Open dates in 2022: May 1-20, 23-31, June 1-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-30, Aug 13-21, 27-28, 10am- 2pm Fee: adult/OAP/student €8, child €4, concession for groups
We visited Larchill on a glorious sunny day in May 2022. The house has an excellent website explaining the fact that it is a ‘Ferme Ornée’ or Ornamental Farm and is the only surviving, near complete, garden of its type in Europe. It was created between 1740 and 1780.
The Ferme Ornée gardens of the mid 18th century were an expression in landscape gardening of the Romantic Movement. The National Inventory tells us that the house, ornamental farm yards and follies were built by Robert Watson, but it could have been for the previous owners, the Prentice family, a Quaker merchant family who lived in Dublin and at nearby Phepotstown and who owned the land of Larchill. According to the National Inventory, the farm yard was built around 1820, later than the house, which was built around 1790.  
Robert Prentice leased Phepotstown in 1708 to grow flax for the production of linen and it seems that at this time he started to develop the land as a ‘Ferme Ornée.’ 
It was the current owners, Michael and Louisa de las Casas, who discovered the significance of the property, which had become overgrown and fallen into disrepair, due to a visit by garden historian Paddy Bowe,who was the first to realise that Larchill was a Ferme Ornée and an important ‘lost’ garden.
The website tells us about the idea of an ornamental farm:
“Emulating Arcadia, a pastoral paradise was created to reflect Man’s harmony with the perfection of nature. As is the case at Larchill, a working farm with decorative buildings (often containing specimen breeds of farm animal) was situated in landscaped parkland ornamented with follies, grottos and statuary. Tree lined avenues, flowing water, lakes, areas of light and shade and beautiful framed views combined to create an inspirational experience enabling Man’s spirit to rejoice at the wonder of nature.“
The owners continue the tradition of keeping specimen breeds with the long-horn cow, peacocks and quail. They used to be kept busy with tourists and children with an adventure area and collection of rare breeds of farmyard animal, but they no longer gear it toward such an audience.
The website continues: “At this time in Versailles, Marie Antoinette enjoyed extravagant pastoral pageants, housed specimen cattle in highly decorated barns, while she herself is said to have dressed as a milk maid complete with porcelain milk churns. Freed from the restrictions of the 17th century formal garden, the Ferme Ornée represented the first move towards the fully fledged landscape parkland designs of Capability Browne.“
I recently visited the exhibition of “In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” at the Irish Georgian Society, curated by Robert O’Byrne. He describes the Romantic movement and landscape design of Capability Brown:
The Larchill website continues: “The Prentice family had trading connections throughout Europe and would have been aware of the new fashion in garden design: in particular the famous gardens of Leasowes and Woburn Farm in England. In Ireland the Prentice’s townhouse was adjacent to the home of Dean Swift in Dublin where he had developed his orchard and garden, ‘Naboth’s Vineyard.’ Dean Swift and his great friend Mrs Delaney (known today for her exquisite floral collages) were most closely associated in Ireland with knowledge of the new movement in garden design. Larchill was only 10 miles from Dangan Castle [now a ruin], often visited by Mrs Delaney, where from 1730 an extravagant 600 acres of land was embellished with a 26 acre lake, temples, statuary, obelisks and grottos by Richard Wellesley, Earl of Morningtonand Grandfather of the Duke of Wellington [I think this was Richard Wesley (c.1690-1758), first Baron of Mornington. He was born Richard Colley but took the name Wesley when he inherited Dangan from his cousin Garret Wesley.  Mrs Delaney writes that he had a complete man-of-war ship on his lake!]. This is entirely contemporary with the Prentice’s period of garden development on their estate.“
Robert O’Byrne writes of Larchill in his blog and tells us more about the beginnings of the movement for “ornamental farms”:
“Despite its French name, the concept of the ferme ornée is of English origin and is usually attributed to the garden designer and writer Stephen Switzer.* [*Incidentally, Stephen Switzer was no relation to the Irish Switzers: whereas his family could long be traced to residency in Hampshire, the Switzers who settled in this country in the early 18th century had come from Germany to escape religious persecution.] His 1715 book The Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener’s Recreation criticized the overly elaborate formal gardens derived from French and Dutch examples, and proposed laying out grounds that were attractive but also functional: ‘By mixing the useful and profitable parts of Gard’ning with the Pleasurable in the Interior Parts of my Designs and Paddocks, obscure enclosures, etc. in the outward, My Designs are thereby vastly enlarg’d and both Profit and Pleasure may be agreeably mix’d together.’ In other words, working farms could be transformed into visually delightful places. One of the earliest examples of the ferme ornée was laid out by Philip Southgate who owned the 150-acre Woburn Farm, Surrey on which work began in 1727. ‘All my design at first,’ wrote Southgate, ‘was to have a garden on the middle high ground and a walk all round my farm, for convenience as well as pleasure.’ The fashion for such designs gradually spread across Europe as part of the adoption of natural English gardens: perhaps the most famous example of the ferme ornée is the decorative model farm called the Hameau de la Reine created for Marie Antoinette at Versailles in the mid-1780s. The most complete extant example of this garden type in Europe is believed to be at Larchill, County Kildare.” 
