Enjoy a visit to Glenveagh National Park in Northern Ireland

Glenveagh CastleOne thing Ireland has no shortage of is castles.  These wonderful old structures are scattered across the countryside and make for interesting sightseeing as you travel. Imagine our delight to discover a well-maintained castle and estate, now Glenveagh National Park, in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains in northwest County Donegal.

John George Adair made his fortune ranching in the Palo Duro region of the Texas panhandle. But he never forgot his Irish homeland and the glorious mountains and lakes he first saw at Glenveagh in 1857. After he married in 1867, he built a castle inspired by Balmoral Castle, Queen Victoria’s Scottish summer home, on the property.

My husband Larry and I stopped first at the Visitor Center, where we viewed a brief film outlining history of the park, castle, and gardens. Then Mary, our guide, showed us around the 11 bedrooms, living and dining rooms, and kitchen (still used today to make items sold in the tea room– yummy desserts, paninis, quiches, soups, salads, rolls).

Castle turrets were made of thick granite, local stone that proved very hard to carve, so the results are rather rugged-looking. Red deer were prominent throughout the estate, and the “leaping deer” motif is central to the castle’s décor (used as a china pattern and in many paintings on the walls).

When Adair purchased the 40,000 acre estate, it was open land devoid of trees and greenery. Now pine trees and extensive gardens cover the landscape.  Colorful blooms and foliage soften the stark lines and gray roughness of the castle’s stone exterior.

Glenveagh castleAdair died in 1885 in America, but his widow continued to improve the grounds. She entertained local residents and provided employment for locals. The estate was perfect for deer hunting, a popular pastime for those following a relaxed pace of life. During World War I, Belgian refugees found a welcome at the estate.

Arthur Kingsley Porter bought the castle in the 1920s; then American university professor Henry McIlhenny, who was interested in Irish architecture, bought the property in 1937. He was instrumental in restoring the castle and grounds. Bright, red wallpaper with a bold design and cloth wall coverings were installed to hide imperfections.  Shell designs on plaster walls, deer heads, wildlife paintings, furniture, and accessories are positioned  just as when McIlhenny lived there. Fresh flowers from surrounding gardens fill 72 vases in the castle every day.

McIlhenny developed acres of formal gardens with paths wandering through woodland areas. The gardens were used to grow heritage plants as a means of preservation, and thorough botanic records were kept.  On the day of our visit the sun came out (after the usual rain) making for a glorious afternoon, perfect for strolling through the lush landscape.  Purple, pink, white, and yellow blossoms filled spaces from ankles to high above our heads. Open meadows led to a lovely lake. During our al fresco lunch at the Glenveagh Castle Restaurant, two accordion players entertained guests with Irish tunes.

McIlhenny sold the property, including the castle and gardens, to the state as a national park in 1975; it opened to the public in 1994.  www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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