We traveled to Ireland a few weeks ago and saw many beautiful sights. I keep a travel journal and record our itinerary, make note of the places we visit and the memorable people we meet along the way. While we’re always on the lookout for rose gardens, we knew that we would be too early for the Irish spring bloom, but we were rewarded with memorable parks and gardens nonetheless. We let our imagination make up for the anticipated roses that would surely be spectacular in places like Powerscourt, Kilkenny Castle and the Inveagh Gardens.
Even before we ventured onto the roads in our rental car, we were able to tour two gardens in Dublin. One was St. Stephen’s Green – more a park than a garden — located in the heart of Dublin, a short walk from Trinity College, the shops on Grafton St. and our hotel. While we found no sign of roses in this 27 acre oasis, it was relaxing to stroll along its wide serpentine paths where we discovered a life size sculpture of Oscar Wilde lounging lazily on a rock with a rakish grin on his face. We returned several times to this serene place, taking in the peaceful setting and watching Dubliners enjoy the spotty sun between the inevitable raindrops. Not far from St. Stephen’s Green, but a bit of a walk, was Inveagh Gardens. It’s often described as Dublin’s best kept secret and I can see why. We had almost given up finding it and were circling out way back to St. Stephen’s Green when we spotted what turned out to be a walled garden. Behind this wall was not only a beautiful rose garden, but expansive lawns and fountains. There seemed to be hundreds of roses in this “secret” garden and they were full of buds waiting to bloom. We could only imagine what the garden would look like in two weeks time.
When we left Dublin and Mike was adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, a daunting adventure of its own, we made our way to Powerscourt, about 30 minutes south of Dublin. Powerscourt reminded me of the mansions in Newport, but on a grander scale. The Bellevue Avenue mansions truly seemed like summer cottages compared to the grandeur of Powerscourt and its gardens which comprised more than 14,000 acres. Currently, its Palladian style “house” is not open to the public, but the park-like grounds were spectacular. From its veranda we had a stunning view of Sugar Loaf Mountain – special to us because we spend many winter days skiing at our own Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. We strolled down the stone terraces, along the paths, past the circular pond whose fountain was flanked by winged horses and we could see a rose garden set in the massive lawn. Further along we explored the Japanese Garden by climbing down stone steps, but the most impressive view was when we climbed back up, looking down over the winding brick paths, wooden bridges, a Japanese pagoda and purples and pinks of flowering azaleas and rhododendrons framed by various shades of green.
We made our way back to the main house by completing the circular path and came across what we had been hoping to see – roses. Only a few were in bloom, but the scope of the plantings was massive with beds of 20-30 roses all the same variety. Mike learned from one of the gardeners that because of the colder than normal spring in Ireland, the roses would bloom a few days late, in early June. Two weeks too late for us, but if you happen to be in Ireland in June, don’t miss Powerscourt.
Our next stop was Kilkenny Castle where we found another impressive rose garden. We stayed in the The Butler House, the old manor house which was located next to the castle. We had an enormous room, by European standards, that overlooked the formal gardens of The Butler House (see photo) which we thought was amazing in itself. When we saw the rose garden at Kilkenny Castle, though, we were thoroughly impressed. This formal garden with hundreds of roses was designed in the shape of a Celtic cross although none of our pictures of the garden do it justice. Imagine having a back yard like this to look at from your bedroom window!
As much as we enjoyed visiting the parks and gardens in Ireland, we had no idea how taken we would be by the historical sites such as the Garden of Remembrance, Kilmainham Gaol, the Famine Monument and the General Post Office that still shows the bullet holes in the masonry from the Easter Rising in 1916. Equally inspiring was Ireland’s spectacular landscape featuring views of its rugged coastline, the vast moonscape of The Burren and the endless patchwork of green fields. But those historical sites and landscapes will be subjects for future posts.