The Larchill website continues: “Thus there were many sources of reference for the Prentice family as they created their own pastoral paradise before falling on hard times and bankruptcy due to failure in their trading enterprises [around 1760]. The Ferme Ornée gardens were, as a result, leased separately from Phepotstown House and became known as Larchill after a boundary of Larch trees was planted around the farm and garden in the early 1800’s.“
The Watsons leased the property in 1790 and the farm manager’s house was upgraded with additions at this time (around 1780). (see )
The website Meath History Hub gives us more information about the inhabitants of Larchill:
“Richard Prentice, a haberdasher from The Coombe in Dublin occupied Larch Hill in the late eighteenth century. He may have established a Ferme Ornéeat Larchhill and constructed the follies although they are generally dated to later.Mr. Prentice was declared bankrupt in 1790, owing ten thousand pounds to a Mr John Smith in Galway.
In 1790 the lease at Phepotstown was taken over by Thomas Watson. The Watson family were a Quaker family from Baltracey, Edenderrry. The house at Larch Hill may have been constructed at this time. Thomas died in 1822. His brother, Samuel Eves Watson [1785-1835], took a lease on Larchill when he married Margo Doyle in 1811. In 1820, Samuel E. Watson inherited half the estate of his uncle, Samuel Russell, in Hodgestown, Timahoe. This brought together four estates with a total area of 1,627 acres. When he died in 1836 his grandson, Samuel Neale [or was Samuel Neale his nephew, son of his sister Anna Watson?], got the estate but he had to take the name Watson in order to inherit. In 1837 Larch Hill, Kilmore, Kilcock was the residence of S.E. Watson. Its grounds were embellished with grottoes and temples. Samuel Neale Watson, as he was now known, married Susanna Davis in 1840 and lived mainly in Dublin. Samuel Neale Watson died in 1883. Seamus Cullen has researched the history of the Watson family.” 
The property is mainly notable for its follies, but the house is lovely too, an old Quaker farmhouse.
The yard is connected to the house.
We heard the distinctive cry of a peacock and one strutted in the yard. Guinea fowl ran around in a large gang, alerting owner Michael to our visit.
He greeted us outside the barns, and brought us through the house. The house was built around 1780, and entering the back door, one can see the age – one senses it in the walls in the back hallway, which are not as smooth and straight as in a modern house, and they seem to sit more firmly in the ground. The ceilings are also higher.
Although a farmhouse, it has lovely coving in the drawing room, a ceiling rose and marble fireplace.
The Larchill website continues, about the early 1800s: “It was after this time that the local Watson family leased Larchill and the famous connection was made, to this day, between Robert Watson, Master of the Carlow and Island Hounds and the Fox’s Earth folly. Although the Fox’s Earth would certainly predate the Watson’s tenure at Larchill [he died in 1908], and the fact that Robert Watson was only a distant relative of the Watsons at Larchill, still it is believed that the Fox’s Earth was constructed in response to Robert Watson’s guilt at having killed one too many foxes and his fear of punishment in reincarnation as a fox.”
The Larchill website the National Inventory tell us that according to folklore the Fox’s Earth was created by Mr Robert Watson, a famous Master of Hounds in the 18th Century who feared punishment through re-incarnation as a fox, having killed one too many foxes during his hunting career. References I have found refer to the 19th century Robert Watson who was master of the hunt.  I’m not sure if there was an 18th Century Robert Watson to whom the Larchill website refers. Robert Watson (1821-1908) of the Hunt lived at Ballydarton, County Carlow.  Maybe he influenced his Watson relatives who lived at Larchill to ensure that the odd structure would act as a “fox’s earth” in case he was reincarnated as a fox! Whatever the case, it makes a great story! Ideas of reincarnation were, the Larchill website tells us, being explored at this time through the Romantic movement as established Christian doctrine came into question. It is feasible that there was every intention to create a Fox’s refuge with the design of this folly.
The “Fox’s Earth” folly structure, the website tells us, comprises an artificial grassed mound within which is a vaulted inner chamber with gothic windows and entrance. A circular rustic temple surmounts the mound. Externally it is reminiscent of an ice house.
Leading away, on either side from the vaulted interior, are tunnels disappearing into the mound. These ‘escape’ tunnels seem to corroborate the story of this being a “Fox’s Earth”, a refuge and escape route for a fox pursued by the hunt.
The National Inventory calls it a Mausoleum: “Mausoleum and folly, built c.1820. Comprising three-bay single-storey dressed limestone façade set into artificial mount, with rustic temple set on the mount. Pointed arch openings to three-bay façade. Rubble stone walls to site, with circular profile piers. Circular profile temple, comprising six columns, capped with dome. Rubble stone bridge to the site.” 
Another possibility that Michael told us is that the temple is a Temple of Venus. Inside its tunnels are in the shape of a woman’s reproductive system, with a womb and fallopian tubes. It could have been a sort of temple to fertility.
The Larchill website continues: “Although described in the notes to the 1836 Ordnance Survey as ‘the most fashionable garden in all of Ireland’ over the decades knowledge of the Larchill Ferme Ornée faded. The parkland returned to farmland, the lake was drained and the formal garden was lost and used to graze sheep. Although the follies became semi derelict and obscured by undergrowth and trees, the mystery and beauty of Larchill was still recognised. Folklore stories of hauntings and the ‘strange’ nature of Larchill ensured its continued notoriety.
The Meath History Hub tells us: “The Barry family resided at Larchhill from the 1880s until 1993. Christopher and Maria Barry donated the Stations of the Cross to Moynalvey church. Christopher died before 1911 leaving Maria a widow.” (see )
In 1994 the de Las Casas family acquired Larchill. Four years of restoration followed with the aid of a grant from the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Program and a FAS Community Employment Project.
