Palmerston Park: A Dickensian Design

Chinese Whispers: a game in which a message is distorted by being passed around in a whisper.

Last month I saw Lenny Abrahamson’s third directorial feature What Richard Did. It starred Jack Reynor as the titular character Richard and offered an intense psychological portrait of a depressed teen with a jealous streak who inadvertently kills a classmate.

In an article for The Irish Independent, one journalist wrote, “The film is primarily based on a 2008 novel by Kevin Power called Bad Day in Blackrock but the real inspiration will be obvious to anyone who has opened a newspaper over the last 12 years.” Inevitably I suppose, this was how the film was constantly marketed both in print and by word of mouth; it was about the guys who killed Brian Murphy.

Several days later I was on the bus and heard two strangers discussing the film. As they chatted and touched on the movie’s climax – what Richard did, exactly- they referred to the film’s murder scene as having taken place in Blackrock, a fair assumption given the constant real-event spoiler alerts and Blackrock-centricity that surrounds the public’s perception of the film.

They were however wrong. In fact the scene in question took place only ten minutes away from my house on Palmerston Road in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines.

I was thinking about this recently and decided to take a trip to Palmerston Park, which I rarely visit despite its close proximity.

Walking through the park, the diameter feels smooth and even and, for me at least registered as being probably rectangular or even square. Hours later I crosschecked this on a map and was surprised to discover it’s far from even. In fact it’s more of a crescent.

The park was opened in September 1894 and excluding the modern inclusion of a children’s play area equipped with slides and swings Palmerston Park has remained unchanged in the hundred years since it was designed. In fact it is a perfect example of a Victorian recreational park designed for all seasons and intended for all people.

If the park appears to mirror Stephen’s Green somewhat, this is because the landscape gardener William Sheppard designed both. Both use the same geometric and formally laid pathways while the pond in Stephen’s Green resembles the pond in Palmerston Park.

Occasionally when I’ve mentioned the pond, people have responded and said that they have no recollection of a pond, but it’s there, nestled at the base of a mound and marked with large limestone blocks and a waterfall. The only minor difference is that there is no water in the Palmerston Park pond. Instead it’s now used as a dumping ground for bark and debris.

On the west side of the park and facing onto a staid lawn is a red brick shelter, very much a period piece, bedecked with brick string coursing beneath the eaves, roll-moulded corners and prominent plinths.

The shelter’s interior is of glazed white tiles while the double pitch roof is made using terracotta tiles. The gables meanwhile are finished in a half-timber Tudor-revival style, similar to the nearby Tramway House on Dartry Road.

For me however, my favourite thing about Palmerston Park are the benches: across the park are cast iron timber benches whose legs and frame are moulded so as to look like the gnarled bark of a tree.

My other favourite detail – shared by pretty much everyone – is the pathway that cuts across the park and goes from Palmerston Road toward St. Philip’s Church. Now, in late October, this pathway surrounded with Gothic railings and finished with steel arches and hanging lanterns is covered with a mixture of crispy autumn leaves as well as the wet golden kind.

For a city that boasts more parks per square kilometre than any other European capital, Palmerston Park is unique: it is virtually unchanged and reflects, in conjunction with the surrounding Victorian properties, the ideas and ideals of Victorian architecture and recreational park design.

It’s also probably the only park in Dublin where you’ll have genuine problems spotting a mongrel. In fact I’m pretty certain I have yet to see one non-thoroughbred.

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