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Free Days Out In Ireland

Days out to country houses with fabulous gardens is always a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon, particularly if the weather is good. The cost can add up though. If you don’t mind going on a day when it might be busier than other days, going to OPW (Office of Public Works) heritage sites on the first Wednesday of any month is completely free.

Here’s some ideas for places to visit on Wednesday 6th August. Do bear in mind that tickets are sold on a first come first served basis so it is best to try and arrive early to avoid any chances of disappointment. Some only have disability access on the first floor but full information is available on all of the links so do check them out beforehand.

The Botanic Gardens in Dublin are going to be fabulous if the weather stays nice. It is noted for its fine plant collections holding over 15,000 plant species and cultivars from a variety of habitats from all around the world. Famous for its exquisitely restored and planted glasshouses, you can enjoy such features as the Herbaceous borders, rose garden, the alpine yard, the pond area, rock garden and arboretum. Conservation plays an important role in the life of the botanic garden and Glasnevin is home to over 300 endangered plant species from around the world including 6 species, which are already extinct in the wild. 

Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe, covering some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s emergence as a modern nation from 1780s to the 1920s. Attractions include a major exhibition detailing the political and penal history of the prison and its restoration. The tour of the prison includes an audio-visual show.  They often have temporary exhibitions there too – plenty there for at least three hours. 

Parke’s Castle in Donegal looks impressive. It is a restored plantation castle of the early 17th century, picturesquely situated on the shores of Lough Gill, once the home of Robert Parke and his family. The Courtyard grounds contain evidence of an earlier 16th century Tower House structure once owned by Sir Brian O’Rourke who subsequently was executed at Tyburn, London in 1591. I have yet to visit but it is on the ‘bucket list’. 

Portumna Castle and Gardens in the West is located on the shores of Lough Derg. It was burnt in 1826, but the Castle is still an imposing example of Irish architecture of the early 17th Century. Built before 1618 by Richard de Burgo, 4th Earl of Clanricarde, the castle became the main seat of the de Burgo family for over 200 years.

 Following the fire and the ravages of time, the castle degenerated into a roofless shell. However, since 1968, the Office of Public Works re-roofed the building and based on extensive archaeological and historical research, other major conservation and partial restoration works continue to be carried out by a team of skilled craftsmen.

The imposing façade of the castle faces north and is approached by a long avenue and formal gardens. The dramatic approach has three formal enclosures which contain geometric and regular plantings, an old shrub rose garden and a walled kitchen garden, all combining to re-create a sense of the original 17th century setting. A fabulous place to spend an afternoon.

Patrick Pearse is best known for being the leader of the 1916 Rising. His once summer cottage, also located in the West,  has now been restored and is stunning as it overlooks the  lakes and mountains of Connemara,   The interior, although burned during the War of Independence, has been reconstructed and contains an exhibition.

Fota in Cork may be best known now for its animals but the Fota Arboretum is an OPW location that is also free on those frist Wednesdays. It contains an extensive collection of trees and shrubs extending over an area of approx. 11 hectares (27 acres) and includes features such as ornamental pond, Italian and walled gardens. The collection includes many tender plants that could not be grown at inland locations with many examples of exotic plants from the southern hemisphere. The Gardens at Fota were laid out by James Hugh Smith-Barry in the first half of the 19th century.

Kilkenny Castle is well worth a visit and after looking around the Castle and the grounds, if you have the stamina, you could walk down the beautiful streets to do some shopping. Kilkenny Design Centre is just across the road from the Castle and has a lovely restaurant too.

Kilkenny Castle is 12th century castle remodelled in Victorian times and set in extensive parklands which was the principal seat of the Butler family, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde.  Due to major restoration works, the central block now includes a library, drawing room, and bedrooms decorated in 1830’s splendour, as well as the beautiful Long Gallery.  A suite of former servant’s rooms is the Butler Art Gallery, which mounts frequently changing exhibitions of contemporary art.  The Parade Tower is the Castle’s conference venue.

We visited Trim Castle in Co. Meath last year with the children and we all thoroughly enjoyed the tour, the walk by the river and the general feeling of exploration. Trim Castle is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, it was constructed over a thirty-year period by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter. Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath by King Henry II in 1172 in an attempt to curb the expansionist policies of Richard de Clare, (Strongbow).  Construction of the massive three storied Keep, the central stronghold of the castle, was begun c. 1176 on the site of an earlier wooden fortress. This massive twenty-sided tower, which is cruciform in shape, was protected by a ditch, curtain wall and moat. 

Have you visited many of the above as yet? Which would be your favourite? Which one will you visit on Wednesday 6th August?

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