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October 17, 2004

Powerscourt

One of the nice things about Dublin is that you can get out of the city and into the countryside almost immediately. There are interesting road trips in each direction. Last Thursday, a sunny, crisp morning,

we drove south with Jesse to Enniskerry, DCP_1157.jpg
a little village at the tail end of one of Dublin’s city bus routes, where Powerscourt with its gorgeous gardens overlooks the valley.

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Great Sugar Loaf Mountain rises in the southeast, looking just like a pile of fresh sugar on the cutting board.


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A mare and her foal rest comfortably in the field on the side of the long drive in.

The Le Poer (hence, Power and Powerscourt, certainly not Poorcourt) family originally built a Norman castle on the ridge in 1300. Several Anglo-Irish owners followed, and eventually, in 1603, it landed in the willing hands of the Wingfield family. They had eighteenth century architect Cassells design the Palladian-style mansion it is today, incorporating the castle in its center.

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Classic fountains continuously spout, regardless of the weather, less impressively in the wind and rain.

The Wingfields kept the 64 square kilometer estate in the family until the 1950s – until just yesterday, really. The day before it was to be opened to the public in 1974, a fire gutted the entire interior. Enter the Slazenger family, who took it on and are still in the process of completing its restoration. They let out much of the mansion to retail shops (and for funeral receptions, I noted on a return trip yesterday), and they also open their gardens to the public for a not so nominal fee.


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There are the informal cutting gardens with a wide range of perennials.

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Hydrangea edge one wall of the formal rose garden.
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The roses are beleaguered at this time of year, but the impatiens inside the greenhouses is thriving. The gardens are the reason for the visit, and they are a lovely place to walk, year-round. DCP_1123.jpg
The grass is always green and closely clipped, and annuals are rotated through the ornamental beds at the foot of the Bray stone steps. DCP_1087.jpg

Leaves fall in autumn, but only a few species turn colors that remind me of home.
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The Japanese garden is particularly spectacular in the spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas bloom, but it is a peaceful refuge at any time of the year. DCP_1094.jpg


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A wide variety of lovely, aged trees dwarf us strollers.

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The de rigeur palm trees are huge, much taller than those that stick up in the little front gardens in Dublin proper. How strange it is to see what I think of as tropical plants in this northern clime.

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The enormous eucalyptus tree sheds layers of bark.


Mark and I have made quite a few trips to Powerscourt to share it with visitors in the past, but this trip with Jesse was our first of the year. The family’s pet cemetery continues to be one of my favorite spots These are not the Slazenger family’s pets, but the Wingfield family’s. Clearly animals were central in their hearts.
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It is an intimate spot on a western hillside where the select few are honored. One has to wonder how or, rather, if they actually buried not just the faithful dogs but also the horses and cows in these little plots.

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Some homages are quite poetic.


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Some headstones represent what we assume were the animal's most significant traits. This is the monument to the horse, Sting.
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I find Tommy's and Magic's headstone quite bittersweet. Tommy had ten lonely years without Magic.
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These days, especially, this horse's name hits home. The Irish, and much of Europe, resent Bush's actions in the Middle East and are much less enamoured of America and Americans.
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Who would have thunk it??!
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This twofer must be a pretty cosy spot.

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One headstone was covered in burlap and remained a mystery to us, despite Jesse's quick peek.


Yesterday I made a return trip to Powerscourt. As I was hiking back out of the estate to head down the hillside to the public bus stop in the village, I wandered off the path. Peeking through gates marked “Private,” I saw the family graveyard. It was too far off to be able to read any of the headstones. I could only wonder what heartfelt inscriptions lay there – or not. What would the Wingfields have said about their relatives? Is it easier to express feeling for one’s pets? Is it too difficult to sum up a person in one phrase? Someday I need to find out what the family headstones actually say. How surprised would we be to find, “Here lies Lady Louise, mother of 4, a good milker.”

Posted by gretchen at October 17, 2004 11:59 AM

Comments

George Constable sent me his comments in an e-mail, which begs to be shared...

Thank you for the vicarious trip to Powerscourt. I was a little worried about your Euro spelling of "enamoured" in the caption for the gravestone of BULLY/AMERICAN PONY/ DIED 6TH MAY 1915, and by your linking poor Bully to current attitudes toward America. One must remember that, just two years after that valiant pony passed away, the Yanks saved the Wingfields from having to change their name to Winkelmann or some such thing. Oh well. You're lucky not to be in America right now. The political battles are becoming nasty beyond anything I have ever seen. I am hiding out on the golf course, than which there is no finer refuge.

Posted by: Gretchen at October 18, 2004 09:22 PM