Gardens at Portumna Castle which feature in the series.

New tv documentary on Ireland's historic gardens

Ireland’s Historic Gardens is a two-part documentary written and presented by author and historian Robert O’Byrne and produced and directed by David Hare.

The two, hour-long programmes examine the history of Ireland’s country house gardens over the last 400 years during which time garden design has reflected political and social changes taking place within the country. In the seventeenth century, for example, the decision to plant your garden in the French or Dutch style reflected your political allegiance.

The story begins at Lismore Castle, which has the oldest continuously cultivated garden in Ireland - before this, what we recognise as gardens could only be found in friaries, monasteries and convents, all of which were closed down or destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, started by Henry VIII in the mid-sixteenth century.

Fashions in garden design changed from Italian Renaissance style (Portumna Castle), to the rigid formality of the Baroque era, exemplified by straight lines and symmetry (Kilruddery, and the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham). This in turn gave way to sweeping Arcadian landscapes (Ballyfin), totally man-made, but designed to look natural.

The Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

In the nineteenth century, garden design moved back once more to formality and structure (Abbeyleix and Powerscourt) until, inevitably, a wilder, informal aesthetic became, and remains, popular (Mount Usher and Dereen). Follies, glasshouses, and walled gardens all have important parts to play in the evolution of Irish garden design.

The story of Ireland’s country house gardens is also the story of the men and women who commissioned, designed, and maintained them, including the Earl of Charlemont, generations of the Acton family, and William Robinson.

Robert O’Byrne visits seventeen significant and influential gardens and meets gardeners, historians and owners, each of whom adds insight and knowledge to the fascinating story of Ireland’s country house gardens.

Robert O'Byrne.

In the first programme of this two part documentary, historian  Robert O’Byrne visits Muckross  Abbey in Co Kerry, Lismore Castle in Co Waterford, Portumna Castle in Co Galway; and the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin.

The former vice-president of the Irish Georgian Society also introduces viewers to Kilruddery in Co Wicklow, and Dublin’s Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, as well as the Casino at Marino.

This first programme in the brand new two-part documentary concludes with a visit to two historic gardens in County Laois – Abbeyleix, and Ballyfin.

Gardens in Abbeyleix.

Ireland’s Historic Gardens is produced and directed by David Hare of Inproduction TV for RTE, in association with the Office of Public Works and the Irish Georgian Society.

The first programme will be broadcast this Sunday, September 26, at RTÉ ÓNE from 6.30-7.30pm.