Derreen Garden lies on a promontory in Kilmakilloge Harbour on the Beara Peninsula, in Tuosist parish, near Kenmare in County Kerry (Republic of Ireland). Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne (1816–1866) initiated the planting of the garden in 1863, but it was his son, Henry Charles Keith Petty-FitzMaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (1845–1927), who from 1870 onwards gave the garden its present shape. Today it covers more than 60 acres and includes nearly 12 km of paths.
The land around Derreen garden was the seat of the Mac Finin Dubh O'Sullivan family, a branch of the O'Sullivan Beare, since around 1320. After the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–1653) the property got confiscated and was granted in 1657 to Sir William Petty, physician of Oliver Cromwell, as reward for his services. The Mac Finin Dubh O'Sullivans became a large tenant of Petty. The estate came into the ownership of the Fitzmaurice family, when in 1692 Petty's daughter Anne married Thomas Fitzmaurice, 1st Earl of Kerry, whose grandson William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, became Prime Minister of Great Britain and in 1784 was created Marquess of Lansdowne.
After the last male member of the Mac Finin Dubh O'Sullivans had died in 1809, the tenancy of the estate passed to Peter McSwiney, who was married to a niece of that family. In 1856 McSwiney was evicted from Derreen by William Steuart Trench (1808–1872), the land agent of Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780–1863), for being some years in arreas of rent. From 1857 onwards the house and its grounds were leased to different gentlemen. The last tenant was James Anthony Froude (1818–1894), an English historian, novelist, biographer, and editor of Fraser's Magazine, who leased Derreen between 1868 and 1871. In 1864, shortly after succeeding his father, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne (1816–1866) spent some days at Derreen with his wife. Being taken by the beauty of the property, he decided to live there for part of the year. However, this never came to fruition, as in 1866 he suddenly died of a stroke at his London club.
When the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne inherited the property in 1866, he was, like his father, drawn to the remoteness of the place. In 1870 he personally supervised alterations to Derren House, and from 1871 onwards the new Marquess and his young wife, Lady Maud Evelyn Hamilton (1850–1932), began to use Derreen as their summer residence.
In the same year Lansdowne embarked on an ambitious plan to transform the bare rock and scrub oak around the house into a luxuriant woodland garden. It is said that he employed 40 people to create the garden. 400 acres of land were planted to shelter a collection of scrubs and specimen trees. Many of them brought back from the Marquesses sojourns as Governor General of Canada and Viceroy of India. In addition he subscribed to the Himalayan plant-hunting expeditions and bought exotic plants from the well known nursery firm of Veitch. In 1903 King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited Derreen House and Garden and planted two commemorative bamboos.
With the exception of the years between 1883 and 1894, when he was successively Governor General of Canada and Viceroy of India, and those of the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923), the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne continued to visit Derreen for three months of each year until his death in 1927, which occurred while he was travelling to Derreen.
During the Second World War, Derreen was separated from the Lansdowne title by the death of Charles Petty-Fitzmaurice, 7th Marquess of Lansdowne, who was killed in action in 1944, when his entailed estates were inherited by a kinsman. Derreen, not being entailed, was inherited by his sister, Katherine Evelyn Constance Petty-Fitzmaurice (1912–1995), and is now owned and managed by her grandson, Charlie Bigham.
The well known garden extends over the greater part of the peninsula on which it lies. It covers an area of 60 acres and includes nearly 12 km of paths, which wind through mature and varied woodland. In the moist and mild climate, tender and exotic plants flourish. Many of the paths in the garden provide marvellous glimpses of the sea (Bay of Kilmakilloge) and the distant mountains (Caha Mountains, Macgillycuddy's Reeks).
Derreen garden is particularly noted for its rhododendrons (Rhododendron arboreum) and tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica). Throughout the garden a rich patina of moss, lichens ferns and saxifrages gives a sub-tropical feel to the whole area. As a foil to the luxuriant plantings, there are great natural outcrops of rocks. The garden is open to the public every day all year round.
Derreen garden is designed around Derreen house, which was originally built by the Mac Finin Dubh O'Sullivan family, a branch of the O'Sullivan Beare, in the first half of the eighteenth century. After the last male member of the Mac Finin Dubh O'Sullivans had died in 1809 the house passed to Peter McSwiney who was married to a niece of that family. He was evicted from Derreen house in 1856 by William Stewart Trench, the agent of Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne (1816–1866), for being some years in arreas of rent.
The house was enlarged between 1863 and 1866, when the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne built a new wing. Between 1870 and 1873 it was further enlarged by Henry Charles Keith Petty-FitzMaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (1845–1927) at a cost of £2,500. James Franklin Fuller was appointed as architect.
The house was plundered and burned in 1922 during the Irish Civil War (1922–1923), but rebuilt in a similar style by the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne in 1924. Some financial help came from the Irish Free State. Derreen house underwent further reconstruction between 1925 and 1926, having been attacked by dry rot. It is not open to the public.
- Marquess of Lansdowne
- Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne (1816–1866)
- Henry Charles Keith Petty-FitzMaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (1845–1927)
- Charles Petty-Fitzmaurice, 7th Marquess of Lansdowne (1917–1944)
- Valerie Bary: "Houses of Kerry", Ballinakella Press, Whitegate 1995, p.95-96, ISBN 0-946538-08-5
- Mark Bence-Jones: "A Guide To Irish Country Houses", Constable and Company Ltd., London 1988, p.101, ISBN 0-09-469990-9
- Nigel Everett: "A Landlord's Garden: Derreen Demesne, County Kerry", The Hafod Press, 2nd revised edition, Borlin Bantry 2005, ISBN 0-95-359953-1
- Olda FitzGerald: Irish Gardens, Conran Octopus Ltd, London 1999, p. 105-111, ISBN 978-0688168858
- Gerard J. Lyne: "The Lansdowne Estate in Kerry under W.S. Trench 1849–72", Geography Publications, Dublin 2001, ISBN 0-906602-81-5
- Details about Derreen and the Lansdowne estate in Ireland from the Moore Institute (NUI Galway)
- Article from discoverireland.com about Derreen Garden (in English)
- Article from irelandseye.com about Derreen Garden (in English)
- Article from irlandnews.com about Derreen Garden (in German)