Lambay is a small island, only 2½ square kilometres, but it has an amazing archaeological, historical and wildlife heritage. Just 20 minutes across the sea from Malahide, Dublin it has its own unique ecology with some species only found here. It also has one of the largest seabird colonies in Ireland with guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, puffins, Manx shearwaters and many other nesting birds. The island has a colony of grey seals, as well as a herd of wallabies. These are all descended from a pair donated by Dublin Zoo in the 1950s and the population kept at around 150. There are also deer, cattle and sheep. In the surrounding waters, you will often see whales blowing and, during the crossing, porpoises are sometimes seen.
Lambay was recorded 2,000 years ago on Ptolemy’s map of Ireland and has been inhabited for much longer as its neolithic sites record. It has had different names over the centuries but the current name comes from the Norse meaning ‘Lamb Island’. It was owned by the church until 1814 when it was bought by the Talbot family, who also owned Malahide Castle. It was the Talbots who sold Lambay to Cecil Baring at the turn of the century. Cecil Baring had recently married a beautiful American, Maude Lorillard who had divorced her husband after falling in love with Cecil. Seeking an escape from society’s censorship, an advertisement in The Field caught his eye, “Island for Sale”. He fell in love with Lambay and bought it for £5,250 in 1904.
The 300 year old castle was very dilapidated, so in 1906 Cecil commissioned the famous Anglo-Irish architect Edwin Lutyens to rebuild it in the Arts & Crafts style. Starting in 1908, Lutyens rebuilt the castle, finishing in 1910, and enhanced the grounds with sycamore trees and tiered rose gardens designed by the famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll . There is also a beautiful walled kitchen garden where the four walled areas create a warm, tranquil place for apple and fig trees, artichokes and rhubarb and a host of edible flowers and greens.
Alex Baring, Cecil’s great-grandson, now lives in the castle with his family and has spent the last four years lovingly restoring the buildings with great sensitivity to the history of the period. As well as the castle, there is a boathouse, clubhouse, a row of six old coastguard cottages, some farm buildings and the White House, also by Lutyens, which was built in 1930 as a holiday home for Daphne and Calypso Baring. The White House has also recently been restored to a very high standard, providing luxury accommodation with 10 double bedrooms. Nearby is one of the few Real Tennis courts in existence and a small family chapel.