although I passed near it every day. Amused, because it didn't really affect me -- the only people who were ever permitted to use that park were those who could afford to live in the grand houses on its leafy fringes.

I wondered back then if the residents had previously bothered to use the park all that much. Now that Noel O'Gara has this week agreed to reopen it to them, they are pledging picnics and barbies, plays and concerts -- all to prove that this is an amenity worth keeping intact.

Dartmouth Square is a lesson to us all to make the most of what we've got on our own doorstep.

It can be difficult to raise our eyes from the pavement as we tread the same well-worn paths between home, the office, the supermarket and the local, week in, week out. But we are so blessed in Dublin.

We live in a city with more urban green space than any other European capital. Much of this is contained in the expanse of the Phoenix Park --but there are other gorgeous little oases of peace -- and they don't require a private residents' key.

One of my favourite finds was the Blessington Street Basin, a former city water reservoir that is now home to herons, cranes, ducks and flowering lilies. The first time you stumble into its tranquility, the contrast with the roar of the traffic at the top of Dorset Street is so startling, you will honestly believe you have gone stone-deaf.

The same can be said for the Iveagh Gardens, a Tardis-like park secreted through a small gateway off Harcourt Street.

The first I heard of it was almost seven years after coming to live in Dublin. My sister came to visit and starting raving about this lush, tree-lined amphitheatre where she had eaten a takeaway sandwich. It's a sad moment when it takes a day-tripping culchie to point out what has been under your urbanite nose for years. That's the secret to finding these hidden gems: act like a tourist in your own neighbourhood. I took the Ghost Bus tour for a laugh with my auntie -- also a visitor -- and was gobsmacked when our guide brought us to a former graveyard at the back of Wexford Street.

It has a ruined church in the middle of it, and some headstones still recline against the boundary walls. All the bodies were reinterred in other consecrated ground some years back, and office workers now sprawl out on the grass for a lunchtime breather. "Here Lies Sean O'Driscoll, on his coffee break, June 12, 2009."

If anyone has a favourite hideaway spot in Dublin, I'd love to hear about it. It will be our little secret. I promise.

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