St. Anne’s Park, which currently rates as one of Dublin’s most popular recreational facilities, is an integral part of the social, economic and cultural life of Clontarf. Being the second-largest municipal park in Dublin, this multi-faceted facility annually attracts thousands of visitors.
To trace the origin of the name St. Anne’s we need to weave our back through the mists of time to Celtic Ireland and to the early Christian period when St. Anne blessed and dedicated a holy well in this area.
Through the centuries this holy well became a place of local pilgrimage and veneration. In recent centuries the holy well became overgrown and was eventually consumed in the subterranean waterways as the prevailing protestant religious ethic regarded such acts of iconic worship as little more than a continuation of pagan superstition rites.
At different intervals on the historic maps of Dublin, you will find that this area is listed as Blackbush and also as Heronstown and Thornhill.
The Arrival of the Guinness Family
In 1835 Benjamin Lee Guinness of the famous brewing family bought a tract of land from the governing Vernon family, the landlords who centuries earlier had been granted Clontarf Castle and its surrounding estate lands. He set up his family home in Thornhill, the elegant 17th-century Georgian house that stood on his purchased lands.
He decided to rename his new home St. Anne’s in honour of the holy well within his estate. In the decades that followed the Guinness family continued to acquire further parcels of adjoining land until St. Anne’s estate, comprised in excess of 500 acres.
In 1850 Benjamin Lee, now becoming fabulously wealthy from the brewing industry, enlarged his home and one year later became Dublin’s first-ever Lord Mayor. His son Arthur Edward Guinness, aka Lord Ardilaun, commissioned a gigantic renovation of St. Anne’s in 1873, transforming it from his father’s Georgian-style villa to that of a Palazzo of the Italian Renaissance style.
In the process, he included some exotic and wonderful creations such as the incredibly beautiful follies, bridges, aquatic features and temple. He also superbly landscaped the estate with a striking walled garden, a picturesque line of oaks and pines along the estate avenue and some wonderful shrubbery and flora.
As Lord and Lady Ardilaun had no children the estate passed to their nephew, Bishop Plunkett during the 1920s. By 1936 it was clear that Plunkett could no longer continue paying the taxes due on his estate and entered negotiations with Dublin Corporation with a view to selling.
The Corporation paid him £55,000 in 1939 for almost 450 acres, including the mansion St. Anne’s which was sadly destroyed by fire in 1943, during the war years, when under the control of the Local Defence Force.
St. Anne’s Today
The park today is a veritable wonder of activity, adventure and admiration. Our visitor is truly spoiled for choice with such a wide range of facilities to savour. Favourite attractions include:
The Rose Garden
Opened to the public in 1975, it has been a recipient of numerous awards since then and in 1981 was dedicates as a venue for International Rose Trials. This is a truly remarkable experience between May and August.
The Walled Garden
Includes a 12-acre plant nursery for the Parks Department. An herbaceous garden is open at certain hours and the garden also features a beautiful clock tower, now fully restored to working order.
The Red Stables
Lord Ardilaun’s original Victorian stables are a joy to behold having now been transformed as the Red Stables Art Centre. Local food markets are held here on Saturdays throughout the year.
Lord Ardilaun’s creative masterpieces are evident as you wander about the park. The Herculanean Temple is a popular feature and can be found on the banks of the Duck Pond. The park also has three fortifications. The viewing tower remains an attractive feature but is closed to the public.
Some 35 playing pitches are in use here in addition to a par 3 golf course and 18 tennis courts.
Those who love ‘shanks mare’ can relish wondrous walkways with picturesque panoramas. Along the way, you will find lots of exotic shrubbery and flora, yew trees, oaks and maples.
There are numerous species of mammals and birds to enjoy.