Mount Usher Gardens, Ashford, Co. Wicklow

Caitriona Mc Weeney

Tel: 0404-49672

www.mountushergardens.ie

Open: all year 10am-6pm

Address: Ashford, Co. Wicklow, A67 VW22
Tel:
+353 (0)404 49672

E-mail: 
mountusher-gardens@avoca.com

Situated:
GPS: N53-00497 W006-06.403 el 18m
Ashford village, Exit 15/16 off main Dublin – Rosslare M11. 30km south of Dublin.

Open:
Mount Usher Gardens open daily all year: 10am – 5pm (Last admission 4pm) Please check for Winter closing time.

Admission:
Adults €8, Senior Citizens €7, Students €7,
Children 4 – 16 €4, under 4yrs FREE.
Groups (15 or more): Adults €7, Senior Citizens €6, Mixed Group €6.50
Guided Tours: €60.00 (Advance booking required). A Guided Tour takes approximately 90 minutes.

Facilities:
Avoca Cafe, Food Hall, Shopping Courtyard, Toilets, Parking, Wheelchair access (limited). No dogs and no picnics.

Guided Tours:
€60.00 (Advance booking required).

Best time to Visit:
Any time

Before we were allowed to visit Section 482 houses, due to Covid 19 restrictions, we were allowed to visit gardens. Accompanied by our friends Owenroe, Deirdre, Dario and Niamh, Stephen and I headed to Wicklow one sunny Sunday in May. We had wonderful weather for the day, as you can see from my photographs. Before entering the gardens, there are some shops and a cafe.

Mount Usher is open all year to visitors. There is a house, but that is not part of the Section 482 listing, unfortunately! It looks idyllic, set in its lush gardens. Mark Bence-Jones calls it a “simple double bow-fronted house,” [1] and the National Inventory tells us it was built in 1922, and that there is a long two-storey house built in the 1990s to the rear of the house. [2] The gardens cover 23 acres, along the Vartry River.

One enters through the gift shop, a branch of Avoca. Inside, there is a small museum which tells the story of the gardens and its creators. Everything looked so beautiful that we could not resist picking up a hand cream for Stephen’s mother.

The area was named after the Ussher family. John Ussher (1646-1745) is mentioned in The Peerage website as living in Mount Ussher, County Wicklow. His father William Ussher is listed as living in Portrane, Dublin and “Castle of Grange, County Wicklow.” John’s son Christopher, born around 1690, was Secretary of the Linen Board – the later occupants of Mount Ussher, or Mount Usher, as it is now spelled, the Walpoles, were also in the Linen trade. Christopher Ussher inherited land in Galway which he passed to his heirs, and in Ussher Memoirs, compiled by Reverend William Ball Wright in 1889, there is no further mention of Mount Ussher. [3]

The museum tells us that Edward Walpole (1798-1878), a successful Dublin businessman, enjoyed walking in Wicklow, and he stayed in a hotel on weekends to indulge his passion. The Walpole family was involved in linen manufacturing. Thomas Simmons started a linen business in Bride Street in Dublin in 1766, and through mergers and a marriage it grew into Walpole Brothers Limited by 1866. Coincidentally, in 1816 the business moved to Suffolk Street in Dublin and occupied what is now Avoca Shop and Cafe on that street. Mount Usher had originally been a “tuck mill” where local people brought their home spun and woven cloth to be finished. This may be how Edward Walpole came across this location. He took over the lease of Mount Usher in 1868 and began to develop his garden, with the help of his sons. Seven years later he transferred the land to his sons: Thomas, George, William White and Edward. William White and George also continued in the Linen business, and developed their shop into a Gentlemen’s Outfitters. Their younger brother Edward joined the business and expanded to London.

The Walpoles were Quakers. They came originally from the settlement in Mountrath, County Laois – the National Library of Ireland contains documents relating to the Walpoles and their business [4]. The Quakers in Ireland website tells us why Quakers were successful in business:

Why were Friends successful in this way? Modern business has become so competitive, and the profit motive so pervasive, that it is hard to imagine the strong influence their religious convictions exerted on them. They simply believed it was right to offer a good product for a fixed, and reasonable, price. They believed in honesty and integrity in all their dealings. A simple life-style, and not over-extending themselves financially, allowed them to build up their resources. Strict rules governing business methods for members meant that they were increasingly trusted with money, and some became bankers. Various laws, including those related to swearing oaths, prevented Friends from attending university and joining the professions for a couple of centuries, so they put their energies into business instead. Friends were good employers, and this led to a loyal workforce.

Also, and importantly, the structure of The Society of Friends from its earliest days, with a system of representatives from Meetings regularly visiting other Meetings, often in other parts of the country, created a network of relationships between like minded individuals and families. It was natural, therefore, that they would hear about, support, participate in and emulate each other’s ventures. [5]

The brothers acquired more land to add to their garden, adding weirs and bridges. Edward and George were influenced by William Robinson, who has been called “the father of English gardening.”

William Robinson (1838-1935) was born in Ireland. His first job was in Curraghmore, County Waterford. He progressed to become the foreman gardener in Ballykilcavan, County Laois, employed by Sir Hunt Johnson-Walsh. In 1862 Robinson found employment at the Royal Botanic Society’s garden at Regent’s Park in England. He resigned four years later in order to further his knowledge of gardening, and to write. He travelled in France and later more widely in Europe and the United States, and published books on horticulture. His most important work is The English Flower Garden (1883). [6] The Robinsonian style of gardening is to work with nature, as opposed to imposing order.

Walks and woods were added to the property as more land was acquired. The family also owned a house called Windsor Lodge in Monkstown in Dublin. Mount Usher passed to Edward Horace Walpole, the son of Edward Walpole (1837-1917) and Elizabeth Harvey Pim [perhaps his parents were fans of the writer, Horace, or Horatio, Walpole (1717-1797), who most famously wrote the Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto and who also embraced the Gothic style in his home, Strawberry Hill in southwest London – or perhaps they were related]. For over fifty years, Edward Horace enlarged and improved the garden, with the help of his head gardener, Charles Fox. Rare varieties of plants from China, Japan, the Himalayas, Chile, New Zealand and North America were added.

Edward Horace Walpole married Alice Dorothy Scanlan from Nottingham in 1912 in the Friends Meeting House (Quaker) in Nottingham. [7] His son Robert Basil Walpole sold Mount Usher.

In 1980 Madelaine Jay purchased the property, and she continued the garden following organic methods. The garden now covers twenty acres and has over 5000 plant species. It is now leased to Avoca.

Former gate lodge, now in use as a house, built in about 1905.

What a great discovery it is to find this amazing garden! I can’t wait to return.

In the meantime, we have been able to begin to visit houses again listed for the Revenue 482. We visited another Quaker home, that of the Fennells of Burtown, County Kildare. More on that soon!

[1] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988, Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16402510/mountusher-house-mountusher-ashford-co-wicklow

[3] https://archive.org/stream/usshermemoirsorg00wrig/usshermemoirsorg00wrig_djvu.txt

[4] http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000834470 and http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000829943

[5] https://quakers-in-ireland.ie/history/quaker-businesses/

[6] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[7] https://www.youwho.ie/walpole.html 

One thought on “Mount Usher Gardens, Ashford, Co. Wicklow

  1. Fabulous gardens so well kept, congratulations to all involved. Have been there many time spent all day looking around. Lovely shops and cafe as well on grounds. Highly recommended people to take a visit fab day out.

    Like

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