Garnish (Garinish) Island, the fabulous garden island, also known a Ilnacullin, snugly rests in Bantry Bay about a mile (11/2km) from Glengarriff pier. In Victorian times, the Glengarriff area was spoken of by travellers as "The Madeira of Ireland" - no mean compliment!
The development of Garnish Island into an island of
sub-tropical flora has made it the jewel of an already dazzling
countryside and a "must-visit" location for any tourist.
Between 1910 and 1913, Harold Pets laid out the island's gardens for the owner, John Annan Bryce, a native of Belfast. The design incorporated woodland pathways, a colonnaded Italian Garden, a Clock Tower and a Grecian Temple. Garnish already had a well-preserved Martello Tower, which was said to be the first of its kind to be built in Ireland. It is based on the design of a tower on Mortella Point in Corsica which the British had considerable difficulty in capturing in the late 1790's. (The title "Martello" is said to be a misspelling of the name of the location of their original model, Mortella Point).
A considerable amount of soil and peat was brought onto Garnish for the gardens and this, combined with the mild moist climatic conditions caused by the Gulf Stream in this most sheltered harbour, makes the island an ideal setting for the lush, subtropical plants that flourish here. These include exotic plants from around the world in an almost endless variety of shrub, tree and flower, providing a kaleidoscope of colour and an extraordinary variation of foliage, in an oasis of absolute tranquillity. George Bernard Shaw was so enraptured and stimulated by the serenity of the Glengarriff area and of Garnish Island in particular that he is said to have written much of "St. Joan" here.
The island is now in state ownership and is maintained by Duchas, The Heritage Service. It is open to visitors daily from 1st March to the 31st October. Access to the island is by small ferryboats or licensed sixty-seater water-buses. From the moment your ferryboat or water-bus moves away from the pier, on its one-mile voyage, the pressure of hectic modern life begins to evaporate; you sit back an inhale the fresh Atlantic breezes; you watch the seals sunbathing or
cavorting on the rocks as you float by; and you feast your eyes on the spectacular scenery of sea and rock and shore and surrounding hills as you glide over the waves to our island Eden. This is what real holidays are all about - rejuvenating body, mind and spirit.
A long time ago Thackeray admired the beauty of this harbour in these words: "were such a bay lying upon English shores it would be a world's wonder. Perhaps if it were on the Mediterranean or Baltic, English travellers would flock to it in hundreds".
Come and see for yourself.