For generations, it has been a popular spot for a picnic, a walk or a swim; the story of Galway's Coole Park goes back as far as 1768! Read on to find out more...
Robert Gregory bought about 600 acres of land at Coole on his return to Ireland following service with the East India Company. He built a house, walled his estate and began a tree nursery. Future generations of the Gregory family continued planting trees from all over the world with some success. During the 19th century, more land was acquired and by the 1850s it amounted to around 15,000 acres! We are still enjoying these wonderful woods to this day.
One of Robert’s sons, William, became Under Secretary for Ireland in 1812 and his grandson, William Henry inherited Coole after his father’s death. Later, he became Governor of Ceylon and received a Knighthood. In the 1850s he added to the tree collections at Coole by planting a pinetum of exotic conifers from the Americas. Many died on the limestone soil but some survived and flourished and can still be seen today.
We have all come across and enjoyed the work of WB Yeats, and the tragic death of William and Lady Gregory’s only child, Robert, who was a pilot in World War I, inspired the poet W B Yeats to write works which included "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death". The walled garden contains an autograph tree, a copper beech that is engraved with initials of many of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival who were personal friends of Lady Gregory including Yeats, Edward Martyn, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge and Seán O'Casey.
Lady Gregory sold the estate to the Irish state in 1927, but retained life tenancy. She died in 1932 and the furnishings were soon auctioned off. By the 1960s, unfortunately the state had allowed the house to fall into a ruin. According to the National Archives, the building was actively demolished by the state in 1941. Today, all that remains is the plinth on which it stood. The magic of Coole which inspired so many can still be experienced even though the house no longer stands, Lady Gregory’s legacy of writings and tree plantings survived.
From its purchase by the Irish State in 1927 until 1987, Coole Park was managed by the Forest Service. During this time, the adjacent Garryland Wood was acquired. Most of the land was planted, generally with fast-growing exotic tree species. Coole was opened to the public for amenity use in the late 60’s.
Since 1987, Coole-Garryland Nature Reserve has been managed by the National Parks & Wildlife Service for wildlife conservation and public amenity. During this time, the old stables and outbuildings of the Coole Estate were restored and converted to a Visitor Centre with tea rooms which opened in 1992.
You can visit Coole Park for free. Find out more here.
Photos by @luisteix