garinish island – once regarded as Heaven

Garinish IslandBernard Harrington remembers in ‘A History of Glengarriff’*:

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 Garinish IslandNero 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

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the lily pond

Garinish Island Glengarriff“This lily pond is lined with small blue-green tiles to give the illusion of sea water, and round the edges in the water are pots raised on bricks of Iris kaempferi, tiny Bulruhes and Reed of various kinds. This Lily pond contains myriads of goldfish, and in the early morning the brilliant many colored king-fisher is to be seen darting over the pond.” written by Violet Bryce for the magazine Gardening Illustrated in January 1929. It would be really great to see the water blue again next year, just a little scrub of the bottom and the lower walls would do it (and maybe a bit more of water…)

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.

the seals in glengarriff harbour

garinish island glengarriffThe seals basking on many rocks along the boat trip to Garinish Island are among the main attractions for children visiting the area. In the early years of tourism the boatmen were wondering why French kids were always swearing at the sight of the funny mammals as they constantly yelled f**ck, f**ck! Well, the French word for seal is phoque and it really sounds like the f-word. Their scientic name is Phoca vitullina. You can distinguish them from similar seals occuring in the Southwest of Ireland by looking at their nostrils, they are v-shaped. An adult can attain a length of 1.85 meters (6.1 ft) and a mass of 132 kilograms (290 lb). Females outlive males (30–35 years versus 20–25 years).

garinish island glengarriffThe iris at the stepping stones (Happy Valley) is of extreme beauty.

garinish island glengarriffSo is – of course – the clematis.

garinish island glengarriffA nice place to rest near the Magnolia delavayi. It is native to southern China, occurring in Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan at 1,500-2,800 m altitude. It usually flowers around July and August. This is the place where the gravel tennis court from as early as 1911 was. The Bryces adored to play tennis, they invited many of their gueststo have a game and later they even raised money by offering the game to and charging from visitors.

garinish island glengarriff

The wrought iron gates in the walls of the formerly called kitchen garden (Walled Garden) came from Spain: Being from the 17th century – already 100 years ago they were antiquities.

crocodile rock

garinish island glengarriffdo you happen to see any shape on that rock?

garinish island glengarriffIt is almost July and the leptospermums (manuka trees) are still blooming. After the cold winter we are having a rather dark but very dry summer. The pond is quite empty and extremely brownish.

garinish island glengarriffSome people mistake Hoheria glabrata for jasmin. It blooms in the Walled Garden.

garinish island glengarriffNearby the dahlias below another Hoheria are still tiny. Some of their huge flowers will be the glorious reward for the very last visitors at the end of October.

george russell (AE) and garinish island

garnish island glengarriffAmerican writer Harold Speakman (1888-1928) describes his encounter with Violet Bryce in „Here’s Ireland“ (1925):

’That is Shaw’s place where you are sitting,’ said my hostess. She went on to tell of the things she had heard him say there, and of the brilliant, fiery play of ideas, rising like a winged flame above certain gatherings in which that astonishing commentator on men and gods (and sometimes women) had struck the first spark; of an actual élan, an almost physical impact of opposing theories and their discharge into verbal flashes of lightning, making for some the chaos less chaotic, but for others, the darkness dark indeed. He loved the island and knew its moods. Then too, this was a place where an interviewer would not be popping up from beneath every rose bush, or swinging coyly down from every ginkgo tree … ‚This is the bachelor quarters,’ said the lady, ‚and this is where A.E. stays when he is here.’ I looked about the wide room with its fluted marble columns, its chaste, classical decorations, and its stone floors covered by the skins of tiger and bear and deer. Beyond the other was the beauty of the sea. And I thought to myself, ‚If George Russel is the man of his poems, there are times when this spot would suit him very well.’ … ‚He tells me he likes it here,’ went on the lady, ‚he has painted every nook and corner of the island.’ ‚And that,’ I said, looking at certain indelible marks on the stone floor of the portico, ‚is where he cleans his palette.’

garnish island glengarriffThe bachelor quarters mentioned above is the Casita which was used as a guest house for the many illustrious visitors of Violet Bryce.