Against the Odds: Discovering Granby Park

Unlike many capital cities, it's very easy to step off the tourist trail and find the real heart of Dublin. Granby Park is just two blocks away from O'Connell Street - one of the most famous and busiest thoroughfares in the city - and was a welcome surprise discovery during our holiday in Ireland.

In 2003, I spent 10 days in Dublin as a volunteer for the Special Olympics. At the time the Celtic Tiger was in full roar and I worked and lived amongst Irish people during one of their proudest moments. Those of you who experienced 2012's Olympics and Paralympics will know what the palpable excitement of an entire nation is like.

10 years later, the Celtic Tiger is sleeping and many sites earmarked for development are derelict, just like the one currently hosting Granby Park. The word 'derelict' is my deliberate choice, because in some quarters its use in respect to these sites is contentious.

But for one site and for one month only there's an exciting transformation. Granby Park is Ireland's very first 'pop-up' park; a project with its roots firmly planted in both the arts and the soil which has flowered into something much more. Any project which uses yarn bombing to transform forbidding external grey railings into something softer and friendlier gets a huge thumbs up from me :)

The park is the brainchild of Upstart, which according to its website is:

"...a non-profit voluntary arts collective. Our mission to highlight the importance of creativity and ingenuity when society is in need of direction and solutions, and to emphasis the value of arts to the public life and community." Hear hear.

I love their Press Release explaining Granby Park, particularly:

"We are living in a grey world, full of empty spaces, closed shops, people are broke, people are bored, people are sick of it! Recession overload! Let’s change the topography, let’s get Dublin out in the sun, excited, livin’ the life of Reilly!"

A pop-up park sounds pretty spontaneous, but this one was two years in the planning and with a budget of around 70 thousand euros. Twenty thousand of this was found via crowd funding (Fund It) and the rest via donations from local businesses, Dublin city council etc. There were donations in kind as well such as expertise, plants for the garden areas and items for recycling or upcycling.

Granby Park is situated in Dominick Street, a once grand place (see Further Reading), which declined into slums. These were replaced by the typical 1960s flats shown in the above picture.

The park is staffed by lots of friendly and informative volunteers and the one I spoke to explained these flats have no outdoor facilities. Therefore, the park is fulfilling quite a need during its one-month existence. Which would you rather have: some grass and an outdoor sofa, or one of the balconies behind with a view out onto a vacant lot dominated by scrubby buddleia and the scruffiness these sites usually attract?

After the yarn bombing, the next feature which caught my eye was the "Dream Farm", a demonstration of hydroponics. I was surprised to find NAH working the pump to re-supply the tank at the top of the gravity fed watering system. It's not often you'll find my husband actually interacting with a garden! I'm sure it appealed to his engineering orientated brain ;)

Later on I saw a schools visit with the teacher explaining the principles of hydroponics to dozens of attentive pupils crowded around him. Here's hoping the park made a lasting impression on them.

Then NAH surprised me again whilst I was taking this photo. I was interested in the new 'upholstery' of the chairs, he was more interested in the books you can see behind in the 'Park and Read' area. NAH loves plays on words :)

I believe 'Park and Read' should be an essential component of many of our parks and gardens. Whenever I see someone with a book in a park, I always think 'what a great idea'!

The park has plenty of different areas including a play area, an outdoor cinema, a theatre and a cafe; the latter you can see in the distance in this photo. I instantly regretted our touristy panini and cappuchino we'd had in O'Connell Street and wished we could have swapped them for a bowl of hearty soup and the craic in this 'elbows on the table' community hub. Here we would have rubbed shoulders with local residents and office workers as well as fellow tourists.

Regular readers know I'm drawn to all things quirky, so won't be surprised I loved this take on a shoe shop display, with each recycled shoe transformed into a plant pot.

This is the theatre, one of the park's free event hubs. When I took the photo, I was appreciating it for the use of flowers and plants amongst the seating. Much later I found out this part of the park is important for another reason.

My friendly volunteer told me about how pallets are a symbol of the Loyalist bonfire tradition in Northern Ireland as they often form their main component. In July, several children from Loyalist families came down and stayed with Dominick Street families so they could help build the theatre, thus creating something much more positive from the pallets donated to the project. This is just one example of the north/south reconciliation activities happening today and the theatre is called 'Dubfast' in its honour. It also shows Granby Park has a much wider reach than its Dublin location.

Part of that wider reach is the toolkit Upstart are planning to produce after the park closes on Sunday. I was told as an organisation their remit isn't to become permanent curators of an open space, but to show everyone what the possibilities are. It will enable other groups to have their own version of Granby Park, and hopefully more quickly as there are hundreds of sites available which have the potential. The toolkit will also aim to help other groups avoid the pitfalls this project has encountered along the way.

The plants and materials obtained from the site's dismantling will be donated to other community groups and projects wherever possible. This and the toolkit should ensure Granby Park has a lasting legacy.

The Celtic Tiger may be sleeping, but perhaps with Granby Park's presence it's starting to purr :)

Further reading
  • Granby Park's website (sadly no more) had great stories and a wealth of information about the project. One of the posts was about the history of the site which shows there were orchards and vegetable plots nearby in the 18th century, with Dominick Street itself then forming one of the grandest Georgian streets in Dublin (the remaining ones are a key tourist attraction), until its decline into slum tenements during the 1800s, then final demolition of many of the buildings in the 1950s.  
  • Upstart's website - the arts collective responsible for Granby Park's fruition
  • Irish Independent's story - with a great view of the Dubfast theatre
  • Irish Times's story - with a great 'Before' photo of the site
  • My other Against the Odds and Out on the Streets stories

And finally, there's a totally unexpected personal connection to share with you...

...NAH and I had our first date (and kiss!) in The Marquis of Granby pub at Framwellgate Moor, Durham oh so many moons ago. Since returning to the UK I've found out this is the very same Marquis from the 18th century who lent his name to the area of Dublin from which Granby Park takes its name :)


  1. That looks amazing, and such a pleasant surprise to wander onto I'm sure. I'm always up for some yarn bombing, and the pallet collection is so colourful. I'm off to do some further reading....

    1. Jenny - it was great and I hope their plans for its legacy also come to fruition :)

  2. Great blog post, thank you. I wish there were some way I could yarn-bomb the edges of it in appreciation. (And how ironic that I find out about a project 8 miles away from my home from someone who lives in the UK!)

    Jane P

    1. Hi Jane - I'm thinking about yarn-bombing some derelict land on our estate in appreciation. The places may be very different, but I suspect the reason why the land hasn't been developed here is still the same. It's annoying because before it was used by children as a much needed play area, but now the developers have fenced it off they can't. Grrrr.

  3. A brilliant project and what luck to discover it in your holiday VP. I love the "Park and Read' concept. Will bookmark the link to read more later :)

  4. What a fantastic find. I am always so impressed with people who create things like this. Wonderful.

    1. It's interesting it took 2 years in the making. It just shows how tenacious those involved in a community project need to be, whether it's in Ireland or the UK.


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