A 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…
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.