A sensory tour of Granby Park

Granby gratefulThe first thing that struck me about Granby Park was the smell. The warm earthy aroma of woodchip and mulch is something more connected with garden centres and countryside than with the heart of a capital city. The day before Granby Park opened I went down to the site to get a take a look at how it was coming together. Behind the decorated railings, volunteers in hi-vis vests were swarming around the site making the final preparations. And the air all around the park, all up Dominick Street, was filled with that sweet, slightly musty smell. Even before Granby Park opened, it was already changing the way I sensed the city.

A while back, I wrote about a book called “Slow Dublin” by Anto Howard, a handy little guide for taking a deeper, richer approach to life in Dublin by slowing down and taking in more of the city. “Live more, fret less”, the book’s cover exhorts, and in the introduction, Howard explains his approach:

“Adopting a slow approach to life is about arousing the senses, connecting with community… and in these hard-hit times it’s about pulling together, sharing a burden, sharing a hope and learning to live with less.”

That’s an ethos that seems to fit Granby Park pretty well, and in my trips into the park, I’ve found it is certainly a space that engages all the senses in a slow, easy, relaxing way that city living doesn’t often encourage. Once inside the park, through the leafy pergola, there are subtler scents to be picked up than the obvious smell of the mulch and woodchip. The Shoe Wall installation, where flowers sprout from old shoes, adds a little floral fragrance to the air, while from the café I catch drifts of the rich smell of roast coffee.

I hear the chatter and laughter of children and adults, and the mingling of accents and languages, while my steps make a satisfying crunch along the meandering path. Somehow, the sound of the city traffic outside is already muffled, feeling far away and important.

In a space built not from the cold concrete of the city but soft, rough organic materials, everything longs to be touched. Volunteers are mucking in, getting their hands dirty tending to the plants that line the paths. The Trade School board is advertising hands-on workshops in drawing, knitting, photography and as well as other less tactile pursuits from philosophy to songwriting. In the playground, the laughing children clamber over rubber tyres and the rough-hewn log climbing frames.

Jane Groves' Shoe Wall - a collaboration with children from St Paul’s community centre.
Jane Groves’ Shoe Wall – a collaboration with children from St Paul’s community centre.

At The Granby Grazer, while I wait to taste that rich-smelling coffee I could smell earlier, I pick at a little bowl of garlic-and-pepper-marinated olives on the counter. I’ve missed out on the puy lentil stew, but I’ve never seen a beetroot salad look so simple and so tempting. I’ve been told that the menu uses herbs and plants grown in the Dream Farm, the little hydroponic greenhouse made from found materials near the entrance. I’m thinking I must make it in for at least one of the Food Exchange Sundays before the end of the month.

And of course visual art and creativity is everywhere – the burgeoning graffiti wall, the giant menacing robot head, the concrete couch, the illustrated plates – and at the very top park’s dominant feature, the Dubfast Theatre. Over a thousand rough, square, functional pallets arranged into smooth, gentle curves, enclosing a space to watch, hear and take part in creative performance. And it is that space more than any other that holds that wonderful earthy smell of the soft underfoot mulch that was my first sense of Granby Park.

In my visits in there, I’ve found Granby Park is not just a place to go, but a space to experience. And in using all my senses to experience it, it does what “Slow Dublin” encourages. It makes me slow down. It makes me fret less. Emerging onto Parnell Street again, having forgotten for a little while that I am in the bustling heart of Dublin, I find I’ve taken Granby Park’s sense of creative calmness out into the city with me.

If you’re in Dublin between now and the 22nd , get down to Granby Park and see (touch, taste, smell, hear) for yourself.


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