The beautifully landscaped Heywood Gardens are the most outstanding attraction of Ballinakill, a small Georgian village just south of Abbeyleix in County Laois. The park is actually the estate of mansion that no longer stands, called Heywood House, which was engulfed in flames in 1950 and demolished to make way for a school. Its gardens, nevertheless, remain a delight.
There are actually two sets of gardens at Heywood -- the outer sprawling rustic park and woodland was constructed in the 18th century; the smaller formal Italianate gardens, which would have stood directly in front of the house, were constructed in the early 1900s.
Features such as a gorgeous old fountain, old Gothic gates and ancient features embellish the grounds, complete with lawns, borders, and a renowned Italian sunken garden. Garden enthusiasts, and nature lovers will enjoy this FREE attraction, especially on a fine day. Families with children may enjoy its "secret garden" appeal.
Note: those with limited mobility may have difficulty accessing some parts of the garden. There are no toilet facilities on the site.
History of Heywood Gardens
First Stage - Michael Frederick Trench
Heywood Gardens evolved as two individual gardens. The great park was created by Michael Frederick Trench, whose family were descended from French Hugenots. Trench was also a successful politician, and was rewarded with a British peerage, and became known as Lord Ashtown.
A keen architect, Trench built an impressive mansion here known as Heywood House in 1773 with the help of his friend James Gandon, who designed the Custom House and other important Irish buildings. He landscaped the area surrounding his house, encompassing much of the village of Ballinakill, which today retains both a Georgian feel and a Huguenot influence.
Like other wealthy men in Britain and Ireland at that time, Trench had undertaken a Grand Tour of Europe (a sort of wealthy equivalent of a "gap year"). Some historians believe his designs were inspired by what he had seen in countries like Italy and France. At Heywood, he created artificial lakes and hills, set trees, and decorated his construction with garden follies.
Second Stage - Lutyens and Jekyll
By the early 1900s, the house had passed down through the family to Colonel Hutchenson Poe, who had married a descendent of Trench's, and invested money renovating the house. Poe hired the eminent architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, best known for his bridges and other monuments in Dehli, to create the smaller, interlocking formal gardens in front of Heywood House.
Initially designed by Lutyens, the gardens were then landscaped by British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll, who designed over 400 gardens throughout Europe and the USA, and wrote many pioneering and influential articles on gardening.
Heywood House Fire
When Poe departed the house it had lain empty for many years, until being finally being purchased by the Catholic church in the 1940s. On 31st January 1950, however, a fire broke out in Heywood House, burning through the roof slabs, which were one of the oldest parts of the house and most susceptible to fire. Completely engulfed by flames, the house was demolished. A school was subsequently built close by.
Although the house is gone, the gardens are among the best surviving example of Lutyens’ work in Ireland.
Monday to Sunday
May to August: 8.30am to 9pm April and September: 8.30am to 7pm October to March: 8.30am to 5.30pm Allow around 1 hour to visit.
Fountain at Heywood Gardens. Image by Irish Fireside.