Liss Ard Estate and Gardens, Skibbereen

**UPDATE** This article was written a few years ago when we first discovered Liss Ard. There are now some important guidelines for visiting the gardens and to see which days the gardens are open to non-residents, please visit their facebook page here.

Years ago, the children and I stumbled upon the Liss Ard Gardens, just out of Skibbereen, quite by accident. I had always presumed that the gardens were private and had been delighted to find out that they were in fact open to the public. Now, every so often, we love to re-discover the joys of Liss Ard and each year I am reminded by my 8 year old by how she felt tricked walking all that way as a 3 year old toddler only to discover that the ‘Talking Stones’ don’t actually say anything!  The highlights (for us) are most definitely the bluebells in Spring and the Sky Garden Crater, but with acres of land with so many pathways, there really is something for everyone on a Liss Ard walk.  The gardens are open every day, all year, until 11pm.

One of the many ponds in Liss Ard Estate

The Sky Garden was designed by James Turrell,  the renowned American artist, who is best known for his works on the theme of ‘light’.  It consists of a huge crater with a stone structure (slab) at the bottom of it. The crater was created for Irish skies to be contemplated and appreciated by the spectator lying flat on their back on the stone slab at the bottom of the crater.

Enjoying the view from the slab in the Sky Garden

The dome effect that is created in the elliptical frame is an unforgettable experience and is highly recommended.  ((((((((( )))))))) due to damage to the slopes by climbing??? apointments now made?? The Gardens are free to explore but if you prefer to book a guided tour,especially of the Sky Garden,  there is a cost of €5 per person.   Bookings can be made by ringing 028-40000.

Bluebell lined trails in the Liss Ard woodlands in Spring.

The gardens have been designed by Veith Turske and intend to bring out the unique relationship with nature allowing you to become the centre of perception.  The garden has been created as a place of contemplation and of meditation and as their website states :

‘Liss Ard Gardens have a strong presence. These vast nature retreats are demanding, they want full attention.  Attention to detail and awareness. For they reveal their inner beauty to those who can be present as well. Nature has extremes, it has power: this can only be experienced while opening our senses to everything it has to offer.’

Liss Ard is truly a place to inspire, learn tranquillity, to draw from the past, to fire the imagination and to nourish the senses.  The designed pathways leading past numerous ponds, waterfalls and quiet spots, have been likened to the garden of Eden in some publications. Companies like Laura Ashley, Debenhams and K-Shoes have taken advantage of the beauty at Liss Ard to carry out photo shoots. Equally, the accommodation at Liss Ard has attracted a fair share of celebrities ranging from Van Morrision, Oasis, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Nick Cave –  all of whom have spent time at Liss Ard.

For more information visit their website here.

The Ewe Experience, Glengarriff

The Ewe Experience, which is Ireland’s only interactive and interpretive sculpture garden,  is a must-visit for both adults and kids alike.

Beautiful Sculptures at the Ewe Experience

Aside from begin the most interactive and stimulating art gallery in Ireland, The Ewe Experience also boasts the best location as it is situated outdoors in a woodland clearing on a river bank complete with cascading waterfall and woodland trails. The gallery is owned and lovingly created by a duet of talent in the form of writer Kurt Lyndorff and artist Sheena Wood. Using all sorts of interesting materials ranging from textiles, mosaics, ceramics, steel, copper, concrete wood, glass and mixed media, Sheena takes her inspiration from the many animals and birds that inhabit the river and woodland around her home.

Music Makng at the Ewe Experience

As The Ewe Experience is nestled within a 280 acre nature reserve which extends right up to the Kerry border on the Esk Mountain, it is a haven for animals such as wild deer, foxes, badgers stoats and mink. The river is alive with otters, brown trout and frogs whilst all around songbirds, dragonflies and butterflies abound. Upon arrival, you will be given a list of interesting things to find and to look for in the garden where there is literally a surprise in every crevice. There is a section where children can participate in interactive art by using an array of natural material such as sticks, stone and feathers to compile interesting features of their own. In another section, an interactive game of noughts and crosses can be had just beyond the enormous snail with its mirror mosaic trail.

Peeping at the creatures in the woods, Glengarriff

The Ewe gallery certainly deserves a standing ovation when it comes to instilling an appreciation of art in its many and varied forms to children and certainly breaks the mould of thinking that art is restricted to a coloured or framed page. Before leaving, make sure you have a got at partaking in the edible art section. Here, children can design their own ice-cream by adding an assortment of different toppings and making it look as delicious and individual as possible. There are picnic benches and and outdoor seating area overlooking a lovely stretch of the river. Here you will discover that the longer you sit – the more you see!

Ewe Experience

For more information visit their website here.

Bantry House and Gardens, Bantry

Bantry House is a warm and friendly family home owned and run by the Shelswell-White family.  It was built in 1700, and overlooks the waters of Bantry Bay and to the Caha Mountain range beyond. From the house, Bantry Bay looks like a private lake which in summer is dotted with sailboats.

Bantry House

The house is open to the public and self-guided tours of the 3 floors including the drawing rooms, dining rooms and library are available.  Complimentary information sheets are available at the house reception.  Guided tours are daily at 2pm included in admission prices or can be booked with the owners in advance for an extra fee.

Bantry House with view of Whiddy Island in the distance

Bantry House is very forward thinking in their approach and host a  number of stimulating cultural events throughout the year. The annual  West Cork Chamber Music Festival, a world renowned event, is hosted  by Bantry House each year.  A number of readings and gatherings for the West Cork Literary Festival are also held at Bantry House which makes a beautiful venue for a literary event. A wing of the house has been converted into guest accommodation of the highest standard. It is also possible to hire Bantry House for a private party or independent music events and concerts, civil weddings, corporate events or special birthday parties.

