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Roy Curtis: Replenishing the soul with an hour in Dublin’s Eden, St Stephen’s Green

The soothing, timeless paradise that is Stephen’s Green truly is nature’s gift to my old home town...

'Robins chirp their joyous song of friendship' in St Stephen's Green© ??  `??_/O??

Roy Curtis

Last Wednesday afternoon, the May sun glinting overhead like a polished sapphire, Dublin’s lush, abundant and beloved front garden shimmered, a tranquil, hypnotic Eden.

On early summer days like this, St Stephen’s Green – the city centre’s pristine lung – assumes a miraculous dual aspect.

At once a bustling, outdoor Grand Central Station, all noise and hubbub, teeming with humanity on its way to somewhere else, but also a house of serenity, a few minutes snoozing on one of its wrought-iron benches sufficient to defuse the ticking time-bomb of life’s everyday stresses.

Buzzing like the RDS mosh-pit at Bruce Springsteen, yet as dreamy as a mountain-top Buddhist temple.

At the lip of hectic Grafton Street, the park is a soothing, timeless paradise.

An environmentally friendly jump-lead when our emotional engines splutter.

A refuge where you can be alone among the thousands. Or, for those craving the cup of human company, an open air tavern were draughts of conversation on tap are the house speciality.

Flanked by the stately Shelbourne Hotel, the beautiful Newman University Church, and an abundance of old bars, it is among my favourite spaces in my favourite city.

A happiness factory, a coalition of man, woman and nature, the place that prompted Noel Purcell to sing Leo Maguire’s ecstatic line, the one announcing that Dublin could be heaven.

And there is something of the divine, something spiritually uplifting about a stroll through Stephen’s Green, nature’s gift to the old town, a carousel of duck ponds and bandstands and ancient statues and walkways curling through centuries-old trees.

Advance under the parasol of oak-lined avenues – Beau Walk, Leeson’s Walk, Monck’s Walk and French Walk – and even the religiously agnostic might be persuaded that they are indeed privy to a specimen of God’s handiwork.

Each time I visit, I am reminded of Barack Obama’s lament for a simple life-affirming pleasure that his elevated status as US Commander-in-Chief stole from him.

“I just want to go through Central Park and watch folks passing by. Spend the whole day people watching. I miss that.”

Last Wednesday, azure skies tattooed with fluffy blond wisps of cloud, that New York City landmark’s smaller Celtic cousin, Dublin 2’s 22-acre botanic wonderland, was at its most alluring.

Obama’s people-watching paradise.

Office workers sipping a lunchtime cappuccino or scrolling through the day’s headlines on their phone, tourists flicking through guidebooks, teenagers posing for selfies, the lonely allowing the park to transfuse the lifeblood of companionship into lives that are too often solitary and friendless.

Next to me an elderly lady hummed quietly to herself as she made light work of a 99 Flake.

I wondered what flashbacks were assailing her memory: Schooldays of long ago perhaps, or summer hours strolling through this very place with a first love, so much of life stretching out before them.

I lingered for a little over an hour, remembering, imagining, enjoying the movie of life that was unspooling on the giant green screen.

It wasn’t a scorching day, there was still a hint of devil in the breeze, but when the sun took your face in its soothing embrace, it lit you with the sheer pleasure of being alive.

The riot of colour, symphony of birdsong, the young and besotted at the fountain’s edge, all seemed like a signpost to the promise of long, bright, carefree days ahead.

It might have been a victory parade celebrating that winter’s dark army had been officially defeated and exiled.

Sycamores, so recently naked and shivering in the winter chill, are again robed in verdant summer suits.

Older trees bend to one side as if curious to eavesdrop on the thousand conversations on the benches below.

In the park’s quieter recesses, robins, those wonderfully social and playful creatures, chirp their joyous song of friendship.

The summer grasses are combed and shaved and as smartly attired as the wedding parties who often gather on the old humpback bridge for group photos. The flower beds – a miracle of lemons and lilacs – burst with newly sprouted life.

The park doubles as an avian airport, flights of ecstatic, shrieking, rapacious gulls taking off and landing, their noisy colonisation of the duck pond about the only negative to a long, lazy afternoon.

On a weekend when our neighbours crowned their latest monarch, Noel Purcell’s celebration of this storied acreage again invaded a sleepy Wednesday afternoon at Dublin’s epicentre.

“There’s no need to hurry, there’s no need to worry, you’re a king and the lady’s a queen.”

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