Doneraile Park one of Ireland's top free visitor attractions
Almost half-a-million people visited the estate during 2018
The majestic surroundings of Doneraile Wildlife Park, once considered to be one of Ireland's hidden gems, has been unveiled as Cork's most popular free tourist attraction, with almost half-a-million people passing through its gates last year.
Figures released by Fáilte Ireland have shown that Doneraile Park attracted 490,000 visitors last year, with that number set to rise considerably in 2019 following the recent opening of the ground floor of the stately Doneraile Court to the public. Kilkenny Castle Parklands came top of the list of 'free to enter' attractions with 799,032 visitors followed by The National Galley of Ireland (775,491), Glendalough Site (732,824), the National Botanic Gardens (655,609) and Castletown House Parklands (642,278).
The Irish Museum of Modern Art finished just above Doneraile Park with 505,891 visitors. The ever increasing popularity of Doneraile Park, its impressive landmark building and its immaculately manicured historic gardens, is evidenced by the fact that it finished above other well-known attractions including The National Museum of Ireland -Archaeology (466,038), Farmleigh (389,608) and The Battle of the Boyne/Oldbridge Estate (355,608).
As already mentioned, the opening of the ground floor of the iconic 17th Century Doneraile Court building last June to the public is expected to bolster visitors numbers to the North Cork Estate this year.
Since last autumn a team of dedicated experts commissioned by the Office of Public Work (OPW) under the guidance of principal officer Mary Heffernan had been busy preparing the ground floor for the official opening. Ms Heffernan told "This has been a long time in the making. I feel honoured to have been involved with this wonderful project at what is one of the great houses of Ireland. The OPW is proud to be opening its front doors and exposing visitors to its beautiful architecture and the history of the St Leger family," said Ms Heffernan.
She said the team was "very excited" about the collection they have put together on the ground floor, which includes paintings on loan from the Crawford Gallery, a collection of Cork-themed 'miniatures' and a unique collection of Irish-themed 19th century silhouettes. "These represent just a small sample of the collection on display.
I believe that it will really 'wow' people in terms of its collective beauty and interest. It contains many very special pieces of significance that have never gone on public display before," said Ms Heffernan. Plans are also in place to open up the first floor at Doneraile Court and restore its magnificent gardens, which contain three centuries of botanical history.
"Our ultimate goal is to create a cultural destination to rival any of the other great Irish houses and grounds," she added. Meanwhile, Doneraile Park and Court will hold a number of cultural events over the coming weeks and months, including concerts, historical lectures and guided tours of the grounds.
Full details of the programme of events are available at www.doneraileestate.ie.