When we moved from America to Ireland fourteen years ago, one of the first things we noticed was the architecture. The buildings in Ireland are quite different from the ones we grew up in, all the way up from the thick concrete (or stone) walls to the slate tiles (or rarely, thatch) on the roofs. The unique climate, resources, history, and culture have all helped to shape these buildings. And they have shaped not only the individual buildings, but also the way the buildings relate to each other and the spaces around them. For example, it makes sense that our village is compact enough to walk everywhere when you consider that it was built hundreds of years before cars were invented. We have cars now, but that’s still a great feature—I love being able to walk easily to any building in town. But one of my favourite features of Irish design is not a building at all. It’s not a structure of any kind, and it doesn’t take a degree in architecture or urban planning to understand it, imagine it, or built it. It’s just a bit of grass, and it’s known as “the green.”
Most housing estates have at least one green. Where we live, the green has houses most of the way around it. In the middle, between us all, there’s the common green with grass and a few trees along one side. That’s it. That’s the green. And I think it’s brilliant.
Our house sits on a small sliver of land, mid-terrace. Our back garden is only big enough for a few flowers, some fruit, herbs, a bench, and the smallest shed I could find. I can cut all the grass with a strimmer in less than ten minutes. I don’t even need a lawn mower. But when I open the front door, there is a large, open stretch of green grass right in front of me. When the schools let out, the green is often a soccer field. It’s also been the scene of nerf battles, teddy-bear picnics, hurling practice, volleyball, snail-racing (yes, really), and a wide variety of other games, many of them invented right there on the spot. When a big snowstorm came through five years ago (we called it “The Beast from the East”), the green was where we built our snowmen and had our snow-ball fights. There have been impromptu watch parties for New Year’s fireworks, and countless chats between neighbours. The green is our space together, and it’s our children who make especially good use of it.
I’m a big fan of the green. Yes, it’s often worn down from all the soccer matches. There’s a mud hole in the middle where I don’t think the grass will ever regrow. There’s a ball stuck high in one of the trees that shows up every autumn when the leaves fall. There are random holes here and there where children have been digging for worms. In other words, it’s a beautiful place.