07 February-Altamont Gardens

Altamont House and Gardens are located just over 20km south of Carlow town, Ireland close to the village of Ballon. The Gardens, which are a major tourist attraction cover about 16 hectares. They have both formal and informal parts and have lake and riverside walks.

In the mid 1700’s, when the Altamont House and Gardens was known as Rose Hill, the St George family built the central portion of the house incorporating an earlier building. Lines of beech trees, which are still feature of Altamont, were planted. In a map dated 1770 the property is referred to as Soho but later changed to Altamont through a connection to Earl of Altamont in Westport County Mayo.

The Dawson-Borrer family later acquired the property, extended the house, terraced the gardens and created a central broad walk extending down to an artificial lake. The lake was dug during the 1840’s as a famine relief project. It was dug out by hand by over 100 men and took over two years to complete. Below the lake, a walk through ancient oak woods leading down to the river Slaney was installed. Leading back from the river to help negotiate the steep gradient, a hundred hand-cut granite steps were installed. The path across a field leading back to the house passes a Wellingtonia. It was planted to commemorate Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

The Lecky Watson family from Fenagh acquired the property in the early 1920’s. Mr Lecky Watson is reported to have killed the last Irish wolf about 14km from Altamont. He had a special interest in rhododendrons and continuously extended the garden. Following his death in 1943 the gardens became gradually overgrown. His daughter Corona North instituted a programme of restoration which began in the 1970’s. The lake was dredged, weeds cleared, walks restored, new areas created and the Gardens were opened to the public. They became a major tourist attraction, attracting thousands of visitors annually.

Corona North devoted many years of her life to Altamont Gardens. When she died Altamont House and Gardens were handed over to the Irish State at her request. The formal handing over ceremony took place on January 17th 2014. Today the Gardens are administered by the Office of Public Works. They attract over 50,000 visitors annually and are often referred to as the jewel in the crown of Carlow tourism.

Altamont House and Gardens were bequeathed to the Irish State by Corona North, who died in the year 1999 On This Day.

A view of part of the lake at Altamont Gardens

 

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