Garden of Remembrance
Just a few minutes walk from the heart of the bustling city is a quiet, tranquil space where people can reflect on the lives lost during Ireland’s fight for independence. Following the surrender, hundreds of prisoners were held in the space in front of the Rotunda hospital on Parnell Street. (The NGA placed a marker at the spot some years ago). The following day, the prisoners were taken to Kilmainham Gaol. Closed for six years, the Gaol was specifically re-opened to house the insurgents prior to execution.
The Garden has raised lawns around a sunken cruciform pit, with a cruciform pool at the centre. The pool is lined with mosaic tiles in a blue and green wave pattern, interrupted at several points by tiled representations of broken weapons, drawing on a Celtic tradition of marking the end of battle by throwing broken weapons into rivers. Around the perimeter of the pit, benches and planted troughs alternate. At the head of the cross, there’s a sculpture – Oisín Kelly’s The Children of Lir, added in 1971 – and a poem by Liam Mac Uistin on the wall behind. Hanly’s original plan for the Garden had included a sculpture representing Ireland’s struggle, though Kelly’s transforming swans are perhaps more subtle than Hanly’s proposal for Eire and her warriors.
Occupying the northern end of Parnell Square, the Garden of Remembrance is a memorial to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. The site had previously been part of the Rotunda Hospital’s pleasure gardens, which opened in 1749 (a year before the hospital’s construction began) with a fee for admission, part of Dr. Bartholomew Mosse’s strategy for funding the hospital.
The site for the Garden was bought from the hospital in 1939, and a design competition was held in 1940. Six years later, Daithí P. Hanly was announced as the competition winner. There was a further hold-up even at this stage – according to The Irish Times on September 9 1958 (p.3), “In 1949 the hospital was allowed to build a temporary pediatric [sic] unit on the site during an outbreak of infantile mortality. […] There has been some delay in [handing over the site] as it has been necessary to erect an alternative permanent pediatric unit in the hospital to house the 30 cots which the temporary unit catered for.” It was April 10, 1966 when veteran and then president of the Republic of Ireland Éamon de Valera opened the Garden of Remembrance during a commemorative ceremony which included a military parade of 5,000. De Valera was one of only two leaders to escape execution during the 1916 revolt as he was half-American and couldn’t be tried as a British citizen.
In May 2011, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Gardens during a 3-day tour throughout Ireland.
She paid her respects by placing a wreath in memory of the fallen Irish who died at the hands of the British soldiers. This act signalled a new era in the long and troubled history of Irish/British relations.