The gardens in their present form were laid out in 1863 by Benjamin Guinness after he had built what is now Iveagh House on St. Stephen's Green. Previously the land had been laid out as a private pleasure garden by "Copper-faced Jack", Earl of Clonmell.
During the early 19th century the gardens were thrown open to the public and were called the Coburg Gardens, after the royal family of Saxe-Coburg. By 1860 they had fallen into disrepair and were restored by Benjamin Guinness. His son Edward, the first Earl of Iveagh, gave the gardens to the newly-chartered University College Dublin in 1908, whose main building was then on nearby Earlsfort Terrace. In gratitude they were renamed the Iveagh Gardens.
The gift of the gardens by Iveagh mirrored his brother Lord Ardilaun's gift of St Stephen's Green to the city in 1880. Both parks are now managed by the Office of Public Works.