In recognition of the quality and sensitivity of the restoration program Larchill Arcadian Garden has been awarded the 1988 National Henry Ford Conservation Award, the 1999 ESB Community Environment Award and the 2002 European Union Environmental Heritage Award.
We then went outside to explore. Michael gave us a map to follow around the grounds. First he showed us the ingenious mechanism in the ornamental gate:
Before we walked the circumference of the field and lake, Michael showed us to the walled garden behind the house. On the way we passed a statue of Flora:
The ornamental dairy used to have Dutch tiles but unfortunately a previous owner removed them! Ornamental dairies were common in ornamental farms, and were places where products of the dairy could be sampled if not actually made there.
At the north west corner of the restored Walled Garden the Shell Tower is a three storey, battlemented tower with single arched Gothic windows.
The tower, called a “Cockle Tower,” is decorated with shells, but unfortunately it needs to be stabilised before one could safely enter. I did manage to see the inside of the shell tower by looking through a window. We saw a shell house in Curraghmore in County Waterford, and Mary Delany is famous for her shell work. There is also one nearby at Carton Estate.
The website tells us that in the case of the Larchill Shell Tower, where lower rooms are decorated with shells laid in geometric patterns, the shells appear to be mostly native varieties, many are cockles with some exotic exceptions such as conches – perhaps sourced via the trading connections of the 18th century Prentice family who created the Ferme Ornée at Larchill.
After we explored the walled garden, we set off to see the follies dotted around the lake. On the lake itself are two follies: the Gibraltar and the round temple. A previous owner had drained the lake but the current owners reinstated it, as water is an essential element of an ornamental farm, creating a romantic landscape. We learned a charming new word: marl clay lines the bottom of the lake. To prepare the clay before the lake was filled with water, the land underwent the process of “puddling.” This is letting sheep loose on the clay to walk it into the ground.
The ditch of the ha-ha contained a fish pond, and this flowed to an eel pond. Fish farming would have been a lucrative practice.
Gibraltar: This is a castellated miniature fort with circular gun-holes and five battlemented towers situated on one of two islands within the lake. It would have been constructed just shortly before, or at the same time as, the famous defense by the British of their garrison on Gibraltar against the Spanish during the ‘Great Siege’ of 1779 to 1783. The siege, which lasted nearly three and half years through starvation and repeated onslaughts by the Spanish, was impressive news at the time and must have motivated the naming of the fortress as Gibraltar.
There is a similar “Gibraltar” tower in Heathfield Park Estate in East Sussex. In 1791 Francis Newbery bought Bailey Park, an estate in East Sussex, which he renamed the Heathfield Park Estate. One of his first projects was to create a memorial to the former owner of the estate, George Augustus Eliot, who had been Governor at Gibraltar during the lengthy ‘Great Siege’ by the Spanish and French of 1779-1783. In 1787 Eliot was created Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar in recognition of his service to his country, and his death in 1790 had been marked by long eulogies in the press. The tower was later sketched by Turner as part of his commission to provide illustrations for Cooke’s Views in Sussex. 
However the fortress at Larchill was much more a source of pleasure and entertainment, the Larchill website tells us, with stories of mock battles across the lake.
There are more follies that one comes across as one walks around the estate.
The website tells us about the Lake Temple: it “is a circular island building in the lake to the west of Gibraltar. The outer wall has decorative recesses and the internal circle of columns surrounds a well-like central core.
There is evidence that the columns may have originally been partially roofed so as to direct rainwater into the well itself. It is possible that the design was intended to emulate the plunge pool baths of Ancient Rome, such as the famous pool at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli.”
There used to be a causeway out to the island temple. Another theory is that the well and round temple could have been part of a sham Druidic temple. Tim Gatehouse writes of a Grand Lodge of Irish Druids in the 1790s, whose summer activities included visits to members’ estates. (see )
It was lovely to wander around Larchill on such a sunny day. The owners have done us a great service to resurrect the beauty of an ornamental farm.
2. Burtown House and Garden, Athy, Co. Kildare– section 482
contact: James Fennell Tel: 059-8623148 www.burtownhouse.ie Open: May 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 25-28, June 1-4, 8-11, 15-18, 22-25, July 6-9, 13-16, 19-23, 27-30, August 3-6, 10-21, 24-27, 10am-2pm
Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €5, child under €5 free
Burtown House and Gardens, Athy, Co Kildare, photograph by Sonder Visuals, 2022, Courtesy Failte Ireland
The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:
“Ballytore, in County Kildare, was a stronghold of the Irish Quakers and the centre of a sizeable Quaker community. One of their members, Robert Power, built Burtown House as the hub of a two thousand acre farming enterprise in the 1720s. His Georgian villa, shown on early maps as “Power’s Grove,” was only one room deep so wings were added later in the century. These were subsequently removed, though their faint outlines can still be identified and Burtown was further extended in the early nineteenth century when a full height bow was added on the garden front.
The new extension provided a bow ended room on the garden front, a large bedroom above and a grand staircase, lit by a tall round-headed window. Pretty plasterwork in the manner of James Wyatt was also introduced at the time, most notably in an arched alcove in the bow-ended room, which is likely to have been the original dining room. The alcove is filled with a shallow fan, and delightfully cursive sprays of vine leaves, and is flanked by a pair of classical vases on pilasters of foliage with naive Corinthian capitals.
