Doneraile Court towers majestically over the glorious Doneraile Park, a 160-hectare landscaped parkland and wildlife estate.
The house was built by the St Leger family around 1645 on the site of a ruined castle. By the time it was refurbished in the mid-eighteenth century it had become an outstanding example of Georgian architecture. Its associations range from links to the famous St Leger Stakes in horse racing and literature, with famous Irish writers such as Elizabeth Bowen.
Thirteen generations of the St Leger family lived at Doneraile over three centuries. The family had some extraordinary members. For example, Elizabeth St Leger made history when she became the first woman Freemason in the world in 1712.
The fine parklands are designed in the naturalistic style of the famous Capability Brown. They include many beautiful water features, plus a parterre walled garden and gardeners’ cottages. There are numerous pathways and graded walks. Lucky visitors might just spot some of the red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle that live on the estate.
As one of the country’s largest military installations, Charles Fort has been part of some of the most momentous events of Irish history. During the Williamite Wars, for example, it withstood a 13-day siege before it fell. Later, in the Civil War of the early 1920s, anti-Treaty forces on the retreat burned it out.
Charles Fort is a massive star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century, well preserved despite its history. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, is credited with designing it. Its dimensions are awe-inspiring – some of the outer defences are 16 metres high.
The view from the ramparts looking out over Kinsale Harbour is spectacular.
Barryscourt Castle was the seat of the great Anglo-Norman Barry family and is one of the finest examples of a restored Irish Tower House. Dating from between 1392 and 1420, the Castle has an outer bawn wall and largely intact corner towers. The ground floor of the Tower House contains a dungeon into which prisoners were dropped via the 'drop-hole' located on the second floor.
The Barrys supported the Fitzgeralds of Desmond during the Irish rebellions of the late sixteenth century. To prevent it being captured by Sir Walter Raleigh and his army, the Barrys partially destroyed the Castle.
During the Irish Confederate War of the seventeenth century Barryscourt Castle was once again successfully attacked. Cannon balls lodged in the wall above the Castle entrance bear witness to this conflict. The last head of the Barry family was Lord David Barry.
Barryscourt Castle has been extensively restored. The Main Hall and Great Hall have been completed and fittings and furnishings reinstated. Within the Castle grounds, the herb and knot garden and the charming orchard have been restored to their original sixteenth century design.
Royal Hospital Kilmainham
The Royal Hospital Kilmainham stands on the site of a seventh-century early Christian settlement, replaced in Norman times with a monastery of the Knights Hospitallers.
The building as we know it today was begun in 1680. Leading architects such as William Robinson, Thomas Burgh and Francis Johnson made it the starting point for Dublin’s development into a city of European standing.
Inspired by Les Invalides in Paris, the building was to be a retirement home for old soldiers. Over the next 247 years, thousands of army pensioners lived out their final days within its walls.
In 1991, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham became home to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
The castle at Rathfarnham dates back to the Elizabethan period. It was built for Adam Loftus, a Yorkshire clergyman and politician. Loftus was ambitious and eventually rose to become Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
Loftus’s castle, with its four flanker towers, is an excellent example of the Elizabethan fortified house in Ireland. In the late eighteenth century, the house was remodelled on a splendid scale employing some of the finest architects of the day including Sir William Chambers and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. The collection includes family portraits by Angelica Kauffman, Sir Peter Lely, and Hugh Douglas Hamilton.
It now hosts a wealth of exhibitions and cultural events.
Phoenix Park Visitor Centre – Ashtown Castle
Ashtown Castle is a tower house that probably dates from the seventeenth century, but may be as early as the fifteenth.
For years it was completely hidden within the walls of a Georgian mansion once occupied by the under-secretary for Ireland. When that house was demolished in the late 1980s, the castle was rediscovered. It has since been fully restored and now welcomes visitors.
Surrounding the castle is Ashtown Demesne, which boasts a plethora of attractions. Chief among them is the walled kitchen garden, which has being beautifully restored to its original Victorian layout. There are also woodland walks, picnic areas and a universal-access playground.
The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, adjoining the castle, contains an entertaining exhibition on the park’s history from 3500 BC right through to the present day. There is a charming restaurant in the visitor-centre grounds.
Pearse Museum – St. Enda’s Park
The Pearse Museum in St Enda’s Park is where the leader of the 1916 Rising, Patrick Pearse, lived and operated his pioneering Irish-speaking school from 1910 to 1916.
Set in nearly 20 hectares of attractive parkland in Rathfarnham, Dublin, the museum tells the story of Patrick Pearse and his brother Willie, both of whom were executed for their part in the 1916 Rising. Here you can peruse a fascinating exhibition on Pearse’s life and wander through the historic rooms where he, his family and his students once lived and worked.
The romantic landscape surrounding the museum contains a wild river valley, forested areas and some enchanting eighteenth- and nineteenth-century follies.
If you are interested in the park’s varied wildlife, you will find information about it in a dedicated room in the courtyard – where you’ll also find the Schoolroom Café.
Farmleigh House and Estate
Farmleigh is a 78-acre estate inside Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The government bought it in June 1999 to provide accommodation for high-level meetings and visiting guests of the nation.
Farmleigh is a unique representation of its heyday, the Edwardian period. Edward Cecil Guinness, great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, constructed Farmleigh around a smaller Georgian house in the 1880s. According to his tastes, the new building merged a variety of architectural styles.
Many of the artworks and furnishings that Guinness collected remain in the house. There is a stunning collection of rare books and manuscripts in the library. The extensive pleasure-grounds contain wonderful Victorian and Edwardian ornamental features, with walled and sunken gardens and scenic lakeside walks. The estate also boasts a working farm with a herd of Kerry cows.
Take a guided tour of the house before visiting the estate grounds and enjoying refreshment in the onsite restaurant.
National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh
There was a monastery at Kilmacurragh, in this tranquil corner of County Wicklow, in the seventh century, and a religious foundation remained right up until the dissolution of the monasteries. After Cromwell invaded the land passed to the Acton family.
By the time the estate came to Thomas Acton in 1854, an unprecedented period of botanical and geographical exploration was afoot. In collaboration with the curators of the National Botanic Gardens, Acton built a new and pioneering garden.
In 1996, a 21-hectare portion of the old demesne officially became part of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. The following ten years were spent giving the estate’s rare and beautiful plants a new lease of life.
Kilmacurragh is now part of the National Botanic Gardens, providing a complementary collection of plants to its parent garden at Glasnevin. Arrive in spring to witness the transformation of the walks, as fallen rhododendron blossoms form a stunning magenta carpet.
In a tranquil valley in the village of Fore, about a 30-minute drive from Mullingar in County Westmeath, you can visit the spot where St Feichin founded a Christian monastery in the seventh century AD.
It is believed that, before Feichin’s death, 300 monks lived in the community. Among the remains on the site is a church built around AD 900. There are also the 18 Fore crosses, which are spread out over 10 kilometres on roadways and in fields.
Seven particular features of the site – the so-called ‘Seven Wonders of Fore’ – have acquired legendary status. They include: the monastery built on a bog; the mill without a race (the saint is said to have thrust his crozier into the ground and caused water to flow); and the lintel stone raised by St Feichin’s prayers.
St Feichin’s Way, a looped walk around the site, provides an excellent base from which to explore these fabled places.