The remarkable Ambrose Christian Congreve, CBE, who celebrated his 103rd birthday on Sunday last, is still waiting for the Office of Public Works to advance his plans to create a world-class tourist attraction at his magnificent Mount Congreve estate.
Scion of a distinguished Anglo-Irish family, whose Kilmeaden seat goes back 300 years, the reclusive Mr Congreve began creating the biggest private plant collection on the planet at the age of eleven. It’s home to the biggest collection of rhododendrons in Europe and countless other rare flower, shrub and tree species – all maintained by a veritable army of gardeners and linked by more than 16 miles of winding paths.
Educated at Eton, Trinity College and Cambridge University, Ambrose was invested as a Commander of the British Empire in 1965. He has been honoured on both sides of the Atlantic for his life’s work, much of which was carried out with his late Head Gardener and green-fingered friend, Herman Dool.
In 1984 the landed gent received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Medal, and nine years ago was honoured by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, who awarded him their medal for ‘the greatest garden in the world’. In 2002 he was conferred with an Honorary Degree of Doctor in Law at Trinity.
His vast Suirside gardens will eventually be left in trust as a legacy to the State, while a masterplan for the development of a separate 350 acres of the property as an integrated tourism resort was unveiled by Mr Congreve’s consultants in 2008.
It includes a 180-bed hotel and spa, along with a 40-berth marina, a ‘country pursuits’ centre, Victorian-style holiday homes, shops and restaurant. It’s envisaged that the venture could attract upwards of 150,000 visitors a year and create between 360 and 450 jobs.
Michael Parker of Insignia Consultants said at the time: “Even taking the current economic climate into account, I believe it will happen because this is a unique estate and because Ambrose Congreve is totally committed to it.”
The appropriate rezoning has been approved by Waterford County Council but the proposal hasn’t been advanced since by the OPW, who, as the estate’s Trustees, would be State partners in the project. (A spokesperson couldn’t be contacted yesterday.)
The then-Tourism Minister Martin Cullen complained in the Dáil last September that that though the gardens “are world famous, there is no coherence in marketing their tourism potential.”