An Tánaiste Micheál Martin was Guest of Honour at the official opening of Coillte’s newly refurbished Avondale House, offering guided tours for visitors which will take them on a historic journey through the home of Samuel Hayes, it’s first owner, the Parnell family who inhabited the house in the 1800s, and the forestry school which was subsequently set up in the house once it was acquired by the state in 1904.
The newly refurbished Avondale House is an added attraction for visitors to Avondale Forest Park, who can now experience the house tour alongside the magnificent Beyond the Trees Avondale Treetop Walk and Viewing Tower which has already seen over 300,000 people visit Avondale Forest Park since it opened in July 2022. Beyond the Trees Avondale is a collaboration between Coillte, Fáilte Ireland and EAK Ireland, bringing a truly unique visitor experience to Ireland’s Ancient East.
This €19m project at Beyond the Trees Avondale is part of Coillte’s strategy to create more world class visitor destinations and increase recreation spaces nationally, and will encourage international and domestic visitors to stay longer and spend more in Wicklow and the wider Ireland’s Ancient East region, driving economic and employment opportunities for local communities. Close to €1m was invested in the restoration works of Avondale House including structural works and the interiors. Over 60 new full and part-time jobs were created to staff the site, the majority of whom are from the locality.
Speaking at today’s official opening, An Tánaiste Micheál Martin said:
“I am delighted to officially open the newly refurbished Avondale House, one of Ireland’s most historically important and beautiful locations. The contribution made by Avondale House’s most famous occupant on this nation’s path to self-determination was enormous, and I applaud the restoration work carried out by Coillte and Fáilte Ireland.
Beyond the Trees Avondale is part of Coillte’s strategy to create world class visitor destinations and increase spaces for recreation, nature and biodiversity.
Avondale House is not only a wonderful new tourist amenity for Wicklow and Ireland’s Ancient East, it will also open up economic and job opportunities for the entire region.”
Imelda Hurley, Chief Executive, Coillte, said:
“In July of last year, we opened Beyond the Trees Avondale, a collaboration between Coillte, Fáilte Ireland and EAK Ireland, bringing a truly unique visitor experience, showcasing trees and the many advantages to building with wood, to Ireland’s Ancient East, with its beautiful Treetop Walk and Viewing Tower, opening up brand new perspectives of the forest and unveiling stunning vistas of the Wicklow countryside from new heights.
Today, we are back to mark the reopening of the true heart of Avondale, the house where it all began under the stewardship in the 1770s of the visionary Samuel Hayes, a man who occupies a special place in Irish forestry; and later was home to the Parnell family whose achievements and contribution to Irish political life in the 1800s were immense; before coming into state ownership in 1904 and deepening its importance to forestry in Ireland by housing the state’s forestry school while the Great Tree Experiment was conducted throughout the surrounding estate. We took the greatest of care with the restoration of this wonderful house, ensuring an experience for visitors that is evocative and true to the period, and we look forward to welcoming people to experience this unique house for themselves.”
Orla Carroll, Director of Product Development at Fáilte Ireland added:
“Investing in standout attractions is a key element of attracting domestic and international visitors to explore Ireland. The opening of the newly re-developed Avondale House adds another point of interest for visitors to Wicklow, and further enhances the visitor experience at the hugely popular Beyond the Trees Avondale, which has been positioned as a must-visit attraction since its opening in July 2022. The new experience at Avondale House is centred around telling the rich history of the house through guided tours, which will bring the unique and important stories of the house and its former inhabitants to life for visitors. Fáilte Ireland is pleased to have developed this project under our strategic partnership with Coillte and look forward to seeing this unique attraction continue to develop as a flagship destination in Ireland’s Ancient East.”
The story of Avondale starts with Samuel Hayes who began construction of the house in 1777. Avondale House has been a home and a school during its lifetime, and many consider it the birthplace of forestry in Ireland. The most famous residents were the Parnell family, all 12 of them, who lived here for a large part of the 1800s. Among that large family was Charles Stewart Parnell, one of Ireland’s greatest statesmen, who practised his speeches from the balcony in the main hall, while his equally politically active sisters critiqued him from the ground floor.
The estate came into the ownership of the Government in 1904 and was home to Ireland’s first forestry school for many years, before Coillte became its custodian when the semi-state forestry company was formed in 1989.
The Avondale House tour takes in the Main Hall, Morning Room, Dining Room, Living Room, Parnell’s Library, and the Forestry School Classroom. Coillte consulted with experts in period furniture and design refurbishment to ensure an experience for visitors that is true to the period. A number of the key pieces of furniture and artefacts on display are fully authentic and original to the house. These include an original Bossi fireplace, paintings and sculptures, Parnell’s Wooton desk, numerous documents and books, and much more. Items on display which are not original have been carefully researched to ensure they are historically accurate.
Samuel Hayes inherited the Avondale estate from his father in 1770 and is centrally important to the story of Avondale because he was so deeply interested in forestry. He planted over 8,000 trees from all over the world in Avondale, which would eventually mature into a magnificent forest, with some of those trees still thriving today.
When Charles Stewart Parnell inherited Avondale, and all its debt, he began developing the sawmills, and also added quarrying and mining to his timber interests. Having to manage the financial difficulties of the estate, which was heavily burdened with debt, shaped the way he thought about landowners and tenants in Ireland. He saw that the system needed to change and during his later political career he focused on fighting for land reform and Irish self-government.
Charles’ two sisters Fanny and Anna were the most politically active among his siblings. Influenced by the strong personality of their mother.
Charles’ political career reached great heights in the 1880s, with an American tour, and becoming leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
In his personal life he also found a great love with Katharine O’Shea. But with that relationship also came scandal and stress, which ultimately brought about a split in the party, the demise of his popularity, and his untimely death.
In 1904, while Ireland was still a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Avondale was sold to the government, and the Department of Agriculture set up Ireland’s first forestry school. The Great Tree Experiment began in Avondale in 1905. The idea was to see which trees would grow well in Ireland and would then be used to plant the new forests of Ireland. Generations of Irish foresters trained at Avondale and the experimental plots they planted still inform how we manage and care for trees today.
Booking Avondale House Tours
Avondale House tours are available from 10am to 4pm daily. Entry to the Seed Café, Walled Garden and Coillte Pavilion in Avondale is free of charge.
Tickets to visit Avondale House cost €15 per adult and €12 per child. Bookings can be made at https://booking.beyondthetreesavondale.com/Home
Tickets to access the Treetop Walk and Viewing Tower cost €15 per adult, €12 per child (under 3s go free), family tickets are priced at €40 for a family of up to five people, and student and OAP rates are also on offer. Car parking is available on site at a cost of €5 per vehicle.