Renowned for its beauty, where the rugged natural beauty of the mountains meets the sea on Glengarriff harbour, the village of Glengarriff (Irish: Gleann Garbh, the rough glen), has been famous as a holiday destination since the 1700’s. Thackery, G. B. Shaw, W. B. Yeats and Virginia Woolfe are just some of the luminaries who have visited and extolled the beauties of this place.
Glengarriff can rightly be called Ireland’s Garden Haven. Garinish Island, also known as Ilnacullin, is a unique island garden of rare beauty. In 1910, Garinish Island was bought by John Annan Bryce MP (1874-1924), a Belfast-born merchant and Liberal politician, and his wife, Violet.
Nestled into the sheltered Glengarriff harbour, Ilnacullin has an almost sub-tropical micro-climate. These conditions are favourable to the growth of exotic plants from many corners of the world and Garinish has an internationally significant collection of rare southern hemisphere plants. The gardens contain classical Italianate architectural features and gardens set within the naturalistic, Robinsonian style, surroundings.
The Ewe Experience is a unique combination of nature and art and Ireland's only interactive and interpretive sculpture garden - a unique combination of nature and art. Set along a spectacular waterfall, on about 2.5 hectares, of a 115 hectare private nature reserve, the gardens have been designed in 4 different tiers up the mountainside – with the themes of Water, Time, The Environment and Ancient Earth. Explore the meandering pathways and hidden corners, where curious creatures gaze back as you pass. Think of it as an outdoor natural history museum like nowhere else in the world!
The Bamboo Park, situated in the mild climate of Glengarriff, on the shores of Glengarriff Harbour, contains over thirty different species of bamboo surrounded by palms and other tropical plants.
Bamboos hold the undisputed record for speed of growth and. the young shoots can grow one metre in 24 hours. Since the beginning of human civilisation, Palm Trees have become a symbol of life and an important element of cultural and religious practice. Tree Ferns are probably the oldest plants in the world. Native to Tasmania and South Australia, the species Dicksonia antartica grows particularly well in the shady coastal gardens of South West Ireland.
Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve, is over 300ha of woodland, lakes, rivers and grassland. In the mild oceanic climate and sheltered position is a Sessile Oak woodland, rated as second only in importance to the Killarney Oak woods. The Glengarriff woods are famous for their lush mosses, ferns and lichens, as well as the so-called Lusitanian plants and animals. These are unique to south west Ireland and the northern western part of the Iberian peninsula and include the Kerry slug, Irish spurge, St Patrick’s cabbage and Strawberry Tree.
Glengarriff is a paradise for walkers of all abilities: from easy strolls in the centrally located Blue Pool Amenity Area, walks in the Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve and longer hikes on hill and mountains. As the southern gateway to the Beara Peninsula with its hotels, B&Bs, hostels, self catering cottages, and caravan and camping sites, Glengarriff is the ideal place to stay as you explore the wonders of Beara.
Ilnacullin / Garinish Island
Ilnacullin is known around the world as a unique island garden of rare beauty. Nestled into the sheltered harbour at Glengarriff, in Bantry Bay, Ilnacullin has an almost sub-tropical micro-climate with mild winters and high rainfall and humidity. These conditions are favourable to the growth of exotic plants from many corners of the world and the island has an internationally significant collection of rare southern hemisphere plants. The gardens were set out in the Arts and Crafts style in Edwardian times and they contain classical Italianate gardens and architectural features set within naturalistic, Robinsonian style, surroundings. In 1910, Garinish Island was acquired by John Annan Bryce MP (1874-1924), a Belfast-born merchant and Liberal politician, who had worked in Burma and Siam, taking particular interest in exotic plants on his expeditions. Bryce and his wife, Violet, had been regular visitors to Glengarriff. The Bryce's commissioned Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854-1913), an English architect and landscape designer, to set out the gardens and Italianate garden structures.
Bryce and his wife Violet (née l'Estrange), commenced the transformation of Garinish Island to Peto's design in 1911, employing around one hundred local men. Among the guests of the Bryce family while they lived on Ilnacullin were the writers George Bernard Shaw and AE (George Russell). The Bryce House, a gardener's cottage to the north-east of the walled garden, was constructed in an Edwardian picturesque style. The collapse of the Russian market in 1917 brought with it the decline of the Bryces' financial fortunes and following the death of her husband in 1923, Violet Bryce took up permanent residency in the gardener's cottage where her son, Roland, later joined her in 1932. The cottage was extensively extended and remodelled into an Edwardian middle class house with 6 bedrooms and accommodation for the house keeper.
The island (15 hectares in size) was bequeathed to the Irish people in 1953, entrusted to the care of the state, and is cared for by the Office of Public Works (OPW). The gardens display a wealth of unique architectural and horticultural gems, including:
- Sunken Italianate garden with formal pond and Medici pavilion, Casita and adjacent lawns;
- Happy Valley with its Grecian Temple, mature shrubberies and rare trees;
- Walled gardens with clock tower and herbaceous borders, fruit, roses and rare climbers;
- Martello tower and its fine panoramic views;
- Extensive collections of rare and beautiful plants including mature Magnolias & Michelias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Leptospermums and many fine southern hemisphere trees;
- The Bryce House, a short walk from the walled gardens, is a fitting memorial to the visionary creators and custodians of this unique place. The former home of the island's owners, the Bryce House, was upgraded in 2015 to provide public access. The house has been carefully conserved and restored to reflect the lives of its former inhabitants and maintain its historic integrity. This beautiful home is now open to the public, with a full programme of guided tours by OPW visitor guides throughout the season. The works included the installation of a lift and the house is accessible to wheelchair users.
Native wildlife that can be found on and around the island includes the White-Tailed Sea Eagle, Otters, Seals and Brown Long-Eared Bats. Garinish Island has no known historical associations before 1800 AD. The oldest feature of the island today is the Martello tower, erected by the British War Office in 1805 to guard against potential Napoleonic invasion. The tower has been conserved and upgraded for the 2016 season. The island was a barren, rocky landscape in the early 1900's prior its transformation into the exquisite gardens we see today. The transformation was achieved through the creative partnership of the landscape architect Harold Peto and the visionary owner of the islands, Annan Bryce MP and his wife Violet.