Burtown has never been sold in all its three hundred years. The house passed from the Power family to the Houghtons and thence to the Wakefields, who gave it a new roof with widely projecting eaves in the early nineteenth century. They also lengthened the sash windows, installed a new front door with a fanlight in a deep recess, and carried out a number of other alterations.
When Mr. Wakefield was killed playing cricket Burtown passed to his sister, who had married a fellow Quaker from County Tipperary, William Fennell. Their son, William James was a keen horseman but “was asked to leave the Quaker congregation because of his fondness for driving a carriage with two uniformed flunkeys on the back”.
Today Burtown is in the midst of two hundred acres of parkland, including ten acres of lush flower, vegetable and woodland gardens with many fine walks. The house has now been home to five generations of the Fennell family, and to the acclaimed botanical artist and illustrator, Wendy Walsh. Coincidentally, the leading Irish botanical artist of the early twentieth century, Lydia Shackleton, also came from the same small Quaker community.” 
“Donadea Forest Park includes Donadea Castle and estate, the former home of the Aylmer family up until 1935. There are many historical features including the remains of the castle and walled gardens, St. Peter’s church, an ice house and boat house. The Lime tree avenue planted in the 19th century formed the original entrance to the estate. Another feature of the park is the 9/11 Memorial, a scaled replica of the twin towers carved in limestone. The small lake is brimming with ducks, waterhens and has a beautiful display of water lilies in the summer. There is a café open throughout the year.“
In 1581 Gerald Aylmer, (1548-1634), Knight, of Donadea, son of George Aylmer, of Cloncurry, and grandson of Richard Aylmer, of Lyons, built a new tower in Donadea, not fully completed until 1624 and it is now the oldest part of the Castle. 
In 1626, he repaired the medieval Church in Donadea and built a new extension in which he established his family burial plot. In the extension he also constructed an Altar Tomb monument as a burial memorial for his family. Gerald was titled by the Crown and became the first Baronet of Donadea.
The Aylmers were connected with the various conflicts and rebellions over the next two centuries. During the wars of the 1640s, Sir Andrew, 2nd Baronet (c. 1610-c. 1671), supported the rebels and was imprisoned at the beginning of the war.
Although he was a brother-in-law of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, there were no favours granted to him. The Aylmers rebuilt the castle after it was burned by James Butler’s troops.
In 1689, after the battle of the Boyne, Lady Helen Aylmer, widow of the 3rd Baronet, (born Plunkett, daughter of Luke Plunkett 3rd Earl of Fingall) was in charge of the Castle. She was outlawed due to her support for James II, but she managed to hold on to the Castle and lands under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick.
In 1736, Sir Gerald, 5th Baronet, died leaving an only son FitzGerald who became the 6th Baronet.
He was only one year old when his father died and was subsequently raised by his mother (Ellice or Ellen, daughter of Gerald Aylmer, 2nd Baronet of Balrath, County Meath) and her relatives who were members of the established church. FitzGerald subsequently conformed to the established religion. In 1773, he built a new house in front of the Castle and incorporated the Tower in his new residence.
Gerald, 8th Baronet, held the lands of Donadea between 1816 and 1878 and he is accredited with most of the construction work that is visible in Donadea demesne today. He began his building program in the 1820s by re-routing the roads away from the Castle and the construction of a high wall enclosing the demesne. Gate lodges were then built at all the entrances.
He also built a new grand entrance known as the Lime Avenue.
In 1827 he completely remodelled the front of the Castle which gave it an attractive bow shaped appearance. It has been suggested that he employed the renowned architect Richard Morrison to design this new structure.
The older cabin-type dwellings close to the castle were demolished and new estate houses built at the Range. To the west of the Castle he built an eight acre area of gardens and paddocks, surrounded and sub-divided by walls. In the Castle yard he built dwellings for staff and elaborative farm buildings. He also constructed the artificial lake and the Ice House. Large areas of the demesne were planted and, by the time of his death, Donadea demesne was listed as one of the finest parkland settings in the county.
Outside the demesne he was involved in numerous construction projects including the famous ‘Aylmer Folly’, viz. the Tower on the summit of the hill of Allen. (see ) Sir Gerald’s grandson Justin, 10th Baronet, died unmarried in 1885. His sister Caroline inherited the castle and much of the demesne, while the baronetcy passed to a cousin. Caroline Maria Aylmer, who was the daughter of Sir Gerald George Aylmer, 9th Baronet, was the last Aylmer to live at Donadea. She died in 1935, leaving the estate to the Church of Ireland who, in turn, passed it bequeathed to the Irish state.
The castle remained unoccupied and its roof was removed in the late 1950s.
