The Guinness family have played an important role in many aspects of Dublin life, and their influence on the development of St Anne’s Park was considerable and lasting. For almost a hundred years they were innovators in garden layout, and the park is one of the last great demesnes in Ireland.
The brothers Benjamin Lee and Arthur Jnr took up residence in Thornhill (as it was then known) in 1835, but demolished the old house and built a new house called St Anne’s. It was named after a holy well on the property, and Benjamin and his new wife, Elizabeth, lived there from 1837. But it was their son, Lord Ardilaun, and his wife Olivia who extended the property and built many of the unique features, including the follies, the Red Stables and various walks, that attract visitors.
At its height St Anne’s consisted of 500 hundred acres. When Lady Ardilaun died the property passed to her nephew Bishop Plunkett. He sold it in 1939 to Dublin Corporation for £55,000 and retained Sybil Hill and about 30 acres of parkland – now St Paul’s College. In 1943 the old house, The Mansion, was damaged by fire, and eventually demolished in 1968. In the meantime, over 200 acres were developed for housing, leaving the remainder of the property, as we know it today, with its extensive sporting and recreational facilities.
Lord Ardilaun was fascinated by Italian/Roman history and many of the follies reflect this. Among them you can find a Roman Tower, a Herculanean House and a Pompeiian Temple. Others include the beautiful Clock Tower, the Shell House, the Rustic Grotto and the Hermit’s Cave. And there are walks along tree-lined avenues: the long, main avenue planted by Lord Ardilaun with holm oak and the beautiful Chestnut Walk.
One of the most popular features is the Rose Garden. This was opened in 1975 and since 1981 has been a centre for International Rose Trials. Following on from this the Rose Festival (held in July) has become a rose-lover’s favourite.
The vivid Red Stables that Lord Ardilaun built now house a craft centre and the Tir na nOg restaurant. A market is held in the courtyard each weekend, but weather permitting, the stalls will be set-up outside on the grass. Check it out, as there is plenty to do.