Saturday, 10 September 2011

An afternoon in a regency garden

Marlay Park in the late summer sunshine this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Despite the warnings of approaching storms, the temperatures held a little above 20 all day, with blue skies and only the occasional quick showers of rain in south Co Dublin.

This weather is as good as we could expect as summer turns into autumn, but it is not going to last for long. And so, as the afternoon seemed to hold promise for another few hours, two of us headed off for a walk in Marlay Park on the edges of Rathfarnham.

Marlay Park extends to121 hectares (300 acres), and lies at the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. Once the property of the La Touche banking family, the late 18th-century house has been sensitively restored by the local authorities.

David La Touche was Governor of the newly-established Bank of Ireland when he built Marlay House around 1794. The first house here was built by Thomas Taylor and was known as ‘The Grange.’ The banker David La Touche III (1729-1817), who was the first governor of the newly established Bank of Ireland, acquired and extended the house in 1764, rebuilt it and renamed it after his wife Elizabeth, daughter of George Marlay, Bishop of Dromore (1745-1763).

The house is a fine example of Georgian architecture, has many elaborate features including decorative stucco plasterwork by Michael Stapleton.

They were married in 1761, and in the same year he was an elected an MP, holding his seat in the Irish Parliament for 40 years until the Act of Union. His political friends included the reformers Henry Flood and Henry Grattan, a first cousin of his mother-in-law. Of the five La Touches sitting in Parliament in 1800, only David Ill supported the Union, but Grattan forgave him, as he believed that his vote came from conviction, and had not been bought.

When David Charles La Touche died unmarried in 1872, his brother, Charles John Digges La Touche became the head of the Marlay La Touche family. At Oxford, Charles had known John Henry Newman, and in 1844 he caused consternation in the wider family when he became a Roman Catholic and moved to Tours in France.

Marlay Park was sold in 1864 to Robert Tedcastle, a well known Dublin coal merchant, whose family lived there until 1925 when Philip Love bought the house for £8,325. Love, a market gardener who was once Ireland’s largest tomato producers, was also a racehorse breeder whose famous horse Larkspur won the 1962 Epsom Derby.

Love lived here until 1972 when it was donated to the Dublin County Council, which developed it as a regional park. The park opened in 1975, and is now administered by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

The courtyard in Marlay Park, home to artists, small crafts and a Saturday market (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

By the time we arrived at Marlay Park this afternoon, the stall holders were packing up in the courtyard, which is home to a number of small craft industries and workshops, including weaving, glass cutting, bookbinding, furniture restoration, copper craft, pottery and embroidery. One of the original artists in residence was Evie Hone, whose stained-glass workshop was located in the library of Marlay House itself.

We went from the courtyard to Boland’s Coffee House in what was once the head gardener’s house for coffee. It was a delightful setting, with parents and young children lazing around and enjoying each other and the late afternoon sunshine.

Leaving our cups back in the coffee house, we lifted the latch of the back door and stepped into Regency Walled Gardens. The 4.5 acre walled gardens were restored in 2000 under the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme.

Although summer is coming to a close, the Regency-style ornamental garden still boasts an extensive display of colourful period plants, ranging from herbaceous borders to shrub beds. The orangery, arbour and water fountain combine with the other features to create a distinctive atmosphere.

‘The Lost Sailors,’ an exhibition by the sculptor Agnes Conway of sculpture, prints and bronzes, with an accompanying book, continues in The Orangery in Marlay Park from 11 to 18 September (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In the Orangery, we found ourselves accidentally at the opening of ‘The Lost Sailors,’ an exhibition by the sculptor Agnes Conway of sculpture, prints and bronzes, with an accompanying book. Her exhibition continues from 11 to 18 September.

From the exhibition in the Orangery we stepped from the Regency garden into the kitchen garden. With its restored bothies, this walled garden is set out in a traditional early 19th century style, with a fine collection of regency fruit trees and vegetables.

By the time we got back to the courtyard, the stalls had been cleared away; the park was closing, and it was time to go for dinner.

Walking through the Kitchen Garden in Marlay Park this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)