Yesterday I spent the afternoon exploring the Phoenix Park. This was a continuation of my adventures in the park, which began last week (and can be read about HERE).
We accessed the park through Parkgate Street. Years ago I lived close by, on the Quays in Dublin but had never recalled using this entrance on my occasional sojourns to the park.
We turned right. Into the People’s Garden – a very pretty, yet nondescript area with flowerbeds and benches. It felt almost Dutch. We veered further right to catch a glimpse of the swans. This was a bit scary. Rumour has it that those lads can break your arm. Now swans and geese are different birds, I know, but when I lived on a reclaimed swamp, now functioning as a campsite in France, when I was a teenager, I used to hate cleaning caravans down by the pond. The geese living there were aggressive. I used to arm myself with a sweeping brush, in case of attack. The swans yesterday seemed more placid. But I still didn’t trust them, and their beady little eyes. I am no match for a gang of feral swans.
We walked by the North Circular Road entrance to the Park. Now this I remembered. I was not suffering amnesia. This was the entrance gate I used all those years ago.
We passed the Zoo – none of the animals were visible – it’s designed in such a way that you’ve got to pay to see the beasts. But lions make lots of noise. The lion’s roar sent a chill down my spine, and I glanced at the barriers to check that they were secure. I am too beautiful to be a feline’s lunch.
Onward to Aras an Uachtaran – the President’s house. The President and the American ambassador are only permanent human residents of the park. An Indian family were having a picnic by the front entrance. It all felt very serene.
We passed the cricket grounds on our way to the medieval castle. It was old and compact – not strutting its stuff like that Dublin Castle trollop. It just sat there, contentedly, smug in its happy home.
The Phoenix Park visitor’s centre is next door. I discovered that you can do tours of the president’s house on a Saturday. The only drawback is that the tickets for the tour are handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis at 9am in the morning. For the love of nation, I plan to set my alarm at some ungodly hour on some upcoming Saturday.
I learned that the deer that I encountered last week are the reason for the Park’s existence. Built in 1662, the walled park was created as a leisure location for the English king, so he could hunt deer. The murderous bastard. They are the reason the park is walled – to prevent escape. The deer population today is maintained at 300. The word ‘maintained’ seems a bit sinister in this context. The 2016 deer population is descended directly from the initial herd imported in 1662.
The vegetable garden next door was impressive. Being a real man, I resisted the urge to steal some potatoes for my supper. That would be dishonest. My bag could comfortably have fit about six spuds though.
Onward to Farmleigh House at the rear end of the Park. This is the most isolated end – being the furthest from the city centre. I scanned the gate nervously. This was Castleknock. This is Flatenemy’s terrain. It would be just my luck that he would decide to commune with nature on the afternoon I was having a stroll. I put my shoulders back – he doesn’t own the park, and he’s not the boss of me.
Farmleigh House is not in the park, but is situated adjacent to it. It was built as the home of the Guinness family in 1882. The estate was purchased by the Irish state in 1992, and it’s now open to the public. The grounds are vast. As it was 4.45 we had only 15 minutes to spend there. We decided on a coffee by the pond instead.
Farmleigh House looks like a hotel – being fairly new, it resembles one of those old manor houses that have been converted into businesses which rent rooms by the night. Stately and majestic for sure. But you could picture Basil Fawlty behind the reception desk.
I’ll be back.