Archaeology Content

Humans have occupied Ireland for the past 10,000 years, leaving us with a rich legacy of archaeological monuments and landscapes. We work to conserve this unique archaeological heritage.

Landscapes of Desire: Parks, Colonialism & Identity in Victorian & Edwardian Ireland

Research project by Dr Joanna BrÁ¼ck & Andrew Tierney, UCD School of Archaeology, 2009/ 2010.

This research project provides an assessment of the scale and character of Victorian and Edwardian public parks in Dublin and Belfast. Parks in these two locations were examined as case studies in order to explore the character of park landscapes in urban contexts with very different historical trajectories. Surviving features in parks of Victorian or Edwardian date have been recorded and catalogued in detail employing a combination of photography and textual description. These include statuary, plaques and other monuments; buildings such as bandstands, shelters, gatehouses and refreshment rooms; landscape architectural features such as ponds, terraces and rockeries; and facilities such as benches and drinking fountains. The landscape setting and context of use of recorded features is further explored through relevant historical maps, drawings and photographs. 

Archival research employing contemporary newspaper accounts and the minutes of parks committees have been employed to reconstruct the histories of individual parks and to explore the social context in which these landscapes were created. In particular, the role of public parks in shaping class, gender and colonial identities in nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland is considered. 

Please roll over images to display controls.

Research Abstract

Historic gardens have long been a focus of academic and popular interest in Ireland and beyond. In contrast, there is little academic or public appreciation of the cultural significance or heritage value of public parks of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. With notable exceptions such as the Phoenix Park, conservation plans for historic parks are rare and both urban decay and redevelopment have taken their toll on these landscapes. 

The creation of public parks must be seen as a response to the social and political conditions of the period. From the 1830s onwards, there was growing concern regarding the lack of green spaces, clean air and recreational opportunities for those dwelling in towns and cities.  The processes of urbanisation and industrialisation resulted in dramatic social and economic changes. ‘Polite society’ attempted both to mark social boundaries and impose its own values on the working classes in the face of social and political unrest. In an Irish context, such concerns were particularly acute because of the complex relationships between class, religion and politics as the nationalist movement grew in popularity and strength.

Public parks became one context in which such issues could be addressed.  They created regulated spaces of display and consumption in which both the natural world and the urban populace could be objectified, domesticated and their moral worth evaluated. Through the performance of rituals of polite display, colonial, class and gender identities were marked out. Park architecture and monuments underpinned ideals of social and moral improvement, while planting and design allowed those who created parks and those who used them to confront and think through concepts of order and disorder, inside and outside, so that spatial relationships — paths, boundaries and vistas — came to stand for the troublesome and often contested relations between people. 

Twenty additional reports on individual parks in Dublin and Belfast, including King's Inns and Christchurch, Dublin, are available to download from [external website].