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.
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.
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.
The Casino is a remarkable building, both in terms of structure and history. Sir William Chambers designed it as a pleasure-house for James Caulfeild, first earl of Charlemont, beside his residence in what was then the countryside. It is a gem of eighteenth-century neo-classical architecture. In fact, it is one of the finest buildings of that style in Europe.
The term ‘casino’ in this case means ‘little house’, and from the outside it gives an impression of compactness. However, it contains 16 rooms, each of which is finely decorated and endlessly rich in subtle and rare design. The Zodiac Room, for example, has a domed ceiling which represents the sky with astrological symbols modelled around its base
The Casino is located at Marino, only three miles north of the centre of Dublin.
Perilously perched on a sheer sea-cliff, Dún Aonghasa defiantly faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest of the prehistoric stone forts of the Aran Islands.
The fort consists of three massive drystone defence walls. Outside them is a chevaux-de-frise – that is, a dense band of jagged, upright stones, thousands in number. A devastatingly effective way to impede intruders, the chevaux-de-frise surrounds the entire fort from cliff to cliff.
Dún Aonghasa is over 3,000 years old. Excavations have revealed significant evidence of prehistoric metalworking, as well as several houses and burials. The whole complex was refortified in AD 700–800.
The visit involves a short hike over rising ground and rough, natural rock, so come prepared with boots or strong walking shoes. Be careful, too, when walking near the cliff – there is no fence or barrier at the edge of the 87-metre drop.
The fearsome O’Flaherty family, whose motto was ‘Fortune favours the strong’, ruled west Connacht for 300 years from this fine six-storey tower on the shores of Lough Corrib.
In 1546 the O’Flahertys joined forces with the Mayo O’Malleys when Donal an Chogaidh O’Flaherty married Grace O’Malley, later known as Granuaile, the formidable pirate queen. The O’Malley motto, ‘Powerful by land and by sea,’ showed the awe in which that family, too, was held.
At Aughanure today you can inspect the remains of a banqueting hall, a watch tower, an unusual double bawn and bastions and a dry harbour. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the three species of bat that now live in the castle.
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.
The magnificent Skellig Michael is one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Republic of Ireland.
On the summit of this awe-inspiring rock off the Kerry coast is St Fionan’s monastery, one of the earliest foundations in the country. The monks who lived there prayed and slept in beehive-shaped huts made of stone, many of which remain to this day.
The monks left the island in the thirteenth century. It became a place of pilgrimage and, during the time of the Penal Laws, a haven for Catholics.
Following in the monks’ footsteps involves climbing 618 steep, uneven steps. Getting to the top is quite a challenge, but well worth the effort.
As well as the wealth of history, there is a fantastic profusion of bird life on and around the island. Little Skellig is the second-largest gannet colony in the world.
Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles. It stands proudly on a rocky island on the River Suir.
The castle was was built in the thirteenth century and served as the stronghold of the powerful Butler family. So effective was its design that it was believed to be impregnable, but it finally fell to the earl of Essex in 1599 when heavy artillery was used against it for the first time. During the Irish Confederate Wars it was besieged twice more.
At the time of building, Cahir Castle was at the cutting edge of defensive castle design and much of the original structure remains.
An excellent audiovisual show now provides sightseers with a detailed appreciation of the castle’s long history. Visitors also flock to the castle because of its role as a film and TV location – it has featured in productions like Excalibur and The Tudors.