Sir John Skeffington, 2nd Viscount Massereene, was an important figure in late 17th century society, and as a person of great taste it is no surprise that his garden at Antrim was at the cutting edge of garden design.
After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, it was the French style that emerged as the epitome of fashion, and this influenced all levels of art and design across Britain and Ireland, especially gardens.
The style had a number of influences and while continuing the traditions of earlier landscaping styles with a focus on geometrical, or formal, layouts, the gardens in Antrim were strongly influenced by the great Baroque gardens laid out by André Le Nôtre and his colleagues in France. Although the design in Antrim cannot be directly attributed to Le Notre, there is some suggestion that associates were involved, and there is no doubt that scaled down echoes of his style can been seen here.
Elements of what is known as the Anglo-Dutch style, which emerged in the late 17th century with the arrival of the Dutch king, William I, on the English throne, are also visible, particularly in the formal water features. The canals, or reflecting ponds, are the showpiece features within the gardens and are set within high hedges of lime and hornbeam with narrow ‘lovers’ paths’ running along both sides.
The lower canal dates from the early 18th century, while the upper canal was added by the 10th Viscount Massereene in the 19th century. The cascade that separates the two canals forms a ‘vista stop’ when viewed from the southern end and is most impressive when glimpsed through the tunnel of yew trees at the southern end.
The Phantom Coach in the Long Canal
Visitors to Antrim Castle Gardens have reported a strange apparition that is thought to be a ghostly coach that descends into the depths of the Long Canal on the night of 31 May each year. Pulled by four fine horses the coach sinks to the bottom of the murky waters. It is thought to be an annual haunting enacting an event that took place in the 18th Century when a drunken coachman mistook the canal waters for that of a damp road surface. The occupants of the coach and the driver perished without trace.