the happy valley

Garinish Island GlengarriffI added some colour to an extremely rough photograph of the Happy Valley so it is better to recognize that there was a nice path along the Port Rock which is now overgrown. It is from The Sunday Independent from October 1927. At the right side of the picture the steps to the Temple can be seen (the Temple is dissolved in the mist of the blurred background).

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…)

violet bryce loved glengarriff

Garinish Island Glengarriff

The Rev. T. Harrington at the Agric. Show in Glengarriff on Aug 15th 1910:

“I need not say I refer to Mrs. Bryce, and I say that because it was on her fertile brain and sympathetic heart that industrial movement had its origin. It is so owing to her influence … that Glengariff has been blessed with the presence for the past six months of such a competent official as Mr. Cunneen – the result of whose instructions is that there are at present in the parish 60 holdings in which various kinds of vegetables are cultivated, in some cases, on plots on which nothing ever grew before, but weeds and rushes …”

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.

padraig colum and garinish island

garnish island glengarriffThe author Padraig Colum (1881-1972) knew W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ, and he was a lifelong friend of James Joyce. In „Cross Roads in Ireland“ he wrote (1930):

It was the happy thought of a lady living here to make one of the islets off Glengarriff, Garinish, into a garden. This happy thought has been realized in a way that recalls Edgar Allan Poe’s ‚Landor’s Cottage’. Mrs. Annan Bryce has now spent many years collecting and cultivating flowers, trees, and plants that can grow here – and many subtropical species can grow here. And she has made her island-garden part of the landscape: one looks down a vista of ilexes to the Kerry Mountains. One walks down an avenue of blooming Mediterranean shrubs to the water of this Irish bay. One sees fantastic orchids close to rocks on which the native heather has been left to flourish. Garinish has been made into a garden of gardens. And it is not merely an enchanting botanic display. There is a home amids this profusion of trees and plants and flowers – the friendly home of Mrs. Annan Bryce. Painters and writers have been made welcome here. Here is the lovely little house in which Bernhard Shaw worked at ‚Saint Joan’.

First editions of Colum’s work were presented to US president Barack Obama by Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the occasion of his visit to Dublin, Ireland on 23 May 2011. The sepia view is from a postcard probably from the thirties: this is how Padraig Colum might have seen the island.

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.