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Grecian Temples, Exotic Plants & Seals: Ireland’s Secret Island Garden

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Garnish Island, also known as Ilnacullin, is a unique island garden located near Glengarriff in Cork. With an almost subtropical climate thanks to its sheltered position and warm elements from the Gulf Stream, Garnish Island features a collection of plants from all over the globe, making it a paradise for plant enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

The History of Garnish Island

The transformation of Garnish Island from a rugged, rocky outcrop to a botanical garden began in the early 20th century. In 1910, Annan Bryce, a prominent British lawyer, purchased the island with the vision of creating a garden retreat. He enlisted the expertise of Harold Peto, a renowned architect and garden designer, to bring his vision to life. Over the years, Peto’s design evolved, leveraging the island’s unique microclimate to grow an array of exotic and rare plants.

In 1953, the Bryce family gave the island to the Irish state, ensuring its preservation for future generations. Today, Garnish Island is managed by the Office of Public Works (OPW), welcoming thousands of visitors annually.

Botanical Gardens

The island’s gardens are a testament to horticultural excellence, featuring an extraordinary collection of plants from all over the world. Visitors can wander through distinct garden areas, each with their own unique charm:

Italian Garden

With its classical symmetry, this garden showcases a formal design complete with a reflecting pool, terracotta pots, and meticulously pruned hedges. It has an air of Mediterranean elegance, highlighted by vibrant blooms and architectural elements.

Walled Garden

Enclosed by tall stone walls covered in vines, this garden is a riot of color and fragrance! It features a variety of herbaceous borders, roses, and perennial plants that create a delightful sensory experience.

Happy Valley

True to its name, this area is a lush valley filled with towering trees, ferns, and a meandering stream. It offers a tranquil escape, with shaded paths and the soothing sounds of water.

Architectural Highlights

Beyond its horticulture, Garnish Island is home to several architectural gems that add to its charm:

Martello Tower

This historical fortification, dating back to the Napoleonic Wars, provides a fascinating glimpse into Ireland’s military past. Visitors can climb to the top for breathtaking views of Bantry Bay and the surrounding countryside.

Grecian Temple

Perched on a hill, this structure offers panoramic views of the gardens and the bay beyond. Its classical design and setting make it a favorite spot for reflection and photography.

Wildlife and Natural Beauty

Garnish Island is not just a sanctuary for plants but also a haven for wildlife. The island’s diverse habitats support a variety of bird species, including herons, cormorants, and even the occasional visiting eagle. The surrounding waters are home to seals and dolphins, which can often be spotted from the island’s shores.

Visiting Garnish Island

Access to Garnish Island is via a short ferry ride from Glengarriff, a picturesque journey that often includes sightings of seals laying on the rocks. Once on the island, well-maintained paths guide visitors through the gardens and natural landscapes.

For those looking to extend their visit, the nearby town of Glengarriff offers plenty of accommodation, local crafts, and additional natural attractions such as the Glengarriff Nature Reserve.

For more information on Glengarriff and Garnish Island, see visitgengarriff.com.

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Julia Labedz
Julia Labedz
Julia has several years of experience as a writer and editor, working with independent clients as well as larger organizations. Prior to working for ITTN she was a marketing executive. She has both a BA and MFA in English with Creative Writing, with an extensive professional and creative portfolio. In her free time, Julia works on her novel.

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