• Karyn Farrell

A family-friendly day out in Portumna

Updated: May 5

This article was published in the Offaly Independent on April 30th and Westmeath Independent on May 7th. Full text and an additional gallery of images below. For other published articles click here.


 

A family-friendly day out in Portumna

With tentative hints of summer in the air, take advantage of the wealth of brilliant historic and heritage sites which are dotted all over the midlands and beyond. Nestled on the shores of Lough Derg, Portumna Castle and Gardens is a fantastic day out for all the family. An area famed for its scenery, where the lake meets the River Shannon, it benefits from an idyllic location on the outskirts of Portumna Forest Park.

Here’s a little taster of what you can expect – a magnificent country estate with formal and walled gardens and a series of forest walks leading to some truly jaw-dropping views across Lough Derg. The parklands and woods surrounding the castle are now a wildlife sanctuary and home to a variety of animals and birds, some of which are quite rare.

Kick off your visit at the picturesque ruins of Portumna Abbey. Located close to the pedestrian entrance to the castle, the site is remarkably well preserved with the remains of a church, a cloister and a series of domestic buildings. The first recorded building on site was a 13th century chapel linked to the magnificent Cistercian monastery at Dunbrody in Wexford. Abandoned by the Cistercians, it was given to the Dominicans by a local chieftain: they went on to found an abbey here in 1426. It was converted for use as a Protestant church in the 18th century.

Beautifully framed by trees, the abbey is a photographer's delight through the interplay of light and shadow: every archway offers another striking architectural perspective. Highlights include an attractive ogee window set deeply within a Romanesque-style arch, and two intricate tracery windows, all of which are perfectly intact.

From here, follow the forest path to the main reception area: upstairs is a gallery space which hosts contemporary art exhibitions.

Across the courtyard stands the impressive 17th century Portumna Castle, a semi-fortified house in a late Medieval / early Renaissance style. It was built by Richard de Burgo, the fourth earl of Clanricarde whose ancestry can be traced to one of the most powerful Anglo-Norman families in Ireland.


Described as one of the most significant residences to be built in Ireland during this time, it features a large rectangular three-story house flanked on either side by sturdy towers. We were informed by an OPW guide that this was not the Earl’s permanent place of residence but more of a summer house. She regaled us with the real story behind the blaze which gutted the house in 1826 which involved some last-minute preparations by servants for the Earl’s imminent arrival and a hurried attempt to dry some bedding in front of an open fire - need I say more… The family were forced to move to the stables until a new castle was constructed but sadly this also burnt to the ground in 1922. The house was sold to the state in 1948 and has been extensively restored to its original splendour.

The ground floor houses a public exhibition area documenting the history of the castle and the family. In addition to some memorabilia and furniture of the era, you’ll also find on display the skeletal remains of beloved family dog Fury, dating to the 18th century.


The view of the formal gardens from the front steps is an impressive one: rows of perfectly manicured velvety lawns and laurel trees are symmetrically laid out, connected by a central walkway which is bridged by stone gate lodges.


Don’t miss the walled kitchen garden which has been restored to its original glory. It’s particularly resplendent at this time of year with rows of herbs, vegetables and brightly-coloured flowers, while the air is heavily scented with their perfume.

A water feature cheekily spews out water while feathered creatures spruce themselves up in the bird-bath. It’s incredibly peaceful.

For opening times and other info click here:



Portumna Castle Marina:

A short walk from the castle brings you to the picturesque marina with its brightly coloured boats – follow the road to the right as you exit the estate. The views across Lough Derg from the harbour are expansive and simply breathtaking.

On our visit the sun shone brightly, the blue sky reflecting in the mirror-sheen of the water, rippled occasionally by a family of ducks swimming past. I was struck by the sense of absolute stillness and peacefulness, and the sheer beauty of the surroundings made it a perfect spot to stop for a bite. There are plenty of seats and picnic tables to enjoy a lunch with a view.


Portumna Forest Park


Portumna Forest Park is a wonderful family-friendly amenity that will appeal to hikers, walkers, cyclists and nature lovers alike. This is the place to come for complete immersion in nature, following forest paths and lakeside walks to enjoy the diversity of plants and wildlife, and there are a series of designated observation points along the way.

Stretching across 1500 acres, it has a number of walking and cycling trails of varying distances and for all levels of ability, including the Forest-Friendly route which is wheelchair-accessible. This is the shortest trail, starting and finishing at the car park. It winds its way through a woodland area until finally opening out to views of the lake. A boardwalk leads the way to the duck pond and on the loop back, you’ll pass an impressive variety of trees including Monterey Pines and cypresses, some of the oldest varieties on the estate.

The Woodland Looped Trail is also perfect for families, whether on foot or on bike. Stroll under a canopy of imposing Spruce trees before coming to an open grassy area which is home to a large population of fallow deer. Approach quietly as they can be a little wary. This route also has access to the fantastic viewing tower which offers a unique birds-eye perspective of the forest, lake and offshore islands. Keen birdwatchers will delight in the bird hide which is close to the viewing platform. If you’re lucky, you may spot the white-tailed sea eagle who nested and raised chicks on one of the small islands. Other residents of the park include a large population of red squirrel, hedgehogs, foxes and badgers: more elusive are pine marten and otters.

Active-minded visitors may opt for one of the two longer trails. Bonaveen is the longest, covering the western side of the park and taking in the beautiful promontory of Bonaveen Point with its sweeping lake views on all sides. The Rinmaher trail covers the eastern side and dips down into Rinmaher Point for an unmissable panorama, south towards Terryglass and east towards Portumna Bridge.


Facilities: car park, public toilet, picnic areas. Find out more here:


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