Virginia Park Lodge was originally built as a hunting lodge for the first Earl of Bective, Thomas Taylour, Lord Headfort, one of Ireland’s richest men. Located 20 miles away from his principal residence, Headfort House, in Kells, the lodge was intended as a cottage-style home from home, informal in layout but still lavishly decorated with the finest silver, china, and furniture. The second Earl added to the property and imported exotic shrubs and trees from China, Japan and elsewhere to create the parkland that surrounds the lodge.
Geoffrey Thomas Taylour, the 4th Marquess of Headfort, scandalised Edwardian society with his marriage to Miss Rosie Boote, a music hall star who had attended the Ursuline convent in Thurles, the school credited with having turned her out as a well-educated young lady equipped to take her place even in the highest society. Rose was much acclaimed as one of the glamorous Gaiety Girls, considered polite, educated, well-behaved young women, unlike the corseted actresses from London’s earlier musical burlesque shows.
The couple married in 1901, not without the resistance of high society and family members, who later came around, charmed by the Marchioness’ beauty and personality. They defied all odds and retreated to the solace of Virginia Park Lodge and raised their loving family, here they fought wars with the other aristocracy about social injustice and held tight whilst the world went to war.
Strategically planned clumps of exotic trees and winding paths guide you round to unveil amazing architectural or lake vistas. This kind of garden was a rebellion toward the early 18th century symmetrical gardens that surrounded estates and this more natural form was made very popular by period superstar gardeners such as Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton. What looks simple and long established sometimes took a lot of planning such as relocation of major trees and even diverting rivers for maximum effect on winding circuit walks and rides.
The deer park walks, with bridges, folies and seemingly undiscovered waterfalls are a stunning reminder of this type of ‘naturalistic’ garden. Walk along the tranquil park and hear the sounds of silence, laced with the chirpings of Cavan’s thriving birdlife, it feels unspoilt and unchanged for nearly 300 years and will leave you wondering how, this part of Ireland has remained such a well hidden and undiscovered secret for so long.
From its inception the Lodge was a botanical marvel created from Lord Headfort’s personal collection of plants and trees from around the globe. He was a major contributor to the Royal Horticultural Society with seedlings cultivated in Ireland and added to the Botanical Collection in Kew Gardens in London. The fourth Marquis became president of the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland from 1915-45. In November 30th 1939 the crown awarded the Marquis of Headfort, the prestigious ‘Victoria Medal of Honour’ for his contributions, to horticulture.
The Lodge was built around the idea of self sufficiency, still a very current concept today. We hopefully will be able to achieve this once more. Our walled garden with the assistance of polytunnels will produce enough food to maintain the house and also supply our London restaurants with produce such as vegetables, soft fruits, herbs and spices.
In a future phase we will be introducing animals back to the Lodge, chickens, sheep, and pigs. What could be more Irish than producing your own ‘collar and cabbage’ in the same spot? In a later phase we will be reintroducing ‘deer’ into the park, which had a thriving population in the early part of the 20th century.
The kitchen gardens have been lovingly brought back to life by a team of Ireland’s finest gardeners and as one would suspect a lot of good, old fashioned graft, nature is very fair with all, there is no getting around the hard work on the land before reaping any rewards.