Friday, March 27, 2015

A Big Day Out

While putting the finishing touches on the Frugal Guide, I was looking through the list of free (or cheap) Dublin-area attractions that I had yet to visit. I use "Dublin area" because most of these points of interest are well beyond the tourist-friendly City Centre and buried in Dublin's deepest suburbs. Weighing my options, I decided not to include most of these way-out-but-worthwhile attractions, thinking a normal tourist visit could still be called complete without them.

After continued research (and some local feedback), I decided to take a look at one such far-off sight, Farmleigh, and boy was I glad I did.

I'd heard it was a nice visit, with some great gardens and a (totally free) tour of the old estate house, once owned by the Guinness family, but now used for fancy-schmancy state functions. It sits just past the west end of Phoenix Park—the largest enclosed park in Europe, and already on the west edge of town. Practically, it really wouldn't be accessible for tourists on foot from City Centre, but there are ways to get there without too much trouble—or cost.

I noticed a walking tour scheduled to leave from the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre and proceed through the west end of the park to the gardens of Farmleigh, timed to end just as an interior tour of Farmleigh House would be kicking off. Figuring it would be perfect, I cycled the six miles to the middle of Phoenix Park—to find that the tour had been cancelled for an illness. Shoot.

Not to worry, as another tour of Ashtown Castle, the nearby medieval tower near the visitor centre, was starting shortly after I'd arrived. I took the opportunity to finally poke around the exhibits at the center, which had been closed the only other time I'd come for a tour, which had also been cancelled at the last minute.

The Duke of Ormond, the Mascot of Phoenix Park
The Duke of Ormond, the Mascot of Phoenix Park

I got a look at the displays about the Duke of Ormond, who originally set aside the land for the park as a royal deer hunting preserve. Today, his image is like a mascot for Phoenix Park, his red coat, curls, and hunting falcon showing up on many promotional materials for the park.

Next to the visitor center, the tower of Ashtown Castle Tower House overlooks the nearby sporting fields and the trees and trails of the park's center. I'd always enjoyed the mini hedge maze surrounding the tower, but found out that it is the floor plan of a much larger (and much newer) house that had been added to the original Norman stone fortress. Smartly, they tore down the plaster building and committed to preserving the old tower—viewable only by guided tour today.

Ashtown Castle Tower House
Ashtown Castle Tower House

After checking out the (worth it!) Ashtown Castle, I cycled my way over to Farmleigh. Even though the tour from Phoenix Park wasn't running, the house tours were still running as scheduled. Conveniently, I arrived about ninety minutes before the next house tour—just enough time to enjoy a walk through the gardens.

Farmleigh House Facade
Farmleigh House Facade

Dutch Sunken Garden - Farmleigh
Dutch Sunken Garden

The Only Blooming Tulip on the Grounds - Farmleigh
The Only Blooming Tulip on the Grounds

Those Victorians Loved them some Temples - Farmleigh
Those Victorians Loved them some Temples

The house tour was amazing, but no photos are allowed, so you'll just have to take my word for it. If you can get out there, Farmleigh is worth the trip, especially if you can get there by cycle through the southern part of Phoenix Park, which is how I made my way back home.

I took a nice ride through Furry Glen—with the sounds of One Direction blasting in my ears from a school outing at a nearby pavilion—and got a great shot of a strange, Dagobah-like landscape that doesn't look like it would be within Dublin City.

Furry Glen in Phoenix Park, Dublin
Mudhole? Slimy? My Home, This Is!

Thanks to a tip from my Ashtown Tower tour guide, I stopped at a rather obscure little marker on the southern edge of the park. Part of a small tomb centuries older than Newgrange and, by extension, the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge, Knockmaree Cist still overlooks the Liffey Valley just as it did in the Stone Age. When first excavated, it was part of a larger burial mound complex and contained the cremated remains of at least three individuals.

Knockmaree Cist
Knockmaree Cist

The deer that were the purpose for the founding of the park are still here, carefully managed and semi-wild. The herd mostly roams the open fields of an area called the Fifteen Acre, but I ran into this guy at close range on the southern park road.

Phoenix Park Fallow Deer
Phoenix Park Fallow Deer

Elsewhere, and a bit less impressive than the ancient tomb and the deer, the Papal Cross built just for a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1979. More than a million worshippers swarmed the park to hear him speak from this purpose-built platform. Now, kids play soccer and hurling on the grounds that were cleared and flattened.

Papal Cross - Phoenix Park
Papal Cross

The southern edge of the park is on a high hilltop overlooking the River Liffey and the Kilmainham and Islandbridge neighborhoods directly below, with a passable view of City Centre and the coast in the distance. This strategic position made some parts of the park important for military garrisons. One such installation is still standing, but is crumbling and unsafe.

The Magazine Fort's main purpose was to safely store ammunition and explosives for the British Army. Now, its gate is a great place from which to launch oneself down the steep hill on a skateboard, which is how I saw it being enjoyed on my day out.

Magazine Fort - Phoenix Park
Magazine Fort

Exhausted from such a thorough exploration of Dublin's far-west adventures, I pumped my way home. Look for a Farmleigh review over on Five Suitcases and a new update to the Frugal Guide with my new findings soon.

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