in honour of murdo mackenzie

garinish island glengarriffThe Church of the Sacred Heart in Glengarriff was decorated with flowers and greenery over and over in memory of the late head gardener of Garinish Island Murdo Mackenzie.

garinish island glengarriffMurdo was the most passionate garden enthusiast and couldn’t stop working even after his retirement.

garinish island glengarriffHe would have loved this gesture of appreciation though he wasn’t a member of the Catholic Church.

garinish island glengarriff

Unfortunately it was an extremely sad day for a local couple who lost their daughter so the mass wasn’t as solemn as intended. [Photographs by Elena Wilkens]

summer talk about murdo mackenzie

Garinish Island GlengarriffThe last summer talk was held by the very sympathetic and engaged Dorothy Scott, niece of the late Murdo Mackenzie. She came all the way from Scotland to tell the history of Garinish Island through the eyes of her passionate head gardener uncle. She had spent many a holiday on the island when she was a young girl. Unfortunately she got no permission to enter the house which was the home for her uncle for many decades. Violet and Roland Bryce had lived in this ‘Gardener’s Cottage’ before, as the family’s plans of building a huge Florentine style mansion failed. It was built around 1912 – the same time like the gazebos at three corners of the Walled Garden.

early buildings

Garinish Island GlengarriffAt the Summer Talk Evening yesterday evening we could see and hear news not only about the creative architect Harold Peto, who designed the main features of Garnish Island. Angela Rolfe and Liz Morgan from the OPW presented the first drafts for the conversion of the ‘Gardener’s Cottage’ (the place which is inaccessible for tourists and Glengarriff people alike) into an island museum. Building works might be started by 2013 and might be ready by 2014. On an extremely blurred photographic collage from about 1913, placed in an article about Garnish Island in the Southern Star from 1987 there was a house-like structure to be seen in the background (red circle). Apparently the cottage which became Violet Bryce’s home some 10 years later was one of the first buildings erected in a very early stage of the development of the garden island.

valuable art from garinish island

Garinish Island GlengarriffTwo watercolour paintings from William Turner (1775-1851), which were in the possession of Roland Bryce and displayed in the so called gardener’s cottage where he spent the last 30 years of his life, can be admired in the National Gallery in Dublin each year for about four weeks in January (due to the low light which would otherwise affect the delicate colours). A third painting which might be from Turner too is also part of a major collection. Unfortunately there is no hint as to the real origin of the donation (the Bryce family is not mentioned).

garinish – seen by professional garden-enthusiasts

garinish island glengarriffA couple of weeks ago a new book about Irish gardens was published: The 100 Best Gardens in Ireland by Shirley Lanigan (Liberties Press). Of course Garinish Island is among them. But will the next generation still find the spirit of the creators of the once so spectacular garden? Shirley unfortunately again narrates the old story that ‘Annan Bryce bought the island’ and also that ‘it must have required enormous quantities of imagination for Mr. Bryce to believe he could create a garden on the rock in Bantry Bay’. According to contemporary reports Annan wasn’t so much into plants and gardening but he loved architecture and art and owned enormous values of paintings at a certain time. The photographs in the book are from the OPW archive and rather (too) well known. The author finishes her article about Garinish Island with a wish which so many a friends of the island share:

Overall, Ilnacullin is a truly glorious garden, but it is in need of a good overhaul and in some respects it is looking tired. This is too important a garden to be neglected. Created by great gardeners, it now needs another great gardener, of which there are many in the country, to conserve and develop it to stop it from becoming an old ghost. Let a talented enthusiast loose on it.

It comes to mind that 15 years ago a similar statement was to be read in The Irish Garden (Winter 1994):

Have you been to see Ilnacullin, formerly Garinish Island, at Glengarriff, Co. Cork, in the past year? If not, be prepared. As always, the first-time visitor will be spellbound by the romantic beauty of the place, its enchanting setting and the inspired marriage of formal design and informal planting. But the returning visitor, and the connaisseur, will be sadly dissapointed. All is not well with Ilnacullin, and there is no point in pretending otherwise. … there was plentiful evidence of the physical damage caused by the feet of visitors … plants in containers looked as though they were not watered and fed often enough, even in the famous Italian Garden. In this same area, there were examples of totally inappropriate planting. Modern bedding hybrids filled the beds bordering the lower area; not only inappropriate, but the colours chosen did not even sit comfortably with each other… parts were overgardened – for instance the completely unnecessary removal of the litter layer beneath trees and shrubs… meanwhile other parts sprouted weeds…

garinish island glengarriff

Well, 15 years later, has anything changed to the better? Yes, one topic: most of the marble artefacts were cleaned and shown to the public in the Casita for the last week of the season in 2010. This year the Back of the Casita was blocked and filled with the frost damaged lion, the cleaned sarcophagus, tools, timber and benches. The lights remained off, the explanatory texts for the artefacts hardly legible (dark and hidden way too low for adults). And a small (very small) path was opened to the magical part of the garden, just below the Port Rock, shortly before the season ended. Did something deteriorate? Yes, all the artefacts damaged by the frost were’t repaired – like the faceless lion. And the larch bonsai in the 2000 year old container disappeared.

It feels like it is time to invest into the future of the island. The money is available now: 2.4 million euros. Let’s hope that that fabulous sum will not be entirely invested into the making of the museum but also be used for the rejuvenation of the real asset of the island – the garden and its plants.