Nine not to be missed public Irish gardens

From Fota to Ballymaloe, we have an abundance of colourful walks to explore with the whole family, says Roz Crowley.

THE beach is great in good weather, but gardens, public and private, are an elegant alternative, with the added incentive of refreshments, coffee or lunch.

In Cork, there is an embarrassment of well-maintained garden riches to entertain the family. Garden designer, Amelia Raben, says children like gardens that have secret areas, where they can be out of sight of their parents. “They love areas that are screened off,” she says.

The gardens here fit this criterion, so that parents can observe plantings or historical notes while children wander. But children need to be supervised; steep drops are a danger. Walk together, with a tree book to hand, to identify species, and research the history of the area. Times here apply to summer, and most gardens do family or group rates. Ring the smaller gardens in advance, as some of them close for private functions. See for more ideas.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Gardens

Plenty of space, with a relaxed feel, and staff members who are happy to explain the names and types of flowers, and where to find a fairy or the shell house. An acre of glasshouse displays peas and beans. Go to Ballymaloe House, nearby, for delicious food in the Café at the End of the Shop, with another (free) walk afterwards around the garden.

Adults €6; children and concessions, €3. Open every day, 11–5.30pm.

Tourin House, Cappoquin

This 1840 house on the Blackwater river has vast gardens with impressive old trees, shrubs, wild flowers and fruit. It’s relaxed, and has pathways for imaginary adventures in a space that feels free, and more like a country walk than a stroll through a garden. Open Tues–Sat, 1–5pm. Adults, €5; children/concessions, €3. A tour of the house, €5, and groups by appointment. Tel: 058-54405.

No café, but, nearby in the town, Barron’s Bakery has treats.

Fota gardens

No cost for entry to the gardens makes this a terrific facility run by the OPW. On 47 hectares, plenty of relaxed parklands with an arboretum, and then a snack in Fota House make for a good day out. There is a charge for tours around the house and for entry to the wildlife park. Gardens open every day, 10am–5pm.

Blarney Castle and gardens

While this may seem like an expensive walk, it is terrific value for the day. Children can explore the nooks and crannies, fairy dells and dungeons of the 60 acres, and climb up to the top of the castle. The grounds are beautifully maintained and the café has good coffee. Open every day, from 9am–7pm. Adults, €12; concessions, €10; children (8-14 years), €5. Wheelchair-users and assistants are free.

Charles Fort, Kinsale

This 17th century, star-shaped fort has good walks around it and plenty to explore. Good museum has interesting information. Café on site. Open 10–6pm. Adult: €4; concessions, €3; child/student, €2.

The Glebe Gardens & Café, Baltimore

Glebe Café is the huge attraction here, with delicious food from the kitchen garden, which is available for viewing, including its two goats. A small garden, relaxed and interesting, overlooks the sea. Open Wed–Sun, 10am–6pm. Garden entrance, €6. Tel: 028-20232.

Liss Ard, Skibbereen

On the site of a ring fort and souterrain, 150 acres of gardens, ponds and forest have trails, a waterfall garden, and the Irish Sky Garden. Open every day, 10am–5pm. Restaurant/café on site.

The estate garden is free, with access to the crater, €5, as part of a guided tour. Tel: 028-40000.

Drishane House, Castletownshend

The home of Tom and Jane Somerville is where Edith Somerville painted and wrote The Irish RM, and other books. A small museum, and the house, are worth a visit for book/art lovers, and the gardens are relaxed, with plenty of winding pathways leading towards the sea.

No café, but Annie’s, nearby, is good for food — and company!

Open daily, 11–3pm. Gardens and museum: adults, €6; concessions. Children under seven, free. Tel: 028-36126.

The Ewe Experience

A few kilometres north of Glengarriff, children can play noughts and crosses, and other games, in resting spots on the slight climb through a well-managed wooded trail. Sheena Wood’s sculptures punctuate the landscape. Tea, cake and ice-cream available. Open every day, 10 to 6pm. Adults €6.50; children €5.


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