In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
So reads part of the poem, “We Saw a Vision” by Liam Mac Uistín, carved in gilded lettering on the top wall in Dublin’s somber Garden of Remembrance. It isn’t big, it isn’t flashy, but it’s worth a visit for anyone coming to Dublin.
This reflective park at the top of Dublin’s O’Connell Street was first built in 1966—the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising—and dedicated to “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.” This year, the leaders of the 1916 Rising and subsequent War of Independence are receiving most of the attention, but the garden also recognizes those lost in all of Ireland’s violent grabs for freedom—1916 wasn’t the first, it was just the most successful.
The centerpiece of the park is the cross-shaped reflecting pool which, in addition to its obvious and overt Christian symbolism, is tiled with mosaic art of weapons and armor. This recognized the Celtic tradition of sealing a peace treaty by throwing (hopefully now-useless) weapons into the river as a gesture of commitment. Take a walk around the pool and find a bench to have your own peaceful sit—the “sunken garden” style of the center of the park makes it surprisingly quiet, surrounded by busy roads as it is.
At the top of the park (the short side of the cross), admire the large sculpture of the Children of Lir in a small fountain. In this park, the image of humans becoming swans symbolizes rebirth and new life, particularly in the way this depiction of the traditional Irish legend is staged. (In the original story, these four children of a mythological Irish king are turned to swans by their jealous stepmother, who, of course, happens to be a witch.)
Behind the statue, the text of the before-quoted poem is inscribed in Irish, English, and French on the marble walls, ensuring that its message rings clear to locals and foreign guests alike. During a landmark visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011—British higher-ups don’t often darken the doorstep of their so-recent colony—the poem was recited aloud to a gathered audience of Irish and UK officials, and Her Majesty herself laid a wreath.
On your own Dublin explorations, walk the extra block to the north end of O’Connell Street, just to the left of the statue of Mr. Parnell, and peek into the subtle powder-blue gates. Even if you aren’t Irish, spend a minute thinking about the sacrifices made by the men and women of this young country, and what their sacrifices have given the people of today’s Ireland.
The Garden of Remembrance is open April–September from 08:30–18:00; October–March 09:30–16:00. Read more about the O’Connell Street neighborhood in my eBook, The Frugal Guide: Dublin available for free here, and on most eBook distribution services.