Gardens and Heritage: Wicklow, Kildare & Co.

St Brigid's Cathedral and Round Tower, County Kildare
St Brigid's Cathedral and Round Tower, County Kildare

Wicklow, Kildare & Co. have been known to throw up a few surprises when it comes to history and horticulture. We explore this regal region

Whimsical Wicklow

Wicklow isn’t called the ‘Garden of Ireland’ for nothing. This is Ireland’s Garden HQ.

Take Kilruddery, for instance. Home to the Earls of Meath for almost 400 years, the vast Elizabethan Revival mansion shares a swathe of Wicklow’s finest landscape with a veritable explosion of beauty. Under the shadow of Wickow’s ever present mountains, the gardens – designed by the green-fingered legend, Bonet – boast original 17th, 18th, and 19th additions, a ‘Wilderness area’, an avenue of Ilex trees and two long ponds known to the initiated as ‘‘miroirs d’eaux’ or reflecting ponds.

Across the mountains, Powerscourt Gardens is a collection of grottos, cascades, terraces, fish ponds and, on a more sombre note, a pet cemetery while the Robinsonian celebrity, Mount Usher, is groaning under the weight of awards from both BBC’s Gardeners’ World magazine and Monty Don.

Impressed?

Hold on. Wicklow does history, too.

Deep in its secreted slice of valley, the monastic site at Glendalough, naturally, tops any Wicklow visitor’s ‘must see’ list. To stay ahead of the posse, dip off the beaten track and also enjoy the likes of the cliffside Black Castle or the serene silence of the Gothic/Cistercian/Romanesque mash-up that is Baltinglass Abbey all to yourself.

Garden a-go-go in Laois

To the Queen’s County of Laois now where Ballintubbert Garden describes itself as ‘A Garden in the making’. If this is what they call unfinished, the end product will knock our socks off. The Georgian house here has a rather star-studded history, home as it was to John Hurt and Sebastian Shaw, as well as poet Cecil Day-Lewis and his academy-award winning son, Daniel. What makes Ballintubbert different, its owners say, is “it is young, it is alive, aware of its shortcomings and of its triumphs, endlessly embracing change.”

We like the way they think.

Saints and Snowdrops in Carlow

Just try not to be curious about a cathedral named after a ‘St Laserian’. A vignette of religious life lived in terror of Viking raids, this Carlow cathedral is a true time-traveller with naves and chancels dating back to the 13th century and a font believed to hail from the 11th. Admission is gratis.

Altamont Gardens

Also free (currently at least) is Altamont Gardens. The wow-factor is strong here where an ivy-covered mansion stands guard over a collection of 18th century avenues, Irish Yew trees and, in spring, the most celebrated collection of snowdrops in Ireland.

A Magic Cloak in Kildare

Ask any Irish schoolchild (or Dingle/London-based author Felicty Hayes McCoy) and they will tell you, verbatim, the story of St Brigid. As the tale goes, Brigid begged the King of Leinster to donate land for her monastery. He declined, and Brigid adjusted her answer: she would only request the amount of land that she could over with her meagre cloak. Unfortunately for the king, Brigid’s cloak was magic (typical, isn’t it?) and spread across vast acres.

Today, St Brigid, Kildare’s patron Saint, is remembered by both a cathedral and a 12th century round tower located on the very ground where the saint is said to have founded a nunnery over 1,500 years ago.

Close by, the Georgian villa that is Burtown House anchors the orchard, meadow walk and more that make up the estate’s gardens.

Take tea in the café and think how you really must visit Dublin’s doorstep more often.

Guess what? There's more heady histories and gorgeous gardens on the Boyne Valley and the Viking Triangle. Race you...



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