Marlay Park sits about 5.5 miles outside of downtown Dublin and is one of the most extensive and beloved recreation areas near the city center. The park was first established by the city council in the 1970s on old feudal land and has since gone through several phases of projects to improve and expand its facilities.
Outdoor enthusiasts, tennis players, and golfers will find plenty of space for sports inside Marlay Park. However, the recreation area is also popular with families because of its open fields and playgrounds, as well as shoppers who come to browse the unique craft stores located on one part of the grounds. The park has even become the setting for one of Dublin’s most famous summer music festivals.
The land that is now set aside for Marlay Park was once a part of the feudal system in Ireland. The area at the heart of the park would have been the land which the landlord kept for his personal use, while the rest was rented out to be farmed by tenants.
The owner who transformed the old Georgian house and gave the park its name was David La Touche. La Touche was the first head of the Bank of Ireland, and he acquired the property outside of the Dublin city center in 1764. He renovated the grand home and slowly purchased more and more surrounding land to expand his wealth. La Touche named the home for his wife, Elizabeth Marlay.
The property was purchased by a Dublin shipbuilder in the 19th century and changed hands in the 20th century before finally being acquired by the Dublin City Council in the early 1970s. Marlay Park officially opened to the public in 1975.
What to Do There
Marlay Park covers 300 acres just outside of Dublin in an area administered by one of the arms of the city council known as Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown.
The large park has multiple recreation areas including five GAA pitches, a cricket field, and six fields for playing soccer. There are also tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course.
The park has two popular children’s playgrounds. Younger children also enjoy the model railroad at Marlay Park that is operated by the Dublin Society of Model and Experimental Engineers. For four-legged friends, there is also an off-leash area for dogs. However, they need to be on leads when using other areas and on the trails.
The grassy areas of Marlay Park are open for picnics, and there are several areas with tables for a more comfortable outdoor meal. The Irish park is also filled with well-maintained paths and trails for stretching your legs. For those who like a little company, the community organizes weekly timed runs through the park along a 5k course.
For serious walkers, Marlay Park is the official starting point of the Wicklow Way. Of course, it is also the ideal spot for a shorter stroll through green fields and even has secluded little waterfalls, the park does open up for longer hikes. The famous route leads through the nearby Wicklow Mountains.
Every July, Marlay Park becomes the setting for Dublin’s main summer music festival. The Longitude Festival began in 2013 and now attracts more than 40,000 music lovers to listen to a lineup of Irish and international artists. Some of the artists who have played at the Marley Park festival include Bastille, The National, The Weekend, and Chance the Rapper. There are occasionally other concerts held in the warmer months, as well.
Marlay House and Craft Courtyard
The idea of a park might bring to mind the kind of outdoor facilities that are already popular at Marlay, but one of the reasons such a diverse range of Dubliners are drawn to the park is also for the unique market located in some of the area’s most historic buildings. The recently renovated 19th-century horse stable is now known as the Marlay Craft Courtyard. The courtyard provides studio and shop space to 15 artists, including watercolor painters, a stationery store, a goldsmith specializing in modern jewelry, a photography gallery, and even a tasty cake studio.
On the weekends, there is an even larger market to browse. The Co Co Market set behind Marlay House takes place throughout the year and attracts even more artisans selling local handicrafts, as well as food and beverage carts. Grab a locally roasted coffee, shop for farm-fresh produce, and wander through the ever-changing vendors for a unique Sunday morning adventure outside of Dublin’s busy streets. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays.
It is also possible to visit Marlay House with a guided tour. The house was built in 1794 by the owners who gave the park the name it has today. The warm stone estate has a beautiful ballroom and lovely restored interiors.
The house overlooks Marlay Demense, where there is a lake and a boathouse, as well as a Victorian age cottage. The modern park is full of amenities for sporty Dubliners, but this is the area that seems more timeless. The Demense was designed in the 18th and 19th centuries and still feels isolated from the contemporary capital city down the road.
Finally, there is an ornamental garden that is still filled with plants from centuries past, as well as a water fountain and arbor. There are daily tours available during the summer, or you can stop by the former gardener’s house for coffee and drinks.
Dublin Bus regularly serves Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, where Marlay Park is located. The 16 bus stops closest to the park, but the 14 bus has a stop within easy walking distance and is connected directly to Dublin city center.