1838 – 1922
John Annan’s elder brother was the academic, legal theorist, historian and statesman James Bryce. Born in Belfast, James was educated at Glasgow and Oxford where he later held the post of Regius Professor of Civil Law. He was a keen mountain climber and travelled extensively, venturing through Russia in the 1870s. In 1889, he married Elizabeth Marion Ashton, sister of Lord Ashton, 1st Baron Ashton of Hyde.
James was a prominent Liberal politician and was first elected as a Member of Parliament for a London constituency in 1880. In 1885, he was returned for South Aberdeen in Scotland and held his seat until 1907. During this time he held prominent cabinet posts: Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1886), Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1892-4), President of the Board of Trade (1894-5) and Chief Secretary for Ireland (1905-7).
In 1907 he was appointed as British Ambassador to the United States of America, a diplomatic post he held until 1913. The Bryce family’s archive reveal how well he was received there and the personal relationships he had with many influential people. During the First World War, he was commissioned by the British government to report on German atrocities in Belgium and later wrote on the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. He also served at the International Court at The Hague. He received awards from universities around the world and Bryce Park in Washington D.C. was named in his honour.
James counted members of the royal family among his friends and was raised to the peerage as Viscount Bryce of Dechmount in 1914. He was reowned as an author and his publications featured alongside other books and periodicals on horticulture and arboriculture, art and architecture, international history and politics in the large library in the Bryce house at Garinish.
John Annan Bryce
1841 – 1923
John Annan Bryce (1841–1923) was born in Belfast and educated at Glasgow and Oxford. He was active in the commerce and administration of Burma and India and made several expeditions into unexplored areas of Siam (Thailand), reporting back to the Royal Geographic Society. After returning to the UK, he became a director of the London and County Bank as well as foreign railway and investment companies.
In 1888, he married the vivacious Violet L’Estrange and they had two sons and two daughters: Roland, Nigel, Margery and Rosalind. Their magnificent London house reflected the Oriental travels of John Annan who amassed an impressive collection of furniture, artworks and artefacts. It was also recognised as a Liberal Party stronghold.
In 1906, John Annan entered politics and was elected as a Member of Parliament for Inverness Burghs in Scotland, a seat he held until 1918. During that time, he was appointed to the Royal Commission on Congestion in Ireland.
The Bryces were regular visitors to Glengarriff before they acquired the island. Between 1911 to 1914, and with the assistance of the landscape architect Harold Peto, they transformed a relatively barren rocky outcrop in Glengarriff Harbour into one of Europe’s best-known gardens.
Violet L’Estrange Bryce
1863 – 1939
Born in Mauritius, Violet Bryce was the daughter of Captain Champagné L’Estrange, an R.M. in Co. Down. After her marriage to John Annan Bryce in 1888, she gained renown as a society hostess. She was a popular personality and, in the years before the First World War, she hosted dinner-parties, balls, charity concerts and lectures at her London home.
She had many Irish connections and was acquainted with Glengarriff from childhood, having spent summers there with her cousins Constance and Eva Gore-Booth of Lissadell House, Co. Sligo. In an article penned to promote ‘Ireland’s Riviera’ in Throne and Country in August 1909, she stated that there were ‘few places with such infinite variety’ in terms of scenery and amusements. She was also cognisant of the potential benefits to the locality offered by the constant stream of warships and cruisers coming in and out of Bantry Bay.
Using her political connections to garner government advice and financial assistance, she established the Glengarriff Agricultural and Industrial show, the first of its kind in the district, to stimulate the local economy. After the death of her husband in 1923 she retired to her island retreat in Ireland where she lived until her death. In the interim, economic imperatives forced the Bryces to consider the partly-completed gardens as a commercial proposition and they were opened to the public from 1925.
Roland L’Estrange Bryce
1899 – 1953
Roland L’Estrange Bryce was the eldest son of John Annan and Violet Bryce. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he had a distinguished career in the British Foreign Office holding posts in the West Indies Serbia and Austria, before retiring to the island to assist his widowed mother Violet in its management and upkeep. While his parents had created ‘heaven on earth’, Roland was responsible for its development. He employed a Scottish gardener, Murdo Mackenzie, to manage and develop the gardens which opened to the public in 1925.
Roland shared his parents’ artistic interests and added several artworks to the Garinish collection. He was also acquainted with many artists and literary figures, among them Douglas Hyde (1860–1949), the first President of Ireland. Shortly after the creation of that office under the 1937 constitution, Roland initiated informal discussions, proposing to bequeath his island to the state. The government was initially cautious about accepting any such gift considering it ‘might well be in the nature of a white elephant’.
However, the bequest was eventually accepted by the government after Roland’s death in 1953 and subsequently placed under the management of the Office of Public Works. The guiding principle for the management of the property has been to honour the wishes expressed in Roland’s will, specifically the condition that the house and its contents be kept intact.
1908 – 1999
Margaret or Maggie O’Sullivan came to live on the island in the 1920s. She worked for Violet and Roland Bryce. Along with the head gardener Murdo MacKenzie, she devoted her life to the Bryce legacy and the island and was its last permanent resident. In her capacity as resident hostess at the Bryce house after 1953, she entertained presidents and princesses from around the world.