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IRISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL GARDENS

IRISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL GARDENS [ISLAND BRIDGE DUBLIN]

The Irish National War Memorial Gardens is an Irish war memorial in Islandbridge, Dublin, dedicated “to the memory of the 49,400 Irish soldiers who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914–1918”, out of over 300,000 Irishmen who served in all armies.

The Memorial Gardens also commemorate all other Irish men and women who at that time served, fought and died in Irish regiments of the Allied armies, the British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African and United States armies in support of the Triple Entente’s war effort against the Central Powers.

Designed by the great memorialist Sir Edwin Lutyens who had already landscaped designed several sites in Ireland and around Europe, it is outstanding among the many war memorials he created throughout the world. He found it a glorious site. The sunken Garden of Remembrance surrounds a Stone of Remembrance of Irish granite symbolising an altar, which weighs seven and a half tons. The dimensions of this are identical to First World War memorials found throughout the world, and is aligned with the Great Cross and central avenue. Opposite to the Phoenix Park obelisk, it lies about three kilometres from the centre of Dublin, on grounds which gradually slope upwards towards Kilmainham Hill.

Old chronicles describe Kilmainham Hill as the camping place of Brian Boru and his army prior to the last decisive Battle of Clontarf on 23 April 1014. The Memorial was amongst the last to be erected to the memory of those who sacrificed their lives in World War I (Canada’s National War Memorial was opened in 1939), and is “the symbol of Remembrance in memory of a Nation’s sacrifice”.[ The elaborate layout includes a central Sunken Rose Garden composed by a committee of eminent horticulturalists, various terraces, pergolas, lawns and avenues lined with impressive parkland trees, and two pairs of Bookrooms in granite, representing the four provinces of Ireland, and containing illuminated volumes recording the names of all the dead.

At the north of the Gardens overlooking the River Liffey stands a domed temple. This also marks the beginning of the avenue leading gently upwards to the steps containing the Stone of Remembrance. On the floor of the Temple are an extract from the “War Sonnett II: Safety” by Rupert Brooke:

“We have found safety with all things undying,
The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,
The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying,
And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth.”

The Garden was subject to two Irish Republican paramilitary attacks. On Christmas night 1956 a bomb was placed at the base of its Stone of Remembrance and memorial cross and detonated, but the County Wicklow quarried granite withstood the blast with little damage. Another attempt was made to bring it down again with a bomb detonation in October 1958, which once more failed, resulting in superficial damage.

A subsequent lack of financing from the Government to provision its up-keep and care allowed the site to fall into dilapidation and vandalism over the following decades, to the point that by the late 1970s it had become a site for caravans and animals of the Traveller community, with the Dublin Corporation’s refuse disposal office using it as a rubbish dump for the city’s waste. In addition fifty years of storms and the elements had left their mark, with structural damage unrepaired to parts of the Garden’s ornamentation.

In the mid-1980s economic and cultural shifts began to occur in Ireland which facilitated a regeneration of urban decay in Dublin, and the beginning of a change in the public’s view of its pre-Irish Revolution national history and identity, which led to a project of restoration work to renew the park and gardens to their former splendour being undertaken by the Office of Public Works, co-funded by the National War Memorial Committee. On 10 September 1988 the fully restored Gardens were re-opened to the public, and formally dedicated by representatives of the four main Churches of Ireland, half a century after its creation.

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