Doneraile Park & Gardens’ Majestic History Brought to Life with the Announcement of its Summer Guided Tours Series

Forget Downton Abbey, the place to visit this season for a taste of majesty, magnificence and grandeur is undoubtedly Doneraile Park & Gardens, one of Ireland’s most stunning estates, located on the banks of the Awbeg River in north Co Cork.

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Ballyhoura Country is thrilled to announce a series of very special guided tours of the OPW's Doneraile Park & Gardens, the majestic 17th century country estate. These beautiful tours will be held on selected Sundays throughout the 2022 season, and are filled with pageantry, history and storytelling; they will also grant exclusive access to the private Doneraile Estate Pleasure Gardens, Parterre, and Walled Gardens.

The tours are the result of a close collaboration between the OPW, Visit Ballyhoura, knowledgeable Doneraile Tour Guides, and several incredibly talented members of the Doneraile Drama Society Group, who will be narrating some of the Estate's history in period costumes, dressed as characters from the estate's history such as King Henry VIII, Edmund Spenser, Queen Elizabeth I, and Elizabeth St Leger, ‘The Lady Freemason’.

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“Doneraile Local Guides and Doneraile Drama Society have come together to tell the most curious history of the St Legers, their numerous connections to other landed families, their impact upon the landscape of Doneraile and their legacy," said Margaret O’Riordan, an OPW Tour guide for Doneraile Court. “We, the OPW, are honoured to be involved with these volunteer-led tours, which have laid the foundation for the Doneraile Court OPW guides to be able to share these wonderful stories with our visitors.”

They explain how it was the infamous King Henry VIII who brought Sir Anthony St Leger (grandfather to William St Leger, who built Doneraile Court in the 1720s and the first Viscount Doneraile) to Ireland in the 16th century.

Edmund Spenser, the 16th-century Elizabethan poet lived at Kilcolman Castle near Doneraile, and it was here that he penned The Faerie Queene, a celebration of Queen Elizabeth I. Meanwhile The Lady Freemason–daughter of William St Leger–tells of overhearing a masonic lodge meeting at Doneraile Court in the early 18th century and the consequences for her arising from this. What could she possibly have heard that was so dastardly?!

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“The interactions between the historical characters from The Doneraile Drama Society and the tour guides on the day are enthralling to watch, and bring about a superb pageantry and performance to the tours”, said Myra Ryall, a local Doneraile tour guide. “This ensures that all ages and interests are catered for. Although I’ve spent over 10 years giving tours, I still look forward to each and every one!”

One of the Doneraile Drama Society members involved in the Guided Tours is Andy Murphy, who plays the role of King Henry VIII. He said, “We were more than happy to get involved, and to bring to life the characters of King Henry VIII, Edmund Spenser, The Lady Freemason and Queen Elizabeth I. We feel that what we’re doing will really help to develop and enhance the tours”.

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Michael O’Sullivan is another of the local guides, and offers insight into some of the highlights of the Gardens you’ll discover on your visit. The tour explores the unique development of the Gardens between the 1630s and 1930s, and we start out at the great Spanish chestnut in the middle of the grand northern vista from the Court. Continuing to the north park, we see the horticultural interventions of many Viscounts Doneraile over three centuries–all in one location! Then we proceed onto the gardens and terraces of the 17th century adjacent to Doneraile Castle, whose designs are reflected by courtly garden fashion in England and France”.

Further stop-off points include the Pleasure Ground, the Lime Walk and expansive formal fish ponds, as well as the high-walled ornamental gardens to the south of the Court, which were significantly expanded in the early 19th century in expectation of a visit from King George IV following his coronation in 1821.

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Our June tour takes place on Sunday, 26th June at 2:30pm, starting from the main carpark near the playground. Tickets are €5 per person and tickets for all Sundays can be booked on EVENTBRITE.

Full Season Schedule:

  • Sun 26th June at 2:30pm
  • Sun 24th July at 2:30pm
  • Sun 21st August at 2:30pm
  • Sun 25th September at 2:30pm
  • Sun 9th October at 2:30pm

Doneraile Park: Some Historical Backgroundby local Tour Guide, Michael O’Sullivan

The walled demesne of Doneraile Park managed by the Office of Public Works in north County Cork extends to nearly 250ha on either side of the River Awbeg adjacent to Doneraile Estate village. It possesses a unique assemblage of 17th, 18th and 19th century garden spaces centred on the former site of Doneraile Castle and Doneraile Court as we know it today. The St. Legers from Kent took up residence here in the 1630s, and members of the family continued to reside at Doneraile Court until the 1960s at which time the property was taken over by the State.

The Duke of Buckingham made William St. Leger Lord High President of Munster. William established his presidential court in Doneraile in the mid-17th century. Inter-marriage with the O’Brien (Earls of Inchiquin) and the Boyle (Earls of Orrery) families ensured that this family cluster held sway over the Munster presidency until the position was considered no longer necessary in c. 1670. Extensive courtly garden terraces which extended from Doneraile Castle along the River Awbeg date from this time.

Major landscape extensions were subsequently commenced in the early 18th century by the fourth Viscount Doneraile (First Creation). These included grand vistas over water to the north, east and south of Doneraile Court. An early and long avenue over 1km in length crossing the River Awbeg dates from this time. Tree belts of oak and beech were also planted on the perimeter and park features such as the avenue and hunting bridges constructed.

The second and third Viscounts Doneraile (Second Creation) were noted horticulturalists and built large glasshouses and ornamental gardens to the south of the Court in the 19th century. Lady May Doneraile, wife of the fourth Viscount, kept a close correspondence with Sir William Hooker, director of Kew Gardens, London from whom she received many exotic and fashionable plants in the 1850s and 1860s. These large and expansive garden spaces, highly fashionable in their own time, have happily been preserved by virtue of benign neglect during the 20th century and a more recent and progressive restoration by successive government agencies.