Friday 15 December 2017

Ireland's 30 best historic houses & gardens


Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle
Parke's Castle
Castletown House
Curraghmore House
Mount Usher gardens
Swiss cottage
Glenveagh Castle
Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre
Afternoon tea
Kylemore Abbey
Swiss Cottage
Bantry House
Bantry House
Swan boats at Westport thouse

Fran Power

From great halls to secret gardens and even a cottage fit for Snow White, Ireland's grand old houses have something for everyone.

Best for history buffs

1. Derrynane House, Co Kerry

A trip to the summer home of Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, polishes up your Irish history nicely (the gold chariot he rode through Dublin after his release from prison is there, and his duelling pistols). Pack your swimming gear - one of the most beautiful beaches is five minutes' walk away.

Where: Caherdaniel, Co Kerry; (066) 947-5113;

Open: May to September, Monday to Saturday, 9am-6pm, Sundays, 11am-7pm; check website for other times

Price: Adult, €4, child, €2, family, €10

Café: Yes, in Courtyard

2. Parke's Castle, Co Leitrim

Parke's Castle

Parke's Castle, Co. Leitrim

Three storeys high and on the very edge of Lough Gill, this fortified manor house dates from the 17th century when Robert Parke built it on the site of rebel Gaelic chieftain Brian O'Rourke's tower house. O'Rourke was executed at Tyburn in 1591 and the stone from the demolished tower was used to build Parke's manor house inside the original bawn. Today, it's a good place to soak up history and take a picnic.

Where: Fivemile Bourne, Co Leitrim; (071) 916-4149;;

Open: Daily, April 2-September 30, 10am-18pm

Price: Adult, €4, child €2, family, €10

Café: Tearooms open in summer

3. Ballyportry Castle, Co Clare

Steep yourself in history at Ballyportry, a painstakingly restored medieval tower house with a stone spiral staircase, Great Hall with oak beams, stone-flagged floor and vast fireplace, and superb views out over the Burren from its roof. Luckily, it's equipped with 21st-century luxuries such as fridge, freezer and running hot water. You'll have to book a stay to visit, but it's certainly worth it.

Where: Ballyportry, Co Clare; 087 205 9957 / (01) 660-9038;;

Open: All year round

Price: 3 nights from €1,800; sleeps 4-8;

Café: You won't need one here, dinner on arrival can be arranged

4. Hamwood House, Co Meath

This mid-sized Palladian house was built in 1764 by Charles Hamilton, agent for the Dukes of Leinster, whose main seat was nearby Carton House. The Hamilton family still live in the house today and their fine family collection, as well as lovely Georgian interiors, are a draw for the history lover. The magnificent garden with its exotic tree specimens and shrubs, collected back in the late 1800s, make for a delightful stroll.

Where: Dunboyne, Co Meath; (01) 825-5210

Open: Gardens, daily, April 1 to September 30, 2pm to 6pm or by arrangement

Price: House tour and tea, adult, €10 (minimum group of 10); gardens, adult, €5, children under 12 free

Café: There isn't one so don't forget the flask of tea

5. Altidore Castle, Co Wicklow

Built as a "sham" fort and residence for General Thomas Pearce in 1730s. In 1945, when very dilapidated, the Emmet family who are descended from United Irishman Thomas Addis Emmet, elder brother of Robert, bought it and began its restoration.

Where: Altidore Castle, Kilpedder, Co Wicklow; 087 760 1369

Open: August 22-30, 1pm-5pm, or by arrangement; gardens open

Price: Entry to the house is €3 per person and entry is by guided tours only.

Cafe: There is no café onsite.

B&B: No, but holiday cottages for rent

6. Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre

One of the decisive battles in Irish history happened in the field just in front of Oldbridge House. Visit on a Sunday or bank holiday Monday in summer and you might just be enlisted by the musketeers who give demos of powdering up their guns.

Where: Oldcastle, Co Meath; (041) 980-9950;

Open: May to September, daily, 10am-7pm

Price: House, including audio visual screening, adult €4, child, €2

Café: Yes, in the walled garden

Best for family

7. Belvedere House, Co Westmeath

This Georgian villa was once home to the Earl of Rochfort who locked up his second wife Mary Molesworth for 31 years because he believed she had been unfaithful. Today it's a happier place to visit, with 160 acres of lakeland, follies, and the new Enchanted Glen where you might just spot a fairy...

