lots of construction work

1camellia_two_colours_GarinishAlthough the people of Glengarriff are not officially being informed about what’s happening on Garinish Island they can watch busy activities on Ilnacullin. Last year saw the felling of many trees in the Walled Garden, parts of which now look different: brighter and not any more jungle-like.

Violets_Cottage_1927_Garinish_IslandViolet Bryce’s Cottage, the old Sullivan’s cottage and the East Pier are really being prepared for a new lease of life. According to rumours the “Museum” will be opened in July. The entrance area is digged up, heavy vehicles are busy changing the small path to the lovely old cottage.

4yews_pondLots of small yews were planted between old but quite bare yews on the Southern side of the pond area. The ancient sarcophagus in the Walled Garden disappeared a good while ago, but it might return to its old place, as there was a roof built for it. Even the loose banister in the Martello Tower was fixed over the winter. The winter 2013/2014 had brought back the “hats” for some of the mushrooms on the way to the Temple and lots of the steps to the Temple and to the Martello Tower were bedded in concrete. Well done! But Leo the ancient lion who had lost his face in the winter’s frost of 2010 didn’t return so far. And the exhibition in the Casita is still (again) dark, the back part isn’t accessible.

The once sparkling lily pond is still muddy and brown. For how many years wasn’t it cleaned??? Such a shame! Violet Bryce wrote the following description for the magazine Gardening Illustrated in January 1929: “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.” It would be really great to see the water blue again this year, just a little scrub of the bottom and the lower walls would do it (and maybe a bit more of water…)

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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…

the east pier on garinish island

garinish island glengarriffThe 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).

garinish island glengarriffFrom 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.

staddler stones or mushrooms

Garinish Island GlengarriffUnfortunately another staddler stone along the path to the temple lost its ‘cap’ recently. Garinish Island GlengarriffWill this and the other lost upper parts of those devices (which were once used to protect the grains against mice and rats) be replaced for the next season? Have a look at the old photograph, spot the difference to the nowadays terrace!

This feature is one of the signatures of Harold Peto. In his own garden in Iford they are placed along a very steep path leading to the Edvard VII column.

garinish island glengarriff

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).

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.