Honouring the Dead (Part 1) – The Garden of Remembrance

By Paul O’Brien with photographs by Cpl Greg Dorney/Defence Forces PR Branch

During her state visit to Ireland in May, Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by our President, Mary McAleese laid wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance and the Irish National War Memorial on Islandbridge. Many people who watched these moving ceremonies on television are probably not familiar with the history surrounding these locations and the significances they have to certain groups of Irish people. Located in Parnell Square, at the northern end of O’Connell Street, the Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.

Way back in 1935 the government acquiesced to a request from the Dublin Brigade Veterans Association that a remembrance memorial should be constructed in Dublin City. Part of the Rotunda Gardens in Parnell Square was chosen as a site due to its historical significance – The Irish Volunteer movement was founded in the nearby Rotunda in 1913 and it was within these gardens that many of those taken prisoner after the 1916 Rising were kept overnight before being moved to Richmond Barracks and Kilmainham Gaol.

Although Daithí P Hanlon designed the garden in 1946, its construction only commenced in 1961. It is cruciform in shape and has a curving twelve-foot high, marble wall enclosing it from the rear. Access to the central pedestrian area is via a descending flight of steps that lead to a tranquil pool. The bed of the pool is decorated in a mosaic pattern of blue-green waves interspersed with weapons from Ireland’s Heroic Age.

The weapons are depicted as broken because according to Celtic custom weapons were broken and cast in to the river at the end of a battle. As well as signifying the end of hostilities, many believe this was a votive offering to the gods for victory.

The railings surrounding the lawns are decorated with cast designs of the Loughnashade Trumpet and the Ballinderry Sword, all of which are pointing downwards to indicate peace.

The centrepiece by Oisín Kelly is an eight-ton, 25-foot high, bronze sculpture of the Children of Lir. It was cast at the Marinelli foundry in Florence, Italy and was inspired by Irish poet, WB Yeats’ poem 1916. The concept was that at certain points in history people are transformed and the artist used the depiction of human figures transforming into swans, symbolising rebirth, victory and resurrection, as in the mythological tale of the Children of Lir.

On the wall a poem entitled ‘We saw a Vision’, by Liam Mac Uistin, reads:-

In the darkness we saw a vision.

We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.

In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.

We planted the tree of valour and it blossomed

In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.

We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.

We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.

Winter became summer. Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.

O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.

The Garden of Remembrance was officially opened on Easter Monday 1966, the golden jubilee of the 1916 Rising by President and 1916 veteran, Mr Eamon De Valera. The Office of Public Works are responsible for maintaining the garden and for more on it, you can check out www.heritageireland.ie.

This article was published in the July 2011 issue of An Cosantóir: The Defence Forces Magazine. www.DFMagazine.ie