Where: Mullingar, Co Westmeath; (044) 934-9060;

Open: May to August, 9.30am-8pm, April and September, 9.30am-7pm; check website for updates

Price: Adult, €8, child, €4, family (2+2), €23

Café: Yes, Catoca Café open daily, 9.30-5pm; kids' birthday parties catered for

8. Crom Castle, Co Fermanagh

If ever countryside was rolling, it's here at Crom Castle, with its 2,000 acres of parkland. Stay in the castle's West Wing, take a jaunt on the Lough Erne in their new cot boat, or cruise onboard the Innishcruiser.

Where: Crom Castle, West Wing, Upper Lough Erne, Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh; (048) 677-38004;,

Price: on application for a stay in The West Wing.Or from £16 for two for camping/glamping from Crom National Trust Visitor Centre on the 2,000 acre estate; (048) 6773-8118.

More: You can also hire boats and organise an overnight bird- and-mammal-watching hide at the Visitor Centre.

Café The Little Orchard Tea Room at Visitor Centre

9. Westport House, Co Mayo

Swan boats at Westport thouse

Swan boats at Westport House

Designed by the renowned Richard Cassels and James Wyatt, this mighty house has become better known for its fantastic adventure activities - swan pedalos in its lake and pirate swing ship.

Where Quay Road, Westport, Co Mayo; (098) 27766;

Open Daily, June 28 to August 26, 11am to 7pm; check website

Price House and grounds, adult, €13, child, €6.50; House and Pirate Adventure Park, adult, one-day pass €21, child, €16.50, under 2s free, family, €60 (2+2), new Adventure Activity Centre, various; buy online for 5pc discount

Camp and caravan site Bell tents for rental (give discounted rates to the activities)

10. Airfield, Dublin

Two years ago the much-loved city farm reopened after a major refurb. Bequeathed by the Overend sisters to the public, Airfield is a wonderful place to let children wander, watch the cows being milked, enjoy the pretty planting and well-planned vegetable garden or take part in any number of nature activities.

Where: Overend Way, Dundrum, Dublin 14; (01) 969-6666;

Open: July and August, daily, 9.30am to 7pm; September to May, Monday to Sunday, 9.30am-5pm. Feeding time 3.30pm, milking, 5.30pm

Price: Adult, €10, child, €5, under 3s free; family tickets, various

Café: The Overend Restaurant

11. Woodstock, Co Kilkenny

Where is the tallest hemlock tree in the country? How about the longest avenue of monkey trees in Europe? Yep, Woodstock, that's where. Woodstock has trails, events and more to keep kids busy. Oh, and 50 acres that hide treasures like an ice house, waterfall and a folly. Check website for kids' events.

Where Inistioge, Co Kilkenny;

Open Summer, Monday to Friday, 9am-7pm, Saturday to Sunday, 11am-7pm; October to May, daylight hours

Price €4 per car

Café Coffee kiosk in car park

Best for the green-fingered

12. Mount Stewart, Co Down

Mount Stewart on Strangford Lough is home to a vast collection of Mediterranean plants in its Italian garden, fantastical topiary in its Shamrock garden, and many other garden lovelies. Soft day? The newly reopened house has been restored to its 20th century elegance, full of portraits, silver and porcelain. Check. It. Out.

Where: Portaferry Road, Newtownards, Co Down; (048) 4278-8387; mountstewart@;

Price: House and garden, adult, £7.27, child, £3.63, family, £18.18; garden tour, additional £3.50

Open: House, tearoom, formal and lakeside gardens, 11am-5pm

Other: The Eclectic Garden Seminar takes place September 19-20

13. Altamount, Co Carlow

Former owner Corona North travelled the globe to find plant specimens such as the breathtaking Tulip Tree. Now, those plants and trees cover 40 acres of Carlow countryside with an ice age glen with vast stones and old oaks, a bog garden and lovely herbaceous borders. Go now to catch the rose collection in bloom but please bear in mind the house is not open to the public.

Where Altamont Gardens, Bunclody Road, Tullow, Co Carlow; (059) 915-9444;;

Open Daily, May to end September, 9am-6.30pm

Price Free; guided tours of garden, €2

Café The Walled Garden café is home to Altamont Plant Sales

14. Caher Bridge, Co Clare

Gardener Carl Wright has built a mile of stone walls in his award-winning garden since 1999, brought the hazel clumps and blackthorn scrub under control, and sieved every inch of soil to yield a surprisingly beautiful oasis out of the harsh Burren landscape.

