roland bryce of garinish island

Garinish Island GlengarriffAfter 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 soil on garnish island

garnish island glengarriffIt is thought that the Bryces brought over tons of topsoil from the mainland, but this is only speculation, as there was a ‘quarry for soil’ marked on Harold Peto’s map of Garinish Island. American writer Harold Speakman (1888-1928) describes his encounter with Violet Bryce in „Here’s Ireland“ (1925):

The lady greeted me cordially. ‚I hope,’ she said, as we went up a path made rich by the scent of early roses, ‚I hope that you haven’t heard the ridiculous story about our bringing boatloads of earth here from the mainland!’ ‚Millions of boatloads…’ I quoted. ‚Now where could you have heard that!’ she demanded with some warmth. ‚I never knew anything so stupid!’ ‚It was an old woman coming over the hill,’ I said. ‚But it doesn’t seem so bad to me. If a place were barren and one wanted to live here, why shouldn’t soil be brought from anywhere?’ She looked at me imperiously and a little scournfully. (Evidently this was a subject of long standing and some delicacy.) ‚In the first place, there isn’t land on the mainland to take away; in the second, the thing is too silly. I can’t imagine any one doing a thing like that – except perhaps an American millionaire!’ ‚Whew! This isn’t beginning very well,’ I thought. But in another moment she had forgotten her annoyance and was showing me a path so completely carpeted with fallen pink blossoms that in places it was entirely hidden from sight.

However it took years to enrich the existing thin peaty soils which was mainly Murdo Mackenzie’s achievement as he was known to collect leaves and other natural debris from the mainland to enrich his compost heap. In the Irish Times from 13 February 1931 the issue was described as follows:

The greatest compliment paid to Mrs. Bryce is the legend that all the soil for the garden had to be imported: some say from the mainland, and some say from England. This of course is quite incorrect, the fertility of the island being due to its own soil and climate, together with a great deal of well applied industry. In fact there is no reason why the mainland should not yield the same results if properly cultivated, and the possibility of fruit-farming in the district is one that could well be investigated.

© of Harold Peto’s map: OPW Office of Public Works, Dublin

the last days of the season

garinish island glengarriff

A particular lovely morning, we are on our last trip to Garinish Island in 2011. You see it as the dark silhouette at the right side of the photograph.

garinish island glengarriffThere are still flowering shrubs like those two miniature fuchsias in pink and in crimson red and also most of the Eucryphias. Some leaves are as pretty as flowers like those of the huckleberry (Gaylussacia).

garinish island glengarriffEucryphia lucida pleases with a lovely smell reminding of jasmine.

garinish island glengarriffOne of Murdo Mackenzie’s favourite plants were all kinds of Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple). This species Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’ in the Happy Valley looks like a burning bush as it is well placed in front of dark foliage.

garinish island glengarriffGaultheria mucronata (former Pernettya) from Chile and Argentina thrives well in the acidic soil of the island, the beautiful berries are grown for food in South America but their taste is quite neutral. To grow the fruits you have to plant shrubs of different sexes.

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]

rhododendron macabeanum

Garinish Island GlengarriffOne of the remarkable plant hunters to the Far East was Frank Kingdon Ward (1885-1958), he brought Rhododendron macabeanum from the Himalayan Mountains to
Europe. A beautiful plate below the tall plant – at the moment in full
bloom – is dedicated to him (with a typo in his name! 😉 Read more about the interesting life of the explorer here and let him tell you about his adventures in his book Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges. A specimen of Rhododendron macabeanum in the East Garden (closed to the public) comes from the seeds of Kingdon-Ward, as former head-gardener Murdo Mackenzie noted in his plant lists.

garinish island glengarriff

maggie the island

Garinish Island GlengarriffMaggie O’Sullivan (right photograph in the header above) was the last permanent inhabitant of Garinish Island. She was the Bryce’s housemaid since the early twenties and “cooked tea for all Irish presidents except one” and had been living in the so called Gardener’s cottage together with Roland Bryce and later with the head gardener Murdo Mackenzie. She was born in November 1908 and died in Bantryview Private Nursing Home in August of 1999.