Where to go and what to see at Ballyvolane...
by the Whisperer
Standing on the gravel sweep with back to the porch of the main entrance is the place chosen for easy orientation. Straight head, to the right and either side of formal lawns on the reverse side of the house, huge ancient deciduous trees have valiantly held place for some 300 years. Already saplings when Ireland was known as the country of Saints and Scholars.
From then to now so much history must have travelled beneath branches once small, now enormous. It is said that in distant past a man from England came on a brief visit to place trees to best advantage. He liked the place so much that he stayed for forty years! He pruned the young trees, which provided them with spectacular symmetry. Whether the rapture of the guest was shared by the host is not known.
More of these veterans grow in other places, some amongst timber of lesser age, left in natural state for a century or more. Access is difficult, places best left to wildlife whose home it is. In the 1990s a freak wind uprooted a few giants creating temporary chaos. Immediately, planting and under planting took place. Now young trees or rhododendrons bask in light long excluded. Wounds healed, sometimes with surprising improvement.
From right of orientation stance there is an upward slope, with flowering trees and shrubs on both sides of a grass path, which winds beneath beautiful mature timber parallel to a fine stone wall. On the Upper slope there is a large open expanse bedecked by a carpet of Bluebells, which provides a rare image hard to forget. Bluebells require 80 years to form a carpet, it is said. Artists frequently struggle to capture colour and the amazing effect accentuated by tall trees that cover them high. Soft scents waft.
Half left of stance at lower level, three lakes glister. Two had filled with silt and were restored to original shape a deepened to accommodate fish.In time long gone, there was evidence of a failed attempt to do the third. Discovery of sandstone had pick and shovel, which broke muscle and spirit. Modern machinery barely nodded. It was nice that the original concept was fulfilled albeit 100 or so years later. Wandering on mown grass around the lakes watching all that happens there is far removed from present lifestyle.
From the selected place, on the opposite side of the house, are large formal lawns, which have added their grace for so long that originally the turf must have been trimmed by scythe, an operation demanding of several great skills. A large Copper Beech grows dramatically at the far end of the formal lawns. Beyond is an area of less formality recently replanted in consequence of evil wind. Two walnut trees stand thereabouts – only a brave person might chance a guess at their age.
Left slant across the lawns reveals a walled garden where an inescapable aura of peace and well-being prevails. There are flowering trees, shrubs, flower borders, fruit and vegetables. Beyond this large and well maintained area, the original size of the old garden can be seen. It is difficult now to comprehend the need for such space. Easier when the mind is cast back in time.
Then, there were few preservatives, no refrigerator, deep freezers or supermarkets brought close by speed transport, yet there were many more mouths to feed at all seasons then than now. There was the family of the owner, male house servants, female house servants, coachman, grooms, gardeners and doubtlessly post boys, forester, packmen, raconteurs, and other faraway men who dropped in confident of a cut of bread and fine bacon while clothes dried a little in kitchen warmth.
Within this setting it is no wonder that varied and abundant wildlife find contentment where they are fed and protected. Directly raptors were controlled, the population of songbirds increased greatly. In springtime they conspire to produce a memorable dawn chorus of different pitch and sound that wells from near and far. Many different species of wild animals fulfil their needs in the grounds of Ballyvolane, some resident, others near neighbours. Some are nocturnal, most prefer to move at first or the last of dimsy light. They are not easily seen but signs of their presence are easily read by the knowing.
All make sounds, some too small to be distinguished in the sough of breeze. Most birdsong is audible and melodious, a few species are raucous and some emit sounds so eerie that they might have been wrested from granite deep in wild mountain side. Kestrels are exponents when teaching young to navigate. Parents fly alongside screaming instructions in wildest tones.
Wild animals have variance of sound also. Mating foxes are maestros at conjuring atmosphere of wholly wild places. From a little before Christmas into January is the time for their performance defined as clicketing within the lores of venery. Vixens assume major role by lifting masks. Opening mouths to emit haunting screams from the back of the throat as head writhes from side to side. When this sound springs surprise at night, it is enough to frighten the bejesus out of all but the dead.
Red Squirrels are enchanting and less elusive. A quick eye could detect them swinging, climbing, jumping and scampering. These beautiful small indigenous creatures have few strongholds left to them. The imported American squirrel, or tree rat, supplants them and creates additional damage also. The feckless folly of releasing any form of imported life within home environment is matched only by the stupidity of repetition, which is sadly frequent.
From the starting place and to the left, a track with poor surface curves left and then right to follow the outer side of the yard wall. At the end of the wall on the right is a pretty avenue providing a small surprise when at the far end the isolated Dower House emerges. Standing within a garden and nearby woodland scenes, it is a lonely place suitable to provision of special care of wildlife. To the right of place of garden entry, a high bank with ditches both sides bounds deciduous woodland. Not so long ago, this formidable obstacle taught young horses the need of observation and balance necessary to jumping big and bold, which is safer than dalliance. Now a small cairn rests on top.
