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.
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.
Phoenix Park – People’s Flower Gardens
A 9-hectare section of the massive Phoenix Park is given over to this enclosed and immaculately manicured Victorian flower garden.
The garden was laid out and opened in the mid-nineteenth century as the Promenade Grounds. It provides an opportunity to enjoy the horticulture of that era at its best. A large ornamental lake with various fowl, a children’s playground, picnic areas and Victorian bedding schemes are just some of the attractions you will come across here.
You will find the People’s Flower Gardens between the Parkgate Street entrance and the North Circular Road entrance to the Phoenix Park.
Whether you’re looking to relax in the sun, have a picnic or simply take a pleasant walk, don’t miss this enchanting portion of the capital’s largest green space.
Portumna Castle and Gardens
Built by the fourth earl of Clanricarde, Portumna Castle was the de Burgo family power base for centuries.
The castle is a unique example of the transitional Irish architecture of the early 1600s. Its bold design combines elements of medieval and Renaissance style that complement each other perfectly.
A major fire in 1826 left the castle a roofless shell, but the state began to bring it back from ruin in the 1960s. Restoration work continues to this day.
The dramatic walk up to the building includes charming formal gardens, which create an enchanting sense of the original seventeenth-century setting. The walled kitchen garden is particularly memorable.
The castle enjoys a sensational view of Lough Derg. The ground floor is open to the public and houses an exhibition that brings the story of the castle and the de Burgo family to life. It is right beside the River Shannon and Portumna Forest Park, which makes it a great choice for a delightful day out.
Guarding a strategic ford on the Clarinbridge River is the monumental bulk of Athenry Castle. The imposing three-storey hall-keep survives from the mid-thirteenth century. It is solidly impressive from the outside, although the interior was simply built, containing only a hall at first-floor level and dark storerooms below.
Despite the simplicity of the layout, fine carvings bear witness to the hall’s eminence. The doorway and two of the window openings are decorated with floral motifs in the remarkable local School of the West style. The battlements, through whose tall arrow-loops the castle was defended against various attackers across the centuries, are original.
Visitors come to Athenry Castle to soak up the authentic atmosphere of medieval power that the mighty fortress still exudes.
St Stephen’s Green
In the very centre of Dublin’s shopping district lies one of Ireland’s best-known public parks.
Lord Ardilaun opened it for the citizens of the city in 1880. This 9-hectare green space has been maintained in its original Victorian layout, with extensive tree and shrub planting and spectacular spring and summer bedding. The herbaceous border provides vibrant colour from early spring to late autumn.
It boasts over 3.5 kilometres of accessible pathways. The waterfall and Pulham rockwork on the western side of the green are well worth a visit. So is the ornamental lake, which provides a home for waterfowl. Several sculptures are located throughout the green, including the James Joyce Memorial Sculpture and a fine specimen by Henry Moore.
A children’s playground in the park is always popular and, if you visit at lunchtime during the summer months, you might even catch a free concert.
The John F. Kennedy Arboretum
Dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy, whose great-grandfather, Patrick, was born in the nearby village of Dunganstown, this arboretum near New Ross, County Wexford, contains a plant collection of presidential proportions.
It covers a massive 252 hectares on the summit and southern slopes of Slieve Coillte and contains 4,500 types of trees and shrubs from all temperate regions of the world. There are 200 forest plots grouped by continent. Of special note is an ericaceous garden with 500 different rhododendrons and many varieties of azalea and heather, dwarf conifers and climbing plants.
The lake is perhaps the most picturesque part of the arboretum and is a haven for waterfowl. There are amazing panoramic views from the summit of the hill, 271 metres above sea level. A visitor centre houses engaging exhibitions on JFK and on the Arboretum itself.
Built in the twelfth century, Kilkenny Castle was the principal seat of the Butlers, earls, marquesses and dukes of Ormond for almost 600 years. Under the powerful Butler family, Kilkenny grew into a thriving and vibrant city. Its lively atmosphere can still be felt today.
The castle, set in extensive parkland, was remodelled in Victorian times. It was formally taken over by the Irish State in 1969 and since then has undergone ambitious restoration works. It now welcomes thousands of visitors a year.
The central block includes a library, drawing room, nursery and bedrooms decorated in 1830s splendour. The magnificent Picture Gallery is situated in the east wing of Kilkenny Castle.This stunning space dates from the 19th century and was built primarily to house the Butler Family's fine collection of paintings.