“The gardens at Ennismore have always been a joy to those who are in it”
The gardens at Ennismore have always been a joy to those who are in it – not just when the Leycester family lived here from 1837 until 1950. Unfortunately little is known about the site before the house was built and the gardens started, although the large lime tree predates the rest of the gardens.
The Leycester family first lived at V osterburg, just down the road in Montenotte and built Ennismore, first called East View in order to see the river on which the ships of the Cork Steam Packet Company steamed as they returned to port. It was largely built of stone from the ruined Church next to Vosterburg.
William Wrixon Leycester, the first occupant of Ennismore was a great traveller and gardener but it was Helen Wrey Leycester who married William’s son Joseph who lovingly extended and developed the gardens during the first half of the twentieth century.
South West Ireland, with its mild climate, has many beautiful gardens and it must have been a joy and a challenge therefore to introduce semi-tropical and rare species which would find it hard to survive further north or east. Helen Leycester’s family were incurable travellers and therefore were able to bring back from various parts of the world, particulary Africa, all manner of rare and unusual plants and bulbs, some of which still survive. The large blue flowers rather like alliums, which I found in a large inert heap, longing to be split and replanted, are an example. I have since learned that they were brought back from Rhodesia during the 1920’s by Robert Leycester, one of Helen’s son who was an incurable traveller and a dedicated maker of gardens. As soon as he had made one garden, he moved in order to make another, mostly in South Africa. He also created a beautiful garden in Sneem in Kerry where the family had a holiday house.
The Lime garden is where Helen Leycester had a large variety of Acers & Yuccas planted which still survive. The Cornus still blooms after all the years and is probably the most admired shrub in the garden. The high magnolia still blooms despite suffering the effects of time.
The Ginkgo Biloba just to the south of the house, a prize specimen if ever there was one. It looks over the “enclosed” garden which used to be the vegetable garden. In the centre there is now a fountain and four large pillars which were part of the public lighting in one of the quays in Cork where the ships used to tie up. The little box hedges still survive after all the years. Perhaps this garden should be known as “the cloisters”? From here there used to be a gate into the lime garden. This has now been replaced by vertical bars, this allows a tempting glimpse to what lies beyond. The green house, of which only walls remain, housing rose beds, was where delicate annuals were started. It was heated by underground smouldering fires of coal or turf, and new plants brought from far flung places spent their winter there.
The drive as one approaches the house has still some of the many less common specimens of oak and beech including the Irish Oak. The Weeping Beech on the eastern perimeter path is now overcrowded and is obstructing the view of the harbour – now in hindsight one can see it deserved a more solitary setting. The same must be said of the Cedar of Lebannon not far from the weeping beech – cedars do grow faster than expected.
I remember well the morning I discovered part of the original boundary wall. Every stone put in place and made to fit however crudely, put there by people who worked and wrote their signature on the landscape of Ennismore. I stood there for what seemed a long time and thought about the men who worked here long before my time. Like me fein they watched the sun rise and set, heard the dawn chorus each passing Spring and maybe worked under the beautiful lime tree in the lime garden. It is a
pleasure for me, now, to know that the gardens of Ennismore continue to please as I they did during the period when the Leycester family lived here: long may it continue. ‘
(Tom Casey OP)
One of the attractive features of the grounds is a beautiful narrow strip of woodland which covers the entire perimeter of the land and is often referred to as the mile walk.
All who enter there are invited to saunter and savour God’s calming presence in the beauty of nature. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Ennismore Retreat Centre
Montenotte, Cork, Ireland