Portumna Castle and Gardens Highlights (7)
The castle demesne is magnificently situated on the shores of Lough Derg on the River Shannon in the picturesque town of Portumna. Before you even reach it, you are in for an architectural and arboreal treat. The approach leads through a series of three impressive gateways. The Morrison Gateway, designed with oak-leaf and acorn motifs, evokes the old meaning of Portumna – ‘the landing place of the oak’. The avenue is lined with ash and cherry trees, as well as magnificent specimens of copper beech and London plane. See if you can spot any of the local red squirrel population on your way. Beyond the middle gate and lodges, the Italian-style Tuscan Gate bears the ancient coat of arms of the Burke family.
Investigate the castle’s deadly architectural defences, such as musket holes, gun loops and an ornate machicolation from which missiles were dropped. There are many other interesting features, too, such as the remains of iron grid gate known as a yett, which would have protected the main entrance door. Portumna Castle was built to a pioneering design, influenced by European Renaissance architecture, and is one of Ireland’s very earliest semi-fortified manor houses. The reinstated chimney and roof make the building as grand and imposing as it ever was.
Let our guides take you through the 800-year history of the Burke family and their ancestors, the de Burgos. The de Burgos established themselves in Connacht by grants and conquests and held on to power through marriages and alliances as well as force of arms. Interesting characters abounded. Among them were Ulick na gCeann (Ulick of the Heads), the first earl of Clanricarde; Richard, the fourth earl, and his wife, the admirable and wilful Frances Walsingham, who built Portumna Castle together; and Hubert, the ‘Miser Earl’, an eccentric character whose reputation for tight-fistedness lingers to this day. Discover a family tree whose branches intertwine with royalty and political titans.
The formal gardens at Portumna are a delightful experience for gardening enthusiasts and casual explorers alike.
The walled kitchen garden was a larder for the house, growing vegetables and herbs. Designed according to Renaissance fashion in a geometrical and symmetrical plan, the garden reflects seasonal changes magnificently. You can still find vegetables and herbs growing here, alongside flowers, fruit trees and shrubs. The garden is landscaped in an ecologically sympathetic manner and there is a pollinator-friendly area to roam in.
The formal Renaissance garden known as the Ladies Garden is particularly enchanting in the months of June and early July, when the seventeenth-century roses are in bloom. On a glorious day, amid the fragrance of the roses, it’s not difficult to imagine yourself as one of the ladies of the house, or a visitor, chatting and drinking tea from fine china cups in this charming setting.
After a stroll around the gardens, sit down and relax in the many seated areas and let the seventeenth-century ambiance captivate your senses.
Continue your experience with a visit to the tea room. The emphasis here is on quality, nutritious lunches complemented by speciality coffees, teas and confectionery. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, making the tea room a relaxed place to meet with family and friends or simply to enjoy some peaceful time out.
We offer tours for schools, adapted to suit different age groups. These lively, interesting experiences will help young people understand the history of the area.
For families with children, there is lots to enjoy. Portumna Castle is teeming with curious and memorable stories – the story of the little dog, Fury, for example, who once saved a girl’s life. You can take a family photo in the stocks and run around in the willow maze in the seventeenth-century kitchen garden. A giant chess set awaits in the tea room. There’s also a fun quiz, which is a great way for children to learn some local history.
If you’re keen on walking, Portumna Castle and Gardens is an ideal destination. Tour the interpretive panels on the ground floor of the castle at your leisure. These will shine a light on the history of the family, the castle architecture and the restoration works. A gentle stroll around the seventeenth-century gardens is an experience to remember. Beyond the castle, within a two-minute walk, are the ruins of a Dominican priory, which lead in turn to the Castle Harbour and campervan parking facilities. From there you can explore the many walking and cycling trails in Portumna Forest Park. The forest is a great spot for a picnic by the lake.
At the opposite side of the town, within a ten-minute walk, is the Irish Workhouse Centre, which tells the fascinating story of the Great Hunger.