Today, Merrion Square Park and St. Steven’s Green are both public parks; however, I was surprised to learn that for most of Dublin’s history, these places were private and could only be accessed by the those who owned houses adjacent to the parks. St. Steven’s Green did not become open to the public until 1880 and Merrion Square Park was only accessible to residents with a private key until the 1960’s. The upscale houses surrounding these parks were occupied exclusively by the wealthy and thus, these places embodied a luxury that was only afforded to the upper classes.
Over these years, the parks have undergone a transformation and now honor the fallen heroes of Ireland’s past. The statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square next to Wilde’s home pays tribute to the brilliant writer whose career was tragically cut short due to his sexuality. In St. Steven’s Green, the famine memorial commemorates the thousands of poor Irish who died in the Great Famine of 1845-1849. These once exclusive spaces have become memorials to those who have historically stood at the margins of society.
St. Steven’s Green also features a statue of Theobald Wolfe Tone, who—as Kilfeather recounts—led the United Irishmen in their struggle against British rule until he was eventually captured and committed suicide in prison in 1798. This stark monument reminds viewers of Ireland’s political history, in addition to its social history.