Powerscourt, I’d never heard of the name and only came across it by chance when I was researching a route to take from Dublin to Waterford. Now, if you simply hit the motorway you can be in Waterford in under 2 hours. The way I chose was more like 4 hours. As we travellers are wont to say, “Getting there is half the fun”. Still, I had to weigh up Lorraine’s stamina because I already knew that Powerscourt would involve walking.
I was shattered when I discovered that the gardens are rated at number 3 in the top ten in the world, according to no less an authority than National Geographic. It was time to rectify my ignorance and go for a visit.
We thought we’d had trouble the day before without using a true GPS; today was just as bad. I’d written down the route we wanted to take and handed it to Lorraine. Unfortunately, just as we got on the M50 out of town, she realized she’d lost the bit of paper. I further compounded the error by believing that I’d memorized enough to take us straight there. It was only half an hour away, how hard could it be?
By the time Lorraine had worked out where we were, I’d actually overshot all the turn offs, despite seeing a brown sign with the name Powerscourt written on it too late. The trouble is, in many places, vegetation has obscured some of the signs and I’m still waiting for the arrow. Now, with panic rapidly rising in the seat beside me, I take the next available turn off, spy a photogenic church and pull up to take a picture. Panic in the seat beside now escalates but I’m determined and go and grab a few shots before we’re on our way, this time with clearer instructions now that we’ve worked out “Here We Go”, the app we’re using.
It’s not that far away but we first come to a real charmer in a village called Enniskerry. It’s straight out of the “cute” manual and we decide that’s where we’ll have lunch after our visit. Powerscourt is just up the road and you travel through what can only be described as “gorgeous” countryside to get there. Travelling through the 250 year old beech trees lining the road is an absolute delight. It’s a huge estate, with two golf courses as well as accommodation in a mansion before you reach the carpark where we can immediately ascertain that we’re not the first to arrive.
Some places have a wonderful feel about them, this is one. In 1730, wishing to flaunt his wealth, as they did, the Earl of Powerscourt commissioned a German born architect to turn his then castle into a mansion. How ironic that the architect’s surname was “Castle”!
The gardens, so evocatively portrayed in many a picture, don’t disappoint. In 1844, at the age of 8, Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount of Powerscourt, inherited the title and the Powerscourt Estate, which comprised 200 km² (49,000 acres) of land in Ireland. When young Lord Powerscourt reached the age of 21, he embarked on an extensive renovation of the house and created the new gardens.
Even the story of the terraced Italianate section is worthy of inclusion. Apparently, the architect of them, Daniel Robertson, would hide in the dome at the top of the house when the sheriff’s officers came to arrest him because he was constantly in debt. Not only that but he suffered from gout and directed operations from a wheelbarrow, fortified by a bottle of sherry. When the sherry ran out, work stopped for the day.
That it took 12 years and 100 labourers to complete the task is no surprise, but that’s only a part. We skirt along the top of them towards the walled garden and pass the largest of the sculptures, that of Laocoon and his sons being strangled to death by serpents. Laocoon was a priest of Apollo in the city of Troy and he tried to warn the inhabitants not to take the wooden horse. However, Athena and Poseidon were favouring Greece and so sent the sea serpents to kill Laocoon, the act shown in the sculpture. The original, described by Pliny the Elder as a masterpiece from the sculptors of Rhodes, was unearthed in 1506 and immediately purchased by Pope Julius II and became the feature in the Vatican’s sculpture garden. I’d come across a replica in the Knights Palace at Rhodes many years ago and was so impressed I’ve never forgotten it.
Aeneas was one person who did heed Laocoon’s warning and he fled, later to found the city of Rome, from where the original work was purchased. The single piece of granite on which the Powerscourt copy stands took two weeks to move on rollers from Glencree, all the while supervised by Robertson who sat on top of it!
Inside the Walled Garden are some copies of famous bronze statues of ball throwers found at Herculaneum (one of the other places buried along with Pompeii). As we stroll through it’s obvious that spring and summer would be the preferred time to view these areas and we move down into the woods and past the pet cemetery that contains about 50 deceased animals of various kinds.
Immediately after you come to the picture postcard view of the estate beside Triton Lake. Looking across you see the life-sized winged horses done in zinc, as represented in the family coat of arms while in the middle of the lake is a fountain modelled on that of the Piazza Barberini in Rome. Beyond is the cascading water that emanates 25 metres from the back of the house and tumbles down the entire slope to the pond.
We move on to the Japanese Garden, the one that Lorraine has been enthused about from the moment she first knew they had one. At last she finds comfort in this exceptionally landscaped section, at this time of the year one of the crowning jewels. Its nooks and crannies are as intriguing as they are delightful and the autumn hues splashed seemingly at random offer colour for the soul to savour.
Next we climb further through the 1,000 acres to the famous tower, modelled on, wait for it, a pepper pot from the dining table; hence its name “Pepperpot Tower”. Lord Powerscourt was an avid fan of the scouting movement and used to survey the area from atop when the scouts had camps there. There are cannons as well, some from the Spanish Armada and the Battle of the Boyne.
Then we curve back to the mansion, past the ivy covered tea rooms, so tempting but we’ve already decided on Enniskerry. The Slazenger family bought the place in 1961 and fitted it out as a tourist destination that was opened in 1974. Tragically, on November 3rd a fire gutted the main rooms, leaving them a roofless shell. It wasn’t until 1997 that it was finally re-opened. We troll the shops inside the mansion; so tasteful but with a price tag to match; i.e. if you have to ask, you can’t afford it, but hunger overrides all other interests and we depart for Enniskerry.
It’s a popular little place, no doubt bursting at the seams at peak times and we settle into a nice restaurant with art-adorned wall and gaze out onto the streets that have been used many times as a backdrop for film and T.V.