Such a pity we don’t have the smelling internet yet. This Rhododendron has one of the most fabulous perfumes you can imagine! It’s Rhododendron ‘Lady Alice Fitzwilliams’, very similar to Rhododendron fragrantissimum.
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.
I have been led to believe that Glengarriff, Killarney and Bundoran are the three oldest tourist resorts in Ireland. From the day when business people, retired people and honeymooners used to come and stay for a week, there have been some enormous changes in patterns of holidaying. …
When I was a boy, the traditional family run Hotel was the heart and soul of the Tourist Industry. Some of our hotels were known and respected for their food and hospitality all over the British Isles, the Continent and the ‘States. They were at their peak in the late ’40s and early ’50s – remember “Rationing was still enforced in England but you got plenty of food in Glengarriff” was the saying. …
The Eccles was owned by the McDonnell family and some very famous people stayed there. The story goes that George Bernard Shaw stayed there in 1923 and he used to go daily to visit Garnish Island, where apparently he got inspiration for writing his famous play “St. Joan”. On the day he was leaving Garnish, Lady Bryce came to the slip way to say goodbye. “Goodbye Shaw” she said “I hope me meet in Heaven”. He looked at her and said “Madam, are we not already?”
The old postcard shows George Bernard Shaw posing between Homer and the young Nero at the Sunken Garden (‘Italian Garden’) on Garinish Island – or rather Ilnacullin as Violet Bryce wanted her Heaven to be named. Shaw was probably inspired by the Bryce’s daughter Marjory, who led a procession on horseback dressed as Joan of Arc at the Women’s Coronation Procession in London in the year 1911. She led some fourty thousand women from almost thirty suffrage organisations whose members celebrated Joan as a perfect symbol to lead women in their appeal for formal admission into the councils of the nation. Marjory’s father Annan Bryce was strongly against suffrage.
*In the Bantry Anthology “It Might Have Been But Yesterday” by GP Denis Cotter
Long gone are the days when laughing children and happy adults were enjoying summer days at the bathing box near the East Pier on Garinish Island. On the right photograph from 1912 later owner Roland Bryce is sitting on the first step of the wooden ladder, his sister Margery (middle of the ladder) is looking into the camera. She became an actress who mainly performed in London. Recently a nice photograph with her portait was published and is being sold as a notecard (click).
Now the bathing box is a deserted and dark spot reminding of times past when the island was loved and tendered by it`s gardeners and owners.
After Violet Bryce, the co-founder of Garinish Island (or Ilnacullin as she preferred to name it) died, her son Roland L’Estrange Bryce continued her work. The passionate amateur botanist and gardener further developped the plantings together with head gardener Murdo Mackenzie. Roland suffered from very poor eyesight and – according to photographs of his later years – from obesity. After he fell ill during a visit to London the had to undergo surgery but he died on 4th December 1953 at the age of 64 in a hospital quite near to his former family home in Marylebone but was laid to rest at “The Abbey” in Bantry. He bequeathed the garden island “to the Irish people”. In a newspaper from 1940 article he was described:
Here is a big broad-shouldered man, red-haired, bushy thickets of eye-brows above his sholarly spectacles, open-complexioned, very Irish – and proud of it. His broad sturv hands touch a plant with the gentleness of a surgeon – are they not the children of his mind and imagination, and of his daily care? Over steep paths, along bays lined with tall birches and over terraces with fountains smothered under maidenhair, we come back to the little house, so hidden in the foliage that no tourists ever espy it. Electric light (1940!) glows up over the hundreds of books on the white lacquered shelves. The Squire of Ilnacullin speaks of Oxford, were he studied; of Belgrade, where he was Times correspondent; of Carinthia and Montenegro, where as a diplomat he supervised plebiscites and elections. Tea is poured from a lovely silver hair-loom. Fritz, the big silver-haired Schnauzerdog, inspects the home-made cakes.
Various obituaries described his career and his passion:
Mr. Bryce was a well known horticulturist. He retired to Garnish Island on the death of his father and added to and maintained the already well-known collection.
After a distinguished course at Oxford Mr. Bryce became attached to the British Foreign Office and served in the 1914-18 war. His attachment to Glengarriff was so keen that he sacrificed his career to take up permanent residence there. He was later entrusted with the task of settling the boundaries of Yugoslavia, then Serbia. His father was Liberal M.P. for Aberdeen in 1917 and his uncle, Lord James Bryce, was at one time Chief Secretary in Ireland.
Mr. Bryce was at one time Vice-President of the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland and Governor of the Collge of St. Columba, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. He was also president of the Glengarriff Tourist Development Association and the local golf club.
Mr. Roland L’Estrange Bryce has been appointed peace commissioner for the County Cork and the adjoining counties in 1939.
The east pier was used by the British Army to build the Martello Tower and the adjacent fortification around 1805 (works probably until around 1815, men living there for approximately ten years). Like the East Garden (which is probably completely overgrown) it is closed to the public. There are plans though for it to be repaired so the works on the ‘Gardner’s Cottage’ (Violet and Roland Bryce’s home from the early 20ies till 1953 and Murdo Mackenzie’s and Maggie Sullivan’s home till 1999) can be done by this entrance to the island. On this old postcard (probably taken around 1905 by Robert French for the ‘Lawrence Collection’) you can clearly see that Garinish Island wasn’t a ‘bare rock’ as often stated. A widow and her four sons lived in the cottage at the East Pier, they had cattle (seen on the headers left sepia photograph) and grew (probably) their got their livelihood from those fields below the tower. All of that part of the Garinish Island is unaccessible for the public (what a shame, so much space for the many tourists visiting the island).
From there you had lovely views towards Reenmeen, Dromgarriff and Hollyhill – on this old postcard you can see Glengarriff Castle. How the pier looks these days can be seen here.