In the late 1980's the Benetton Foundation, based in Treviso in Italy was established to promote research focusing on the surrounding landscape with an emphasis on cultural and natural heritage. Initially concentrating on the local landscape, the focus of the researchers expanded with the establishment of the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens in 1990. Each year a group of esteemed judges from the fields of landscape architecture, art history, geography and horticulture to name a few travel to a nominated country to visit areas of cultural and historical importance. This year, the delegates chose Ireland as their study site and I was delighted to be invited by Dr Sarah Alyn-Stacey from the French Department/Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Trinity College Dublin to nominate a suitable site. I chose Mill Lane and in extension Waterstown Park in Palmerstown just on the outskirts of Dublin city.
Cottages in Mill Lane
Being a local born and raised in Palmerstown it is an area that I know well and one which for the most part goes under the radar. Flanked by busy motorways, Mill Lane and Waterstown Park are somewhat of an unknown paradise, along the banks of the river Liffey and steeped in cultural and natural heritage. Along with some local volunteers namely Alan Hayes, Annette O'Connor and Paul Corcoran we gave the judges from the Benetton Foundation a tour of the area. On our walk, we briefly visited Stewarts Hospital which was originally called Palmerstown House and at one point home to John Hely-Hutchinson, a former Provost of Trinity College Dublin. Settlements were originally established here in the 12th century when the Hospital of St. John the Baptiste was founded to care for those with leprosy. As we ambled down towards the river, the judges were shown the local allotments which were full of busy gardeners tending to their sites and home to a new bee hive which will be of great benefit to those growing their own produce. An interesting fact which Alan shared was the existence of a Bronze Age burial ground which is on unmarked private land beside the allotments.
As we neared the river, Alan lead the group to the historic mills which were an important hub for the milling industry and used for printing and iron works. There were also oil mills, a dye stuff mill, a skin mill, a coin mill and three wash mills. Walking around this sleepy part of Mill Lane it was hard to believe that we were so close to the capital city just four miles away.
After showing the judges some of the quaint cottages which marked the original village, we brought them to the pre-Norman church where Annette from the 'Pink Ladies' gave a description of the amazing work they had completed there. The Pink Ladies, a local volunteer group comprising of members of the same family born and bred in Palmerstown village do enormous work to ensure the village is kept in pristine condition. Their work is not confined to the village, they recently took it upon themselves to clear the overgrown brambles surrounding the church ruins and remove ivy engulfing the walls of the grounds to expose a wonderfully rich remnant for all the community to enjoy. The judges were particularly impressed with the restoration work that had been undertaken here and applauded the local volunteers for their efforts.
Another historic feature which has recently been awarded funding for a feasibility study for conservation purposes is the ‘Silver Bridge’. This was constructed in 1881 by Lord Iveagh of the Guinness dynasty to supply his house, Farmleigh, with fresh water from the river, thus linking the north and south banks. Paul Corcoran gave the judges a fascinating history of the bridge explaining how it was the first example of hydraulically powered energy in the area which had been supported by Lord Iveagh. The bridge has not been in use for the past 40 years but Paul is championing a campaign which will hopefully see it restored to its former glory.
As we continued along the valley we entered Waterstown Park, a public amenity area managed by South Dublin County Council. This is a fantastic space, widely used by the local community and an important wildlife haven which is home to a wide variety of native flora and fauna including a rare bee species. This is an important green space extensively used by the local community for Park Runs and wildlife conservation. Collectively, these two areas are steeped in natural history and in a time when urban sprawl is evermore present Mill Lane and Waterstown Park connect us to our natural heritage. Apart from all the amazing work that is done in this part of the Liffey valley, Palmerstown is also kept looking well by a keen group of volunteers which make up the Palmerstown Meitheal. This group consists of the Tidy Towns and various residential groups who ensure the suburb at large is well maintained on a voluntary basis and is a true credit to the amazing community spirit that endures in the area.
After the fantastic tour of the area I went on to join the judges for a seminar in TCD where we introduced the delegates to the history of Ireland in general pointing out the natural wonders and sites of importance across the country. I further guided the group around sites across Dublin city including the National Botanic Gardens, War Memorial Gardens and Royal Hospital Kilmainham showcasing the landscape architecture and historic buildings. Our nomination was in good company as the group went on to visit a number of other sites around Ireland including Glenveagh National Park and The Aran Islands so we have stiff competition but believe Palmerstown and the Liffey valley are equally as special considering their proximity to the bustling city. The winning site will be announced later in the year so wish us luck!
Gardening Courses and Evening Lectures
Alongside tours of historic sites I have been busy preparing for the Autumn courses due to start this October. There are still places available on both the Wednesday class and Weekend course so do get in touch on 0863938467 or email@example.com to book your place today.
In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying some berry picking, I can't wait to get out and get my supply for some delicious blackberry jam and most importantly - Happy Gardening!