Fota Island or Foaty Island (Oileán Fhóta in Irish) is a small island in Cork Harbour, Ireland, just north of the larger island of Great Island. The name "Fota" is derived from the Irish "Fód te" meaning warm soil. Fota Island is host to Ireland's only wildlife park – as well as the historical Fota House with ornamental gardens and an 18-hole golf course owned by the "Fota Island Golf Club and Resort".
Fota House and Gardens
Fota House was the former home of the Smith-Barry family (Earls of Barrymore since 1627), descendants of Philip de Barry. The de Barry family came from Wales as part of the Norman invasion of Ireland. He was granted Fota and other lands in 1185. The family first resided at Barryscourt Castle, Carrigtwohill, then at Castlelyons where they held extensive lands. Fota House was originally a hunting lodge and became the family's main residence in the 1820s when the architect, Sir Richard Morrison (1767–1849) and his son Vetruvius Morrison (1794–1738), created the present regency mansion with over 70 rooms.
The last member of the Smith-Barry family to live in Fota House was the Hon. Dorothy Elizabeth Bell (1894–1975), daughter of Arthur Smith-Barry (1843–1925). She continued to develop and record the plant collections in the gardens and in the arboretum, which her family had started in the 1840s. On Mrs Bell's death in 1975 the estate was sold to University College Cork.
During the latter part of the last century, the house fell into some disrepair – culminating in the collapse of a ceiling. This closed the house to the public for some time. It was restored using EU, Irish government and private funding, prior to reopening in early 2002. In December 2007, the new Irish Heritage Trust took over responsibility for Fota House.
Fota Gardens are in the grounds of Fota House. They are highly acclaimed, consisting of a structured arboretum, walled garden and terraces. Many rare and exotic shrubs and trees exist, along with an extensive rose garden.
Fota's arboretum and gardens are what they are today thanks to the Smith-Barry family who recognised the significance of Fota's sheltered location and warm soil — "Fota" is derived from the Irish "Fód te" meaning warm soil – appropriate for the growing and cultivation of rare trees and exotic plants.
The development of the arboretum and gardens coincided with the great plant hunting expeditions around the world bringing back specimens from places such as Asia, South America and the Pacific coast of northwest America. Many of these rare plants found their way to Fota within a few years of their discovery.
In the 1840s, John Smith-Barry showed foresight by spacing the trees, enabling them to thrive with displays of seasonal colour. The family also recorded the plant collections throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century and this work of cataloguing, conservation and development continues today.
Fota Island Resort
Fota Island Resort lies in the heart of a 780-acre estate (originally the Fota House grounds) integrated with woodlands and landscape. Its golf course consists of three par 71 championship courses in the traditional mode comprising the Deerpark, Belvelly and Barryscourt courses. The Golf Club has three championship standard golf course configurations. The original Deerpark (Par 71) along with Belvelly (Par 72) and Barryscourt (Par 73).
Golf was first played in Fota Island in 1886. Since then it was continually developed and became one of the premier locations in golfing. In 1993, Fota Island Golf Club was further developed by Christy O'Connor Junior (Irish Ryder Cup), and Peter McEvoy (two-time British Amateur Champion).
Fota Island hosts a number of tournaments which includes the Irish Club Professional Championship and the Murphy's Irish Open golf tournament in 2001 and 2002. Fota Island was then purchased by the Killeen Group (owners of Mount Juliet Golf & Spa Hotel in Kilkenny). Since then, developments have taken place and the course has been upgraded to European Tour standards.
In November 2004, Fota Island Golf Club was purchased by the Fleming Group. The Fleming Group also improved the course by renovating some of the holes and also maintained the greens and reseeded the trees surrounding the golf course. In 2006, the Fleming Group completed construction of the 5-star Fota Island Hotel & Spa as well a large self-catering lodge development. In 2011, Fota Island Golf Club hosted the PGA Europro "Audi Cork Irish Masters" which was won by Paul Reed of Bristol and Clifton Golf Club.
On 27 September 2013, Fota Island Resort management announced the official handover to its new owners, the Kang Family Worldwide Group. The Kang family, originally from Baoding, Hebei Province in China acquired the 500-acre resort from the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).
Fota Wildlife Park
Opened in 1983 by the President of Ireland, Dr Patrick Hillery, Fota Wildlife Park has the primary aim of conservation of global wildlife. It is a joint project of the Zoological Society of Ireland and University College Cork.
Fota Wildlife Park has more than 70 species of exotic wildlife in open surroundings. Animals include ostriches, giraffes, kangaroos, zebras and antelope. Most of the animals who inhabit the island are allowed to roam throughout more than 202,000 square metres (50 acres) of mature grassland, with the exception of the cheetahs and other predators, which have fenced enclosures. Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Capybaras and other animals freely roam the park. Capybaras aren't free any more so now they live with the tapirs.
Many of the animals at Fota are under threat of extinction. The cheetah is an example of this. There are only 12,000 cheetahs in their natural habitat. Fota Wildlife Park is involved in breeding programs for these endangered species, as well as being a breeding source for other zoos around the world. For example, under these programs, "Bonnie", a red panda from Dublin Zoo, was moved to Fota to breed with Fota's male panda "Pete".
Fota lies just south of the N25 road from Cork to Rosslare. It is directly accessible to Cobh and Carrigtwohill by the R624 regional road which runs from Tullagreen (N25 Southside Carrigtwohill-Cobh interchange) to Cobh town Center.
- Foaty Island, , 24 September 2012.
- Leland, Mary,Let's do all we can to make sure it's not a Fota finish, Independent.ie, 27 June 2004.
- Irish Heritage Trust, Rebulic of Ireland.
- "Fota Island Resort". www.fotaisland.ie. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
- "Fota station". Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
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