Thursday, March 25, 2010

Devonshire Day 2010 in Lismore Castle - can Spring be this far behind?

Last year I posted about Devonshire Day 2009 and had some wonderful photos of the spring gardens in Lismore Castle. This year couldn't have been a greater contrast. If you link back to the 2009 post you'll see what I mean - we had a beautiful day for the garden tours and the gardens were a blaze of spring colour with daffodils and crocuses, magnolia, camellia and rhododendrons in full bloom. By contrast, this year was a monochrome of dull khaki green/brown all over the gardens, a legacy of the "Big Freeze" of the winter of 2009/10. We are still reeling from the impact of the cold, in that the gardens of Ireland (and I'm sure further afield) are about a month behind their normal growth, and many plants will have been killed by the sub-zero temperatures that are so unusual for our normally temperate climate.

The Gulf Stream seems to have abandoned us this past winter and the coldest temperatures on record were reached, practically tropical by some of your standards - like minus 15 degrees Centigrade in some places - but this was more than enough to wreak havoc with our sub-tropical palms and grasses.

In our own garden a nice palm in a pot has been destroyed, along with a couple of palms that can survive minus 5 degrees Centigrade but won't make it through the summer. Our banana plants may well make it as they are supposed to withstand cold (in the roots anyway, as the foliage and stalks die off every year at the first frost and it's lovely to see them grow as the summer kicks in - even if it's only nominal like 2009 "summer" - the monsoon rains certainly encouraged the banana to grow even if nothing that should have grown didn't - like our apples!)

So I will show you some of the photos of Devonshire Day - gardens, farmers' market, Pugin Room, the Yellow Jackets, Shayne & Jany and Sofia, and Paxton's greenhouse/vinery and you can see for yourself the difference between last year and now. The magnolia buds are out but tightly closed, and the camellias are likewise. No daffodils are yet open - not sure what the Welsh kids did on March 1st as on St. David's Day everyone is usually festooned in leeks and daffodils, as were our kids when we lived near Swansea over 20 years ago. This year must have been the year of the Leek!

For those new to this blog - Devonshire Day is an annual fundraiser for the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing to be held in Lismore in mid-June. The Pugin Room of Lismore Castle is the venue for a lovely Devonshire Cream Tea served up by the butlers of the owner, the Duke of Devonshire (who lives at his main gaff at Chatsworth in Derbyshire but whose son William, Lord Burlington, is now the main man in Lismore Castle. They have another place at Bolton Abbey.)

There are five groups of about sixty people who come for the tea and a guided tour of the spring gardens, hosted by the head gardener, Chris Tull. Chris is a mine of information on all things horticultural and arboreal, and he gives a talk on the history of the Pugin Room and the gardens with the Joseph Paxton greenhouse in the context of the castle today where it is an income-generating posh B&B - if you have to ask how much, you probably can't afford to stay here - but for those who ask, it's about €30-35,000 for a week for a party of 12. So now you know - get booking! There are talks on the history of Lismore and the Castle also from Bernard Leddy, the current Mayor of Lismore who's also the Chairman of Immrama, and Peter Dowd, the President of Immrama, both of whom have a store of knowledge of local history and the captive audience are generally captivated and enthralled by the wealth of information they get while they enjoy their cuppa and cream scones.

As my role in the proceedings is to don a Hi-Viz jacket and wield a First-Aid kit, and be the Health & Safety person who accompanies the groups on their walkabout, ready to minister to any who fall by the wayside, I get a lot of photo opportunities and also chat to a lot of people who come from amazingly far and wide for the day, which by now has attained notoriety and fame. Every session (at roughly hourly intervals) except the first (too early for some!) was fully booked and a number of punters were turned away disappointed as the castle couldn't accommodate more than around sixty per group. Hubby Jan as Immrama administrator is one of the main organisers of the event and does duty (also tastefully clad in yellow) at the gate.

