Let me invite you, wherever you may be, to imagine your house. Imagine it as though you were a bird, and see your house from above. Perhaps there is a large backyard, with a pool glittering in the sun? Or adobe walls, illuminated by moonlight. Surely, it’s cozy. A comfortable 2,600 square feet or so? It’s certainly nice….
Now, picture your house again, but this time, picture it 590 times.
A little bit harder, isn’t it? Such is the vast, breathtaking beauty of Powerscourt, County Wicklow, Ireland. Ranked as the world’s 3rd most beautiful garden, this grand estate stands as a monument of the Anglo-Norman’s military prowess. This land, once wild, entangled, and impassable, was awarded to Powerscourt’s first Anglo-Norman owner in recognition for his victory over the violent Irish clansmen. He routed the savage drunkards and was gifted honor, prestige, and wealth.
As a celebration for staining his hands with the blood of an innocent people, people who were just trying to defend themselves from colonization, he was awarded 1,000 acres of beautiful, rampant wilderness.
Do I have you attention yet? Good. Now, allow me to tell you about the rich wealth of history and knowledge tucked away on the grounds of this estate.
Powerscourt is a 1,000 acre estate, the manor itself housing a generous gift shop larger than your house, selling beautiful woolen clothing, children’s toys, and various foods and knick-knacks. Upon entering, you’re greeted by a disheveled suit of armor who has seen some better days. You walk through a beautiful lobby, buy your ticket, and you’re ready to go. There’s a wonderful opportunity to take a complimentary audio tour, which I would highly recommend as it is not only educational, but fun.
Finally, you enter the grounds.
Ideally, it is a sunny day with clear skies and a distant view of the Sugarloaf Mountains. You look straight, meeting a courtyard that could easily fit four football fields. Two roman angels look over the grounds, and statues of Diana and Apollo overlook a large set of stairs. These statues were erected in order to represent what the estate meant to the Anglo-Norman family.
It is important to understand that much of Ireland’s past was covered up and set off to the side, away from the public’s eye. The Anglo-Norman’s came in in the 12th century, took over, and brought in the Catholic faith and education system. This was not done peacefully, and sometimes the tourism industry likes to set the violence off to the side in a package that, they hope, people will ignore.
The gods Diana and Apollo are the moon and sun deities of the Romans’ pagan religion. The ancient druids of Ireland, and other Irish-Pagan religions, would have worshipped the moon and the sun as deities of nature. This is an example of how the presumably Catholic, Anglo-Norman owner erected statues of Pagan deities to represent his estate, but instead of addressing them as the moon and sun deity, the audio tour explains that they symbolically express the feelings of the owner. Their religious connections are tucked away in the box, set aside, and hopefully ignored. If he wanted to represent his estate, why not use archangels such as Raphael or Gabriel? Even the angels overlooking the garden grounds are Roman-Pagan angels, and these themes repeat throughout the gardens as you take your self-guided tour. They are expressed as objects of interest, placing little-to-no importance on the significant theme of religion that these statues represent.
Powerscourt is set up in a way that ignores the oppressive history of Ireland. When the English originally scouted the land, the king sent a man to observe the local people. You may consider him an early anthropologist, if you wish. Gerald of Wales performed his duty admirably, and established the racist ideas that we have of the Irish today. He told the king that there was so much potential in Ireland, wasted by its own savage, barbaric, and uneducated people. So, the king sent in his forces, and as with most historical stories, the Irish welcomed them, wondering at their knowledge and ingenuity. Years passed (many years), and Ireland realized they had their culture and way of life stripped away from them, while the Anglos became more Irish than the Irish.
“Who cares?” You may be saying. Unfortunately, having one’s culture taken away from you is a bit traumatic. Their language nearly went extinct, and is still fighting to recover. The Irish culture that we have today is a little bit of Anglo-Irish research (after all, they had the money, rather than the Irish themselves), and a lot of Anglo-Irish interference. Blood was shed, lives were lost, and people died.
In the United States, we think that the Irish are all about shamrocks, beer, leprechauns, and either potatoes or sheep. The Irish play to that idea when it comes to popular tourist locations. Leprechauns dance along the walls of a store, standing out in a sea of blues, grays, and dull reds. They sell shamrock necklaces and paraphernalia.
Even though it disguises the violent history of British colonialism in a cushion-y cloud of beautiful landscaping, Roman mythology, trolls and royalty, and a Japanese garden, Powerscourt didn’t have a single leprechaun in its shop, whether on a shirt or a postcard. Instead, it had woolen goods, allergen-free jewelry, cookbooks, and all-natural organic beauty products. Powerscourt represented Ireland better than any green leprechaun, but as with all things, it must be taken with a grain of salt. As with all violence, it is hushed up by the people who caused it, and blamed on the “savages” who took a stand. I ask that when visiting this beautiful estate, remember that little package off to the side, and don’t let the tourism industry play you into thinking that everything is fine and dandy, and remember who it was that invaded Ireland.