Elephant in the (archery) room

Next time you’re in Dublin, take a walk around the Iveagh Gardens. They’re a beautiful, cool, green oasis right in the middle of the city, just a step from St. Stephen’s Green. They date from the 18th century but take their name from Benjamin Lee Guinness, the 19th century Lord Iveagh. In the early 1860s the Gardens were laid out in their present form by a noted landscape architect, Ninian Niven. 

It was Niven who is believed to have designed the large sunken area that you see in the centre of the Gardens. It’s the only purpose-built archery field in Ireland. The grassy field is about five feet below the top surface. The banked sides are sloped to catch overshot arrows. The width is just over 40 yards and it’s about 120 yards long. It’s perfect for target shooting, but no longer used, of course.

The scene now shifts to Dublin Zoo in the 1920s. The elephant sickens and dies. The University College Veterinary Department asks if it can have the corpse for dissection and examination. The body is duly delivered. In due course, a key question arises: how to dispose of the body? 

By this time, the Department is host to the implacable ripening of a couple of tons of pachyderm protein. 

And so it came about that the carcass found its way to a nearby open area: the archery field. The elephant was laid to rest. The green turf was replaced and the peace of the archery field was restored.  You’d never guess.

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