Doneraile Park, created by the St Leger family, colonists who gained vast tracts of land after the failure of the Desmond Rebellion, is one of the glories of County Cork. Only an immensely rich family could afford to set aside 400 acres of prime land for a park and spend a fortune fashioning it in the style of the English landscape architect, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783). A major celebrity at the time, Brown’s ‘new’ vision of landscaping as an art of illusion was widely adopted by English landowners. The park was sold by Lady Doneraile to the Land Commission 1969, the house, Doneraile Court, saved by The Irish Georgian Society and put into OPW care. The Forestry Commission opened the Park in 1984.
The art of a Capability Brown landscape is the impression that nature created it. Human husbandry is successfully concealed. Large tracts of grassland are created and set with elegant, individual trees or clusters of beeches, oaks, chestnuts and limes. These meadows are fringed with broadleaved borders, creating the illusion that they are clearings in the natural woodland. Ha-ha fences are sunk into the ground to avoid obstruction of the view.
Natural lags or valleys are devoted to classical water features, these elegantly achieved at Doneraile where the River Awbeg is captured in ponds, channeled in canals, raced over cascades, lowered over weirs, and spanned by bridges, rustic or cut stone, each dramatically enhancing its setting. Walkers/admirers can access the various outstanding features via broad avenues or forest paths, all located so as to present each feature at its aesthetic best. The main avenue winds for a mile through the park to the big house, Doneraile Court.
From the car park, we have the option of a network of routes. We visited the park in mid-autumn and chose to first walk down to the pond, where pure white swans dabbled on the brown water, and then, having crossed a rustic bridge under which a flotilla of mallard swam, to walk up a golden avenue to Doneraile Court, built c1690. Chestnuts, limes and beeches towered above, golden and red against a blue sky, and those leaves that had fallen paved the path in gold. Similarly, the experience of walking the paths beside the Awbeg; the river reflected the golden trees overhead and the avenues were carpeted in gold.
Maps, at the car park, ( dimmed by water vapour trapped beneath the glass), outline a wide choice of routes and a paper map is available at the Tea Rooms. Walkers would best visit routes and features of personal interest. Apart from the sheer, transporting beauty of the vistas, the many old, individual trees are magnificent, especially the oaks on the slopes above Lady’s Well Wood and the wetland below. While north Cork’s native oakwoods were extensively felled to build British warships in the Middle Ages, and timber from Doneraile was used in the roof of St. Paul’s Cathedral, these survived because the slopes made clearing difficult.
The ‘Lime Walk’ in The Pleasure Grounds is spectacular, and leads to The Fishponds where water hens, mallard, swans and herons — even kingfishers — may be seen. Fallow, Red Deer and Sika graze the green acres or roam the forests enclosed by ha-ha fences, deep ditches steep on the inner side, with the outer side walled to reach to ground level only and being, thus, invisible in the views of sweeping parkland.
From Cork take the N20 north. At New Twopothouse 6km beyond Mallow, turn right onto R581 signposted Doneraile. The entrance gates are on Turnpike Road (R581) north of Doneraile town. The trailhead is the 2nd car park, 0.5km on the main avenue..
Free. Opening Hours:
: Monday - Friday 08:00-20:00Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holidays 09:00-20:00
: Monday - Friday 08:00-17:00Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holidays 09:00-17:00.
paved avenues, stone-laid or woodland paths. No steep climbs. Distance/Time: optional.
OS Discovery 73
BANDON WALKING CLUB www.bandonwalkingclub.com
Nov 23: Sheeps Head-Caher Mountain-Peakeen Ridge West, Grade C, 2.5hrs., ascent 300m.,meet Ash Tree, 8am.. or car park on Goat’s Pass 2km up from Kilcrohane 10.30am
BISHOPSTOWN WALKING CLUB www.bishopstownohc/bhcwalks.html
Nov 19: Greenane-O’Loughnan’s Castle, Grade B, 14km, 5hrs., ascent 800m, meet Firgrove Hotel, Mitchelstown 9.30am
Nov 22: Knockmealdowns, Grade B, 13km, 4.5hrs., ascent 750m, meet The Vee Grubb Monument, 9.45am
Nov 23: Blackrock Loop, Ballyhouras, Grade C, 11km., 4hrs., ascent 350m, meet Fermoy Swimming Pool entrance, 10.15am
GALWAY WALKING CLUB www.galwaywalkingclub.wordpress.com
Nov 23: Letterbuckan, Grade B, meet Omniplex, Headford Rd. 9.15am.
Nov 23: Doon West-Roscahill Rd., short walk, meet St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Reenmore, 1.15pm.