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Escape to an oasis in heart of the city

TUCKED away off Harcourt Street, down Clonmel Street, is a large iron gate set in an ivy-covered wall. This is the entrance to the Iveagh Gardens, laid out in 1863 by Benjamin Guinness and one of Dublin's best-kept secrets.

And immediately, as you enter, the sounds of the city – the buses and the humming of traffic – disappear and all you can hear is birdsong.

On a beautiful evening last week, the nicest we've had so far this year, the only thing to do was to throw my coat on the ground and enjoy the sunshine. And that's what a lot of people were doing – reading, sleeping, kissing, one girl was even doing yoga.

The large dip to the left of the gate makes a natural amphitheatre and means that it's a great place for gigs.


I've been lucky enough to have attended a few concerts here, the best being The Waterboys (I'd rather forget Tori Amos) but strangely enough, this is the first time I've been here in daylight and as you'd expect, without the beer tents, stage set-up and Portaloos, it's a completely different place.

The Gardens are surrounded by the backs of a motley collection of buildings – modern glass office blocks, lovely Georgian townhouses with fancy windows and the back of the National Concert Hall.

A wide gravel path leads up to two over-the-top fountains (if you've seen the scene in Atonement with Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and the vase, you'll know what I mean). In each fountain, a figure of indeterminate sex is standing on some sort of sea serpent and balancing a huge pot on their heads.

They face each other with sightless eyes across the woman taking 'selfies' on her mobile, the bearded man fixing his bicycle and a young guy engrossed in reading Somerset Maugham.

Near the back entrance to the gardens, behind the National Concert Hall (take note, this gate is closed at weekends), there's a fine statue of the world-famous tenor, John Count McCormack – he's singing his heart out to a headless, armless Roman/Grecian statue of a lady.

As you go further into the Gardens, even the heavy rattle of the Luas can't be heard.

Couples stroll in the sunlight and dappled sunshine comes through the trees and for an city garden, there's quite a lot of woodland. Along the curving path are more Roman/Grecian ladies and this leads to a huge rockery, the kind of rockery you'd expert bears to appear on.

Beyond that is a gate on to Hatch Street and a circular trellised area with flower beds, which I believe is the Victorian Rosarium.

The thing to do here is grab a bench, lie down and using your bag as a pillow, have a doze in the sun. I saw my first bee of the year here, which I took to be a good sign.

A series of steps leads up to a small, circular maze whose pale, pebbled paths lead to the Iveagh Gardens Sundial, where there is a plaque that gives you a detailed account of how to convert Sundial Time to Clock Time. You won't get lost in the maze, the box hedges are about 3ft high, but it's perfect for children.


It's worth mentioning that there were no annoying signs in the Gardens saying, 'Stay off the grass', so I didn't.

Heading back towards the entrance on Harcourt Street, I came across the waterfall that I've heard so much about. Unfortunately, the day I was there, it wasn't working, but I'm sure with water cascading down over the rough-hewn rocks and into the pool, it's an uplifting sight.

Bits of Neptune (his head, legs and torso) lie under a bust nearby and I couldn't help but think he'd look rather wonderful perched on top of the waterfall.

Iveagh Gardens is a great spot. I was really sorry to leave.

The Iveagh Gardens are open Monday-Saturday, 8am to 6pm, Sunday, 10am to 6pm. Admission is free