What's So Special About Marlay Park?

Marlay House and Demesne
What’s so special about Marlay Park?

Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, County Dublin is one of the largest suburban parks in Dublin.
It covers approx. 300 acres and is about 2.5 miles around the boundary path. On the East and North sides it is bordered by Grange Road and by College Road and the M50 to the South. The West side borders the Three Rock Hockey/Rugby club and the Grange Golf club.

Marlay House itself was once owned by David La Touche, first Governor of the Bank of Ireland, in the 1760’s. He named the house after his wife, Elizabeth Marlay. The house was donated to the County Council in the 1970’s.

The courtyard next to the house is surrounded by old buildings converted for use as craft workshops and studios. There’s a sculptor specialising in bronze, a harp maker, a guitar maker and restorer and a gift shop. The bookbinder who occupied one of the spaces died earlier this year and this workshop now remains unoccupied. There is a question mark over the future plans for these buildings. Plans have been mooted for the construction of purpose built craft studios elsewhere in the grounds and the re-development of the courtyard buildings. There’s a farmer’s market in the courtyard every Saturday 10 - 4 with a craft market along the approach to the courtyard from the main car park. On Sundays 11-4 the market in the courtyard is a mix of craft and food stalls.

There are two large car parks, one on the North side and one on the South side. An overflow car park on the North side completed just two years ago is still inadequate to cope with the the number of visitors. So what’s the big attraction?

The big thing I have noticed during this recession is the number of people taking advantage of public resources like this one. It fits with the healthier lifestyle and there’s so many things here to amuse children.

For walkers and joggers there’s a network of pathways and woodland walks and every Saturday morning at 9.30 there is an organised 5K run over a set route which attracts hundreds of participants - old and young, serious runners and fun runners. The Wicklow Way also starts here in the North car park and zig-zags through the Dublin and Wicklow mountains ending at Clonegal, County Carlow.

There are Gaelic pitches, soccer pitches, tennis courts and a cricket ground. A par 3 golf course (closed for construction of a new club house and coffee shop) will re-open again shortly. There are 2 playgrounds, a duck pond and a dog exercise area. A miniature railway runs on a monorail at the West side of the park every Saturday.

The former head gardener’s house, now a coffee shop, adjoins the Regency style walled garden which is beautifully kept with peacocks strutting around, an aviary and an orangery which occasionally acts as an art gallery. Next to the coffee shop is a children’s climbing wall.

Marlay House is open to visitors on selected weekends during the Summer and hosts a Craft Fair in November each year.

A woodland walk follows the Little Dargle river which runs through the park. This walk has a Japenese Bridge and a couple of waterfalls but the highlight is the fairy tree. For some reason the Council have not signposted this little gem. This is no ordinary fairy tree - it’s more a work of art. It’s only half a tree about 15 feet high - the top half probably blown down in a storm- but someone has taken the trouble to build turrets and lookout towers on top and carved out windows and doorways with ornate doors and window shutters. The whole thing is very Gothic - Tim Burton would love it. Usually when I hear fairy tree I think of a bush with all sorts of rubbish and rags tied to it - just an eyesore. Perhaps this is why the Council have kept it secret but the word is spreading. Every week at least one person asks me where to find it.

Wooly Ward’s Pet Farm sets up at the back of the house on Saturdays during the Summer.

For one weekend in August every year there are free open-air movies with children’s movies in the afternoon and adult movies in the evenings. Correction: ...respectable adult movies. This year the rain came down in sheets on both days but a few hundred brave souls still sat out in their rain gear and suffered on. The things people do for a free movie!

In June/July there are a series of concerts in the park which are extremely disruptive to traders and the public alike. It’s hard enough to get some decent weather to work in but it becomes impossible during this period. The stage area and arena is a wide open space at the back of Marlay House which has to be boarded off for the duration. Capacity at the concerts is about 30,000. The problem is outside the boarded off area with marquees and portakabins popping up all over the place and with traffic diverted or restricted. The overflow car park and half the main car park is closed to the public. I’ve seen the queues along Grange Road - most people just don���t have the patience - and by the end of June most don’t even bother. The only people coming to the park are those living within walking distance and not many of these bother either with all of the restrictions in place. I’m all for concerts in Marlay Park - it’s a great venue - but this is extreme. This year we had Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, The Pixies, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and the Longitude Festival featuring Kings of Lean and Kodaline amongst others.

Anyway, rant over, things are beginning to settle down again. This is a particularly good time to visit the park with the leaves changing colour. This Sunday 14th September the National Organic Food Fair takes place in and around the house and always attracts big crowds.

The next big event is at Halloween with a spooky fancy dress woodland walk. I haven’t been to one but by all accounts this is well organised by the Council and is one of the highlights of the year in the park. The event is free but admission is by ticket only to control numbers. Last year there were people lining up all day right around the house for tickets on the weekend before the event. Unfortunately it was cancelled due to a serious storm that weekend.

I’m sure there are things I’ve left out but pay a visit sometime and see for yourself - and while you’re there drop by Blue Sky Art and say hello.  


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