In a remote part of Donegal is Glenveagh National Park, Ireland's second largest national park. The park covers 170sq kilometers and is located around beautiful Lough Veagh. On an overcast day in July, we rolled into the car park to find it busy with tourists, still there is ample parking space available. Walking towards the visitor center, we noticed that the roof of the building is a living heather roof which blends in nicely with the surrounding area. In the visitor center, we enjoyed the displays which gave us a first introduction to the park, it's flora and fauna.
The first surprise we got on the day was that the park and gardens of the castle are free entrance. You can decide to walk towards the castle and gardens along a beautiful path along the shore of Lough Veagh, or take the bus for which you have to buy a ticket. Second surprise was that the tour of the castle is very reasonable priced. At €15 for a family, we believe this is fantastic value for the extensive tour of the castle which is definitely worthwhile taking. Keep in mind that tours only run during the months of July and August. This time round, we took the bus which gets you at the castle in 10 minutes. We decided to see the gardens first, but before we started our garden tour we purchased our castle tour tickets. We advise you to do the same as in summer, it is busy and you can't be guaranteed a spot on the next tour.
The castle, which was built in the 19th Century by John George Adair, was to represent a highland hunting retreat. In order to achieve this dream, John purchased vast amounts of land and started construction of the castle using granite. But in order to achieve his dream, he evicted 244 tenants from the land he had purchased making him unpopular with the locals. He never got to enjoy his dream though as he died suddenly after one of his many trips to the US.
His late wife Cornelia carried on the built of the castle, which in those early days sat there in the Donegal landscape in stark contrast with the barren landscape. It was also Cornelia who introduced deer into the estate and started the layout and planting of the fabulous gardens. Cornelia was well loved in the area in contrast to her late husband, she provided plenty of work for the locals and she became known as a brilliant society hostess.
And it is the gardens which nowadays attract the many visitors, from the Italian to Belgian garden, from the view point walk to the many tropical plants, around every corner is something new to discover. Walking through the walled garden, you can admire the many apple trees and vegetables being grown, the flowers and shrubs giving the gardens it's amazing color palette.
After our walk through the gardens, we headed to the castle to start our tour. The castle is opulent in it's decoration, each room nicely presented with the original furniture. During the tour, we learned that the castle exchanged hands twice after the death of Cornelia. The last owner of the house, Henry Mcllhenny devoted a lot of his time restoring the castle and purchasing the furniture which is still on display. He was also renowned for his hospitality, and many Hollywood stars and other influential people came to Glenveagh to be entertained. Henry had a scale installed in the reception hall, and guest were weighted when they arrived at Glenveagh castle. Upon leaving the castle, they were weighted again and rule of thumb was that if you had gained weight, you had been entertained the right way.
The castle even had an open air swimming pool which could be heated when required. Glenveagh National park is a must visit location, and it is easy to spend a day in the park hiking the many trails, enjoying the views are just relaxing by the lake.