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So there you are. The warm weather has come. You wander over to Herbert Park with your ham sandwich and sit by the pond. A duck waddles over and sits next to you. Waiting patiently. You make eye contact for a moment, awkwardness ensues. The duck pretends someone called it, you pretend you got a text and fiddle with your phone. You finally reach the crust of that sandwich. From the corner of your eye you see the ducks bill creeps open with apprehension. You fire the crust into the water and it’s gone. Out of your life forever. Swimming into the distant screams and splashing of what was once a giant splash pool.
Yes a splash pool. The Herbert Park pond was actually designed as the splash pool for a water chute, a water chute to entertain the 2.75 million (again, yes million) people that visited the site of Herbert Park in the six months between the 4th May and 4th November 1907. That’s nearly 15,000 people a day going through the turnstiles.
Why? Well the 1907 World Fair was held on the site. The park was actually just developed as the site was dismantled. World Fairs where large public exhibitions varying in content. The first was held in Paris 1844 as a French Industrial Exposition based in a temporary structure on the Champs-Élysées. Ireland’s World Fair was dubbed the Irish International Exhibition, which was proposed by the Irish Industrial Conference of 1903. It was designed to show case Irish trade and crafts. Now here is the thing, it was championed by William Martin Murphy who it transpires could commend an article of his own.
William Martin Murphy was a hugely successful Cork business man. He was a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons representing Dublin, he owned Clearys Department Store (where all first dates in Dublin start out under the clock), he founded the Sunday Independent newspaper which still prints today, he led the employers against the trade unions leading to the infamous 1913 lock out in Dublin and refused Knighthood from King Edward VII for organising the Herbert Park party. Busy man our Bill, a busy man.
So why did so many come to town for William Martin Murphy’s show. Well it was quite a spectacular show of outrageous buildings all built renaissance style. Unfortunately most of the structures where only temporary spread across a site that spanned 52 acres.
The design contract was won by architects Kaye-Parry & Ross for Humphreys of London for £123,604 of 1907 pounds. The centre piece of the event was a Grand Central Palace with a 150 foot dome.
This dome was the hub for four limbs expanding out. There was a Main Entrance Hall on Pembroke Road which led into a great Celtic Court. One of the key building was the Irish Home Industries Hall showcasing our wares.
There was also an art gallery with works donated by the British King and Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II.
The King himself even popped over for a visit. On 10th July 1907 King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria had a wander around. Tsar Nicholas II was more occupied in Russia dealing with the June 1907 coup. Nicholas II batted that one away so we had to give the painting back but he wasn’t so fortunate 10 years later with the 1917 February Revolution.
The Palace Restaurant held Royal apartments so they could actually stay on site. And it wasn’t all hard work for the King and Queen. There was a Water Chute, a Helter Skelter and even a Crystal Maze built in (as in built in to the general site, not the Royal Apartments).
So what’s left, well the band stand and the pond are original. The pond as noted earlier certainly didn’t have ducks as it was the splash pool for a robust water chute. So next time you wander through the park remember that was the site of one of the most spectacular fairs of its time. It even had a closing ceremony to match modern days with 800 performers on Saturday the 9th November in the concert hall.
There was a couple of reasons why more buildings were not kept, practical and political. Firstly the buildings where actually just steel frames covered in wood and galvanised iron that got painted to look like stone. Secondly the land was owned by Pembroke Town Council who rented it for grazing. The Exhibitions Committee took a three year lease on the land. When the lease was up and the exhibition was over was up the Pembroke Town Council insisted on trying to return the land back to its original state.
If you are interested in a much more detailed account, please visit this great document prepared by the Ballsbridge, Donnybrook and Sandymount Historical Society: Centenary of Irish international Exhibition 1907
The park is approximately a three kilometre walk from Dublin city centre if you follow the Merrion Road out of the city. This part of Dublin is also well served by buses from the city centre.