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.
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.
The Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed public park in any capital city in Europe, at more than 700 hectares in area. It was created as a royal deer-hunting park in the 1660s and only opened to the public in 1747. The park is now home to Dublin Zoo and Áras an Uachtaráin – home to the President of Ireland.
The Phoenix Park has been the location for a number of major events – from an international motor-racing event in 1929 to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, when more than a million people attended the celebrations.
The park itself is exceptionally scenic. A large herd of fallow deer still calls it home. Enjoy the landscape from one of the many walks and cycle routes available to the public.
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.
Castletown House and Parklands
Castletown is set amongst beautiful eighteenth-century parklands on the banks of the Liffey in Celbridge, County Kildare.
The house was built around 1722 for the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly, to designs by several renowned architects. It was intended to reflect Conolly’s power and to serve as a venue for political entertaining on a grand scale. At the time Castletown was built, commentators expected it to be ‘the epitome of the Kingdom, and all the rarities she can afford’.
The estate flourished under William Conolly’s great-nephew Thomas and his wife, Lady Louisa, who devoted much of her life to improving her home.
Today, Castletown is home to a significant collection of paintings, furnishings and objets d’art. Highlights include three eighteenth-century Murano-glass chandeliers and the only fully intact eighteenth-century print room in the country.
It is still the most splendid Palladian-style country house in Ireland.
At the southern tip of the Iveragh Peninsula is Derrynane House, the ancestral home of one of the greatest figures of Irish history. Daniel O’Connell, known as ‘The Liberator’, was a lawyer, politician and statesman. The demesne landscape is now included in Derrynane National Historic Park – over 120 hectares of lands rich in natural and cultural heritage with a plethora of archaeological, horticultural, botanical and ecological treasures.
Derrynane was the home of the O’Connell family for generations. The young Daniel was raised there and returned almost every summer for the rest of his life.
The house now displays many unique relics of O’Connell’s life, including a triumphal chariot presented to him by the citizens of Dublin in 1844 and the very bed in which he passed away three years later.
It is a must-visit for anyone in search of insight into the life of an Irish historical giant.
Irish National War Memorial Gardens
These gardens in Islandbridge, a Dublin suburb, are one of the most famous memorial gardens in Europe. They are dedicated to the memory of the 49,400 Irish soldiers who died in the First World War. The name of every single soldier is contained in the sumptuously illustrated Harry Clarke manuscripts in the granite bookrooms.
These gardens are not only a place of remembrance; they are also of great architectural interest and beauty. The great Sir Edwin Lutyens designed them. Lutyens was a prolific garden designer, especially of war memorials, but nonetheless lent his expertise to only four gardens in Ireland.
Sunken rose gardens, herbaceous borders and extensive tree-planting make for an enjoyable visit in any season. The solemn, serene atmosphere of this elegant garden makes it a perfect place in which to relax and reflect.
Tucked away behind the National Concert Hall, the Iveagh Gardens are among the finest, but least known, of Dublin’s parks and gardens.
They were designed by Ninian Niven in 1865 as the grounds for the Dublin Exhibition Palace – a space ‘where the citizens might meet for the purposes of rational amusement blended with instruction’.
The gardens contain a unique collection of features, which include rustic grottos, sunken formal panels of lawn with fountain centrepieces, woodlands, a maze, a rosarium, the American garden, rockeries and archery grounds.
This oasis of tranquillity and beauty, just a stone’s throw from the city centre, can justly claim to be the capital’s best-kept secret.
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.