Beloved Inspiration of Jonathan Swift
Clare O'Connor explores Gosford Park
Situated in Co Armagh, Gosford Forest Park is a wooded parkland rich in both history and natural beauty. Small wonder the Acheson family, later the Earls of Gosford, were so keen to set up home here in 1610 and Jonathan Swift sought inspiration in its boughs and glades.
Key among the park’s attractions are its magnificent herd of red deer, the Drumleck river with its abundant wildfowl, a paddock containing ‘rare animal breeds’ and Ireland’s largest collection of traditional poultry.
The Earls of Gosford were to stay here until 1921, the park’s huge and incongruous mock Norman castle their most obvious legacy. A gateway and some red brick foundations are all that remain of the original Planter enterprise that was to extend to the formation of nearby Markethill.
Jonathan Swift was a frequent visitor to Gosford Demesne, staying there for some eight months when he was widowed in 1728. Much of his poetry from this time features Markethill, Sir Arthur Acheson, his wife and several of their servants.
Swift’s attachment to the place was such that he contemplated building a house on the grounds. The area he had staked out is still known as Drapier's Hill, Drapier being the writer’s sometime nom-de-plume.
Visitors can retrace the Dean’s footsteps on the park’s designated colour-coded trails. The Beechwood Trail takes in the arboretum, a living monument to Victoriana with tree species from California, Chile and Japan. The gloomy and ubiquitous conifer dominates but thankfully there isn’t a monkey-puzzle tree in sight.
The Castle Trail includes the walled garden built at the turn of the 19th century. This is a much modified version of the original. Flowers, fruit and vegetables have given way to paving with a central lily pond but some pear trees survive from when it was a functioning kitchen garden.
In all, 240 hectares more colourful than any Altman production!