Where: Caher Bridge Garden, Fanore, Clare; (065) 707-6225;

Open: By appointment only

Price: €5

Café: Best to pack a light lunch as there's no café

15. Hunting Brook Gardens, Co Wicklow

Plants man Jimi Blake, ex head gardener at Airfield, likes to mix it up in his 20 acres on a hilltop in deep Wicklow. Learn from the master at his open days.

Where Hunting Brook Gardens, Lamb Hill, Blessington, Co Wicklow; 087 285 6601;

Price Adult, €6, kids free

Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-5.30pm, text to check

Café Yes, tea rooms open one Sunday a month, August 23, September 20; at 2pm Jimi gives a free class on his top 20 plants for the season

16. Helen Dillon Garden, Dublin 6

Something new catches your eye every time you visit Helen Dillon's garden. Helen is usually on hand to give expert tips.

Where: 45 Sandford Terrace, Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6; (01) 497-1308;

Open: Daily 2-6pm, July and August; Sundays only during April, May, June and September

Price: €5

Café: Tea and biscuits can be arranged by booking

17. Heywood Gardens, Co Laois

The famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens designed four gardens in Ireland, at Howth Castle, Lambay Island, the War Memorial Park, and here at Heywood, where it forms the centrepiece of a larger landscape.

Where: Ballinakill, Co Laois; (057) 873-3563;

Open: Daily, weekends via turnstile gate only. Guided tour available by booking

Price: Free

Café: There is no café or toilet facilities onsite

18. Kells Bay Gardens, Co Kerry

This sub-tropical garden would make a good location for the next Jurassic Park movie - the tree ferns brought in from the Antipodeans are now over 150 years old.

Where: Kells, Co Kerry; (066) 947-7975/ 087 777 6666;

Open: Daily, 9.30-6pm, except January; check website

Price: Adult, €6.50, child, €5

Café: The Conservatory Café is open daily

19. Mount Usher, Co Wicklow

Plunge deep into Mount Usher gardens for a dip in a Robinsonian-style garden with over 5,000 plants that flow along the banks of the Vartry River.

Where: Ashford, Co Wicklow; (0404) 40205 /087 230 1678; foodhall, (0404) 49671; café, (0404) 40116

Open: Gardens, daily, 10am-6pm

Price: Adult, €7.50, child under 16, €3.50, under 4s free

Café: Yes, with a choice of food stuffs

Best for architecture fiends

20. Curraghmore House, Co Waterford

The home of the Ninth Marquis of Waterford, with 1,000 hectares of formal gardens, woodland and grazing fields, Curraghmore is open for National Heritage week (August 22-30).

Where: Curraghmore, Portlaw, Co Waterford; (051) 387101;

Open: Mid-March to mid-October, Tuesday to Thursday, 10am-4pm; 1 & 3 Sunday each month by arrangement; (051) 387 134 to book

Price: House, €10, shell house & garden, €5, combined, €15

Café: Tea rooms onsite

21. Castletown House, Co Kildare

The finest Palladian house in the country, built for William Connolly, and copied in construction all over Ireland. It was bought by Desmond Guinness in 1967 and restored by the Irish Georgian Society.

Where: Celbridge, Co Kildare; (01) 628-8252;

Open: Daily, March 14 to October 31; guided tour, 10.15, then hourly from 11am to 5pm, Sundays, 10.15, 11am and 5pm, access to the house from 12 to 4.45pm

Price: Adult, €7, child, €3, family (2+2), €17

Café: Courtyard Café. Check the website for details on the country market which held regularly.

22. Swiss Cottage, Cahir, Co Tipperary

Swiss Cottage

Swiss Cottage, Co. Tipperary

A pretty "cottage orné" commissioned in the early 1800s by Richard Butler, to a design by the famous Regency architect John Nash. It looks like the cottage Snow White took refuge in with the seven dwarves.

Where Kilcommon, Cahir, Co Tipperary; (052) 744-1144;;

Open: Daily, 10-6pm, April 2 to October 28

Price: Includes tour, adult, €4, child, €2, family, €10

Café: No and note now that there are no credit/debit card facilities either.