For more on the Aylmer family, see The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare by Turtle Bunbury & Art Kavanagh (published by Irish Family Names, 2004).
contact: Patricia Orr Tel: 086-2552661 Open: May 1-18, Aug 1-22, Dec 1-20, 9.30am-1.30pm Fee: adult €5, student/child/OAP €3, (Irish Georgian Society members free)
7. Griesemount House, Ballitore, Co Kildare– section 482
contact: Katharine Bulbulia Tel: 087-2414556 www.griesemounthouse.ie Open: April 4-8, 25-29, May 3-17, June 7-10, 13-26, July 4-8, 11-15, Aug 13-21, 10am-2pm
Fee: adult/OAP/student €5, child €3
The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:
“In 1685, the village of Ballitore on the river Griese in the southern corner of County Kildare became the first planned Quaker village in England and Ireland. The Shackleton family from Yorkshire settled here some decades later and besides establishing wool and corn mills, founded the famous village school in 1726. Thanks to an entry by Mary (née Shackleton) Leadbetter in her ‘Annals of Ballitore’, we know that the first stone of Griesemount House (also known as Ballitore Hill House) was laid on Midsummer Day in 1817. While the three-bay side elevation is symmetrical, the two-bay front façade with the front door under the left window is quite modest, as was often the case with Quaker houses. It was built by George Shackleton, who had grown up in Griesebank House beside the now-ruinous Ballitore Mills on the river just below. He married Hannah Fisher and they raised 13 children in the new house, including the noted botanical artist Lydia Shackleton, the first artist-in-residence at the Botanic Gardens in Dublin. One of her first recorded sketches is of the house. The family lived here until the early 20th century; the house then changed hands several times. It was briefly owned and restored by the mother of mezzosoprano Frederica von Stade, and has recently come into new ownership.” 
9. Kildrought House, Celbridge Village, Co. Kildare– section 482
contact: June Stuart Tel: 01-6271206, 087-6168651 Open: Jan 15-31, Feb 1-3, May 16-31, June 1-3, Aug 11-31, 10am-2pm Fee: adult €6, OAP/student/child €3, child under 5 years free, school groups €2 per head
See my entry, on its way!
10. Larchill, Kilcock, Co. Kildare– section 482
contact: Michael De Las Casas Tel: 087-2213038 www.larchill.ie Open: May 1-20, 23-31, June 1-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-30, Aug 13-21, 27-28, 10am- 2pm Fee: adult/OAP/student €8, child €4, concession for groups
Open during Heritage Week. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:
“The forebears of the Greenes of Millbrook House in the far south of County Kildare lived at Kilmanaghan Castle and Moorestown Castle [now a ruin] in County Tipperary. A great grandson of the family patriarch Captain Godfrey Greene moved up to settle near Carlow. William Nassau Greene (1714-1781) was a businessman and magistrate, and built a residence known as Kilkea Lodge (c. 1740) adjacent to the ancient Fitzgerald seat at Kilkea Castle, where his descendants are still resident. A younger son, John (1751-1819), who became High Sheriff of Kildare and Captain of the Castledermot Yeomanry, built a neighbouring house at Millbrook with the help of his father. It was completed in 1776 with its attendant mill and millrace off the River Griese, which had replaced an earlier mill in the nearby Kilkea Castle demesne. The house passed through generations of the family until finally the mill ceased operating under Thomas Greene (1843-1900), a poet and author who was made High Sheriff of Kildare in 1895. The house was left by inheritance to one of the cousins from Kilkea Lodge, father of the present owner. Throughout WWII, he had served as a frontline doctor in the 4th Indian Division in North Africa, Italy and Greece, and returned with his wife in 1950 to an utterly neglected house. Millbrook is still in the process of being restored to its former state.” 
contact: Joan Hayden Tel: 01-8722238 Open: Jan 3-7, 10-14, 17-21, 24-28, May 1-31, Aug 13-21, 8.30am-12.30pm Fee: adult €6, OAP/student/child €3
16. Steam Museum Lodge Park Heritage Centre, Lodge Park, Straffan, Co. Kildare– section 482
contact: Robert C Guinness Tel: 01-6288412 www.steam-museum.com Open: June 1-6, 8-12, 15-19, 22-26, 29-30, July 1-3, 6-10, 13-17, 20-24, 27-31, Aug 1, 3-7, 10-21, 24-28, 31, 2pm-6pm, Fee: adult €7.50, OAP/child/student €5, concession by negotiation
The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us about Lodge Park:
“Lodge Park, overlooking a fine stretch of the River Liffey, was built by Hugh Henry who had married his cousin, Lady Anne Leeson from Russborough [daughter of Joseph Leeson 1st Earl of Milltown]. Completed in about 1776, the centre block forms the core of an unusual composition with curved quadrants leading to a pair of two-storey wings, both attached to two further pavilions by curtain walls to form a unique elongated ensemble of five interconnected buildings, “perhaps the most extreme example of the Irish Palladian style.”
Henry’s father was the merchant banker Hugh Henry, who had purchased the entire Straffan estate with 7,000 acres. Lodge Park was long thought to be the last building by Nathaniel Clements, who died in 1777, but has now been attributed to John Ensor. The hipped roof is surrounded by a granite-topped parapet, and the walls are finished in rough cast, with ashlar block quoins and granite window surrounds with detailing. It is Ireland’s best exampe of concatenation, having curtain walls attached to the main house, leading to two pavilions, attached by two gateways to two further buildings. Hugh’s son Arthur built the Victorian walled garden, now beautifully restored and open to the public, as well as the fine gate lodge. The house was bought by the Guinness family in 1948.
The walled garden has been beautifully restored while a disused Victorian church has been re-erected in the grounds to house a magnificent Steam Museum with early inventor’s models, scientific engineering models and historic works of mechanical art. The Power Hall displays six huge stationary steam engines, which are run on special occasions.” https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Lodge%20Park
Places to stay, County Kildare:
1. Balyna, Moyvalley, Co Kildare – weddings, accommodation
“Balyna House lies to the south of Moyvalley Bridge over the Grand Canal, about half way between Enfield and Kinnegad on the old Dublin — Galway road. The house lies in the centre of the estates 500 acres. Balyna Estate was granted in 1574 by Queen Elizabeth I to the O’Moore family because they had lost their land in Laois and were reinstated in Balyna.
