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

now and then

Garinish Island GlengarriffLong 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.

Garinish Island GlengarriffAround some paths though there is a magnificent display of colours.

Garinish Island GlengarriffEven when the sky is grey the azaleas can be admired from far away. Some are highly fragrant and attract amazed visitors like hungry bees…

Violet L’Estrange Bryce

Garinish Island GlengarriffMost people think of Violet Bryce as a ‘British society lady’. But she was extremely proud of her Irish roots and was very fond of the Irish language. In a letter to the editor she wrote in 1930: “… I beg to say I was brought up on Joyce’s ‘Names of Irish Places’, my father having been a keen Irish scholar, and know ‘Goul’, ‘Gowel’, ‘Gabhal’ means a fork, but information was taken from from a pre-Joyce book which I found … in an old book …which contained a description of Glengarriff and its surroundings, and mentioned Sleive Ghoile (spelt thus) as meaning ‘the hill of the mist’ or ‘the hill of the little men or people’. This description pleased me so much that I have always thought of it as ‘the hill of the mist,’ and I feel that so long as we do not call it ‘Sugar Loaf’ we can put our own interpretation to the name.”

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…)

bryce’s residence in london

Garinish Island GlengarriffViolet and Annan Bryce owned a magnificent house in London W1 which was decorated over and over with pieces of art, antiques and exotic objects especially from the far East like Burma, where Annan had worked (around 1885). They invited the London society for balls and could provide for up to 600 guests.

early buildings

Garinish Island GlengarriffAt the Summer Talk Evening yesterday evening we could see and hear news not only about the creative architect Harold Peto, who designed the main features of Garnish Island. Angela Rolfe and Liz Morgan from the OPW presented the first drafts for the conversion of the ‘Gardener’s Cottage’ (the place which is inaccessible for tourists and Glengarriff people alike) into an island museum. Building works might be started by 2013 and might be ready by 2014. On an extremely blurred photographic collage from about 1913, placed in an article about Garnish Island in the Southern Star from 1987 there was a house-like structure to be seen in the background (red circle). Apparently the cottage which became Violet Bryce’s home some 10 years later was one of the first buildings erected in a very early stage of the development of the garden island.

valuable art from garinish island

Garinish Island GlengarriffTwo watercolour paintings from William Turner (1775-1851), which were in the possession of Roland Bryce and displayed in the so called gardener’s cottage where he spent the last 30 years of his life, can be admired in the National Gallery in Dublin each year for about four weeks in January (due to the low light which would otherwise affect the delicate colours). A third painting which might be from Turner too is also part of a major collection. Unfortunately there is no hint as to the real origin of the donation (the Bryce family is not mentioned).

annan bryce’s and violet l’estrange’s family

garinish island glengarriff‘The Times’ wrote on June 22nd 1903: Mrs. Bryce, whose death, in London, at the age of 90, we recorded on Friday last, was the widow of the late Dr. James Bryce, an eminent naturalist, who was killed by a fall of rocks while geologizing in Scotland many years ago [at Inverfarigaig, Loch Ness, 11th July, 1877]. Born at Belfast in 1813, just before the battle of Leipzig, she retained a vivid recollection of Ulster and the West of Scotland as they were in the earlier part of last century, and preserved to the end of her life the full excercise of her remarkable mental powers. She had become the centre of a large circle of friends who were attracted by her striking personality and by the keen interest – unusual in one who belonged to a generation so remote –which she took in the literary, social, and political movements of the day. Two of her brothers are still living – Mr. Robert Young [1822-1917], an architect in Belfast, and Mr. Charles Young, for a long period a member of the Legislature of Victoria (Australia), and at one time a Minister there. She has left two sons, of whom the elder is Mr. James Bryce, M.P., and two daughters.

garinish island glengarriffAt the day of the Census (2nd April 1911) James Young, aged 25 (born in Belfast, single, Presbyterian) stayed at the Reenmeen Hotel, he probably was Mr. Robert Young’s grandson, architect himself and Annan’s second grade cousin. James Reid Young (1884-1967) seems to have been involved in the development of Garinish Island: the overall plan for the gardens and the buildings on Garinish Island is signed by his grandfather’s famous company’s name (Young & Mackenzie, May 1911).garinish island glengarriff The actual construction works only started in 1912. Another Census page shows Violet and her two daughters Marjory and Rosalind staying in a house in Skehill, together with two servants (Sarah McKeown, aged 50, Church of England born in Co. Tyrone, and Margaret O’Leary, aged 23, Roman Catholic, born in Co. Cork). Violet cheated with her age, instead 47 years she noted 42.

Violet’s father was Champagné L’Estrange, born 3rd May 1832; he was Captain Royal Regiment of Artillery, and retired 1897; Resident Magistrate for Co. Down; he died at Malta aged 67, 5th March 1900, buried in La Braxis Cemetery there.”

constance markievicz and violet bryce

Garinish Island GlengarriffEurope’s first women minister Countess Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth, 1868-1927) and Violet Bryce were not only good friends, the politician-to-be lived in the Bryce’s house in London while she went to study arts in a renowned college. The two women where even related to each other through a common ancestor: Colonel Henry Peisley L’Estrange (born 1776). The L’Estrange-girl Mary Sibell was married to Constance’s brother. Violet Bryce contributed to her biography by Sean O’Faoláin (published 1934).