An irish spring

Exploring ‘THE PALE’

Sunday 5 - Friday 10 May 2024 (6 Days)



Introduction to Irish history & the seminal role of Dublin from Norman times onwards

Georgian country houses include Castletown & a ‘connoisseurs’ tour of Russborough

Private visit to Birr Castle & its wonderful gardens hosted by the Countess of Rosse

Discover some of Ireland’s remarkable Spring gardens famed for their rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias & bulbs

We explore the ‘Garden of Ireland’ in Co Wicklow, to include Kilmacurragh, Mount Usher, Powerscourt, Jimi Blake’s Hunting Brook & June Blake’s Tinode

5 nights in comfortable 4* Barberstown Castle in Co Kildare

Tour Overview

Ireland has a complicated history: Celts, Christians, Vikings, Normans, Tudors and many others besides have all crossed the Irish Sea to make their home in this remote corner of Europe. Founded by Viking explorers, Dublin has been the centre of administration since Norman times. Protected from attack by the ‘unruly Irish’ through a series of muscular castles strung out across the adjacent countryside, this is the area known as ‘the English Pale’ where the native Irish were not welcome. It is the central role played by this area in the evolution of historic and modern Ireland that will be one major focus of our tour, seen through its wonderful architecture.

Ireland has also been particularly blessed by Mother Nature – the fertile soil, mild climate and generous rainfall has allowed Irish horticulture to put down firm roots. As a noted writer on Irish Gardens, Patrick Bowe, once put it “Irish gardens, like Irish people, are a little wild. It’s the moisture in the air.” This fecundity, aided by the warmth provided by the Gulf Stream, has helped create some of the most exciting spring gardens to be found in these islands, the complimentary focus of our itinerary.

We shall spend time in and around Dublin exploring its history and architectural heritage from the Norman occupation to the glory days of the Georgians. We plan to include a visit to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells exhibition and to visit the National Gallery. We shall also visit two of the most important country houses in Ireland - Castletown, the largest and earliest Palladian country house; and Russborough, with its renowned art collection, set in a ‘Claudian’ landscape. Our private visit to Birr Castle, the home of the Earl and Countess of Rosse, will fuse history, architecture and gardening in unique fashion.

Spring in Ireland is not just about seeing green shoots emerge, it is the abundant display of blossom provided by the magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas and other flowering trees and shrubs which make this time of year so special for garden visitors. Indeed, Co Wicklow, often described as ‘the garden of Ireland’ has some of the best Spring gardens in the country. We shall explore Mount Usher, the finest landscape garden in the ‘natural’ style of William Robinson (who was Irish); Powerscourt, with its magical setting and wonderful trees; and Kilmacurragh, the recently restored ‘sleeping beauty’ of Irish gardens, famous for its flowering trees and shrubs. Different in scale, smaller gardens will not be neglected and two of the best are a ‘must see’ experience: Jimi Blake’s Hunting Brook set on an atmospheric hillside full of rare and unusual plants; and the nearby Tinode, June Blake’s masterpiece of sensitive design and outstanding planting schemes.

We stay for five nights at Barberstown Castle, a good four-star country house hotel. The original castle, a defensive tower, was extended several times to create the elegant house of today. It is set amidst quiet countryside, a short drive from Dublin.

Please note that some of the gardens we shall visit include rough and uneven terrain and so you should be reasonably fit for this tour.

Day by day

Day 1: Sunday 5 May
We fly from Heathrow to Dublin, arriving early afternoon, continuing to the city centre. There will be some free time for lunch (not included) after which we have an Introduction to Dublin via a bus tour. We continue to 4* Barberstown Castle, near Maynooth in Co Kildare for a five-night stay. Later that evening we have dinner at the hotel – wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
Day 2: Monday 6 May
We leave for Dublin and begin with a visit to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells exhibition. ‘Trinity’ was founded by Queen Elizabeth I and the college is grouped round a series of quadrangles with some impressive buildings from over three centuries. Walking through College Park, the National Gallery of Ireland is nearby and we have a guided tour of the highlights of the collection. For its size, it ‘punches above its weight’ with masterpieces by Caravaggio and Vermeer. We have some free time for lunch (not included) after which we return to Co Kildare to visit Castletown House. This is the largest Palladian style country house in Ireland, recently restored to its Georgian splendour, with wonderful Irish furniture and decorative arts from the original Conolly family collections. We continue to Barberstown where later that evening we have dinner.
Day 3: Tuesday 7 May
Co Wicklow is often described as ‘the garden of Ireland’ and this will be the first of several visits exploring some of its remarkable gardens. Kilmacurragh was the home of the Acton family who built the original house (now a ruin), later generations of whom created a garden of exceptional interest. Sold some decades ago, its horticultural importance was realised by Dublin’s National Botanic Garden who have initiated a restoration of imagination. This has been masterminded by the head gardener, Seamus O’Brien, and we shall have a tour of the gardens with its important collection of flowering trees and shrubs. We continue to nearby Powerscourt, one of the finest landscape gardens in Ireland and where recently the Slazenger family have begun a programme of restoration and replanting. We have free time for lunch on arrival (not included) followed by a guided tour of the landscape after which we return to Barberstown and dinner will be in the hotel.
Day 4: Wednesday 8 May
Today we journey ‘beyond the Pale’ to Birr Castle, once the stronghold of the O’Carrolls of Ely and now the seat of the Parsons, Earls of Rosse, who have lived here since the early 17th century. Hosted by Lord and Lady Rosse, we shall explore the marvellous parkland and walled gardens before we have a private lunch in the castle, which has a remarkable family collection, including many connected with the Messel family from Nymans – Lord Rosse’s mother was Anne Messel, sister of the noted designer, Oliver. We return to our hotel and a free evening.
Day 5: Thursday 9 May
This morning we have a ‘connoisseurs’ tour of Russborough House with its stellar collection of art works, set within a landscape which could have come straight from a painting by Claude. After lunch in the house, we drive the short distance to visit the adjacent gardens of brother and sister, Jimi and June Blake, without doubt two of Ireland’s most innovative younger gardeners. Jimi’s garden, Hunting Brook, is a remarkable interpretation of naturalistic planting controlled by a masterly sense of colour. June’s garden, Tinode could not be more different with its muscular bones lending structure to her amazing plantings. We return to Barberstown and later that evening we have our final dinner at the hotel.
Day 6: Friday 10 May
We return to Co Wicklow to visit Mount Usher. This world-famous garden enjoys the most atmospheric of riverside settings, truly a reflection of the influence of that irascible Irishman, William Robinson. We have a guided tour with the Head Gardener after which there will be time for a final group lunch before we continue to Dublin Airport for the return flight to Heathrow.


  • Price: £2,670 per person
  • Price without flights: £2,495
  • Deposit: £375
  • Single Supplement: £249 (Double Room for Sole Use)

Hotel Details

5 nights with breakfast at 4* Barberstown Castle


British Airways            

Outward: BA834 Departs London Heathrow 1040 (Terminal 5) arrive Dublin 1210

Return:    BA823 Departs Dublin 1925 arrive London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 2045

Price includes

4 dinners and 3 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, the services of Tom Duncan

Not included

Travel to/from Heathrow, 1 dinners & 3 lunches


Current Conditions

Weather Conditions for Dublin in May are:
Average Temperature between: 11oC - 15oC / 52oF - 59oF
Rainfall: 50mm / 2inches



Fitness levels

We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.

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