Ireland has a rich heritage of gardens and designed landscapes; much of it is based around the demesne, a word used particularly in Ireland to describe the portion of a manor retained by the lord for his own occupation.  Designed landscapes and gardens became a feature of the Irish landscape from the 17th century.  The 18th and 19th centuries were the period of greatest change as new landscapes, as well as urban squares and parks, were laid out to reflect aesthetic, cultural and social aspirations.

Significant changes to these landscapes have arisen as a consequence of urban expansion, as well as from changes in taste, in land ownership arising from the Encumbered Estates Act 1849 and the Land Acts that followed.

The objective of the survey was to begin to understand Ireland’s historic gardens and designed landscapes.  RML were commissioned to carry out a survey of the whole of the Republic of Ireland.  Sites were identified using historic OS maps at various scales.  Comparisons with current aerial photography were made to identify sites and assessed the survival of key landscape features.  Each site was registered on the GIS database along with important details about visible remains.  The results were published alongside the results of the surveys of architectural heritage on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage   Over 6000 sites were found in the early phases.  A programme of fieldwork in each county is being carried out, to compile more accurate data and site assessments and the results for each site are added to the website.

The NIAH was awarded a prize in the Research category of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards: The jury commented: “The methodological approach toward Irish landscape and gardens has generated much interest among the Jury. This research permitted the setting up of an identification and classification system for gardens that could be used as a prototype for a general inventory of European parks and gardens.”

The judges of the 2007 UK Institute Award commented:  ‘An impressive piece of work that, hopefully, will be taken further as suggested – even to include contemporary designed landscapes? This project puts Ireland in the vanguard of discovering, mapping and logging historic landscapes. The web pages associated with the project allow easy access to the information. A worthy award winner!’

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