Quiet day for Her Majesty as she recovers from the last few days. I took the opportunity to visit another Guinness landmark--Iveagh House (pronounced “eye-vee.”) Since it’s now a private residence, I just visited the outside of the house.
Iveagh House is in fact two buildings built in the 1730s. Those were very prosperous years for Dublin and several Georgian townhouses were built in this section of the city. In 1862 Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, 1st Baronet and grandson of the founder of the Guinness Brewery, bought Numbers 80 and 81 on St. Stephen’s Green and combined the two houses, putting a Portland stone facade on the front to make it seamless. The home has since passed to his son, Edward.
As beautiful as Iveagh House is, the real gem is what lies behind it-- a garden covering several acres hidden by stone walls. I couldn’t help but peer through the gates at it. I didn’t see the distinguished-looking middle-aged gentlemen slip up beside me. “Would you like a look?” he asked.
I apologized for my rudeness but assured him I would like nothing better. “Do you know the owner?”
“You are Edward Guinness, the Earl of Iveagh?”
He frowned. “No, the Baron of Iveagh.”
Oops, nearly blew that one. That won’t be for another nineteen years. They will keep heaping titles on Edward and it wasn’t for his hobnobbing with influential people. He is well remembered for all his many philanthropic works. One project was clearing out the slums and replacing it with decent but affordable housing for the poor. “Yes, of course. My name is Dr. Wendell Howe and I am very honored to meet you.”
“Historian. I understand these gardens goes back nearly a hundred years.”
“Actually they are older. The gardens originally belonged to John Scott, the 1st Earl of Clonmell, and Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench for Ireland back in the 1780s. I’m not sure if who named them the Saxe-Coburg Gardens.”
“Yes, after the current Royal Family. Very patriotic.”
Lord Iveagh nodded. “I’m afraid the gardens had fallen into a terrible state when my father, Sir Benjamin, bought them in 1863 to go with his new house. Father hired a garden designer named Ninian Niven. Did an excellent job. Would you like a tour?”
Would I! I of course took him up on his offer. I know we must have strolled through it for at least a couple of hours as he showed me all the details. The garden has grottoes, rose gardens, a maze, woodlands, meadows, sculptures, fountains and even a waterfall all in eight and a half acres. “This absolutely amazing!” I assured him. “It’s hard to believe a private garden like this exists in the middle of Dublin.”
“Yes, it makes me feel a bit guilty. From my front window I can look across the street at St. Stephens Green, the park my brother, Lord Ardilaun, gave Dublin. I’ve toyed with the idea of giving away my garden.”
“Excellent idea,” I agreed. I nearly bit my tongue, then shrugged. I know Lord Iveagh will give his garden to the University College Dublin in 1908. I doubt if I had anything to do with that decision. The University will rename the gift Iveagh Gardens in his honor. And it will get more visitors than the mountain named for him. (It’s in the Antarctic. He helped finance the 1907 British Antarctic Expedition.)
I thanked Lord Iveagh for the tour. He has many good years ahead of him, twenty-seven in fact. His son Rupert will give Iveagh House to the Irish State in 1939. They will use it as the Department of Foreign Affairs building.
As for the garden, it will eventually fall to the Office of Public Works. In 1995 it will be restored to Niven’s original design, complete with a garden of pre-1860s roses. Still the wall will tuck it away, making those who come across it believe they discovered a “secret garden.” Most Dubliners will feel that Lord Iveagh’s private garden will be their own private garden.