Our trip to Garinish Island was totally unplanned.  It’s what I love about traveling around without a strict itinerary.  You can can stumble upon some unexpected gems by chance and they often turn out to be highlights of your trip. We’d been traveling with some friends and had spent two full-on days driving around the Dingle Peninsula and then the Ring of Kerry. We planned to just spend the night in Glengarriff and do the Ring of Beara the following day.

However, when we surfaced the next day the idea of spending another full day driving didn’t really appeal to anyone. The sun was shining and the idea of a nice alfresco lunch in town (our friend was very keen to try some mussels!) was tempting. So we thought we’d check out what was on offer locally and maybe change our plans. Wandering up the main street we saw the sign for the Blue Pool, a beautiful harbour area just set back a little from the main street, within easy walking distance. This spot in itself is worth a visit. There are trails through the forested area with views of the harbour. What caught our attention though, was the little booth for the Blue Pool Ferry offering trips out to Garinish Island (also known as Garnish or Ilnacullin). On enquiry the guy at the booth said it was just a short ferry ride out to a beautiful garden island, passing a seal colony along the way. That didn’t sound like a bad way to spend an afternoon, so off we went!

It’s just a short 15 min trip to get to the island and along the way our driver slowed down at various points to get us close to seals resting on the rocks. The harbour is beautiful and from the water you get views to Glengarriff castle and the former home of Maureen O’Hara. The island itself it stunning, particularly the Italian gardens and the various viewpoints around the island, including a martello tower offering amazing panoramic views. We were lucky to have a gorgeous day but it felt more like a mediterranean island than somewhere just off the coast of Ireland! In fact the island does enjoy a microclimate thanks to it’s sheltered position and the warming gulf stream, which allows subtropical species to flourish in it’s gardens.

In addition to all this, the history of Garinish island is fascinating too. It was purchased in 1910 by Scottish MP (John) Annan Bryce and his wife Violet. It took many years, much money and the expertise of British architect Harold Peto to bring their vision for the 37 acre island to life. However, it’s unlikely it would be the place it is today without the dedication and devotion of the head gardener Murdo Mackenzie (Mac) who resided on the island for more than half a century. It’s said that it was such a miserable day when he first arrived that he almost turned around and went straight back to Scotland. Thankfully, he stayed and actually ended up living there until his death.

After Annan Bryce and then Violet passed away, their son Roland settled on Garinish and took over the job of caring for the island along with Mac. It was Roland who left the island to the Irish people on his death in 1953 on the strict condition that Mac and the house keeper Margaret O’Sullivan, by then close friends who shared the house with him, could remain their until their deaths. Mac passed away in 1983 and Margaret in 1999.

Garinish island is now maintained by the OPW and they have done an incredible job of restoring the family home. Visitors can now enjoy a glimpse into the life of all the people who had a part to play in the transformation of this idyllic island and hear of the visitors who stayed in their home over the years, including George Bernard Shaw, Agatha Christie and most of the Irish Presidents.

This really is a unique and amazing location and a visit is highly recommended. The house is open for tours from March to October.

Cost to visit Garinish Island (as of summer 2017):
Ferry – adults €10 return, children under 16 are half price.
Admission to the island – Adult €5, Senior €4, Child/student €3, Family €13. Check the Heritage Ireland website for up to date details.

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