Major Ambrose O’Ferrall married Letitia More in 1796. Their eldest son Richard More O’Ferrall was born in 1797. [ I don’t think this is correct. I believe that Letitia More married Richard O’Ferrall (1729-1790) and that their son was Ambrose More O’Ferrall who married Ann Baggot daughter of John Baggot of Castle Baggot, Rathcoole. Richard More O’Ferrall (1797-1880) was their son]. He is reputed for having been responsible for the erection of the Celtic cross which now stands to the rear of the house. It is said that this Cross, along with another was transported from Europe, the two being encased in wooden crates and towed behind the ship on a barge. Legend has it that one was lost at sea, but its twin survives to this day.
Mark Bence-Jones writes (1988):
p. 30. [More O’Ferrall] “The ancestral home of the O’More family, the land having been granted to them by Eliz I as a small compensation for their forfeited territories in Laois… A new house was built 1815, which was burnt 1878; this was replaced by the present house, built 1880s. It is slightly Italianate, with a Mansard roof carried on a bracket cornice; of 2 storeys with a dormered attic. Entrance front with two 3 sided bows and a single-storey Ionic portico, 5 by garden front with pediment, the windows on either side being larger than those in the centre. Imposing staircase with handrail of decorative ironwork; ceiling of staircase hall has modillion cornice. Chapel in garden. Sold 1960s, subsequently owned by Bewleys Oriental Cafe Ltd” 
The website continues: “The first real record of any house dates from 1815 when Ambrose built a large mansion. That Georgian house was burned down and replaced in the 1880’s by the present Italianate mansion.
The estate was a refuge for bishops and priests for centuries and Dr. Forstall, Bishop of Kildare, ordained priests here in the year 1678 — 1680. For this loyalty, the family was granted Papal permission to build a private Chapel on the estate (located to the rear of the house) and up to approximately 1914 Sunday Mass was offered. It was only used intermittently after that, with the last occasion being in the summer of 1959.
The estate remained in the More O’Ferrall family until May 1960 when it was sold to the Bewley family (of Café fame). The wonderful milk and cream in the Cafes came from the pedigree Jersey herd at Balyna. In 1984 the estate was sold to Justin Keating; it was sold again in 1990-1991 to George Grant. Moyvalley was developed into a Hotel & Golf Resort in 2007.
Balyna House consists of 10 luxurious ensuite bedrooms, 3 reception rooms to cater for up to 100 guests, Balyna Bar and Cellar Bar. The house is available exclusively for private events and weddings.
In 2014 the resort was purchased by the late Oliver Brady (well-known horse trainer from Co. Monaghan) with his business partner a well know entrepreneur Rita Shah owner of Shabra Recycling Plastic’s Group, Thai business woman Jane Tripipatkul and her son Mark McCarthy who are based in London.
It is likely that several Irish and European military campaigns were discussed and argued over at Balyna, as apart from the fierce-some O’More’s and the well documented Irish battles in which they took part, several later generations saw service in European armies. All three sons of Richard and Letitia O’Ferrall saw service abroad. The eldest, Ambrose, and his youngest brother, Charles, rose to the rank of Major in the Royal Sardinian Army, while the middle brother, James attained the rank of Major General in the Austrian Hohenzollern Army.“
Incidentally, there was a Bagot family of “Castle Baggot” in Rathcoole, and neither son had children so all the Bagot property, which included land around Smithfield in Dublin and extensive property in County Carlow, passed to the daughter, Ann, who married the above-mentioned Ambrose More O’Ferrall.
“As a digression, it is worth noting that Rory O’ More’s eldest daughter, Anne, married Patrick Sarsfield, 1st Earl of Lucan and famous military leader. His father in law was the man behind the Irish Rebellion of 1641.
King James had adopted the policy of remodelling the Irish army so as to turn it from a Protestant-led force to a Roman Catholic led one, and Sarsfield, whose family were Roman Catholics, was selected to assist in this reorganisation. Colonel Sarsfield went to Ireland with Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell , who was appointed commander-in-chief by the king.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes (1988): p. 31. “A tower-house with a long plain 2 storey wing attached. In 1814, the residence of Jos Atkinson, in 1837, of Capt Robinson.”
The website gives a timeline:
“1288: Nicholas Barby built the original Castle towards the end of the 13th Century on the land which was originally owned by the Great Norman family the Fitzgerald’s.
1310: The Castle was built as a fortress to protect the village and people of Barberstown from the attack of the rebellious Ui Faolain tribesmen who tried to burn the town (among others) in 1310. It has traditionally found itself in the middle of political struggle and local wars which generally resulted in change of ownership.
Retaining Ownership: Some of its previous owners have gone to extreme lengths to retain ownership. Just how far some went is illustrated by the story of the body that is said to be interred in the tower of the Castle Keep (the original part of the Castle). His fate can be explained by reading the lease on the Castle at the time in which was written that the lease would expire when he was buried underground (ie. his death). The ending of a lease normally resulted in an increase in rent so after the man’s death he was buried in the tower above the earth which ensured the family continued to hold the lease to the Castle!
