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Ilnacullin is a small island of 15 hectares (37 acres) situated in a sheltered corner of Bantry Bay about 1.5km from Glengarriff

Confusingly it is also know as Garnish Island (Oileán Garinish), or more correctly Garinish Island (from the Gaelic Garinis meaning Near), and is shown by this name on Ordnance Survey Maps.

However, as there is another island garden called Garnish not far away in County Kerry, to save confusion, the alternative and possibly earlier name of Ilnacullin (from the Gaelic Oileán an Chuilinn, island of holly) is now generally preferred.

The oldest structure on the island is the Martello Tower, (map) built by the British around 1815 in response to an attempted French invasion in 1796 led by the Irish patriot Wolfe Tone, which had only been thwarted by the weather.

By 1910 the War Office had come to the conclusion that the French were unlikely to try again, and sold the island to a Belfast born Scottish MP called Annan Bryce.

He engaged English architect Harold Peto to design a house and garden for him, on what was at the time largely bare rock and peat bog.

The house was never built, but the garden was. It consists a formal Italian garden, complete with a temple and an Italian tea-house or Casita, surrounded by a wild garden containing many exotic oriental and southern hemisphere plants.

Bryce continued to develop the garden throughout his life as did his son Roland, ably assisted by an outstanding Scottish gardener Murdo Mackenzie. On his death in 1953, Roland Bryce bequeathed the island to the Irish people.

For opening Times, Admission Fees, etc. please see the Heritage Ireland official site detailed below.

Getting There

The main ferry services to Ilnacullin are operated by Harbour Queen Ferries from the main quay in Glengarriff Harbour (map) (about 1km east of Glengarriff itself near the Eccles Hotel) and Blue Pool Ferries from the delightful Blue Pool (map) near the centre of the town.

Good views of the bay and the surrounding hills can be had from the boat, but the highlight of the trip is undoubtedly the seals.

For details of ferry times and fares, please see the official sites detailed below.

The boats to Ilnacullin pause by Seal Island on the way to Garnish were there is a large colony of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina). The seals are very used to the ferries and there are ample photo-opportunities. Not quite as good as at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, but close.