Coole Park, Gort, County Galway

The Autograph Tree
I’ve spent a lot of time on the West Coast of Ireland, particularly just south of Galway City. From this locale I have explored a lot of the interesting areas that make up the “Wild West” Coast as they call it. Just inland is a town called Gort. It is not a city but one of the larger towns. They have a true bank and proper shops that you can’t get in some of the surrounding villages. Gort is cute to walk around but it won’t take you more than about a half hour, perhaps longer if you stop in every shop. This is not a touristy town, it’s a legit regular Irish town where all the shops have a purpose for the people who actually live there. If you have spent a lot of time on the tourist circuit, this is an alternative perspective.

Just outside, about 5km, of Gort is Coole Park . I first heard of it from an Airbnb host a few weeks back. He sort of mentioned it and the “Autograph Tree” in passing but said we should check it out. I passed the sign for it a few times coming and going to and from other places. Finally the other day I decided to check it out. I didn’t have anything else on the agenda and thought at the very least it would be nice for a proper stretching of my legs.

When you drive out of Gort and see the sign for the park, it’s a brown sign, you think oh there will be another huge sign, not the case, it’s small and it comes up fast. Then while traveling down the lane you think, “This can’t be right.”  After passing a few houses and farms, you suddenly roll into a wooded area on both sides and you know you have arrived. There is a tea house that operates during the summer months and into September and then shuts. There is also a visitor/interpretive center where you can pick up a map and have a chat about the property. The best part though, is the exploring.

There are two main trails around this property, the Family Trail which is about a mile loop and the Seven Wood Trail which is about 2.75 miles.  All of the land is part of the same former estate, although it is now owned by the State. Off of each of these trails there are several smaller trails leading to untold treasures and magnificent trees. Most famous though is the Autograph Tree. It is a Copper Beech that was inscribed by some of the great writers and thinkers of the day when the estate was at its height. Lady Gregory, lady of the estate, was a writer in her own right and invited all her compulsories and friends over to enjoy the estate at various times. The Autograph Tree holds the evidence of these visits. Many inscribed their initials on this tree after enjoying their time wandering the grounds and writing about them. A few of the standouts are W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and recently discovered, JRR Tolkien. It is said that Tolkien used many of the landscapes of this area and this estate to inspire parts of The Lord of the Rings. One walk through these trails and you can easily see why. It is otherworldly and inspired.

The Autograph Tree resides in the walled garden of the estate. It is a short walk from the visitor center or you can drive there direct. If you take the family trail immediately after the visitor center, you can loop around and finish in the walled garden getting a great view of it and the tree. I love trees, I am completely enamored by their life-like qualities and the seemingly endless stories told by their bark. I can stay at a tree for hours taking it all in. The Autograph Tree was no different. In all honesty, I glanced at the signatures, which are growing back in now as the bark heals, but I really studied the tree. I walked all around it, touched it, sat under it and was in awe. The Autograph Tree is an impressive tree and would be even if it didn’t have the historical context it does. It’s just phenomenal to look at. When you sit under it, the branches and leaves nearly touch the ground and create a gorgeous umbrella of green. The way the branches have formed and hang is like an architectural masterpiece. In short, I couldn’t get enough of it. Basking under that tree would have made the whole trip to the park worth it even if I had never seen the other beautiful parts of it.
I saw the walled garden and the autograph tree first, merely by accident. I had intended to take the family trail but wandered ahead instead of to the left. After my time in the walled garden I did take the family trail which was dotted with fabulous trees itself. (See below). Each corner of the trail had something new for me to look at and ogle. I love a good dose of nature and a walk in the woods. It can ground me faster than almost anything. In both the walled garden and the on the family trail, they have a few pictures posted of the winter of 2009-2010 when the area flooded. They are truly amazing. If you get a chance to go, make sure you seek out these pictures, posted on the structures which were almost underwater at the time. One of the offshoots of the family trail is a side trail to Coole Lake. It’s lovely and partially surrounded by farmland down river. At one point it looks more like the marsh area near the sea than an inland lake. It was a bit curious but beautiful.

Who's who of the Autograph Tree. 

Underneath the canopy of the Autograph Tree. 

Coole Park is a great place to bring your family, a picnic or a loved one. Great walks are to be had and with great walks come great chats. I highly recommend a stop off here for an afternoon.  Best of all, it’s free.

The beginning of the family trail. 


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