One of the many surprises this small town will deliver to you is a stained glass window by that most pre-raphaelite of the pre-raphaelites, Burne Jones. This treasured window is immediately on your left as you come through the cathedral's main entrance. It's composition is very simple but the jewelled colours are exquisite. The man with the sword and scales represents justice; the woman with the lamb represents humility. I suppose this is a fairly feminist outlook, but every time I look up at this window I think of it as War and Peace and wonder if a world run by women would result in any less war and bloodshed. Well, it's worth thinking about anyway.
The inscription at the bottom of the window is to Frances Curry, a local man who worked hard to relieve the suffering of the poor during the 19th century famines.
Lismore, like other Irish towns, has a number of attractive 19th century (and sometimes earlier) buildings. Some may be rather anonymous, others are shop frontages which have escaped the 'development' and 'improvement' that too many of their British counterparts have undergone. A photograph of The Square / Main Street from the early years of the 20th century looks much like a modern photograph with the 1846 Lismore Arms Hotel standing out. Substantially older is Greehy's, further down the street, dating from around 1790. As well as shops, there are also small houses such as those in New Street (in the opposite direction) which, although somewhat altered since, were built for workers on the Lismore Castle Estate around 1825. Although the Castle is the main building of interest in Lismore, there are definitely less grand buildings in the town itself which merit a stroll around. For similar buildings, see VT under nearby 'Cappoquin' where there are details of the source of some of this information.
Lismore Castle is not open to the general public but it's worth a detour to see it anyway as its setting overlooking the Blackwater River is magnificent and the castle is obviously well kept as it's still home to the Duke of Devonshire. The castle has been the Duke of Devonshire's family home since 1753, the 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858), was responsible for an extensive restoration of the Castle.
Before the Dukes took over, there has been a castle on this site since 1185 when Prince John, later King John, built here, the original castle was also a Bishop's Palace, was owned for a time by Sir Walter Raleigh and was sacked by Cromwell's men like it seems every other castle in Ireland was. That Cromwell was certainly a busy guy, too bad he wasn't inclined to do philanthropic acts rather than pillaging and plundering...
You can stay at the castle or have your wedding reception there, provided the Duke and his family are not in residence, but I venture that the cost is rather exorbitant as the website does not mention it. You can also visit the Castle Gardens but as there was an 8€ charge to do this, we declined having already seen the beautiful gardens at Johnstown Castle and knowing that we'd be heading to Garnish Island later in the week to see the gardens at Ilnacullin.
If you find yourself in Lismore and don't have the time or inclination to visit the Castle Gardens or Lismore Castle Art, then at the very least take the walk down to the castle gatehouse. This is directly en-route to the gardens and is only two minutes from the Millenium Park or Lady Louisa's Walk.
This will give you at least a flavour of the castle and you won't have spent either time or money on getting some cool photos. Approaching the gatehouse I always feel I am approaching a small French Chateau.It has that lovely otherworldly feeling.
Sometimes in Lismore, it can be a little difficult to wrench yourself back into the present, so for my penultimate Thing-to Do I'd like to move back into the 21st century. The Millennium Park is brand new, opened in May 2002 by President McAleece. It's in the very heart of the town, just oppposite the Heritage centre, but with views on two sides of rolling countryside. As a people's park it has wonderful amenities: bandstand, fountains, water features, unusual sculptures, plenty of seats, green spaces etc. But in keeping with the ethos of the town, this park has some unusual features also.The history of the town is recalled by an enormous totemic like wooden sculpture; the ice house reminds us of our ancient techniques of keeping fish fresh; the obelisk makes us stop, pause and reflect. This is a wonderful place to sit a while and admire your surroundings, maybe even have a little impromptu picnic.
Lismore's heritage centre is a good one and situated as it is, smack bang in the centre of town, it's impossible to miss. In fact this would be entirely the correct place to start off your visit to Lismore, if it's your first time. The centre has several galleries where you can see exhibits such as the ancient Book of Lismore or the Lismore Crozier. Touristy ? Yes, I suppose so, but their audiovisual presentation is excellent and will send you back outside raring to go and tread these historical streets. The heritage centre is also the tourist office so a visit here will give you all the practical info you need on where to eat, sleep, what to see, do etc.
OPENING HOURS: Year Round: MON-FRI 9.30 am- 5.30pm.