Best for culture vultures

23. Glebe House, Co Donegal

The former studio of landscape and portrait painter Derek Hill is now a gallery for his work and his 300-strong collection of 20th-century art, including paintings by Picasso, as well as Irish and Italian artists. .

Where: Churchill, Letterkenny, Co Donegal; (074) 913- 7071;

Open: Daily, 11am-6.30pm, July and August; June and September (closed Fridays)

Price: Derek Hill Gallery, free. House, adult, €4, child, €2, family, €10

Café: Yes, coffee shop in summer

24. Bantry House, Co Cork

Take afternoon tea in the library of this lovely classical Irish house, built in 1710, but embellished and enlarged over the centuries. The Shelwell Whites, descendants of the Earls of Bantry, still live here.

Where: Bantry House, Bantry, Co Cork; (027) 50047;

Open: Daily, July and August, 10am-5pm; September and October, 10am-5pm; Monday, gardens only

Price: House and Garden, €11; child, 6-16, €3; under 6s free; family €26 (2+2); guided tour at 2pm included; garden only €5

Café: Yes, also, afternoon tea served in library, 2-5.30pm, €25pp (booking essential)

B&B: Yes, €169 per room

25. Drishane House

Many of the scenes that appear in Somerville and Ross's comic fiction are drawn from parties, picnics and croquet outings at Drishane House, home to Edith Somerville, the late 19th-century novelist.

Where: Castletownsend, Skibbereen, Co Cork; (028) 36126;;

Open: Daily 11am-3pm, August 22-30, October 2-16; telephone to book

Price: House, garden and museum, €10; garden and museum, €6; under 6s free

Café: No

26. Farmleigh, Dublin 15

Sold by the Guinness family to the Irish government for €29.2m in 1999, Farmleigh is the official guest house for State visitors - and an unofficial weekend spot for Dubliners, with storytelling and music.

Where: Phoenix Park, Dublin 15; (01) 815-5981;

Open: Daily, 10-6pm

Price: Free, issued on first-come-first-served basis; tours run hourly from 10.15am-4.15pm

Café: Yes, the Boathouse Café

27. Castle Ward, Co Down

Game of Thrones fans might recognise Castle Ward as the setting for Winterfell, the Whispering Woods, Robb Stark's Camp, and the site of the Baelor battle. Take a tour and try your hand at archery Thrones-style.

Where Park Road, Downpatrick, Co Down; (048) 4488-1204;

Price Adult, £7.04, child, £3.40, family, £17.27. Game of Thrones tour Clearsky Adventure; (048) 4372-3933;

Other Bike rentals, family activities

Café Yes, Coachhouse Café open daily during summer

28. Beaulieu, Co Louth

Sitting on the banks of the Boyne, the lovely manor house of Beaulieu was built in the 1660s by Sir Henry Tichbourne, and the eleventh generation of the family now lives there. Pop in and you'll find a livery stables and tea rooms.

Where: Drogheda, Co Louth; (041) 983-8557;

Open: Monday-Friday, 11-5pm to September 4; weekends, July and August, 1-5pm

Price: €10, under 16s free; garden only, €5

B&B: €185 for two people sharing

Best for walkers

29. Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden, Co Galway

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

For a dramatic setting you can't beat Kylemore Abbey. In summer, you can take a guided hike through the oak forests, and be rewarded by spellbinding views.

Where Connemara, Co Galway; (095) 52001;

Open Daily, 9am-6pm. Guided hikes June to August, Wed and Sat, 1 hour, 3pm, €16pp (includes entrance fee); 3 hour, 11am, €19pp (includes entrance fee)

Café Mitchell's Café or Tea House in the walled garden

Price Adult, €13; under 10s free, family, €26 (up to 6 children under 10); family, €35 (up to 6 children over 10)

30. Glenveagh Castle, Co Donegal

Begun in the 1880s, the gardens have been developed over the decades to add an orangery and Italian terrace.

Where: Churchill, Letterkenny, Co Donegal

Open: House, tour only; gardens, dawn to dusk, year round

Price: Castle tour, adult, €5, child, €2, family, €10; garden tour on request, (076) 100-2692; access to National Park and Visitor Centre, free; for info on walks, (074) 913-7698

Café: Glenveagh Castle Tearooms, weekdays, 10.30-5pm, weekends, 10.30-5.30pm

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