The day started and ended unconventionally. A little blurb in the guidebook perked my curiosity to seek out Ireland’s very own Woodstock. Out of my way, I headed southeast from Kilkenny to the village of Inistioge. I meandered up Mt. Alto until I reach the pearly gates of the Woodstock Gardens. Pausing for a moment, I wondered just how a vehicle is supposed to travel through here. With a deep breath and a spirit for seeking out the weird on this day, I put the pedal to the metal. Once you pass through the gates of Woodstock Gardens, you have exactly 2 kilometers worth of utter panic that a car might turn around the bend and come straight at you. Truly sidewalk narrow with a somewhat steep drop, I held my breath and prayed for solitude on this short drive.
At long last, I arrive to the Woodstock Gardens parking lot, committed to my search for the truly weird today. The Woodstock Gardens are known for representing High Victorian garden style. The heavily forested space features both formal and informal gardens along with a collection of trees with a fame that has stretched all over Europe. First created in 1840, the gardens were the vision of Colonel William Tighe and his wife Louisa. I ponder this history as I begin the Noble Fir Walk, one of the surviving features of the 19th century garden.
I can hear the echo of my boot heels with each clip-clop through this thoroughfare. It’s not peaceful, but mostly bizarre and eerie. I am the only soul around and yet I very much feel as though these trees are souls too.
The path curves and a new element of weird presents itself. I see trees that don’t look very Irish or even modern day, out of place and time. This is the Monkey Puzzle Walk, another surviving feature of the grounds from its creation in 1845. Set out as an avenue, the trees are Araucaria araucana. Extremely valuable and threatened in their natural habitat in Chile, no wonder this specie looks out of place.
Only a few souls fill up the Woodstock Gardens, mostly men with chainsaws working on the land, or so I hope. It is funny how splendid isolation can be incredibly discomforting at the same time. We grow used to people that when we aren’t engrossed in activity, something doesn’t sit well. I decide to head out of the gardens but not before seeing the Woodstock House. Designed by Francis Bindon for Sir William Fownes in 1745, the manor home would change hands to the Tighes. They would transform the landscape into a full-blown park. I can’t imagine the grand manor home by any stretch of the imagination. I stare at a building that looks likes a collapse could occur any minute. The Woodstock House was burned down in 1922 after it was occupied by Black and Tan troops. Now its unstable condition only furthers my distaste of isolation amidst Ireland’s weird.
Perhaps the only element to the Woodstock Gardens that don’t stir up head scratching and shivers of isolation are the views of the River Nore Valley. After visions of a place the resembled no Ireland that I thought I knew, this unquestionably Irish landscape appears through the trees.
I gaze up at the wispy branches of the trees along Monkey Puzzle Walk. This is not the Ireland that I envisioned. However after a month in this land, I realize that is the point. Ireland is a country littered in cliqued ideas about what it is and isn’t. This isn’t Ireland and yet it very much is, a little weird and off color. I head out from the Woodstock Gardens the same way that I came in an hour ago. With that same hope for solitude to make it out of this narrow entrance and exit, I solider on, running into a backpacker on foot with his pet goat on a leash. Ireland is outlandish, eccentric and weird, luckily so.
Have you ever been to the Woodstock Gardens or perhaps a place in a country that just didn’t seem to fit?