When you leave the cathedral, immediately to your right is Deanery Hill. Walk down this hill and at the end you will see signposts to 'Lady Louisa's Walk'. This walk, supposedly following in the footsteps of Lady Louisa, will bring you through picture pretty locations out onto the main road overlooked by the castle. The views here are stunning and you will make the obligatory photo-stop to admire the castle above and the river below.
The Chancel is my favourite part of the cathedral interior. It is kept locked apart from services and maybe the fact that I've never actually been inside, increases the magic. Standing outside, peering through an ornately carved oak screen, what you see is truly magical. Inevitably, the large east window catches your eye first, flooding the interior with light, through its plain glass. The ceiling is elaborately decorated with green beams and coloured rosettes on a white background. I've seen this type of decoration befor but I think it was much further North in Europe.
At the entrance to the cathedral you can buy a 'Self-Guided Tour' for only EUR 2. This booklet, compiled by Sarah Dungan will tell you every possible architectural and historical detail about this cathedral that you could ever wish to know. Buy it. It will definitely enhance your visit.
Yes, Lismore has a cathedral. Not the vast, imposing type, more the intimate and unbelievably pretty type. Come and see for yourselves.
The first wonderful thing about Lismore Cathedral is the setting. Maybe you remember the country church in the movie '4 Weddings and a Funeral. Well every time I stroll up the cobbled path leading to Lismore Cathedral, I expect the entire cast of that movie to come bursting through the door.The pretty churchyard, bowering lime trees, the ancient doorway - country cathedrals don't come any more charming than this. Even if you don't go inside, a walk round the grounds will keep you enthralled for at least an hour. Wander back through this town's ancient history by deciphering inscriptions on weathered gravestones. Pause under one of the spreading trees and compose your very own 'elegy in a country churchyard'. From the rear there are stunning views over the countryside and to the front lies The mall, Lismore's impressively wide, tree-lined avenue leading directly to the cathedral gates.
You can see by now that although the castle is not actually open to the public, the influence it wields in the town is enormous.
Lismore Castle Arts is a relatively new development and the most significant aspect is the fact that it has opened up a previously derelict wing as its HQ. So now finally, in small but significant stages we are beginning to breach those castle walls. As a gallery , the space is impressive: one long central display area then a short climb to some smaller upper rooms with interesting courtyard views. Richard long, described as a 'Pioneering land Artist' is currently the featured artist and his trendy arrangements of stones, mud hand prints, and other 'site specific' works seem strangely at home in this setting. A little room off the gallery provides adults with a space to browse in art books and for children to experiment with their own muddy hand prints. The photo shows the main gallery and one of Long's stone arrangements.
ADMISSION AND OPENING: Same as for the gardens and the admission fee for one covers both.
Lismore Castle Gardens are open to the public and getting in at the back door can sometimes be more enjoyable than the boring old entrance hall. I'm actually not terribly into gardens and I was pleasurably surprised by how much I enjoyed a Sunday afternoon amble here.
The hum and drone of bees on a hot summer'sday was something I had not been exposed to for some time and as a relaxation exercise I can thoroughly recommend it . I'd never in my life seen so many bumble bees and red and white butterflies in the one place before and watching them flutter manically from lavender to hollyhock to purple thistle flower was really awesome.
The most important feature of the garden is its herbaceous border running downhill from top to bottom and perfectly aligned with the cathedral square. I only know it's a herbaceous border because I read it in the brochure but whatever it is, it's absolutely gorgeous. The photo shows this walkway/HB and in the top lefthand corner youcan see a sculpted eagle. There are many sculptural pieces scattered around the garden and stumbling upon them was part of the fun.
I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit here especially for those who think they have no interest in gardens.
OPEN: April 15th - October 1st. 13.45-16.45, 11am opening in high season.
ADMISSION: Adults EUR6, Children under 16, EUR3
Lismore Castle is not open to the public. The best views are from the bridge over the Blackwater River and here you will frequently meet wedding parties availing of a scenic backdrop to their day.
The castle can however be hired out as a venue for private parties, at suitably inflated prices. Over the years urban legends have proliferated about celebs supposedly holed up here. Tom and Nicole, Michael Jackson and Brad and Jen have all been 'definitely' spotted. When Prince Charles and Camilla PB actually did spend some time there a year or two ago , it generated no hype at all. Rumours are much more fun.
The castle as it now stands, evolved from the original one built by Prince John in 1185. Walter Raleigh ( he who is credited with bringing the potato to Ireland) owned the estate for a time and he in turn sold it to the Earl of Cork , Richard Boyle. The impressive 19th century version which you see today is still home to the Dukes of Devonshire.