Garnish Island (Ilnacullin, Garnish Island) is a beautiful island garden located in the sheltered harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, in Southwest Ireland, Ilnacullin (Garnish) is a small island of 15 hectares (37 acres) known to horticulturists and lovers of trees and shrubs all around the world as an island garden of great beauty.
The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the creative partnership, some seventy years ago, of Annan Bryce, then owner of the island and Harold Peto, architect and garden designer. The island was bequeathed to the Irish people in 1953, and was subsequently entrusted to the care of the Commissioners of Public Works.
Today, management of the island is in the hands of Dúchas, The Heritage Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands.The island is named Garnish (the near island) on official Ordanance Survey Maps and is widely known by that name.
The island is laid out in walks and areas as can be seen on the map of the garden.
The alternative name Ilnacullin, or Illaunacullin (island of holly), also has a long history in the locality, and appears on at least one early map; it may in fact be the older name for the island.
History of the Gardens
Ilnacullin, the ‘island of holly’ or Garnish Island was a barren rock covered with rough furze and heather, which was dominated by the British Army’s Martello tower when it was purchased by John Annan Bryce in from the War Office 1910. Bryce was a Belfast businessman and Scottish MP who drew up plans for a magnificent garden and house on the Island.
To help him execute his dream, Bryce commissioned Harold Peto to design a garden on the island. From 1911 to 1914 over one hundred men were engaged in moving soil to the island by boat, blasting rocks, planting trees, laying paths, as well as building a walled garden, a tall clock tower and a wonderful Italianate garden complete with casita, pool and pavilion.
Much of the early planting was damaged by inclement weather this problem was solved only when Murdo Mackenzie the outstanding Scottish gardener was put in charge of the garden in 1928. Mackenzie realized that to protect the exotic plants he would need to create a sheltered microclimate and he planted shelter belts of Scots and Monterey pine to take the brunt of the Atlantic winds and then proceeded to build up the splendid collection of rare and tender plants for which the island is now famous.
The Bryce family donated the Island to the state in 1953 and Mackenzie remained in charge and retired in 1971. His remarkable work at Ilnacullin stands as one of the great success stories of Irish horticulture.
Wildlife of the Island
Garnish Island and its surrounding waters play host to a wide variety of marine life. The cruise to Garnish will include a visit to Seal Island, a colony of wild harbour seals. From early in March the seals can be seen dancing through the waters of the sheltered bay, safer than the open sea. Basking amid the summer sunshine, perched precariously atop natures rockiest outcrop, these creatures command a presence of their own. This is the ideal location for the amateur and indeed professional photographer to capture these mammals in their natural glory.
The sheltered waters of Glengarriff are also home to a variety of wild birds including swans, herons, shags, sea gulls and waders.
In recent years a pair of Sea Eagles have chosen to nest on the island. Last year their the eagles chick fledged the nest. During our trips to the island we were able to witness the chick grow from being a chick in the nest to her first flight to learning to fend for herself and finding her first meal. You can view a live stream of the nest by clicking here.