It's hard to figure out which is more famous: Tullynally's storybook castle or the magical parklands that surround this fabled family seat. And this is not just any family: the Pakenhams are the famous Irish tribe that has given us Elizabeth Longford (whose biography of Queen Victoria is in most libraries) and Antonia Fraser, wife of the late playwright Harold Pinter and best-selling biographer of Mary, Queen of Scots, among others. In fact, Tullynally—the name, literally translated, means "Hill of the Swans"—has been the home of 10 generations of this family, which also married into the earldom of Longford. Lady Fraser's brother Thomas, a historian, is the current earl but does not use the title. He inherited Tullynally from his uncle and has planted 90,000 trees.
As a result of an 18th-century "Gothicization," the former Georgian house was transformed into a faux castle by architect Francis Johnston; the resulting 600 feet of battlements were not just for show, as the earls
were foes of Catholic emancipation. Inside, the family has struggled to make the vast salons warm and cozy—a bit of a losing battle. The house really comes into its own as a stage set for the surrounding park—the gray-stone structure is so long and has so many towers it looks like a miniature town from a distance. The total circumference of the building's masonry adds up to nearly ½ km (¼ mile) and includes a motley agglomeration of towers, turrets, and crenellations that date from the first early fortified building (circa 1655) up through the mid-19th century, when additions in the Gothic Revival style went up one after another.
Today, more attention is given to the beautiful parkland, in part because Thomas Pakenham is a tree-hugger extraordinaire who founded the Irish Tree Society in 1992. He is the author of several books, his most famous being Meetings with Remarkable Trees (1996), an exceptional art book that includes many of his magnificent photographs. The estate's rolling parkland was laid out in 1760, much along the lines you see today, with fine rhododendrons, numerous trees (oak, ash, sycamore, Scots pine, beech, silver fir, larch, and spruce, among others), and two ornamental lakes. A garden walk through the grounds in front of the castle leads to a spacious flower garden, a pond, a grotto, and walled gardens. You'll also find a Tibetan garden, a Chinese garden, and a kitchen garden, one of the largest in Ireland, with a row of old Irish yew trees. Don't miss the forest path, which takes you around the perimeter of the parkland and affords excellent views of the romantic castle. After your energetic tour, enjoy a visit to the Tullynally Tea Rooms in a renovated Georgian stable block which serves lunches such as lasagna, quiche, and pre-concert supper roasts. Locals rave about the lemon meringue pie.
Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath, Ireland