The day marked the inaugural day of the Lismore Farmers' Market which will run each Sunday until November. It is held in the Castle Avenue before the Riding House, a spectacular venue for a Farmers' Market as it is really beautiful and has a very French feel to it, and the variety of stalls increases every year, from Ballycotton Fish to handcrafted cards and soaps to home-cooked produce, baked and jammed and grilled - delicious fast food in the Naked Lunch van which does Spicy Lamb burgers to die for - and terrific plants and shrubs from the gardening stalls. Many of these stall-holders do the rounds of the markets and can be found in Dungarvan Square on Thursdays, but Lismore can't be beaten for location!

Despite the late spring's impact on the gardens, the feedback from the day from the punters was incredibly positive; most people were delighted to have tea in the Pugin Room which is normally closed to the public, and the guided tours are beloved of the gardeners among the visitors. There are numerous sculptures in the gardens including one of Antony Gormley's ubiquitous body sculptures of himself.

The ticket includes entry to the Lismore Heritage Centre which houses the Robert Boyle Museum Room, he of Boyle's Law fame (no I don't quite get it but I gather he's called the Father of Modern Chemistry for it) and he has huge castle links as it was the Boyle-Cavendish union that resulted in the castle being in the Devonshire estate.

Another point of interest this year was the link with the Hollywood blockbuster "The Duchess" with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, about the life of Georgiana Spencer (yes, an ancestor of Lady Di Spencer - what convoluted webs the aristocracy weave!) who was a former Duchess of Devonshire, an inveterate gambler and unhappily married woman who bore more than a passing resemblance in beauty and lifestyle to her illustrious descendant.) Also, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey for ITV was filmed in the Castle; all the scenes of the Abbey were filmed here, and locals have great fun identifying the places shown and the extras from the town!

I hope I've given a sense of the day - even though I wrote about it last year, this is so different it warranted a post of its own. The castle features in a lot of the events of the town, as the owners are keen to be involved in the area and make it available as a community resource quite often, as they do for Immrama, and for various charity gigs, like the annual fashion show for West Waterford Hospice, and a classical music concert for the local primary school to be held in April. The launch of Immrama has been held here, as was the launch of the Waterford Festival of Food, and an annual Carol Concert series is held every December, another charity event.

The gardens and Castle Arts gallery are open until October and the main exhibition in the Gallery will be opening in April or May. I see Sotheby's Irish Sale Preview will happen again this year as it's a great chance to view some classy art in a wonderful setting, even if it'll never grace my own walls - I can enjoy the visit and hope the works will end up in an Irish gallery for everyone's enjoyment.


Stephanie V said...

The more I read the more I realize what I missed last year not having the time to take some day trips down your way. It's so hard to see it all - guess I'll have to come back. Soon.

Ann said...

I am looking forward to this years Immrama Festival. So enjoyed it last year.

Catherine said...

STEPHANIE V - you will have to revisit Ireland and definitely put Lismore on your must-see list next time! and call in for a cuppa tea and a bun!

ANN - Immrama will be another blast this year I am sure - have you seen the Immrama Blog?

You should follow it if you're not already doing so. It will post news on Immrama and also the Facebook group will keep updated. If you are around end April the launch will be happening - watch the blog or this space.

All the best, Catherine.

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, the whole country looks brown and dull although we have swathes of daffodills around the city, planted by our City Council a few years ago, they are announcing spring to us.
The farmers market in Lismore looks like a great Sunday afternoon out

Catherine said...

PEGGY - you are right the Sunday Farmers' Market in Lismore is very nice, in fact a day in Lismore with the Castle gardens, the Art Gallery and the Heritage Centre could fill a Sunday nicely.
as for flowers - our daffs are just starting to open now, and there are tulips open first which is unusual. About 6 weeks behind I think spring is that late. Hope you got on well at the Blog Awards, haven't seen any results yet.

Jewelz said...

Great pictures! Looks amazing.