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The Hermit's Grotto

At Dromoland Castle

Garden hermits or ornamental hermits were hermits encouraged to live in purpose-built hermitages, follies, grottoes, or rockeries on the estates of wealthy landowners, primarily during the 18th century. Such hermits would be encouraged to dress like druids and remain permanently on site, where they could be fed, cared for, and consulted for advice, or viewed for entertainment.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, garden hermits were novelties and eccentricities. Grottos had become more popular during the 18th century as places to withdraw for meditation, relaxation, and reflection. With an increased focus on industrialism and production, contemplative garden meditation was viewed by some as an extravagance. With the lack of personal free time in combination with an increase in disposable income, the popularity of "natural" garden landscaping and the rise of neoclassical culture established an environment in which the idea of garden hermits as novelty guests became popular.

In some early instances, hermits were simply represented or hinted-at, rather than personified; outside a folly or grotto, a small table and chair, reading glasses and a classical text might be placed suggesting that it was where a hermit lived. Later, suggestions of hermits were replaced with actual hermits – men hired for the sole purpose of inhabiting a small structure and functioning as any other garden ornament. Hermits would sometimes be asked to make themselves available to guests, answering questions and providing counsel.

In some cases, the hermits would not communicate with visitors, functioning instead like a perpetual stage play or live diorama. In return for their services-in-residence, hermits would generally receive a stipend in addition to room and board.