The term “demesne” relates to that part of a country estate retained for private use by a landlord, typically containing ornamental designed landscapes alongside productive gardens, woodland and farmland.
Prior to the mid 18th century, the predominant style was for formal geometric designs based on French and Dutch Baroque models, and the Rocque map of 1760 shows such a geometric design at Malahide. However, during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries under the influence of the Romantic Movement, formal landscape designs were replaced by a naturalistic picturesque manner known as the English Landscape style. This style emerged in England in the first part of the 18th century as a reaction to the rigid symmetry of 17th century gardens, and was further developed and popularised by landscape designers such as Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton. This new style was derived from an idealised conception of “natural” landscapes by artists such as Claude Lorraine and Nicholas Poussin. This style was enthusiastically adopted throughout Ireland between 1760 and 1840.
County houses set aside wide expanses of park dotted with clumps of trees, generally secluded from the outside world by plantation belts and perimeter walls. Essential features of the landscape style were curving naturalistic forms, uninterrupted views from and to the house by means of sunken walls called ha-has, winding circuit walks and rides leading through orchestrated pastoral scenes with winding streams, woodlands and bodies of water reflecting the landscape and the sky. The views created were embellished with picturesque classical and Gothic follies.
Farmland was an essential part of the designed landscape and grazing flocks and herds contributed to the idealised pastoral scenery. The English style worked with, rather than against nature, but involved considerable remodelling of the topography, transplanting of mature trees and damming of rivers to form new lakes and streams. Naturalistic parkland provided ideal conditions for the integration of pre-existing landscape features, and small ringforts, ruins and other archaeological features were often incorporated. Productive gardens were banished out of view to walled gardens.