Garnish Island contains beautiful gardens full of exotic and subtropical plants.
It is a small island covering only 37 acres and is situated in Glengarriff, which is a small harbour in County Cork.
The island’s official name is Ilnacullin, which translates to ‘island of Holly’ but locals nicknamed it Garnish Island, meaning the ‘near island’.
Thousands of tourists visit every year to see the magnificent gardens and architecture.
Island boasts rare plants
There are several species of plant on the island that you would not expect to see in a country that lies so far north of the equator.
The island benefits from warmth that comes up through the Gulf Stream. There is also a pine shelter belt which gives it a climate that creates a suitable habitat for exotic sub-tropical plants as well as more native Irish plants. It is extremely rare to see such a collection of plants living side by side.
This mixture allows for some beautiful scenery and colourful gardens. In the summer, the vibrant colours of the gardens make them a wonderful place for walking and relaxing. The colours within the island change along with the seasons.
The Italian Garden with a touch of Greece and Japan
Garnish Island is most famous for its Italian Gardens. The gardens feature a fabulous selection of flowers and plants as well as impressive architecture.
The plants in the garden include native Irish plants along with plants from tropical climates and as far away as South America and Asia. The collection of flowers is a very rare and eclectic mix and makes the garden an extremely beautiful and peaceful place to visit.
The buildings you can see on the island include and Italian and Grecian temples, the clock tower and a Martello tower.
The garden also has a bit of a Japanese theme and feel. There are miniature trees that are similar to Bonsai trees and some of the architecture seems to have been influenced by Japanese buildings of similar purpose.
Impressive architecture and wonderful views
There is a Martello tower on the island that dates back to the Napoleonic wars. Martello towers are defensive forts that were built all over the British empire around that time.
The tower on Garnish Island is in a straight cylindrical shape rather than being wider at the base. This is unusual for a Martello tower and more in keeping with other towers in County Cork at the time.
The tower has been restored and tourists are able to go up to the battlements and see the fantastic views.
History of the garden
The garden was designed by English architect and garden designer, Harold Pato. Pato was commissioned to create a beautiful garden by Annan Bryce who bought the island from the British War Office in 1910.
When Bryce’s son, Roland, died in 1953 he left the island to the Irish nation. It is now maintained by the Office of Public Works.
Of course it wouldn’t be a true Irish landmark without some mystical legend attached to it, and it is said that if you dip your fingers into the clear blue sea surrounding the harbour, you will be destined to return. Although perhaps on this occasion it has more to do with the beauty of the garden than any supernatural forces at work.
How to get to the island
There are ferries going across to the island every half an hour during the holiday season which runs from 1st April to 31st October.
Most ferries will also take you past the seal colony which is on nearby Seal Island. On a good day you can see the seals mingling with each other and laying on the rocks sunbathing.
When you are on the ferry you will be able to see the fabulous view of the harbour and coastline from the water. The water is very calm because the harbour is so well sheltered.
Be aware that there is a charge to get onto the island which is not included in the charge to board most ferries.