Sunday, May 9, 2010

Powerscourt House and Gardens

Click photo to enlarge.

Powerscourt is one of the great country houses of Ireland, located just 14 miles south of Dublin in the Wicklow Mountain region. Even the avenue leading to the Palladian great house echoes the magnificence of the whole estate, being a mile long and lined with 2,000 beech trees. The 47 acres of gardens are remarkable for their grandeur of scale, striking design and views of Sugar Loaf mountain. Built around the shell of an earlier castle, the Palladian country house we see today was built in the early 1700s by Englishman Richard Wingfield (1697-1751), a direct ancestor of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.

Tragically, the house was gutted by fire in 1974, leaving only the exterior walls standing. At the time of the fire the house contained some of the finest 18th-century interiors in Ireland. Today an on-site exhibit brings to life the rich history of the estate, and the double height Georgian ballroom has been restored to host weddings and other events. The elaborate gardens attract thousands of visitors annually. The Terrace Café serves dishes from the Avoca Cookbook, and shops offer Irish crafts, clothing and furnishings.

We will visit Powerscourt on Wednesday, June 23, on a coach tour that includes the scenic coast southeast of Dublin and a portion of the Wicklow mountains on the return to Dublin (coach tour details at end of post).

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is the great-granddaughter of Mervyn Wingfield (1880-1947), who in 1904 became the eighth Viscount Powerscourt of Powerscourt House. This relation is through her mother’s side of the family. Ms. Ferguson, however, has far more important bloodlines on her father’s side, being a descendant of both the royal Stuart and Tudor houses, most notably as a direct descendant of King Charles II of England. Charles II was a tolerant Prostestant (married to a Catholic), who chose to convert to Catholicism on his deathbed, having summoned a priest to his palace.

Sarah Ferguson, who intends to be buried here next to her grandmother, was married to England’s Prince Andrew for ten years, 1986-1996. Her children, Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Eugenie of York, are fifth and sixth in line of succession to the British throne.

June 23 coach tour details:

We’ll tour Dublin's beautiful south-east coast from the comfort of a double-decker touring bus. We travel along the great sweep of Dublin Bay, from Dun Laoghaire's elegant promenade and yacht-filled harbour past a Martello Tower (1804) at Sandycove, admiring magnificent sea views. James Joyce, who lived in the tower briefly, made it famous as the setting for the opening of his novel Ulysses. Since 1961 the tower has housed the James Joyce Museum. Our last glimpse of the coast is Dalkey, an attractive village whose charming villas give it a Mediterranean feel, and the holiday resort town of Bray.

Photo below: Sandycove

Turning inland, our tour climbs into the beautiful Wicklow Mountains and continues through the enchanting Victorian village of Enniskerry with its landmark clock tower (1843), a monument to the Wingfield family, owners of nearby Powerscourt House (1730) and gardens. This estate, in its spectacular setting, is among the finest European country houses, with gardens that attract thousands of visitors annually. Terraces south of the manor house afford sweeping views of the Great Sugar Loaf mountain. An on-site café serves up amazing pies, cakes and salads. Powerscourt is the ancestral home of the Wingfield (maternal) family of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. The duchess intends to be buried here, next to her beloved grandmother.

Before returning to Dublin the tour passes northwest through the dramatic geographical fault known as The Scalp, a wild, steep and narrow boulder-strewn ravine formed by glaciers during the last Ice Age, and the ever-changing dramatic scenery of the Wicklow mountains.