The gardens of Tramore House in Co. Waterford have gone though several major transformations in their time and from that and its latest redesign it can certainly be said to reflect the life of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn after whom they are now named.
The house and gardens date from the 1880s when Tramore was a Victorian seaside resort at the height of its popularity. Standing on the upper level of the two and a half acre garden it is easy to imagine the wonderful views to the seafront when the house was first built and before later developments interfered. By all accounts the gardens were magnificent on a steeply sloping site with natural rock outcrops, springs and waterfalls. These became overgrown and were left neglected until a restoration was commissioned by Waterford County Council under The Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme with a design by Angela Jupe which developed pathways through the slopes of mature trees to the water basin, canal and rock garden at the lower levels. A natural stream fed a large waterfall while on a terrace a formal pool was developed and at the lowest level there was also a more natural looking pool planted with gunnera and bamboo. A large border of mixed planting provided colour through the summer month and was a great attraction to visitors.
The latest reincarnation of the garden is one dedicated to the memory of Patrick Ladcadio Hearn, an author better known in Japan, his adopted country, than here in Ireland and was sparked by the visit to Tramore of his great-grandson, Professor Koizumi Bon, in 2012 and taken up by the voluntary organisation, Tramore Development Trust, in partnership with Waterford City and County Councils with a plan to design a garden which would reflect the course of Lafcadio Hearn’s life and also reflects themes from his writing.
His father was Surgeon-Major Charles Bush Hearn (a native of Co. Offaly) who was stationed on the Greek island of Lefkada during the British occupation of the islands and married Rosa Antonios Kassimatis in 1949 in a Greek Orthodox ceremony. His father was reassigned to the British West Indies leaving his wife and son in the care of his family in Dublin, an uncomfortable arrangement as they were Protestant so his mother deserted him and he was passed to the care of his grand-aunt Sara Holmes Brenane, a widow who had converted to Catholicism and became her permanent ward at the age of seven. She lived in Dublin but visited Tramore during the summer months, staying at her father’s estate and this was his connection with the town. She provided for his education but, along with her financial manager Henry Molyneaux, became bankrupt when he was seventeen and sent him to London where he subsisted on menial jobs until Molyneaux later paid for a one way ticket to Cincinnatti. The promised help from Molyneaux’s sister did not materialise and he was left penniless in a strange city. He eventually worked for the Cincinnatti Daily Enquirer and later the Cincinnati Commercial where his crime reporting was highly regarded and popular.
He moved to New Orleans where he worked on the Daily City Item and then the Times Democrat where he later took on an editorial position and was also employed to translate items from French and Spanish newspapers. He translated a significant body of work from French to English, contributed frequently to national publications such as Harper’s Weeky and Scribner’s Magazine and wrote extensively on New Orleans, its culture, history and cuisine.
After two years in the French West Indies he went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent in 1890. This was a short-lived position and he took several positions as a teacher eventually teaching English Literature at Tokyo Imperial University. His writings on Japan came at a time there was a general interest in the west in all things Japanese while his rewriting of Japanese traditional legends and Japanese stories were hugely popular in Japan itself. He became a naturalised Japanese and took the name Koizumi Yakumo in 1886, married the daughter of a samurai family, Koizumi Setsu and had four children.
He taught in Matsue, a seaside town in western Japan, and the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his old residence there are two very popular tourist attractions in the town. The Lefcadio Hearn Historical Centre was established in his birthplace Lefkada, Greece, in 2014 while there is a cultural centre named for him at the University of Durham. Now, we have a garden to commemorate him in Tramore, Co. Waterford.
An essay he wrote, “In a Japanese Garden”, published in 1892 which gives an insight into his own garden in Japan has provided inspiration for the design at Tramore House by Waterford architect, Anne Harpur, and Kilkenny architect, Mike Roberts.
The garden is not yet complete and, as would be expected, looks a little raw and bare at the moment with newly planted and immature trees and shrubs. Some of the hard landscape elements are not quite complete and a small number of structures have yet to be added. The story of the garden is interesting but the planting needs time to develop and lacks the prettiness one wishes to see on a garden visit. An involvement by the horticultural sections at the Waterford Institute of Technology and at Kildalton College sounds promising for the future development of the gardens but I do hope a full-time qualified horticulturalist is employed so that this garden may reach its potential and continue to develop and flourish for many years to come.
There is a wealth of information at this website, http://lafcadiohearngardens.com/, and a read before a visit would make the experience more informed and enjoyable.