How is it that so many people dream of seeing the wonders of faraway places while often ignoring gems which are virtually on their doorstep?
You will meet Dubliners who know little or nothing of the Phoenix Park; Killarney folk who have never been out on the world-famous lakes, or climbed Carrantuohill, and Corkonians who have never experienced the marvel that is Garinish Island.
I recently revisited Garinish, in Bantry Bay, having previously been there more than 30 years ago, and the delights of this island garden, just off Glengarriff, came flooding back. It was a warm, sunny day in August and I could sense it was going to be another special day in a special place.
Our boatman, Kieran, highlighted some of the natural features of this lush corner of Ireland and was soon pointing to a white-tailed sea eagle perched on top of a tree. A pair released in Killarney National Park has been nesting in Garinish for about four years and they recently produced a chick which can be seen flying over the island. The nest can be seen easily, but people are asked not to go too near it or disturb the eagles in any way.
The eagles are an attraction in their own right around Glengarriff which also has a common seal colony. We only saw one seal, a well-fed lazy specimen soaking up the sun on the rocks and oblivious to boats and visitors. Bees were also numerous there as they went about their work of pollination. The late screen star Maureen O’Hara had a home in Glengarriff but the real appeal of this place is its natural environment.
The minute you step ashore on Garinish you sense a sort of latter-day Garden of Eden, with all sorts of shrubs, flowers and trees crowding in on you. You can quickly walk around the 37 acres but it’s best to take your time, breathe the fragrant air and absorb it.
This is a huge ornamental garden of tropical plants, made possible by the humid Gulf Stream climate. The most notable feature is, perhaps, the Italianate garden, the work of the former owner of the island, Annan Bryce, and Harold Peto, an architect and garden designer.
On the occasion of our previous visit, rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom, as it was earlier in the year, but this time a kaleidoscope of summer colour adorned the scene. Very soon, the colours will change again with the coming of autumn. Lots of Irish people and overseas tourists were on the island.
The foundations of what’s being enjoyed today by thousands of visitors were laid around 80 years ago. The island was bequeathed to the State, in 1953, and is now under the control of the Office of Public Works. Well worth a visit.
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