It is sad when reference is made to a small heap of stones constructed with thought equal to that expended upon a Dolmen. It is a feeding house specially constructed for red squirrels. A little cavity to contain nuts is surrounded by stones xexcept for a small access. A flat stone is placed across the threshold upon which any larger marauding bird must stand that it may reach the nuts and when it does so the lintel is too low for the head to enter the cavity. Small birds help themselves anyway – who cares? In seasons of their choosing these small beautiful creatures now rare, can be watched without disturbance by a few. The habitat belongs to the squirrels and is not for us.
Near Windows on the opposite side of the Dower House, numerous bird feeders hang from branches of a large flowering cherry tree. A large flock of varied songbirds congregate there. They are as little flying flowers, a welcome extra dimension to gardens made less colourful by winter gloom. Additionally, their constant flit has hypnotic effect which may constitute the adult version of mobiles hung above infants, which some say, set them going on lifespan bob.
The saga of the grounds of Ballyvolane would not be complete without mention of the much loved domestic animals, which are as much a part as are trees, rock or water. A portly retired Spaniel does all in her power to instil part of the radiance of her nature into two tiny terriers whose object in life is to create mayhem and then jump into the middle of it. Their beguiling looks and ways serve well to further this mission. A flock of fantail pigeons practise acrobatics above and around the house. When golden sunlight, so much a part of Ireland, glints upon white wings held high in swoop produces a memory that does not fade. Three donkeys, two mares and a gelding, live in ways that suit only them. It is rumoured that nearby a black stallion lurks and should he have his way with the mares the herd might increase. There are few sights more enchanting than the teetering steps of a newborn donkey.
The aura cast by Ballyolane is strong. From within gossamer structure, it may be that happenings long gone is the root of power which these other diverse facets supplement. Such is the strength of this nebulous waft that people return often for test.
A uniquely warm atmosphere pervades throughout the gardens and grounds of Ballyvolane, created largely by the mixture of mature deciduous trees, formal, semi-formal, walled and woodland gardens, not to mention the wide variety of wildlife that thrive therein. Ballyvolane literally translates as 'the place of springing heifers' and is testament to the fertility, richness and natural diversity of the land on which the estate lies.
The Cousin who couldn't leave
The gardens were originally laid out when the house was built in the early 18th century by the Pyne Family. The planting of the trees on the Estate was undertaken by Thomas Pennefeather, a cousin of the Pynes, who came to stay for a fortnight and remained there for forty years in the position of agent. He planted most of the mature deciduous trees in the gardens and surrounding parkland, nurturing them in their formative years and ensuring their lasting presence for the centuries to come.
Little People... Big Outdoors!
Ballyvolane is ideal for little people with vast grounds to get lost in, a tree house to play in, woods to explore, hens to feed, eggs to collect, donkeys to pet and lots more entertainment nearby such as Fota Wildlife Park, Blarney Castle and Leahy's Open Farm. Farmer Justin (!) will take all the kids on a tractor and trailer ride around the estate after breakfast.
Visiting the Gardens at Ballyvolane
The gardens are open (mostly) to the public during the summer and from mid May the bluebell-carpeted woodlands are at their most spectacular. Please phone us on 025 36349 in advance just to check we are open as the house and gardens are closed for private house rentals from time to time.
The formal gardens at Ballyvolane are on the south side of the house. Three tiered lawns extend southwards dissected by gravel paths lined with flowering magnolia. The banks blossom with snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils earlier in the year while in May, bluebells begin to sprout from under the mighty copper beech behind the top lawn where croquet is played. The rockery sits west of the bottom lawn while all around magnificent flowering trees and shrubs enclose an idyllic space.
Through a small gate east of the top lawn one enters the walled garden, a huge enclosed area, now three quarters pasture. The remaining cultivated area still retains the charm of a carefully nurtured ornamental space but it is predominantly a working and productive vegetable garden providing fruit, vegetables and herbs for the kitchen much of the year round. The huge walls that enclose the walled garden were built by the Pynes under the famine relief schemes in the early half of the 19th century - the carved capstone adorning the arch that stood at the end of a once much longer beech hedge dates the construction at 1828. In 2015, a tennis court and 7-a-side soccer pitch were added to the walled garden.
The woodlands surrounding Ballyvolane provide ever changing and breathtaking scenes throughout the year. Just east of the north side of the house lies the rock, a small knoll, densely planted with native timbers reaching skywards for light, while at their base a path weaves through a carpet of bluebells from mid May.
The ornamental lakes which adorn the parkland below the front of the house were originally dug by hand during the 19th century and were recently restored, deepened and landscaped to accommodate trout for fishing. Until the mid 1990's they had been hidden by dense undergrowth and submerged in silt. Though restoration is complete, replanting and regeneration is ongoing.
Ballyvolane plays host to a wide variety of wildlife both native and domestic which provide a great distraction for little people and big kids alike. Some of our native species, such as the red squirrel, can sometimes be a little elusive but patience is well rewarded. Ballyvolane is still a working farm too and the cattle that graze the surrounding pastures are kept good company by two much loved donkeys (Poquita & Heloise). Various kinds or rare-breed pigs currently occupy the back haggard along with the large flock of Muscovy ducks and hens who lay eggs for the breakfast table and for baking. The spaniels and terriers are always bubbling with excitement, welcoming guests and begging to be taken for walks. Fan-tail doves occupy the aviary in the gardens.