The 400-year-old Lisburn Castle Gardens is the most historically significant landscape in Lisburn. They are located on Castle Street, Lisburn, County Antrim. Long ago, this site held Lisburn Castle, which is a 17th century fortified manor house, built by the Conway Family, the landlords of Lisburn in the 1620s. The Gardens setting represent the town’s memorial to WWI and WWII.
Lisburn Castle Gardens is a green oasis within the heart of Lisburn. The formal gardens are the perfect place for relaxing, taking a walk or having a picnic and connecting with nature, especially in the summer when the Castle Gardens bursts into life. There you will find a beautiful picturesque of trees holding bird nests. In the summer, these trees support a wide range of invertebrates, which are a food source for birds such as Blue Tit, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Rook, Robin and Dunnock by day and bats such as Common Pipistrelle and Leisler’s Bats at night. During the autumn and winter, birds such as resident Woodpigeon and Blackbird as well as Redwing and Fieldfare find in the berries of Ivy, Rowan, Dogwood, Hawthorn and Cotoneaster an important source of food.
Among the things to ponder on at the Gardens, along the old stone and brick walls of the terraced gardens, you will find the lime-loving Hart’s-tongue Fern and the creeping Ivy-leaved Toadflax growing from small gaps in the mortar.
Strolling around the Castle Gardens, you will come across popular sections including the Large Parterre, Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Garden and the Yew Tree Pond. At the center of the Gardens lies the Clotworthy House, and there the Garden Heritage Exhibition is held.
History of Lisburn Castle Gardens
By the end of the 16th century, Shane O’Neill, an Irish king of the O’Neill dynasty of Ulster in the mid-16th century, owned much of the land as well as three castles, among which was a castle in the Castle Gardens site. The Castle Gardens site represented a strategic defense against any enemy due to its advantageous geographical location.
By 1585, Queen Elizabeth sent forces to Ulster to fight Hugh O’Neill. He triumphed in 1602. In 1603, when James I ascended the throne, he pardoned the O’Neills. However, he confiscated their land and its property was transferred to the Conways, particularly to Sir Fulke Conway, a commander in the English army and owner of Conway Castle in North Wales. The town of Lisburn grew around the Castle.
In 1623, the Church of St. Thomas was established as a private chapel to the Lisburn Castle. After Sir Fulke Conway’s death, the property was passed on to his brother, Edward Conway, who was titled the First Viscount Conway and Killutagh. He started building a new estate on the original site. Later in 1662, George II, King of Great Britain and Ireland, granted the Church Cathedral status as a reward to the people of Lisburn for their loyalty to the crown during the Civil War.
During the Civil War that broke out in England, Irish leaders thought about seizing the opportunity to rebel against the English settlers. Accordingly, Sir Phelim O’Neill led the Irish attack on Lisburn where Lord Conway’s garrison was located. The fight took place mainly around what is currently known as Castle Street and Bridge Street, resulting in 300-600 casualties and the Irish defeat.
In 1707, the Castle and the Cathedral were destroyed by the great fire of Lisburn, which was accidental. The Cathedral was rebuilt, but the Castle was not. After the fire, Francis, who had inherited the Estate by then, sought to help the town of Lisburn by renewing his tenants’ leases for more rent free duration. He also provided them with the wood they needed. So, the former Castle grounds were landscaped and served as a recreation area.
During Sir Richard Wallace’s time, who was the last landlord of the estate, the town of Lisburn witnessed great prosperity. He established a house for himself in Castle Street and offered 25 acres of land to the town, which is currently Wallace Park. However, he never lived in that house. Among his achievements was the renovation of the Market House. He had the roof replaced and its dome re-coppered. In 1883, the courthouse was built, which held the Wallace coat of arms until the courthouse was destroyed in 1971. Moreover, the union bridge was improved and widened. Sir Wallace also built what is now known as Wallace High School.
Upon the death of Sir Richard Wallace, the Gardens, which continued in the hands of descendants of the Conways, and later his wife, Lady Wallace, were gifted in 1903 by Lady Wallace’s heir, Sir John Murray Scott, to the people of Lisburn. The Gardens became a public park.
Archaeological excavations were conducted at the Gardens site during the preliminary renovations. The excavations revealed several artifacts, which are now displayed at Lisburn Museum with information on their historical significance. Important facilities were uncovered as well from the 17th century, including a gazebo and a double flight staircase. Several historic monuments were also found, dating back to the late Victorian Era. These monuments include the Wallace drinking fountain, the 1677 red sandstone gateway and the memorial erected in 1891 to commemorate Sir Richard Wallace (1818–1890), Lisburn’s last landlord and great benefactor.
Recent investigations in (2003–2004) at Lisburn Castle Gardens revealed a C17 four-terrace (three of brick) garden, with double-flight perron (i.e. an outdoor stairway), bowling-green, and banquet-house.
Restoration & Refurbishments
Recently, Lisburn City Council has restored the upper 19th century gardens and the 17th century terraces, with grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund worth of £6 million. This refurbishment preserved the gardens for the future generations. A WWII Air Raid shelter was converted into an education center for school and community use.
In 2010, Lisburn Castle Gardens was awarded the prestigious Green Flag Award for the third time in a row as one of the UK’s best green spaces. This award is granted to the best parks and public open spaces in the UK. The Gardens stood out for its excellent use of open space, well-maintained facilities and high standard of safety and security.
In this regard, Councillor Allan Ewart, Chairman of Lisburn Historic Quarter Partnership, spoke of this achievement and said:
“It is a privilege to have this wonderful space right in the heart of our City. As part of the Lisburn Historic Quarter Strategy, we aim to encourage more visitors and add vibrancy to the Historic Quarter with Castle Gardens as the jewel in the crown. Continuing to achieve the Green Flag Award status secures the status of the park as a quality attraction for all to enjoy.”
Councillor Palmer added:
“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the staff that are involved in Castle Gardens for their continued hard work in ensuring this facility is maintained to a high standard for enjoyment by the entire Lisburn community and those who visit the City.”
Activities & Programs
The Castle Gardens organizes year-round events and activities. A full educational program for schools is held at Lisburn Castle Gardens as well as seasonal and community events throughout the year. Free tours and interactive workshops are also conducted. There are a number of displays in the Oriel Gallery throughout the year too.
- Free (parking charges may apply)
- Guided Tours Available
- Coffee shop
- Visitor shop
- Toilets including disabled toilet
- Full disabled access with street parking nearby
- 1st April to 30th September 08:00–20:00.
- 1st October to 31st March 08:00–17:00.
- Closed Christmas Day and New Years Day.
- Free garden access.
- Free guided tour [must be booked in advance (minimum numbers apply)] with staff from the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum.
All bookings and enquiries should be made to: Bookings, Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, Market Square, Lisburn, BT28 1AG, or telephone (028) 9266 3377.
Castle Gardens official website: www.castlegardenslisburn.com