Coole Park is a 100-acre park that sits on a 400-acre nature reserve and is found in County Galway. Coole Park not only has cultural significance as an important site of the Irish Literary Revival of the late 1800s, but it is also part of an Irish national reserve that has global importance as the site of a disappearing lake known as a Turlough.
Facilities at Coole Park’s visitor Centre include parking, an audio-visual presentation, marked nature trails, a walled garden, and wheelchair access to the visitors center. The entrance to Coole Park and the nature reserve is free, as is parking.
Coole Park Visitor Centre & Gardens
Coole Park was the home of Lady Augusta Gregory who founded the Abbey theatre and was a patron of the arts gathering the “wild swans” of the Irish literary revival around her, entertaining the cream of Irish literary and theatrical talent. Writers such as William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and John Millington Synge were frequent visitors. Lady Gregory was a dramatist and folklorist in her own right and made an enduring contribution to Irish literature.
The remains of the Gregory home
The ruins of the 3 story house still remain and face the Burren and Lough Coole. You will see the remains of dry stone boundary walls which date back to 1776 and the old lime kiln is still intact, as is the walled garden. Limekilns burn lime to make fertilizer, whitewash, and mortar.
There is also a lovely tea room in an old stable that serves snacks and light meals. Above the stables is a dovecot where wrens and starlings now nest. The tea room is open from Friday – Sunday 10 am -5 pm but is closed in winter. The ancient city of Gort which was a stronghold of the O’Shaunnesys in medieval times is only a few km away and well worth a visit for some hot food after a long walk.
The limestone bench under the red cedar:
Coole Park itself is situated on limestone karst which is what makes the turlough or disappearing lakes possible. There is a large bench carved out of limestone under a spreading Red Cedar tree. This was constructed in 1908 and has a view of the Slieve Aughty mountains. This is noted historically as being a meeting place for Lady Gregory and her literary cronies from the Abbey Theatre.
The Famous Autograph Tree
If you are quiet you can hear the words of the literary greats who carved their names in the bark of this great old Copper Beech tree whispering in the wind. The signatures have faded with the passage of time as the tree has healed. However, you can still see the signatures of the first president of Ireland- An Craoibhín, Sean O’ Casey, andJ.M. Synge among others, and of course the most famous ones of William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory. The Autograph tree was also signed by Lady Gregory’s son who was killed in WW1 and whose death was memorialized by Yeats in his stark poem ” An Irish Airman Forsee’s His Death”
The Deer Pen
This deer pen enclosure is near the remains of the old household and contains a small herd of red deer. Red deer have been in Ireland for at least 5000 years and are a protected but not endangered species. Red deer are the largest mammals that you will see in Ireland.
The Walled Garden:
After a lifetime of traveling Lady Gregory found much peace at Coole park and especially in her walled gardens that had hothouses and a strand of yew trees. You can still find an analemmatic sundial which is a sundial that uses the viewer’s own shadow to tell the time tucked away behind the Yew trees.
The Woodlands Of Coole Park
The Coole Park woodlands are a carpet of Bluebells in the springtime and you can also see Wild Garlic with its tiny white flowers and aromatic smell. You may also see dog violet, primrose, and wood anemone along the pathways
The wildlife at Coole Park Nature Reserve includes red deer. red squirrels, stoats, swans, wetland birds, and butterflies. Yeats captured the majesty of the swans with his poem “The Wild Swans at Coole”. In the poem he counts 59 swans, see how many you can find.
The Nature trails
There are two looping trails that you can take. One called the Family Trail is 1.75 KM long and the Seven Woods Trail is 4.5 km. There are some roots and uneven ground but these are easy trails are suitable for families and casual strollers.
Red arrows mark the trails showing the way with an ascent of 10m. They begin and finish in the car park and the grid reference is R 441 050.
The Trees of Coole Park
The woods are a combination of old estate plantations that began with the Norman conquest and native woodland. Norway Spruce is still evident although this is a more recent addition. The Seven Woods Trail joins 7 different woods in a meandering path. Most of the ancient woodland is on the far side of the lake. You will see beech, yew, oak, silver fir, ash, and even juniper trees. You can often see black moss growing on the trees and this is from when the Turlough rises in winter.
The shrubbery at Coole park is very diverse and contains Hazel Spindle, Hawthorn, Guelder and Burnet Rose, Blackthorn, and Honeysuckle.
The Wetlands Of Coole Park
Coole Lake is a turlough and is of global importance. The turlough is at the center of a unique karstic wetland system. There is a network of underground caves and rivers underneath the limestone.
The extreme variation caused by being underwater for much of the year requires very hard and versatile plants. Silverweed with its silver leaves and yellow flowers pops up in summer. You will also find starwort if you look along the shores of the lough. If you are lucky you may find the fen violet, which is rare indeed.
Turloughs are a rare occurrence and are classified as Priority habitats under the EU Habitats Directive. Besides one in Wales, you will not find Turloughs outside of Ireland. You can find more information about the natural features of Coole Park at the Coole Park Nature Reserve website.
The water in Turloughs empties through ‘swallow holes’ in the lake bed in the summer. This makes them seem to disappear. The Turlough at the Coole Park nature reserve has the greatest water level fluctuation of any turlough in Ireland- as much as 10 m from winter to summer. The lake does not entirely disappear in Summer unless it is a very dry year.
Contact and Location Details for Coole Park Visitors Centre and Nature Reserve.
Found between the Slieve Aughty and Ennis Mountains. This is a perfect place to start an exploration of the Burren. The quiet monastic town of Kilmacduagh, also off the beaten track is only a few km away.
At Coole Park Nature Reserve they offer a wide range of services for groups and students. You will find it at the south edge of county Galway very near the border of County Clare. For inquiries or bookings, contact them at +353 91 631804 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you come to Coole Park nature reserve on the literary trail I recommend going also to Thoor Ballylee. Norman Invaders built this 14th-century tower and Seamus Heaney described Thor Ballylee as the most important building in Ireland.
If you can’t make it in person or want to prepare for your visit, a captivating online resource for poetry lovers is the Coole Park poetry series. The Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation in collaboration with the Druid Theatre in Galway created video performances of 10 poems that bring Coole Park alive.
Who Will Enjoy Coole Park?
I find Coole park to be very romantic because of its literary history. However, it is also a great day out for families and for nature lovers. It wouldn’t be for campers or people who want a physically challenging hike. Dogs are welcome on a leash. So come take a stroll on the meandering well-marked trails and see if you can feel the history of this much-loved park.