Garinish Island

Garinish Island

2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the acquisition of Garinish Island by John Annan Bryce, and, guided by the eminent English architect and garden designer, Harold Peto, the commencement of its development into a world-renowned island garden of rare beauty.

Once a coniferous shelter belts had been established, it was possible to implement Peto’s designs to create the distinctive gardens of Ilnacullin. After the death of Annan Bryce in 1923, the development of the gardens was continued by his widow, Violet. In 1932, their son, Rowland Bryce, took over this work, continuing to add interesting plants from many parts of the world. He was ably assisted by Murdo Mackenzie, an outstanding Scottish gardener. On the death of Rowland Bryce in 1953, the island was bequeathed to the Irish people and entrusted to the care of the Commissioners of Public Works. Murdo Mackenzie remained in charge of the garden when it passed into public ownership until his retirement in 1971.

Garinish Island is located in the sheltered harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay. Garinish (the near island) is the official name on Ordnance Survey Maps, but the alternative name, Ilnacullin (island of holly), may in fact be the older name for the island. The island is 15 hectares (37 acres) in size. In 1910, John Annan Bryce M.P.,at the behest of his wife, Violet, purchased Garinish Island from the British War Office who had built a Martello Tower on the island following the unsuccessful French Invasion of 1796.

Annan and Violet Bryce were convinced that with its sheltered situation and the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, a wide range of oriental and southern hemisphere plants could flourish in the almost subtropical climate of Glengarriff. Keenly interested in horticulture and architecture, the Bryces planned to build a mansion and lay out an extensive garden on the island. They commissioned the eminent English architect, Harold Peto, to design these. Plans for a mansion were prepared incorporating the Martello Tower, but it was never built. Instead an extensive cottage became the home of the Bryce family. Among their guests were the writers George Bernard Shaw, who stayed on the island in 1923 while writing his play, Saint Joan, and the poet, Æ (George Russell).

Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854 – 1933) was an advocate of the Italian style of architecture and garden design although the wild Robinsonian style of gardening dominated his epoch. However, Peto believed that more formal styles could co-exist with the Robinsonian style and ought not to be neglected. The Italian Garden is, perhaps, the outstanding feature of Garinish. Here, Peto’s genius, combined with Annan Bryce’s ideas and resources, resulted in the creation of a formal architectural garden which blends well with its natural setting. An Italian tea-house or “Casita” of Bath stone with colonnades, a formal pool, an Italian pavilion with columns of “Rosso Antico” of a beautiful red colour, a Grecian Temple, marble slabs from Carrara, the Island of Scyros and Connemara are just some of the architectural features.
Ilnacullin is renowned for its richness of plant form and colour, changing continuously with the seasons.

The vivid colours of Rhododendrons and Azaleas reach their peak during May and June, whilst the hundreds of cultivars of climbing plants, herbaceous perennials and choice shrubs dominate the midsummer period from June to August. Autumn colour, particularly on the magnificent heather bank, is rich during the usually mild autumn months of September and October.

Visiting Garinish Island
Garinish Island is open to the public from April to the end of October. Details of opening times and admission fees are available locally or at
Access for visitors with disabilities is limited.

Water buses ply from Glengarriff Pier ( and from the Blue Pool, ( Open ferry boats from Ellen’s Rock, 2 km from Glengarriff on the Castletownbere road, telephone 027-63110.

Celebrating the Anniversary
The Glengarriff Tourism and Development Association, in co-ordination with the Office of Public Works, are planning a series of events to celebrate the centenary. Please check this website regularly for further details.

News & Events

100 Years A-Growing: The “Visit Garinish Island” brochure is now online as download here: Garinish Island 100 brochure