Within the walls of the demesne, the Anglo-Irish ascendancy constructed their vision of an Irish Utopia. Ideal landscapes were designed and planted out with standard temperate trees and newly introduced exotics from the Americas. Ideal cottages were built, paternalistic estate management structures developed, and complex planning and design theories indulged. Masques and plays, morally suspect in the strict Protestant ethos of the time, flourished within the enclosed world of the demesne. Robert Molesworth's radical Whig landscape influenced both Jonathan Swift and the Earl of Shaftesbury's political and aesthetic ideas. The women of Carton and Castletown employed the theatrical tradition of French gardens to explore controversial lifestyles.
This book seeks to explore how and why the landscapes were designed, who designed them, who used them, and for what purpose. Detailed studies of selected and connected gardens were used to explore these questions, and the smaller compass is hopefully countered by a more detailed context. Some of the gardens recreated retain much valuable evidence on the ground, while others have been pieced together from documentary sources, in particular the copious personal letters which survive. The existing gardens themselves are constantly in flux, as the source material grows and dies, or is more commonly axed by development. The disciplines of art history, architecture, engineering and planning are hauled informally together, to examine the role these disciplines have played, and should play, in creating and protecting the designed environment.
Finola O'Kane is a lecturer in architecture UCD and her previous work has been published in the journal Garden History.