Wicklow's hidden little gem

A new book featuring 205 photographs traces the often traumatic history of Kilmacurragh Arboretum and Gardens

Bray People

A new book by writer and visual artist Megan O'Beirne outlines the varied history of Kilmacurragh Arboretum and Botancic Gardens in Kilbride, from medieval times through the years of the Anglo-Irish Acton dynasty right up to present times.

'I wanted to catch the spirit of Kilmacurragh as I felt it was a little-known national treasure. I hope the book will help to publicise Kilmacurragh,' says Megan.

The book 'Kilmacurragh - Sourced in the wild' features 194 pages with some 205 high-quality pictures.

During their continuous tenure, successive generations of the Acton family, passionate about trees, planted a wide variety of both native and exotic trees of particular heritage and conservation importance today. The prized collections of conifers and the famous Himalayan tree rhododendrons sourced in the wild by Sir Joseph Hooker represent the nucleus of the arboretum.

Megan's love affair with Kilmacurragh began with her first visit in 2009 when she was looking for somewhere to exhibit.

'I had just been to Canada and had been fascinated by the Lodgepole pines there along the walking trails, many of which were dying, but that's another story altogether. Their sculptural quality appealed to me in particular.

'I was thinking of a tree-located place to exhibit once I got back home. I was brought on a tour of Kilmacurragh and found the whole palce so fascinating - it's layered history and also the visual beauty of the place.

'I pretty much decided there and then that this would be my next project.'

Megan has had solo photographic exhibitions in Italy, Treviso and Trieste during the Joycean commemorative celebrations at the University there. She also exhibited in the James Joyce Centre, Dublin during 2004 and 2005. Her Joycean photographs were also licensed to the National Library.

She has also had solo photographic exhibitions in Wexford, Dublin and Birr and participated in group exhibitions in Banff, Canada and Rejkjavik.

She was the recipient of the Arts Council Travel Award in 2007 and has residences in Canada and Iceland. She has also exhibited over in Japan.

A co-founder of the art group KUBE (2001-2006) she exhibited her paintings with the group in China and at several art centres in Ireland.

She has written for Sunday Miscellany at Radio Éireann and is a regular contributor of articles and photographs to Crann, Ireland's voluntary tree organisation.

Her new book is part-funded by Artlinks and is the fruit of her research and countless photographic sessions.

'Kilmacurragh - Sourced in the Wild' was several years in the making.

'It took me some years to prepare. There are over 200 photographs in the book so there was a lot of different photo-shoots and research involved.

'Some of my happiest memories are sitting in the research room in Glasnevin looking out at those wonderful gardens.'

For those who already know all about Kilmacurragh, the gardens hold a special place in their hearts.

'It could maybe be the tragic history of the place,' suggests Megan.

'There was a time in the 1960s where it went through a period of dereliction. There was a few different disputes involved and for a time it wasn't opem to the public, though you could try and book visits. People still went in with their dogs and found Kilmacurragh was romance personified. There is something very appealing about a mysterious, tangled woods.'

However, Megan still remains surprised at how little known Kilmacurragh is outsiude of Wicklow.

'For 35 years I was using the N11 travelling from Wexford to Dublin and back again and the Kilmacurragh sign never registered with me. I think there are plenty of people passing by who wouldn't be aware of the wonderland beyond there. All the trees are sourced from their country of origin. I am also sure that there are plenty of people who discovered it but don't want other people to know about it. Horticulturists are aware of it because of the amount of different articles related to Kimacurragh. It's well known in Wicklow but outside of the county it remains something of a hidden gem.'

Thomas Acton and his sister Janet are buried in what was the Deer Park.

The management of Kilmacurragh Arboretum and Gardens were transferred to the National Botanic Gardens in 1996, of which is is now a 'sister garden.'

Megan will launch 'Kilmacurragh - Sourced in the wild' at Bridge Street Books on March 6 at 6.30 p.m. The launch also happens to coincide with National Tree Week, a week-long festival celebrating all the positive aspects of trees in our lives and environment. Kilmacurragh has certainly left a lasting impression on Megan.

'It is a unique vehicle for my source of expression and creativity.'