Garden History

Where Art and Nature Meet

The Walled Garden and ConservatoryThe Castle Gardens are regarded as one of Ireland’s outstanding horticultural masterpieces. Our mission is to conserve and enhance the garden as an inspirational environment that cherishes and protects the biodiversity of the plant world. We grow many rare plants unique to Irish Gardens. Access to the Gardens is from dawn to dusk all-year-round. Admission to the Park, including the Gardens, is free.


The wilderness setting of the Castle placed within the exposed granite mountain-scape of central Donegal creates an unforgettable impression. Conceived as a ‘Victorian Camelot-and romantic retreat’ where an idyllic lifestyle was pursued by lovers of nature and art. The lovers were John George Adair and his beloved Cornelia. Construction of their Castle began the year of their marriage in 1869, the developing Glenveagh estate would serve as a summer retreat where sport hunting and fishing would be the major activities. Glenveagh was their romantic project.


The site occupied by the Castle and Gardens was wild mountain moorland. In 1869 the first part of the Castle was constructed. However it was not until the mid 1880’s that the Gardens were started. The two major elements of the Garden, the Pleasure Gardens and the Walled Garden were constructed in the late 1880’s. The original Victorian Garden layout remains intact. It was for Mrs. Cornelia Adair that the gardens were constructed. Mrs. Adair had a Gardener’s House constructed at the top of the Walled Garden and employed a Kew trained gardener to lay out the gardens. Some of the planting in the Pleasure Grounds such as the purple maples and the shelter belt of Scots pine trees were planted at this time.

In 1929 Lucy and Arthur Kingsley-Porter became the new owners. They were also keen gardeners and Mrs Porter introduced the dahlia seed from which was grown the unique cultivar known as Dahlia ‘Matt Armour’ to Glenveagh.

<>The last private owner, Henry P McIlhenny began to develop the gardens in the late 1940’s with the assistance of Jim Russell of Sunningdale Nurseries and Lanning Roper his Harvard classmate, both well-known garden design consultants. From the late 1950’s through to the early 1980’s the design and layout of the garden was developed and refined to include the Gothic Orangery, the Italian Terrace, the Tuscan Garden, an ornamental Jardin Potager and the development of the plant collection.

Glenveagh is well known today for its rich collection of trees and shrubs specialising in southern hemisphere species and a diverse Rhododendron collection. Displays of Rhododendrons are at their best from late March to the end of May. A large collection of old narcissi varieties from Donegal gardens fills the walled garden in March and April. Displays of colour in the Walled Garden are at their best through the summer months. Fine specimens of the white flowered Eucryphia adorn the gardens in late summer. Dramatic autumn colour follows in October.