The walls of the Castle Keep walls slope inwards so as to prevent an enemy getting out of range by closing up to the building. Ironically however the rooms on the upper floors of the Castle are larger than those on the ground level as their walls are somewhat thinner.
Penal Times: The neighbouring village of Straffan is named after St. Straffan, one of the early sixth century missionaries. Its close linkages with the local town and people were proven when an underground tunnel from the Church in Straffan to the Castle was found in 1996 during renovations. A ‘Priest’s Hole’ can be also found in the Castle which was originally made to protect the priests of the town during Penal Times.
1630: William Sutton of one of the most important families in the area owned the property. The population of Barberstown at the time was 36!
1689: Lord Kingston [I’m not sure who they mean here – Robert King (d. 1693) was the 2nd Baron of Kingston at the time] had his ownership confiscated by Earl of Tyrconnell after the accession to power of James 11 of England. It was around this time that it fell into the less glamorous hands of the Commissioners of the Revenue who let it out to a Roger Kelly for £102 annual rent in the late 1600s.
1703: It was purchased by Bartholomew Van Homreigh in 1703 for £1,033 the sixth owner in six years. At the time the property was 335 acres. Van Homreigh had been mayor of Dublin in 1697 and his greatest ‘claim to fame’ lies in the fact that he was the father of Vanessa of whom Swift wrote so passionately about. He sold it to the Henrys who were prone to excessive spending at the time….
1830: The Henry’s had no option but to sell it to Mr. Hugh Barton [1766-1854] who completed the last wing of the house in the 1830s which added to the present day unique architectural status of Barberstown. He is also famed for constructing Straffan House known today at the K-Club.
1900: As the property became too expensive to retain as a residence, the Huddlestons who owned Barberstown Castle in the 1900s sold it to Mrs. Norah Devlin who converted it into a hotel in 1971. Barberstown was one of the first great Irish country houses to display its splendour to the outside world when it opened as a hotel in 1971. It has maintained the elegance of design over the centuries by sympathetically blending its Victorian and Elizabethan extensions with the original Castle Keep.
1979: The acclaimed Musician, Singer, Songwriter & Record Producer Mr. Eric Clapton CBE purchased the property in 1979 and lived in the property until 1987. Music sessions took place in the Green Room and original Castle Keep during the time Eric lived here with many famous Rockstars from all over the world coming here to stay.
1987 to Present Day: Upon purchasing Barberstown Castle from Eric Clapton in 1987, this beautiful historic house has since been transformed from a 10-bedroom property with three bathrooms to a 55-bedroom Failte Ireland approved 4 Star Hotel. They are a proud member of Ireland’s Blue Book of properties and Historic Hotels of Europe.
Since 1288 Barberstown has had 37 owners all of whom had the foresight to protect its heritage and character. Look out for the names of all the owners of Barberstown Castle painted on the bedroom doors of the hotel!”
3. Batty Langley Lodge, Celbridge, County Kildare€€
One of the entrances to the Castletown demesne has a Gothic lodge, from a design published by Batty Langley (1696-1751) 1741. Batty Langley was an English garden designer who produced a number of engraved “Gothick” designs for garden buildings and seats. He was named “Batty” after his father’s patron, David Batty. He also published a wide range of architectural books.
The website tells us that the name ‘Carton’ comes from the old Irish name ‘Baile an Cairthe’ or Land of the Pillar Stone.
Mark Bence-Jones writes of Carton (1988):
p. 60. “(Talbot de Malahide, B/PB; Fitzgerald, Leinster, D/PB; Nall-Cain, sub Brocket, P/BP) The lands of Carton always belonged to the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare, whose chief castle was nearby, at Maynooth; in C17, however, they were leased to a junior branch of the Talbots of Malahide, who built the original house there.”
The Carton website tells us that the lands of Carton first came into the ownership of the FitzGerald family shortly after Maurice FitzGerald (d. 1176) played an active role in the capture of Dublin by the Normans in 1170 and was rewarded by being appointed Lord of Maynooth, an area covering townlands which include what is now Carton. The website goes on to tell us:
“His son became Baron Offaly in 1205 [Gerald FitzMaurice FitzGerald, d. 1203] and his descendant John FitzGerald [5th Baron Offaly, d. 1316], became Earl of Kildare in 1315. Under the eighth earl, [Gerald FitzGerald (1455-1513)] the FitzGerald family reached pre-eminence as the virtual rulers of Ireland between 1477 and 1513.
However, the eighth earl’s grandson, the eloquently titled Silken Thomas [the 10th Earl of Kildare] was executed in 1537, with his five uncles, for leading an uprising against the English. Although the FitzGeralds subsequently regained their land and titles, they did not regain their position at the English Court until the 18th century when Robert, the 19th Earl of Kildare, became a noted statesman.“
It surprises me that after Silken Thomas’s rebellion that his brother was restored to the title and became the 11th Earl on 23 February 1568/69, restored by Act of Parliament, about thirty years after his brother was executed.
It was William Talbot, Recorder of the city of Dublin, who leased the lands from Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Kildare (1547-1612). William Talbot was created 1st Baronet Talbot, of Carton, Co. Kildare on 4 February 1622/23. He was MP for Kildare in 1613-1615. He built a house at Carton. His son Richard was created 1st Duke of Tyrconnell in 1689 by King James II, after he had been James’s Groom of the Bedchamber. He fought in the Battle of the Boyne and was loyal to the Stuarts, so was stripped of his honours when William of Orange (William III) came to power.
