Between the two glitzy south Dublin suburbs Donnybrook and Ballsbridge sits sprawling, flat, green Herbert Park. It is so named for the rich landowner who donated the land to Dublin City to host a 1907 World-Fair-Like-Thing called the Irish International Exhibition.
Like many big-budget yet temporary events (ahem, World Cup?) the city bore the huge burden of constructing a miniature Disneyland that would be used for a few months before being dismantled.
It was apparently quite a show in its time. Like other World Fairs, they displayed the most innovative of scientific and industrial developments like the new electric light and internal combustion engine motorcars. Bram Stoker, author of Dracula attended the fair and wrote an essay for the Fair's promotional pamphlet.
From his The Great White Fair
"...the visitor approaching or within the grounds sees the great range of snowy domes and pinnacles standing out start against the rising hills and towering into a sky of Irish blue – a blue which an American enthusiast poetically compared with ‘a colleen’s eyes’"
The centerpiece of the Fair was the four-winged International Hall. Each wing represented a different continent and featured artwork and cultural items representing each, probably in a very racist and patronizing way. I particularly wonder about the cultural sensitivity of the Somali Village, a recreation of life in British Somaliland.
There was also a concert hall, art gallery, a bandstand, and a large waterslide with a long splashdown pool. Apparently turn of the century kids got on rafts to go down the slide and skim across the long landing pool, much like modern slides. I imagine the bathing suits were much more modest in 1907...
Yes, the glory of 1907 has passed, but in a rare moment of foresight, the Earl of Pembroke, donor of the land, demanded that the land be used for the exhibition and then was to be used for a public park. As he said...
"At the close of the exhibition, the grounds [are] to be opened to the public as a park and recreation ground forever."
The buildings were disassembled and carted away to open up this large park. Public amenities like tennis courts, boules, bowling, and bocce courts can all be used... for a fee.
The bandstand and long pond used for the waterslide splash zone are still standing in the southeast corner of today's park. The water is now shallow and sludgy, covered with the feathers of the innumerable ducks, swans, seagulls, and pigeons begging to be fed by lunchtime parkgoers.
|Waterslide Splash Zone Today|
Most of the park is just... greenspace. Paved paths weave through the grass and flowers, and Herbert Park Road cuts the park into northwest/southeast halves. The paid courts are all on the northwest side, and I usually never get past the pond when I visit. Looking at the map above and seeing how close it is to the River Dodder, it should come as no surprise that I won't go very far from the water.
Apparently, the pond in the park used to be home to a population of naturally-spawning common carp. The park's Wikipedia entry describes some two-foot monsters living in the two-foot water as late as 2009. Today, I have scoured every inch of that stagnant pool and have seen nothing. I wonder what happened to them?
|Herbert Park Gardens|
If you are interested in learning more about the Irish International Exhibition here in Herbert Park, check this pdf document, written by the Ballsbridge, Donnybrook, and Sandymount Historical Society and the Royal Dublin Society for the 2007 centennial celebration. Very little on the exhibition on its own Wikipedia page.
If you're in south Dublin, read up on the exhibition and take a fresh look at the park through 1907 eyes. The above linked document has maps and photos of all of the buildings, so you can find out what was built on your current favorite park spot. I was already drawn to the park's pond before I learned that it was originally built as a waterslide splashdown zone. Amazing the things one learns!