The Memorial Committee continued to seek to improve the Gardens, long after their initial completion in 1938. In 1939, they sought estimates from Sir Edwin Lutyens for his bridge design, and for ornamental railings and gates. They also, on his suggestion, sought costs for the interior decoration of the bookrooms with maps. However, all of these schemes proved too expensive for the time and were eventually laid to one side.
A decade later, in 1949, the Committee received notice from the Office of Public Works that a certain number of improvements must be met before the Gardens could open to the public. These included entrance gates and a lodge from Inchicore Road, sanitation and seating facilities, and (in contrast to the urban environment around the Gardens today), a fence to secure the central lawn from local cows. Another ten years passed without movement on these items, in this case because of the new road which was being built by the Corporation, and which would change the plans for the entrance gates. Further delays were caused by the Dublin drainage scheme, who carried out pipeline work inside the park.
Another discussed addition to the Gardens was a cemetery. In 1965 it was estimated that there remained in Ireland up to a thousand men who had fought in the First World War, and that there was not sufficient space in the cemeteries available. An alternative location (unspecified in the archives) was recommended by the Committee instead.
None of these delays in opening the park to the public affected the commemorative events held within. Each August the Dublin Central Branch of the Old Contemptibles Association, and each November the British Legion (in conjunction with the Memorial Committee), held their ceremonies without interruption (until 1969 after which their services were conducted in St Patrick’s Cathedral).
For twenty years, there was a lapse in activity in the Memorial Committee, due to older members passing away. This coincided with a reduction of OPW staff in the Gardens, due to budget cuts. From a team of twelve workers on site in the late 1960s, there was in 1987 only three. The park deteriorated during this time. The walls were covered in graffiti, the staff quarters had been burned down and abandoned, and the paths and lawns used for racing cars and pasturing horses. A storm in 1986 added to the destruction of the planting. The hydraulic system which had pumped water from the Liffey through to the fountains had been unintentionally damaged. Altogether, the site was in a sorry state.
A new Committee reconvened in 1985 (with members which had been appointed by the British Legion- three from the south and two from the north of Ireland), and their first order of business was to discuss the state of the Gardens as they now stood.
The dilapidated and unsatisfactory state of the Memorial Cross, stonework, and gardens was discussed at length. It was agreed that immediate steps should be taken to bring pressure on the Board of Works to make good the damage incurred.
After a meeting later that year, it was agreed that the Memorial Committee would arrange for fencing around the central lawn, and the OPW would refurbish the interior, with funds from the Committee. The fencing in particular would remove the problem of vehicles and horses; it was completed in 1987. As part of the refurbishment, the Committee requested original drawings of the site from the Lutyens Trust. In 1988, discussion revolved around the erection of ‘the Lutyens Temple’ and on the upcoming opening and dedication of the park and gardens.
A few years ago I wrote a note about the neglected state of the Lutyens-designed War Memorial Park at Islandbridge; I had been saddened on my first visit to the park by the crumbling decay of the monuments and by the general run-down desolation of the 10-acre site. Now I’m glad to report that, over the last two years, the park has been wonderfully restored to what must be very like its former glory – the masonry has been repaired, paths laid, trees and flower beds planted. Fountains now play amid trim green lawns and the rose called ‘Peace’ flowers in the sunken gardens at each end of the memorial.
On the 10th of September 1988, the Gardens were finally formally opened. Similar security concerns and political issues dogged the ceremony, as had done in 1939. The previous November had seen the ‘Remembrance Day bombing’ in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, where the Provisional IRA had exploded a bomb near the war memorial there during a ceremony, killing one police officer, ten retirees, and injuring 63. This incident led directly to the passing of the Extradition Act, which facilitated the extradition of IRA suspects from the Republic to the United Kingdom. It was in this context that anti-extradition protestors attended and interrupted the formal opening of the Irish National War Memorial Gardens. There were two minor disturbances to speeches, and some chanting, before the removal of the protestors by Gardaí present.
Otherwise the day went off well, with a long list of important names in attendance. These included the British Ambassador, Mr Nicholas Fenn, the French and Nigerian Ambassadors, and representatives from both the American and Turkish embassies. The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Donald Caird, the Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Dr Joseph Carroll, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr Brown, and the former President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev. Paul Kingston were also present. Mrs Alice Glenn, Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, attended. The event was not attended, however, by any ministerial representative – something which the papers picked up on. The Memorial Committee Chair, Lieutenant Colonel D.H. Boydell delivered the main address, and the second was by Admiral Sir Arthur Hazlett, from the British Legion. A wreath was laid by Mr P. Bury, MBE RN.
A year later, the Committee could report happily that over 3,500 people had visited the Gardens, and that measures were being put in place to microfiche the Books of Remembrance, in order to reduce the waiting times of those who wished to consult them.
After the official opening and dedication, refurbishment continued. Although no bridge project was yet to be realised, land was reserved close to the UCD boat club. The same year saw the layout of the carpark. In 1991, the Burmese teak ‘Lutyens’ seats, which had been continuously damaged, were replaced by hardwearing metal versions (the original ones being donated to Leopardstown Park Hospital). In 1992, the Committee inspected plans and a model for an alternative Temple (Lutyens’ original design considered impractical for that time as it was roofed in lead etc) and approved them. The current herbaceous border was also developed in the early 2000s. By 1992, there was very little vandalism happening in the Gardens.
Construction of the Lutyens Temple began on the 3rd of May, 1993, and completed the same year. The work was carried out by Glasnevin Monumental Works (manager Mr Martin Galligan) under OPW architects David Byers, Paul Sherwin and Clerk of Works, John Brown. 1993 also saw the donation of exhibition cases to the ‘North East House’ by Mrs Golden, for the purposes of housing artefacts from both wars. Mr Ronnie Marino, of the Memorial Committee, was asked to take charge of the collection (these cases were updated in 2001). In October of the same year, the OPW was awarded the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors’ James Culleton Award for the restoration of the Gardens, and this was presented in the park by the president of the association.
If it was the sheer determination of Memorial Committee Treasurer Andrew Jameson which saw the Gardens finally built in the 1930s, it was the enthusiastic leadership of Committee Secretary Campbell Heather which prompted the refurbishment of the 1980s. The work of OPW architect Paul Sherwin, and Chief Superintendent John McCullen, were also vital to the refurbishments carried out on site during this period.