Archbishop Ryan versus Oscar Wilde – Park

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I had reviewed Archbishop Ryan Park in November 2008, also known in some circles as Merrion Square Park.

Dublin City Council debated a motion in January 2009 that Archbishop Ryan park be renamed. They are asking the public [via email and in less than 300 words] if you agree that the park should be renamed and also for suggestions of a more appropriate name. The closing date for submissions is April 23rd

Not that I am ignorant of the subject, but more that are others  better versed than I and the specifics of this matter…. I asked Journalist Susan Daly to write this post for me.

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Susan is a respected freelance features writer, published in several magazines and newspapers, most notably with The Irish Independent and The Evening Herald. She is also a journalist who’s work I respect.

Regarding this weblog, this is a place for gardening and green. It is also sometimes a voice where change can at least be considered. In this context, whilst the [re]naming of an outdoor space maybe the title of the post there is also a very delicate matter underlying.

Before some forget, it was only little over 10 years ago we almost had a Michelle Smith park in South Dublin….

My opinion, parks are a place for relaxation and all things that should define happiness for the time you are there. Personally, I believe a park is not entitled to cause upset in any way. Via it’s name or other. In that same breath change is sometimes good and the people have a voice.

Susan blogs at the daly planet blog and is on twitter as @biddyearly. She is also I should add, one of lifes nice people to talk to.

Thank you so much Susan for writing this:

Archbishop Ryan Park To Be Renamed ?

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Dublin city is blessed with a patchwork of gorgeous green spaces. Some are well-trodden thoroughfares like Phoenix Park and St Stephen’s Green. Others are less high-profile. The Iveagh Gardens are accessed by a non-descript gate in a wall off Harcourt Street, and I’m fairly sure only office workers looking for a spot to snooze during a sunny lunch break around the Wexford Street area are aware of St

Kevin’s Park, complete with ruined church, on Camden Row. Wander a few hundred metres straight up from Parnell Square at the top of O’Connell Street and you’ll happen on the Blessington Street Basin, a sanctuary for waterfowl and sometime residence of a cranky male stork who likes to lord it up on the centre island of the canal basin there.

The park in the centre of the very grand Merrion Square falls somewhere between the two. Everyone knows it’s there – the National Gallery, the Dead Zoo… sorry, Natural History Museum (soon to reopen)…, and Leinster House skirt the western edge of the park but it’s relatively peaceful compared to, say, Stephen’s Green. It is really stunning though – there is a really well-maintained children’s playground, it has some fabulous sculptures scattered about its shady trails and no-one seems to mind too much if you loll around on the open grassy knolls for the afternoon. It’s pretty idyllic.

More difficult to idealise is the ongoing dedication of the park to Archbishop Dermot Ryan, who oversaw the transfer of the park to Dublin Corporation for public use. The Catholic Church had originally bought the garden from the Pembroke Estate in 1930 and had planned to erect a cathedral on the land. That edifice to the Church’s riches never materialised but a plaque which gives the official name of the park – Archbishop Ryan Park – still stands defiantly at the eastern entrance to the green.

I say defiantly because Archbishop Ryan was one of the senior clerics criticised in the Murphy Report for his action (or inaction, as it may be) in managing known, serial, child sexual abusers in the Dublin Diocese.

Dublin City Council debated a motion last January that the park be renamed, and are asking the public to email their thoughts to parks@dublincity.ie in 300 words or less. They want to know, firstly, if you agree that Archbishop Ryan Park should be renamed, and secondly, if you have any suggestions for what you think would be a more appropriate name.

One of the most common reactions of right-minded folks to the revelations of the Murphy and Ryan reports, and all child abuse cases, is ‘How could that happen?’ It happened because a culture of passivity, silence and conspiracy was allowed to breed. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all that evil needed to flourish was for good people to say nothing. We can do so little to make reparations to the victims – but we can at least not have them walk past a plaque that celebrates one of the many people who failed them so badly.

This was the letter I sent to parks@dublincity.ie. You’ll probably have your own thoughts on what the park should be renamed, and that is as it should be. We are citizens and we have a voice and we should bloody well use it.

“To whom it may concern,
I live on XXXXXXX, one of the graceful Georgian-terraced streets that feed into Merrion Square. As such, I spend much of my time in the green

area in the centre of that square. There should be no debate about whether this elegant garden should retain the name ‘Archbishop Ryan Park’. It, of course, should not.
Considering the aforementioned Archbishop’s highly criticised action (or inaction, as they case may be) in the horrendous handling by the Irish Catholic Church of child abuse complaints, it is quite simply insult to mortal injury to all victims and right-thinking citizens for his name to be attached to anything associated with pleasure, peace or beauty.
I would like to second the huge call for the park to be renamed ‘Oscar Wilde Gardens’ because in my experience of living in the area, I am frequently stopped by tourists looking for only one of two things, or both: directions to Oscar Wilde’s birthplace (also on Merrion Square) or to the Oscar Wilde statue by Danny Osborne.
His legacy as a writer – one of that army of Irish greats who have brought us international acclaim – and as an ambassador of our country has stood the test of time, and will into the future.
I hope that you will allow me to proudly direct all tourists to Oscar Wilde Gardens!
Kind regards,
Susan Daly

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10 replies
  1. Eleanor Fitzsimons
    Eleanor Fitzsimons says:

    Well said Susan. I couldn’t agree more. What could be more positive than to celebrate one of our heroes by replacing a dedication to someone who served the populace so poorly. I am in total agreement and have emailed DCC.

  2. Thomas Brunkard
    Thomas Brunkard says:

    100% agree with this. We’re great at honouring our freedom fighters and our former landed gentry in the naming of places but not those who both informed our culture or represented it abroad.

