Last Updated on November 15, 2022
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Jim Ferri
You’ll find great gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Wherever you look – across its beautiful countryside, rolling hills, and pastures that tumble down to the water’s edge, from the Irish Sea to the wild west coast of Ireland – the country seduces us with her natural beauty.
But there’s also another side of Ireland that many of us too often miss, the tamer side of Ireland’s natural beauty, an Ireland hid behind the walls of old estates and mansions. They are the spectacular gardens of Ireland that are open to the public.
Oftentimes they’ve been created by artists who have taken fields and bogs and transformed them into near-magical places. And they change with the season, quietly sharing their incredible beauty with all that enter.
Here are four gardens on the island of Ireland – both the Republic and Northern Ireland – that will reward you from the very first moment you step through the gate.
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Co. Galway: a Victorian Walled Irish Garden
Kylemore Abbey, an incredible 19th-century building set at the base of a near-vertical mountain, is a former Benedictine abbey now a girls’ boarding school.
One of its famous claims is its beautiful 6-acre Victorian walled garden, also developed at the time Kylemore Castle was built in 1867–1871.
It was one of the last from the Victorian period in Ireland and was the only one constructed in a peat bog. In fact, it was so advanced that comparisons were made with Kew Gardens in London.
A small natural mountain stream divides its eastern half, that being “the pleasure garden” of flowers. It also contains the greenhouses and the head gardener’s house. The other half of the garden is “the kitchen garden,” which is predominantly a vegetable garden.
Long ago, unfortunately, the garden went into decline. In time it became a wilderness, and the greenhouses collapsed, leaving only their brick bases. In 1996, the Benedictine community, who had always used the garden, began restoration work to bring it back to its former glory. Restoration is still underway on these gardens in Ireland.
Mount Stewart House, Newtownards, A Beautiful Garden in Northern Ireland
The gardens in Ireland surrounding the Mount Stewart House in Northern Ireland have been voted as one of the top ten gardens in the world. They encompass an incredible display of plants and artistry, the latter the hallmark of Edith, Lady Londonderry, who created them.
The mild climate of nearby Strangford Lough also allows astonishing levels of planting experimentation throughout the estate. Its owner is the UK’s National Trust. The Trust has recently acquired more of the adjacent land that was part of the original property.
The formal areas exude a strong Mediterranean feel and resemble an Italian villa landscape. The wooded areas support a range of plants from all corners of the world, ensuring something to see, whatever the season.
Each of these formal gardens in Ireland exudes a distinct character and appeal. Further afield, visitors can enjoy the beautifully landscaped and informal grounds surrounding the picturesque lake walk.
Powerscourt, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow
Powerscourt in County Wicklow is an estate with possibly the finest formal gardens in Ireland. According to National Geographic, it is also the #3 Garden in the World. In fact, the gardens at Powerscourt are so spectacular it’s almost like being in a mini-Versailles. And it’s only about a half-hour drive from Dublin.
When you enter the estate, driving up to the mansion and these Irish gardens takes several minutes. You pass horses and sheep grazing along the way, all part of the panorama of the beautiful Wicklow countryside.
It’s an incredibly scenic estate with a golf course and a Ritz-Carlton that, thankfully, is out of sight.
It was built during the 18th century on the site of an old castle. About 50 years ago, however, it was gutted by fire but has now been partially restored. The house isn’t open to visitors, but you can visit a café and some shops selling quality Irish goods.
Muckross House, Killarney, Co Kerry: a Charming Garden in Ireland
The Muckross House and Gardens, a national treasure of Ireland, are at the heart of Killarney National Park. They were part of an 11,000-acre estate given to the nation of Ireland in 1832 and formed the basis of the present-day National Park.
The house is a 19th-century Victorian mansion belonging to Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife. In the 1850s, the Herberts began an extensive Irish gardens project in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861.
The Queen gave six years’ notice of her visit, which was plenty of time to redecorate the house. When the Queen arrived, she also brought her own bed and a 100-strong entourage.
These Irish gardens were extended and further developed through a succession of owners over the ensuing years. Today our world knows them for their beauty, especially the collection of azaleas and rhododendrons. The sunken garden, the rock garden (hewn from natural limestone), and an extensive water garden date from the early 20th century.
The house and gardens are close to the shore of Muckross Lake, one of Killarney’s three lakes. They are approximately 3 ½ miles outside Killarney.
If You Go:
Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0) 95 52001
Admission: Adult (18-64) €15.00 / Student €12.50 / Senior (65+) €12.50 / under 16 years free / Family €38.00
Mount Stewart House
Portaferry Road, Newtownards, Northern Ireland
Tel: +44 28 4278 8387
Admission: Adult £11.00 / Child £5.50 / Family £27.50 / Family (one adult) £16.50
Note: Since Northern Ireland is part of Britain, ticket prices are in British Pounds, not Euros
Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Tel: + 353 (0) 1 204 6000
Admission: Adult €8.50 / Senior €7.50 / Student €7.00 / Child: under 16 years €4.00; under 5 years free / Family €18.00
Note: there is an additional fee to visit the waterfall, paid on site.
Killarney, Co Kerry. Ireland
Tel: +353 (0) 64 6670144
Admission: prices were reduced in 2021 during the pandemic; see https://muckross-house.ie/plan-your-visit.html for present admission prices