Ireland is one of my favorite countries in the world. Add gardens and I’m heaven.

As Jay and I continue our travels to gardens of the world, I note a recurring pattern of creation, neglect, growing wild, rediscovery, and restoration. This serves as a framework for visualizing my own life.

Over and over we visit gardens that were created and nurtured in a season of optimism, eventually untended and fall into disrepair for decades, and have been discovered anew. Renovation begins; an unearthing with the intention to divine the original design. So it is with The Bantry House Gardens.

Jay and I rendezvoused in Ireland last summer for the U2 concert in Dublin and he drove us down the Wild Atlantic Way to visit gardens. Our first stop was The Bantry House, a “stately home” (i.e. magnificent estate!) in Southwest Ireland overlooking Bantry Bay in West Cork. The southern shores of Bantry Bay are “renowned for their beauty” with magnificent views of the bay as far as the Caha mountains in the distance. We arrived in the later afternoon with moody skies and a chilly breeze. The house was already closed to visitors so we were able to traipse around the gardens in solitude as all other tourists had left for the evening. Alone in a European garden at dusk with my husband and a camera. In my world, it does not get more ideal than that. ♥

What stamped the strongest mark on my memory were the formal garden hedges of shaped boxwoods, climbing winding ivy, sweet pink roses, a small plot for wild sweet peas, the stone steps leading all the way up to a woodland walk where we discovered socially inclined horses!

While the original house was built in 1710, the gardens were developed around 1795 by Richard White, the second Earl of Bantry, and his wife Mary. Inspired by his European travels, the gardens are laid out in the Italian style containing seven terraces; the house is located on the third. The famous Hundred Steps using local stone are located behind the house and fountain, surrounded by azaleas and rhododendron.

It seems that the 2nd Early of Bantry had many promising plans for the gardens, however they were lost as the estate was passed down along the line of heirs. The gardens and grounds fell into a state of neglect from 1930’s-1970’s and restoration began in 1997. A European grant was obtained to start the restoration process. Funding ceased in 2000. The restoration work is still ongoing.

In the midst of war, poverty, famine, invasions, political unrest, heartbreak, devastating weather conditions, and more– the garden endured. It may have been unattended, it’s original design lost sight of, undesired seeds taking root… still, the garden grew. The plants bloomed where they had been planted, surrounded by both peace and hardship, joy and sorrow. In this current stage the garden sees weddings, celebrations, community events, garden-loving travelers coming from near and far. Still, she grows.
I take heart in the belief that inside me is a garden– a divine spark, that endures– untarnished and pure. There are times, whether it be minutes or decades, when the original design was forgotten and weeds flourished. There are times when I believe I need to work harder, build a NEW and better garden, aggressively fight back all the weeds. And in moments of stillness I become aware that all that is required is to focus on what is true and lovely, and without effort, let the rest go. It less about building anew and more of a posture of returning to.

A garden envisioned and created. A divine spark.
Brought to life in an age of optimism, idealism, expansiveness, and love.
The garden grows.
The worst winter conditions ever recorded. Invasion. World war. Famine.
The garden grows.
Seasons of neglect; it’s original plans forgotten. Self-seeding plants and weeds grow up and over the structures.
The garden grows.
A time of peace and prosperity is ushered in. The garden is re-discovered. Renovation begins.
The cycle continues.
And still, the garden grows.

What, my friend, is the beauty that endures in your own life?

P.S. Jay got swept up in the history of the home and we have been reading about and discussing it ever since. His curiosity and research may result in a podcast about it all so stay tuned! In the meantime, here is a bit of a summary of what piqued his interest:

In the Winter of 1796, one year after the Bantry House Garden was created, “a formidable French Armada…sailed from France. Their purpose was to invade Ireland, put an end to British rule and establish an independent Irish republic. Almost 50 warships carried 15,000 soldiers to the Southwest of County Cork. Stormy chaos reigned and with ship-to-ship communication largely disrupted, the invasion floundered, the fleet eventually turning about for home. Ten ships were lost….. One of these, the frigate Surveillante, was too storm-damaged to make the return journey to France.”  –www.cork-guide


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