    Will email them supporting your proposal.

    Thomas

  3. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:

    I have submitted my suggestion too. I asked for it to be called ‘the lovely’

    personally i reckon it’s a nice toss up between Merrion Square and Oscar Wilde.

  4. Bngr
    Bngr says:

    Oscar Wilde park does nothing for me, it’s Merrion Square and always will be. My local park spent decades as Hampsted Park while everyone called it Alberts College until eventually it was changed to the name everyone had always called it.

    Personally I’d like Merrion Square to keep its sub-name after the arch-bishop for historical reasons. In my book, morals can justify changing the present but not the past.

  5. Gina Boles
    Gina Boles says:

    I also agree with Susan. Here below is a copy of the email I sent to ‘arks@dublincity.ie

    Hi there,

    I would like to support the idea of re-naming Merrion Square.

    My suggestion is to re-name it Michael O’Brien Park.
    He is the man from Clonmel in Co. Tipperary who is a survivor of clerical abuse. He was so moving when he spoke so honestly and openly about his experiences.
    I consider that the reason we are re-naming it is to take it back for the people of Ireland. Michael O’Brien represents the people of Ireland in the best possible way – he is an ordinary citizen. He probably lives much like most of us every day, quietly going about his business, except with nightmares and horrific memories of a childhood he suffered through while the rest of us were blissfully unaware of such things.

    I do not think it should be named for any ‘famous’ person, or any historic person.
    This is something we are acting on now, in the 21st Century and we should have a contemporary person who stands for the ordinary unimportant citizen – like me – who feels they have no control over things, and can only be outraged.
    Bring people like Michael out into the open, and let people contemplate their survival instinct and bravery when we walk and sit in the park.

    Best Regards
    Gina Boles,
    Ordinary Citizen of Dublin

  6. Bngr
    Bngr says:

    Gina – the email is parks and not arks in case you sent it to the wrong address.

    Might as well stir things by showing you the email I sent in.

    Hello,

    I’d like to propose that the name of Merrion Square – Archbishop Ryan Park – not be changed for historical reasons. Part of the debate seems to be that Archbishop Ryan doesn’t warrant the title following his part in the child abuse scandals. I would argue that this has nothing to do with the park being named after him. Morality should justify changing the present but not the past.

    For Millenia man has destroyed art and culture in the name of morality only for a future generation to look back in shame and regret at those foolish decisions. From the Mayan culture that was lost to us by early christians destroying their literature to the more recent Taliban attacks on the Asian historic statues, acting in the name of morality can serve more harm than good; particular in the present time when morality can be so fickle. I will grant that the park being named after Archbishop Ryan Park is not a piece of culture or art in the sense of the other losses I’ve mentioned but the philosophy still stands. We didn’t feel the need to change all the Ascendency street names after independence and we pride ourselves on our Georgian cityscape because they are a part of our history. Merrion Square, Archbishop Ryan and clerical abuse are also part of our history. I understand people want to make a stand against the horror of this abuse but to me history deserves more than this transient gratification.

    Thank you

  7. seamus daly
    seamus daly says:

    Dear Ms. Daly.
    I read with interest you comments on Merrion Square Park on behalf of Mr. Donegan.
    Please inform Mr. Donegan that Oscar Wilde is well represented in Merrion Square Park by adorning the north west corner of the park with his beautifully executed life size sculpture bearing a realistic likeness to his person. This is located directly in front of his former home and that of his parents. His birth place is around the corner from Merrion Square Park in Westland Row, which I’m sure you know.

    As a resident of Merrion Square I have always protested at the failed attempt to re-name Merrion Square Park, Archbishop Ryan Park. This was a folly orchestrated by the Archdiocese of Dublin and the councillors of Dublin Corporation in the mid 1970’s.

    The name Merrion is part of our heritage. Merrion Square took the name Merrion from the Fitzwilliam family estates in Mount Merrion where their descendants had resided since the 14th century.

    Both the square and the park have direct historical links with Merrion Street, Merrion Row, Merrion Gates and Mount Merrion. The name Merrion is logically and historically inseparable from the square and the park itself.

    I believe that Dublin City Council should avoid creating another folly by reinstating the original title Merrion Square Park and avoid any further interference with naming policy of our city and its’ historical landmarks.
    Sincerely

    Seamas Daly
    14 Merrion Square
    Dublin 2.
    —————————————————————————
    *[original comment was not left at this post – but had zero relevance to the one posted upon. comment moved by Peter]

  8. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:

    A Chara Seamus

    thank you for taking the time to comment. I am more than aware of the Oscar Wilde sculpt. As you can see I took the picture of him for the review of the park that I did in November 2008.

    Outside of that and specifically with regard to your comment, I shall quote myself from the intro to Susans writing

    My opinion, parks are a place for relaxation and all things that should define happiness for the time you are there. Personally, I believe a park is not entitled to cause upset in any way. Via it’s name or other…. [contd]

    As Susan wrote this post, even though it is on my weblog, my thoughts on the name were very simple. I shall quote my comment [taken from the comment section of this post]

    I have submitted my suggestion too. I asked for it to be called ‘the lovely’
    personally i reckon it’s a nice toss up between Merrion Square and Oscar Wilde.

    I shall now stand aside [as I have done so far on this] and pass this over to Susan.
    Many thanks again Seamus. It really is very much appreciated.
    Names aside, I like the park.
    beir bua
    peter

  9. brendan
    brendan says:

    admitedly i am a big fan of oscar wilde and i love the sculpture and its connection with Merrion Square

    however, i dont think it was necessary to name the park after him, its my belief that merrion square has a rich history of its own going back a lot further than oscar wilde, oscar was but just one resident of the area. their were many other famous people who resided on the square.

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