Majestic trees part of the autumnal delights in 'secret' Doneraile Park

MAGNIFICENT trees are, arguably, the most important legacy we have from the landed estates which once included most of the land of Ireland. We had about 5,000 landed gentry in the late 18th century, says Donal Hickey.
Majestic trees  part of the autumnal delights in 'secret' Doneraile Park

Practically everyone has been enchanted by the variety of rich colour provided by trees during the extended autumn period and people have been visiting parks, many of which now incorporate some of the old estates. A personal favourite is Killarney National Park, including the former Herbert and Kenmare estates.

Doneraile Park, in North Cork, is lesser known and is probably a bit of a secret. Once the home of the St Legers, it’s a splendid facility in state ownership, with lovely vistas and walks and majestic trees adorning the rolling landscape. This is beautiful countryside, off the tourist track and probably all the better for that. As well as Doneraile Court, the region has several former big houses’ which can be glimpsed behind high walls and are surrounded by trees.

You can see why the gentry were drawn to this fertile area and how they left their mark. It is also a land that provided literary inspiration to writers such as Elizabeth Bowen and Canon Sheehan.

One of the Mallow-born priest’s best-known works is Glenanaar which includes a memorable passage about a hurling match. Setting the background to the epic clash, he notes “the great belt of trees to the west was just being dappled from its russet green by the first tints of approaching autumn”. Sylvan charms still being experienced in the area.

The last of the St Legers to live in Doneraile Court left in 1969 and the mansion looks forlorn today. It dominates the 400-acre park, which is open to the public and contains some lovely walks as well as a herd of wild deer.

The landed gentry like to show off and one of the ways they did that was by creating elegant parklands around their mansions. Trees planted by the St Legers during the 18th and early 19th centuries, in the style made famous by landscape architect Capability Brown, stand proudly today.

Water was sometimes diverted and weirs were built. This landscape required a huge amount of maintenance and the St Legers had a small army of gardeners employed more than a century ago. Planting was carefully planned and the groves of trees seem to fit in naturally with the rise and fall of the land, lakes, rivers, bridges and water features.

Doneraile Park, with its tree-lined avenues of mature trees, has specimens more than 300 years old. Beech Avenue dates from the 18th century, while the park boasts an array of oak trees. Larch trees on the lawn are believed to have been planted in 1730. A delightful spot.

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