Adare Castle epitomises the medieval fortified castle in Ireland. It is strategically situated on the banks of the River Maigue, from where its lords could control any traffic heading to or from the Shannon Estuary.
The castle was built for strength and security. A formidable square keep forms its core; the keep stands within a walled ward surrounded by a moat.
Adare Castle changed hands several times before becoming a key bastion of the earls of Desmond in the sixteenth century. During the Second Desmond Rebellion, however, it fell to the English after a bloody siege. Cromwellian forces laid waste to the building in 1657, although restorers have since helped to recall its former glory.
Guided tours are now available for anyone who wants to walk in the footsteps of the FitzGeralds and experience their courageous spirit.
Scattery Island Centre
Off the northern bank of the Shannon Estuary lies Scattery Island, the site of an early Christian settlement founded by an extraordinary man.
St Senan, who was born in the area, built his monastery in the early sixth century. It included a mighty round tower, which at 36 metres is one of the tallest in Ireland.
There are six ruined churches on the site too. The Church of the Hill stands on a high spot, the very place where, legend has it, an angel placed Senan so that he could find – and then banish – the terrible sea-monster called the Cathach. It is believed that Senan is buried beside another of the medieval churches.
Scattery was invaded many times over the centuries. The Vikings in particular believed that the monastery held many riches and returned several times to ravage it.
A short boat trip will take you to the island, where you can explore its multi-layered, 1,500-year history.
A large and beautiful estate covering 16 hectares in total, Altamont Gardens is laid out in the style of William Robinson, which strives for ‘honest simplicity’. The design situates an excellent plant collection perfectly within the natural landscape.
For example, there are lawns and sculpted yews that slope down to a lake ringed by rare trees and rhododendrons. A fascinating walk through the Arboretum, Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen, sheltered by ancient oaks and flanked by huge stone outcrops, leads to the banks of the River Slaney. Visit in summer to experience the glorious perfume of roses and herbaceous plants in the air.
With their sensitive balance of formal and informal, nature and artistry, Altamont Gardens have a unique – and wholly enchanting – character.
In the very heart of the county town, towering over the River Eske, stands Donegal Castle. Red Hugh O’Donnell himself built it as his personal fortress in the fifteenth century. It is said that, leaving to seek succour in Spain in the wake of the Battle of Kinsale, Hugh determined to make sure his castle would never ever fall into English hands – by setting it on fire.
But he was to be disappointed. English captain Sir Basil Brooke became the castle’s new lord in 1616. As part of a massive programme of improvements, Brooke built a handsome manor house beside the tower. He also commissioned the magnificent chimney-piece, finely decorated with carved fruit and his own imperious coat of arms.
The building complex fell into ruin in the twentieth century, but was brought back to its former glory in the 1990s. Currently, a suite of information panels illuminates the chequered history of the castle and its disparate owners.
Ilnacullin – Garinish Island
Ilnacullin is an island garden of diminutive size and rare beauty. Nestled in the sheltered coastal harbour at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, the gardens display a wealth of unique horticultural and architectural gems. Bryce House is a fitting memorial to the visionary creators of this unique place.
The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the early twentieth-century creative partnership of Annan and Violet Bryce, the island’s owners, and Harold Peto, an architect and garden designer. The area enjoys a mild and humid micro-climate that makes for spectacular and flourishing plant life all year round.
Small ferry boats and 60-seater waterbuses take visitors to Ilnacullin regularly. The short crossing usually includes an extra treat – a visit to the nearby seal colony and an opportunity to glimpse majestic sea eagles.
Fota Arboretum and Gardens
The arboretum and gardens on Fota Island, just 16 kilometres from Cork city centre, are an essential destination for any one of a horticultural bent.
The arboretum extends over 11 hectares and contains one of the finest collections of rare, tender trees and shrubs grown outdoors in Europe. The unique conditions at Fota – its warm soil and sheltered location – enable many excellent examples of exotics from the southern hemisphere to flourish.
The gardens include such stunning features as the ornamental pond, formal pleasure gardens, orangery and sun temple. James Hugh Smith-Barry laid them out in the first half of the nineteenth century. Fota House, the Smith-Barrys’ ancestral home, still stands. The house, arboretum and gardens share the island with a hotel and golf resort and a wildlife park.
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.
St Audoen’s Church
Nestled in the heart of the walled medieval city of Dublin, St Audoen’s Church is the only remaining medieval parish church in the capital. It is dedicated to the seventh-century bishop of Rouen and patron saint of Normandy.
St Audoen’s Church was crucial to the life of the medieval city. Here papal bulls were pronounced and public penances carried out. The Guild Chapel of St Ann houses an award-winning exhibition on the importance of St Audoen’s to medieval Dublin.
Visitors to St Audoen’s can examine the part of the church still in use by the Church of Ireland. They can also view the stunning fifteenth-century tomb to Baron Portlester and his wife.
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.