Bantry House and Gardens

Interesting History:

It is interesting to note that in 1920 during the civil war, the Bantry Hospital which was run by the nuns from the Convent of Mercy, was burnt to the ground. At that time, the then owner, Edward Leigh-White had passed away and his wife Arethusa generously offered Bantry House as a  temporary substitute hospital which offer was greatly appreciated. The nuns moved the patients in and a chapel was sanctified in the library. For the next five years, Bantry House served as a hospital for the local community.

Testing the cannon at Bantry House

Bantry House Gardens: Bantry House gardens, which extend to 45 acres, are home to many subtropical plants and shrubs which all thrive in the warm gulf-stream climate. Features in the gardens are a wonderful blend of both formal and informal creating a space of expansion and enjoyment. In our opinion the most amazing feature in the gardens has to be the ancient Wisteria Circle which circles a water fountain. There are always children kneeling at the waterside inspecting the water for frogs or tadpoles. Benches are available to sit and soak up the atmosphere or to simply rest before attempting the climb of the famed 100 steps.

At the foot of the famous flight of stone stairs

From the top of the steps:

There are stunning views over the house and gardens, across Bantry Bay and out to the Caha mountains which form the border of Co. Kerry.The garden, which is arranged over 7 terraces, has gone from creation by Richard White, the 2nd Earl of Bantry, through neglect (from the 1930s–1970s) to restoration which began in 1997. There are several loop walks within the grounds making them perfect for exploration with children.

Bantry House

There is a nominal fee or a once-off annual ticket purchase permitting re-entry for the entire season for sale at the main entrance.

For more information visit www.bantryhouse.

Bamboo Park, Glengarriff

The Bamboo Park in Glengarriff is a charming place to visit.  Families love it for two main reasons, it is safe and it has a policy of FREE entry to all children.  This makes it an affordable and popular destination especially for anyone travelling with lots of children.   It is also easy to find and well signposted on the N71 as you leave Glengarriff and head towards Bantry.

The Bamboo Park in Glengarriff has stunning colours during summer

The little romantic pathways take you past bamboo plantations and through exotic gardens where palm trees, ferns, hydrangea, fuschia, cosmos and woodlands thrive.   The pathways wind their way down from the entrance at the main road right down to the shoreline where there are many beautiful spots to stop and admire the view of Glengarriff Harbour.

Bamboo Park

The Bamboo Park is now open for the season from 9am-6pm.  Bring a picnic for a truly tropical experience or indulge yourself with homemade cakes and refreshments in the coffee shop.

Tranquil Sea views from Bamboo Park

Mystery:  On the waterfront are 13 stone pillars which are of unknown origin.  Some say they are ancient and their religious significance can only be guessed at.   However you decide to spend your time at the Bamboo Park, you will have a memorable day. For more information, follow Bamboo Park on facebook, here.

Glenview Gardens and Hobbit House, Enniskeane

Just when you think you have discovered every gem that West Cork has to offer, you will be pleasantly surprised to know that the Glenview Gardens are worth their weight in gold to visit. Children – and parents – will be enthralled by the garden which is just ‘bursting’ with personality. Owned and lovingly tended by David and Mary Tanner of Desert, Enniskeane, the gardens are a complete credit to them for originality and charm.

The Wishing Well at Glenview Gardens.

Bursting with colour and beautiful objects to discover, the gardens spread over 3 acres and include a fairy-house trail, Ireland’s only Hobbit House and a bird aviary full of exotic birds. It was so surreal on a warm summer afternoon to come across a beautiful wildflower meadow with the aroma of wood-smoke from the Hobbit’s fire drifting gently on the breeze.

Discovering Bilbo’s home

The Hobbit House is a joy to visit and even has a tiny Hobbit bed and bedroom in a little tunnel underground. The lounge has a cheerful fire and a table with the Hobbit’s tobacco pipes and tea-sets and it does not take a huge stretch of imagination to expect Bilbo Baggins himself to walk in at any minute.

Waking the Hobbit

Aside from the Hobbit house and the beautiful flowers which are a riot of colour, there is a beautiful sunken white garden, an Italianate canal, a bog garden, a woodland area as well as a Japanese, Chinese and Mediterranean garden. There is also a walled garden with seasonal vegetables.

Investigating the Fairy Trail

The Fairy Trail is accessed via a beautiful Pergola walk and there are so many fairy houses to discover (as well as two mean looking trolls).

The Bug House

We took about 500 photos of us having fun visiting the ponds which are dripping with Koi, having our biscuits in the Glenview Self Service Cafe (a clean, wonderful facility) and running on the huge circular lawn, but cant post them all on here. The best thing is to visit it when you are passing Enniskeane and savour the experience first hand.

Glenview Self Service tea room.

Directions: From Bandon. Follow the R856 Dunmanway road west for 10km. Turn left at Murragh. Continue for 1km until you reach a crossroad. Turn right and continue to the 4th house on the left.

From Clonakilty: Follow the N71 Bandon Road east and take the 2nd left hand turn 1km after Ballinascarthy. Continue for 7km to the 3rd crossroad. Turn left and continue to the 4th house on the left.

Admission: Adults €6 and children €3. Children under 5 go free. For further information and for opening times phone 023-8847230 or visit their website at