On March 1st 2023, Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys TD and Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin TD officially opened Mount Congreve Gardens in County Waterford to the public following a €7 million re-development. It is the first time that part of the historic Mount Congreve House will officially open to visitors.
The project received €5million in capital funding from the Rural Regeneration Development Fund, €1.2million in funding from Waterford City and County Council and €1.2million** investment in capital and business supports from Fáilte Ireland.
It is the largest investment in a visitor attraction in Waterford and is aiming to attract over 86,000 visitors in 2023, rising to over 130,000 visitors annually by 2032, driving an economic benefit of €64.5m million in the area by 2033 along with the creation of 16 year-round and 11 seasonal jobs directly and supporting 174 jobs indirectly on an annual basis.
Located 10 minutes from Waterford City, Mount Congreve House was home to six generations of the merchant family of Congreves.
Mount Congreve has been lauded as a ‘great garden of the world’ and the title is certainly fitting to an incredible 70 acres of woodland gardens and 4 acres of walled gardens within a 140-acre estate located 10 minutes outside of Ireland’s oldest City of Waterford and adjacent to Waterford’s Greenway. Inspired by Mr Lionel de Rothschild’s exceptional garden at Exbury in Hampshire, work began on Mount Congreve Gardens in the 1950s. Ambrose Congreve’s achievements were acknowledged by Queen Elizabeth, who awarded him a CBE, and by Trinity College Dublin, which granted him an honorary doctorate.
Under the redevelopment works a re-invigoration of the gardens has taken place under the vision of Estate
Manager, Ray Sinnott and Garden Curator Michael White, with a huge investment of insights, expertise, staff time and funds by both Fáilte Ireland and Waterford City and County Council working in partnership with design consultants Imagemakers Design and The Paul Hogarth Company. The result of this project is a transformed and iconic visitor experience. A new orientation and wayfinding system is in place whereby visitors can now explore three different walking routes peppered with creative interpretation and play features that tell the story of Mount Congreve and its botanic collection. Enhancements have been made to the garden infrastructure which includes new pathways and a woodland playground for families.
Visitors will now arrive through the main front doors of the house into the foyer to enjoy an immersive audio-visual exhibition of the garden and family history. Audio guides will also be available in English, Irish, French, German and Spanish. From the foyer’s double doorways, visitors will be able to catch a glimpse of the very rare ‘Chinese Room’ which features wallpaper, painted by hand, in or near the Chinese port of Canton/Guangzhou, probably in the 1790s – cited as the only existing wallpaper of its kind in the world.
To complement the 18th Century mansion house, a new purpose-built visitor centre has been created in the existing courtyard and former stables in the Eastern wing of the house. The glass roof courtyard with its original architectural features retained is now home to a serene new visitor centre and café, which overlooks the magnolia treetops. The plot-to-plate menu at the Stables Café features an abundance of local produce along with flavours and vegetables fresh from the Mount Congreve Kitchen Gardens and is open for breakfast, lunch and a special Mount Congreve signature Afternoon Tea which is served in the ‘Old Tack Room’.
Other new elements include a new wetlands walk where dog owners can now enjoy a walk at Mount Congreve plus additional car parking.
Speaking at the official opening of the project today, Minister Humphreys said, “The opening of the spectacular Mount Congreve Gardens marks a historic day for Waterford and the South East.
This is a world-class tourist attraction that will welcome tens of thousands of visitors every year and provide a huge boost to the local economy.
With the support of €5 million from my Department’s Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, ‘Ireland’s Global Garden’ has undergone a major transformation over the past two years.
It has now been restored and re-developed as part of the largest single investment in a tourism project in Waterford’s history.
The investment represents a major vote of confidence in the South East and demonstrates our commitment to helping our rural communities go from strength to strength.”
Speaking at the official opening of the project today, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin TD, said:
“The Investment of €1.2 million made by Fáilte Ireland towards this world-class tourism destination will, without doubt, open the southeast region to a raft of new visitors. It is anticipated the visitors attracted to Mount Congreve will spend a total of €64.5m million in the area by 2033. This represents spend in the Waterford region of €6.45m annually and the spend generated because of this investment will indirectly support 174 jobs annually.
The sustainable redevelopment of Mount Congreve is an example of how we can achieve great things if we work together. The future of tourism in Waterford is brighter today thanks to the success of this project.”
Mayor of Waterford City and County, Cllr. John O’Leary said, “Mount Congreve truly is the jewel in Waterford’s crown. The delivery of this world-class visitor experience has reaffirmed Mount Congreve’s standing as one of ‘the great gardens of the world’ and will ensure the long-term viability of this enormously important national visitor attraction.
“This facility will soon welcome over 86,000 visitors from near and far. Not only will they take with them an enduring memory of the breathtaking gardens and woodlands, but also of Mount Congreve House itself and its compelling history.
“It is a wonderful testament to the commitment and dedication of the Mount Congreve staff, stakeholders, Waterford City and County Council, Fáilte Ireland and Government departments that have brought this vision to reality.”
Paul Kelly, CEO of Fáilte Ireland added, “Investing in standout attractions and unique experiences is a key element of attracting international visitors to Ireland and encouraging domestic tourists to explore different areas of the country. Fáilte Ireland’s research into gardens shows that visitors see gardens as highly immersive and dynamic experience for the senses, that allows them to reconnect with nature and encourages them to explore. Fáilte Ireland’s investment of €1.2million** in capital and business supports for Mount Congreve brings the visitor experience of these world-renowned gardens to the next level. It has also delivered the commercial plan, retail offering and restaurant to ensure the financial sustainability of this beautiful place for future generations.
Mount Congreve is also part of Fáilte Ireland’s Digital that Delivers programme, which has transformed the online booking system at the attraction and makes it more visible, and importantly bookable, to domestic and international visitors. Fáilte Ireland is currently collaborating with industry and stakeholders to develop tourism in Waterford through the development of a Destination Experience and Development Plan (DEDP), which will drive economic and employment opportunities in the local community.”
Commercial Director at Mount Congreve Gardens and Waterford Treasures Sara Dolan says, “For many many years work had been going on behind the walls of Mount Congreve Gardens with the result being the creation of the most magnificent private gardens through the vision of Ambrose Congreve, and today those gardens are unveiled for visitors to now fully enjoy. In addition, it is momentous that the house at Mount Congreve officially opens to visitors for the first time, this is phase one of this project area and we look forward to opening more of the spaces in the house over the coming years.
In April 2011 Mr Congreve was in London en route to the Chelsea Flower Show, aged 104 when he died. His ashes were returned to Mount Congreve and placed in the temple overlooking his gardens and the River Suir below. The work started by Mr Congreve has continued through this transformative project and the result is a world-class visitor experience and a new shining jewel in Waterford’s tourism crown.
This year alone we expect to welcome some 85,000 visitors to Mount Congreve Gardens and to build upon this annually generating additional employment and revenue opportunities for Waterford and the Southeast region.”
Mount Congreve House and Gardens also act as a respite point for the Waterford Greenway with the 48km long attraction running adjacent to the gardens. The gardens are open year-round 7 days a week (4 days a week in low season). Full details can be found at www.mountcongreve.com.
Seldom has the Congreve family motto been more appropriate:
“Non mortitur cujus fama vivit”
“He does not die whose good name lives on”.
Ambrose Congreve (1907-2011)