It was not until I bought Jane Powers’ marvellous new book, ‘The Irish Garden’ (Frances Lincoln £40 – €50 approx) with beautiful photographs by Jonathan Hession, that I was even aware of the Talbot Botanic Garden. I had heard of Malahide Castle but didn’t really know where it was and it was not high on my list of must-see places. But one photo in the book, of an alpine house surrounded by rare trees, piqued my interest and I felt I had to visit as soon as possible so I went last week.
Malahide is north of Dublin, just 15km or so from the city centre and surprisingly close to the airport. It is a well-heeled suburb with a harbour and the grounds of Malahide Castle are a popular recreational area and, judging by the many coaches, the castle and gardens are popular too but I have a sneaking feeling that a lot of the appeal is the prescence of the Avoca shop and Cafe. For those of you not in the know, Avoca is a company that has its origins as a hand weaving company but is now better known for the quality of its edible offerings and its cafes serve food of exceptional quality at reasonable (but not cheap) prices. Anyway, when you arrive you find yourself in a modern, purpose-built centre that is designed to extract money from you. I did find it rather confusing to work out quite how to get into the garden but eventually worked it out and you can visit the castle and gardens for €12 or the garden only for €7. I was in a bit of a hurry so I just visited the garden.
If you are on a budget you can take a picnic and just look at the outside of the castle and pay nothing. Or you can hire a bike and ride into the village.
The garden is divided into two sections: the 2 hectare (5 acre) walled garden and the woodland garden area.
The Malahide Castle Demesne (pronounced domain) was the property of the Talbot Family since the 12th century and the castle dates from the 15th century but the garden as we see it today is the work of Milo Talbot, the 7th Baron who started creating it in 1950. He had connections with Tasmania and he collected rare plants from that part of the world as well as South America, Africa, India and Nepal. He erected greenhouses for the cultivation of his collections and kept meticulous records. The most spectacular of the greenhouses is the Victoria house which is actually a mashing together of several buildings rescued from a convent. Milo died in 1973. Three years later the Castle was sold to Dublin County Council but was then administered by the newly formed Fingal County Council and it was then that it slipped into a poor state. Now though, it is rejuvenated and is run by Shannon Heritage (who also administer the Cliffs of Moher where you are effectively steered off the road and into the car park and have money taken off you before you have had a chance to realise what is happening).
The €10.5 million restoration has obviously been a great success and the place is smart, enjoyable and the garden is an interesting place to visit. And being so close to the airport it is a visit not to be missed. You will need at least two hours to get round the gardens and more if you want to see the castle.