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Building of the Month - April 2011

Garinish Island, GARINISH Td., County Cork

2010 marked the centenary of the world-renowned gardens on Garinish Island in Bantry Bay, County Cork.

Garinish Island 01 - War Office Map 

Figure 1: War Office Map of Garinish Island (surveyed 1870; published 1883).  Courtesy of the Office of Public Works

Garinish Island had been occupied by British forces from the early nineteenth century (fig. 1).  Aware of the island's strategic position in defence, the Government erected a Martello tower in 1805 – allegedly the first of its kind built on the coastline of Ireland – together with a barrack, battery and a small cottage (figs. 2-3).

Garinish Island 02 - War Office Map Detail Garinish Island 03 - Martello Tower

Figures 2-3: A detail of War Office Map of Garinish Island (surveyed 1870; published 1883) showing the Martello tower (1805) and adjacent battery.  The tower, allegedly the first of its kind erected on the Irish coastline, belongs to a type common to County Cork but different from the national standard in that the walls of the drum are plumb and not battered.  Courtesy of the Office of Public Works

Garinish Island was sold by the British War Office in August 1910 to John Annan Bryce MP (1874-1924), a Belfast-born merchant and Liberal politician who had worked in Burma and Siam [Thailand], taking particular interest in exotic plants on his expeditions.  To assist in the development of his new property Bryce commissioned Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854-1913), an English architect and landscape designer, to set out the fine gardens and eye-catching garden buildings.  Peto had previously worked on a number of projects at Buscot Park, Heale and West Dean, all in England, and also designed several gardens in the south of France.  He later purchased Iford Manor in Wiltshire as the ideal setting for the architectural and sculptural treasures acquired on his travels throughout France, Italy and Spain.  Peto's design philosophy is captured by a quote from his posthumously published book The Boke of Iford (1994):

Old buildings or fragments of masonry carry one's mind back to the past in a way that a garden of flowers only cannot do.  Gardens that are too stony are equally unsatisfactory; it is the combination of the two in just proportion which is the most satisfying.

We know that the Bryces kept in close contact with Peto, visiting him at his home at Landford Lodge near Salisbuty in 1896 and regularly at Iford Manor from 1904 to 1912.  Bryce had a chance encounter with Peto in 1905 and took him on a guided tour of gardens in County Cork, including the famous gardens at Fota House.

Garinish Island 04 - Panoramic View 

Figure 4: A panoramic photograph (1913/4) showing the landmarks of Garinish Island including, from left to right, The Pavilion, The Casita and the Romanesque campanileCourtesy of the Office of Public Works

Bryce and his wife Violet (née l'Estrange) commenced the transformation of Garinish Island in 1911, employing around one hundred men, and work continued apace until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.  As can be seen from a contemporary panoramic photograph many of the Italianate Renaissance-style buildings had by then been completed and only general maintenance was carried out during wartime (fig. 4).  Peto had also designed a palatial seven-storey mansion, repurposing the obsolete Martello tower as a library, but those plans were never executed.

Garinish Island 05 - Panoramic View Detail 

Figure 5: A detail of the panoramic photograph (1913/4) of Garinish Island showing the Casita.  Courtesy of the Office of Public Works

The Casita, a teahouse described by Peto as the "garden house", accommodated guests playing croquet or tennis on the adjacent "English Lawn" (fig. 5).  It is suggested that the Casita was inspired by the sixteenth-century Pavilion of Carlos V in the gardens of the Alcázar of Seville, Spain, which Peto had visited in 1888.

Garinish Island 06 - The Pavilion Garinish Island 07 - The Pavilion

Figures 6-7: A photograph of The Pavilion in its Italianate garden setting.  Also known as "The Medici Pavilion", and labelled as such on Peto's original drawings, it is believed that the pavilion was inspired by the sixteenth-century Villa Giulia in Rome.  Courtesy of the Photographic Unit, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

An Italianate pavilion overlooking a tranquil pond recalls the Peto-designed pavilion (1903) at Hartham Park, Wiltshire, which was probably visited by the Bryces during one of their visits to Iford (figs. 6-7).  The pavilion has been referred to as "The Medici Pavilion" due to its supposed inspiration by the sixteenth-century Villa Giulia in Rome.  A hexagonal garden temple on the west side of the island stands on a height addressed by Italian steps and shows Doric columns on elongated plinths supporting a moulded architrave (fig. 8).

Garinish Island 08 - The Temple 

Figure 8: A view of the Grecian "Temple of the Winds" erected on a height as a viewing platform commanding panoramic vistas of the Carha Mountains

The walled garden is more-or-less rectangular in plan and is supported on its exterior by stepped buttresses.  Four towers at the corners of the garden were constructed using local stone with Bath Stone dressings while a tall Romanesque campanile dominates the north-western corner.

Garinish Island 09 - Gardener's Cottage 

Figure 9: A sepia postcard, dated 1925, titled "Mrs. Annan Bryce's Cottage Ilnaculin [sic]".  The Gardener's Cottage is scheduled to be restored as a museum telling the story of Garninish Island and its occupants.  Courtesy of the Office of Public Works

The collapse of the Russian market in 1917 brought with it the decline of the Bryces' financial fortunes.  Nevertheless, hundreds of new species of exotic plants were introduced to the island in 1919.  Following the death of her husband in 1923, Violet took up permanent residence in the gardener's cottage where her son, Roland, later joined her in 1932 (fig. 9).

Much of the early planting having perished in a series of storms, it was not until the Scottish gardener Murdo Mackenzie was appointed to Garinish Island in 1928 that the gardens began to flourish.  Crucial to the success of Mackenzie's endeavours were the new shelter beds of Scots and Monterey Pine.

As early as 1925 the gardens had been opened to visitors to generate income.  On the death of Roland in 1953 Garinish Island was gifted to the Irish people and was entrusted to the care of the Office of Public Works.  Mackenzie continued to tend the gardens until his retirement in 1971.

Garinish Island remains open to the public and is a haven for visitors interested in architectural and horticultural delights.  Click here for the opening hours for Garinish Island.

Eilíse McGuane

Click here to view the records for Garinish Island from the NIAH West Cork County Survey

Click here for the record for Garinish Island from the NIAH Gardens Survey


Whalley, Robin, The Great Edwardian Gardens of Harold Peto From the Archives of Country Life (London: Aurum Press, 1997)

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