Located in the midst of a 350-acre estate of woodland and lush greenery, Ashford Castle lies alongside the vast Lough Corrib. With such verdant, sprawling surroundings, it should come as no surprise that the Ashford Estate also encompasses manicured gardens, which provide the castle with idyllic views from each of its alcove windows. Now, with the introduction of a new design feature, the fountain by Howley Hayes Architects and artist Ciaran Byrne, there’s even more to discover.
When Howley Hayes Architects were asked to come up with their design, the concept they imagined was to create a network of six paths leading into and around the existing pond, not only making it more accessible but also creating a geometric pattern that is in the spirit of the Estate’s Victorian gardens. The garden’s pond was to be embellished with a new fountain ring, from which jets of water would flow. This fountain would then be encircled with pebble mosaic work, with a ring of stone seats to encourage people to stop and enjoy the garden, while ensuring a seat is always facing the sun. The architects then worked with Ciaran Byrne – an artist, sculptor and letter cutter – to refine the design.
It’s in the Tollman Garden that this fountain can now be seen, one of several formal gardens along the main terrace walk of Ashford Castle; each of these gardens, which were laid out by the Guinness family in the nineteenth century, are considered to be among the finest in Ireland. The Tollman Garden formerly took its name, the Sunken Garden, from the pond in its centre and high planted banks that surrounded it.
As the concept of the garden was to create a place of quiet contemplation, where the sights and the sounds of this historic place can be seen, heard and enjoyed, this fountain is the ideal addition to the Ashford Estate. But adding deeper meaning to the design feature, the architects and artist drew inspiration from ancient Irish themes, depicting nature and the local fauna. Seventeen spout stones were turned and carved in Irish limestone to represent opening water lily buds, with a poem carved into them – a single syllable on each stone – and a pebble mosaic of hidden insects and interlinking newts and tadpoles.
The ring of seats is also constructed in Irish limestone, a contemporary interpretation of the ancient standing stones and portals that are found in many parts of the Irish countryside. Where the six pathways create gaps in the circle, stone thresholds complete the pattern; more carvings of Irish fauna decorate the sides of these threshold stones. These carvings together with the riddle-like presentation of the poem all make you want to walk around the water time and time again. And with such strong connections to its surroundings, this new feature of the Tollman Garden is one that’s perfectly at home amid the grandeur of Ashford Castle’s sweeping grounds.
All images © Red Carnation Hotels.
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