The changes which we referred to in the last blog post lead to a new very special and unusual asset in Glengarriff harbour: a lovely and professionally designed museum. We had the pleasure to be shown around Bryce House by Mary Heffernan, the talented curator, who brought the neglected house back to life. It was once the home of Violet Bryce and her son Roland, and of Murdo Mackenzie, their passionate head gardener and Margaret Sullivan, the former maid and last inhabitant of the island (till 1998).
And what a beauty of a building, even completely accessible to wheel chairs! According to Murdo Mackenzie Violet took up residence on Garnish Island after her husband John Annan Bryce’s death (25th June 1923), and continued to develop it as far as her income would permit. The Irish Independent from the 13th September 1923 wrote: “Mrs. Annan Bryce, widow of Mr. Annan Bryce, M.P., brother of the late Viscount Bryce, is at her beautiful home at Glengariffe, where she intends to live permanently. She is, however, going to London this week to make preparations for the auctions at her house in Bryanston Square. She is selling the house with its contents, which include curios and trophies of travel in all parts of the world.”
You feel welcome, as if Maggie, the former maid, will just come and invite you to have a seat! Lovely photographs are all around the place, paintings of persons and places which were dear to the Bryces. Most of the family’s precious belongings were sold after John Annan’s death, The Evening Standard from the 5th November 1923 gives an impression:
“A large number of art connoisseurs and society people assembled to-day at 35, Bryanston Square where Messrs. Wallrock and Co. put up for public auction the fine art collection of the late Mr. J. Annan Bryce, who was the brother of Lord Bryce, and for many years a member of Parliament. The collection represented upwards of half a century’s travel at home and abroad. Mr. Bryce spent many years in Burma and other Eastern countries, and secured many fine bronzes and metal work specimens. Representative pictures of the Italian school, specimens of rare old furniture, persian carpets, porcelain, and silver plate, were also included in the collection. The sale opened to-day with brisk bidding for English and foreign furniture, and will be resumed each day for a week.”
“Yesterday some 230 lots were offered including the contents of the bedrooms and boudoir and some ornamental items. Among the ornamental items offered was an old Burmese shrine of lacquered and gilt wood, in the form of a temple, standing over 6 ft. in height and 3 ft. in width. This went for £5. A Chinese bronzed vase, 3 ft. 10 in. in height, chases in relief with figures and trees, fetched no more than 4 1/2 guineas, while a Burmese carved wood figure, nearly 4 ft. in height and of fine design went for 2 guineas.”
You can walk around the house and to the patio with a magnificent view towards the Eccles Hotel, where Violet once ran the “Queen Alexandra’s Home of Rest for Invalided Officers” (from 1916). Around that time (16th May 1916) Roland Bryce wrote to his uncle James Bryce: “Thank you for your parting gift; depressing weather during the last week; [in Ireland] it looks very much as if the old English regime has come to an end for ever, but it is a very strange end.”
This was Roland’s study. In the new museum his room is dedicated to James Bryce, who was a dear mentor to Roland and who introduced him into the world of politics. There are many books written by James Bryce (b 10 May 1838 in Belfast, d 22 January 1922 at Sidmouth, Devon).
Roland’s bedroom was also the guest room for many of the celebrities who stayed on Garinish Island, like most presidents of Ireland, Agatha Christie, Pamela Travers (author of Mary Poppins books), the famous artist George Russell (AE) and many more.
His mother’s bedroom was also very cozy. Like all the other rooms the original wall papers were reprinted (or like in this case a very similar wall paper like the original was used). She was a keen embroiderer, there is photographic proof that this gorgeous bed spread was hand made by herself.
Murdo Mackenzie’s bedroom was smaller and slightly more spartanic (although he had this quite feminine wallpaper!). He had read an advertisement in ‘The Gardener’s Chronicle’ saying: “Scottish Head Gardener Wanted. S.W. Ireland – Apply Eccles Hotel, Glengarriff”. On the 28th October 1928 arrived at the island, after a four day journey from Scotland, Morayshire, 20 miles west of Inverness). He remained at Garinish Island, even after his official retirement, he always had a hoe in his hand, until his last illness in January, 1983 ( b. 13th February 1896, d. 12th January 1983).
The dining table in the first floor looks as if dinner will be served in a few minutes! The museum will remain open until the end of October 2015, but there are only two guided tours per day with only 10 persons per tour permitted.