Glen of the Birches
Glenveagh is the second largest national park in Ireland. The park covers 170 square kilometres of hillside above Glenveagh Castle on the shore of Lough Veagh (Loch Ghleann Bheatha), 20 km from Gweedore in County Donegal. The network of mainly informal gardens displays a multitude of exotic and delicate plants from as far afield as Chile, Madeira and Tasmania, all sheltered by windbreaks of pine trees and ornamental rhododendrons.
There is a Visitor Centre with displays explaining the Park along with an audio-visual show. The centre is accessible for visitors with disabilities.
The Castle is open daily from 1st February to 30th November, from 10:00hrs (10.00am) to 18:00hrs (6.00pm). Last admission is at 17.00hrs (5.00pm).
Image: Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh Castle was built in the years 1870 to 1873. The castle consists of a four storey rectangular keep.
The park itself consists of the estate of Glenveagh, created in 1857-9 by the purchase of several smaller holdings by John George Adair from County Laois. Adair incurred infamy throughout Donegal and Ireland by evicting some 244 tenants in the cold April of 1861. Most of the evictions took place at the edge of the estate, along the shore of Lough Gartan. Many of the dispossessed made their way to Australia while others found refuge with relatives or were forced into the Workhouse.
Adair built Glenveagh Castle, but died in 1885. His wife survived until 1921 and, unlike her husband, is remembered as a kind and generous person. The Castle was occupied by the IRA in 1922 during the War of Independence, but they evacuated it when the Free State Army approached. The building then served as an Army garrison for three years, after which the glen returned to its tranquil ways.
Following the death of Mrs Adair in 1921, Glenveagh fell into decline until its purchase in 1929 by Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter of Harvard. His stay was short, as he disappeared mysteriously from Inishbofin Island in 1933. The last private owner was Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia, USA, who bought the estate in 1937.
In 1975, the lands of Glenveagh were purchased by the State and, in 1981, Mr McIlhenny presented Glenveagh Castle and Gardens to the Irish nation, thereby adding greatly to the amenities of the National Park. Further land acquisitions have since been made to conserve areas of special natural value.
Glenveagh Park consists of nearly 17 hectares (nearly 41,000 acres) of mountains, lakes, glens and woods. The Scottish style castle is surrounded by one of the finest gardens in Ireland, which contrast with the rugged surroundings.
The park is home to one of the two large herds of red deer in Ireland and, although the deer are completely wild, a 40 km fence restricts the herd within Glenveagh. The deer spend most of the summer on the high ground, moving to lower sheltered areas for the winter or summer storms.
The most frequently encountered bird on the uplands is the Meadow Pipit, with Stonechats, Grouse, Ravens and occasional Peregrines and Merlins to be seen. A large area of woodland has been fenced off to allow young trees to survive the grazing deer and here woodland mosses and filmy ferns grow luxuriantly as in most western Irish woods. Woodland bird life includes Siskins, Treecreepers, Wood Warblers and Crossbills. The most exciting development in recent years has been the re-introduction of the Golden Eagle into the park.
Lough Barra and Cloghernagore Bog are great stretches of intact peatland, where Curlew and Dunlin breed in summer and small flocks of Greenland White-fronted Geese feed in winter.
Flora and fauna
The Park - the hills are covered mainly with purple moor grass and species of heather, but the yellow flowers of tormentil and bog asphodel and the little pink lousewort are easily found.
The Castle Gardens - First conceived more than a hundred years ago, the gardens boast a multitude of exotic plants whose luxuriance contrasts starkly with the surrounding austere mountains. Work on the gardens began under the direction of Mrs Adair and the subsequent efforts of Henry McIlhenny and his advisors, Jim Russell and Lanning Roper, have resulted in gardens of extraordinary charm. The 11 hectares are laid out as a network of mainly informal gardens, each with a different theme. The best time to see the gardens is in May/June for rhododendrons or in August, when the Walled Garden is at its most colourful. Pines and ponticum rhododendrons provide windbreaks to allow ornamental rhododendrons and delicate plants from as far afield as Chile, Madeira and Tasmania to survive and flourish, attesting to the careful nurture they have received.