Begun in 1762, Merrion Square represents Georgian town planning at its grandest. Its long, graceful terraces of red-brown brick sport elaborate doors, knockers and fanlights, as well as wrought-iron balconies (added in the early nineteenth century) and tall windows on the first floor, where the main reception rooms would have been; the north side of the square was built first and displays the widest variety of design.
The broad, manicured lawns of the square’s gardens themselves are a joy, quieter than St Stephen’s Green, and especially agreeable for picnics on fine days. Revolutionary politician Michael Collins is commemorated with a bronze bust on the gardens’ south side, near a slightly hapless stone bust of Henry Grattan, while writer, artist and mystic George Russell (“AE”) stands gravely near the southwest corner and his former home at no. 74. But the square’s most remarkable and controversial statue is at the northwest corner, where Oscar Wilde reclines on a rock facing his childhood home at no. 1 (now the American College Dublin), in a wry, languid pose that has earned the figure the nickname “the fag on the crag”. In front of him, a male torso and his wife Constance, pregnant with their second child, stand on plinths inscribed with Wildean witticisms: “This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last,” “I drink to keep body and soul apart.” Nearby on the railings around the square’s gardens, dozens of artists hang their paintings for sale every Sunday (and some Sats, depending on the weather).
The Merrion Square South terrace has the greatest concentration of famous former residents, giving a vivid sense of the history of the place: politician Daniel O’Connell bought no. 58 in 1809; the Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist, Erwin Schrödinger, occupied no. 65; Gothic novelist Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu died at no. 70, which is now the Arts Council; and W.B. Yeats lived at no. 82 from 1922 to 1928. At no. 39 stood the British Embassy, burnt down by a crowd protesting against the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972.