National Botanic Gardens - History and Facts | History Hit

National Botanic Gardens

Dublin, Ireland

Image Credit: Davi Costa / Shutterstock

About National Botanic Gardens

The National Botanic Garden in Glasnevin, Dublin is one of Europe’s horticultural highlights.

History of the National Botanic Garden

Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens were first established in 1795, following a monetary grant from the Irish Parliament to the Royal Dublin Society in 1790. Its initial purpose was to focus on promoting a scientific study of agriculture, and so the gardens were originally full of medicinal and agricultural plants, as well as those used for dyes. Notably, the work undertaken at the Botanic Gardens helped determine the potato blight which caused the Great Famine of 1845-7.

The shape of the gardens as they are today was broadly established by 1838: curator Ninian Niven was responsible for the laying out of many of the paths and helped develop the use of the gardens to pursue increased botanical knowledge. Plants were imported from other notable botanic gardens like Kew and Edinburgh to facilitate this.

David Moore, the next curator, is the most important figure at Glasnevin. He developed the iron glass house which still stands today, as well as forging links with gardens as far away as Australia. His enthusiasm and contacts allowed the growth of rare plants to expand to the gardens of some of Ireland’s stately homes and it was his work which identified the potato blight. His son Frederick later took over the role and was eventually knighted for his services to horticulture.

After nearly a century of declining interest (minus the frequent visits of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein on his visits to Ireland), the gardens underwent a massive regeneration programme in the 1990s, including the building of a herbarium/library.

National Botanic Gardens today

Technically Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens are split between Glasnevin and Kilmacurragh, in County Wicklow. Between them, they share 15,000 different species of plant, including 300 endangered species. They remain a very peaceful respite from city life, and are still used for research as much as recreation today.

The Victorian wrought-iron glasshouses are one of the most popular features of the gardens, and are in extremely good condition. Each housing a variety of different plants and maintaining different climates within, their variety and aesthetic is a highlight of any visit.

Guided tours are available and need to be booked ahead – they can be extremely interesting, particularly for complete horticultural novices or experts! Audioguides are also available on arrival and the gardens do have a tea room (note picnicking is not allowed).

Getting to the National Botanic Gardens

The gardens are located in Glasnevin, North Dublin – approximately 1.5km north of the city centre. It takes approximately half an hour to walk there from O’Connell Street, and the gardens are serviced by several bus routes.

There is ample parking should you wish to drive, and the gardens are easily accessed en route to or from the airport.