Richard Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnell (1630-1691), courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
Mark Bence-Jones continues: “After the attainder of Richard Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnell, James II’s Lord Deputy of Ireland, Carton was forfeited to the crown and sold 1703 to Major-Gen Richard Ingoldsby, Master-General of the Ordnance and a Lord Justice of Ireland; who added a two storey nine bay pedimented front to the old house, with wings joined to the main block by curved sweeps, in the Palladian manner. In 1739 Thomas Ingoldsby sold the reversion of the lease back to 19th Earl of Kildare [Robert FitzGerald (1675-1744)], who decided to make Carton his principal seat and employed Richard Castle to enlarge and improve the house.“
Richard Ingoldsby (c.1664/5–1712) was the son of George, who came to Ireland with the Cromwellian army in 1651 and became a prominent landowner in Limerick. Richard fought in the Williamite army. The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that Richard Ingoldsby purchased Carton House and demesne in Co. Kildare for £1,800 in 1703 from the Talbot family. He also owned a town house in Mary St., Dublin. He married Frances, daughter of Col. James Naper of Co. Meath; they had at least one son, Henry Ingoldsby (d. 1731). Henry lived the high life in London and Carton had to be sold to pay his debts in 1738, and he sold it back to Robert Fitzgerald the 19th Earl of Kildare.
Robert FitzGerald the 19th Earl of Kildare married Mary O’Brien, daughter of William, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin.
Bence-Jones continues: “Castle’s rebuilding obliterated all traces of the earlier house, except for a cornice on what is now the entrance front and the unusually thick interior walls. He added a storey, and lengthened the house by adding a projecting bay at either end; he also refaced it. He gave the entrance front a pediment, like its predecessor; but the general effect of the three storey 11 bay front, which has a Venetian window in the middle storey of each of its end bays, is one of massive plainness. As before, the house was joined to flanking office wings; but instead of simple curved sweeps, there were now curved colonnades.”
The Archiseek website tells us:
“In 1739, the 19th Earl of Kildare employed Richard Castle to build the existing house replacing an earlier building. Castle (originally Cassels) was responsible for many of the great Irish houses, including Summerhill, Westport, Powerscourt House and in 1745, Leinster House, which he also built for the FitzGeralds.“
There is a projecting bay on either side of the garden front facade with a Venetian window in the middle storey of either projecting bay. According to Mark Bence-Jones, these were designed by Richard Castle. The flanking wings were joined initially by curved colonnades, later replaced by straight connecting links.
Mark Bence-Jones continues: “The work was completed after the death of 19th Earl for his son [James (1722-1773)], 20th Earl, who later became 1st Duke of Leinster and was the husband of the beautiful Emily, Duchess of Leinster [Emily Lennox, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Richmond] and the father of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the United Irish Leader.”
They certainly were a rebellious family! It is said that this saved the house from being burnt by Irish rebels in 1920s, as a portrait of Edward Fitzgerald the United Irishman was shown to the would-be arsonists. Emily Lennox’s sister, Louisa, married Thomas Conolly and lived across the parkland in Castletown House. Stella Tillyard writes of the life and times of the sisters, Emily and Louisa and it was made into a mini series for the BBC, entitled “The Aristocrats” which was filmed on site at Carton House. I’d love to read the book and see the movie! She also wrote about Edward FitzGerald.
Emilia Olivia, Duchess of Leinster (née Usher St. George), (1759-1798), wife of the 2nd Duke of Leinster Date 1780 Engraver William Dickinson, English, 1746-1823 After Joshua Reynolds, English, 1723-1792, courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
Mark Bence-Jones continues: “3rd Duke, Lord Edward’s nephew, [Augustus Frederick Fitzgerald (1791-1874)] employed Sir Richard Morrison to enlarge and remodel the house ca 1815, having sold Leinster House in Dublin. Morrison replaced the curved colonnades with straight connecting links containing additional rooms behind colonnades of coupled Doric columns, so as to form a longer enfilade along what was now the garden front; for he moved the entrance to the other front [the north side], which is also of 11 bays with projecting end bays, but has no pediment. The former music room on this side of the house became the hall; it is unassuming for the hall of so important a house, with plain Doric columns at each end. On one side is a staircase hall by Morrison, again very unassuming; indeed, with the exception of the great dining room, Morrison’s interiors at Carton lack his customary neo-Classical opulence.”
Archiseek continues: “Carton remained in the control of the FitzGeralds until the early 1920s when the 7th Duke sold the estate and house to pay off gambling debts of £67,500. In 2000, Carton was redeveloped as a “premier golf resort and hotel”. A hotel was added to the main house, and the estate’s eighteenth-century grounds and landscaping were converted into two golf courses.” 
Mark Bence-Jones continues: “Beyond the staircase, on the ground floor, is the Chinese bedroom, where Queen Victoria slept when she stayed here; it remains as it was when decorated 1759, with Chinese paper and a Chinese Chippendale giltwood overmantel. The other surviving mid-C18 interior is the saloon, originally the dining room, in the garden front, dating from 1739 and one of the most beautiful rooms in Ireland. It rises through two storeys and has a deeply coved ceiling of Baroque plasterwork by the Francini brothers representing “the Courtship of the Gods”; the plasterwork, like the decoration on the walls, being picked out in gilt. At one end of the room is an organ installed 1857, its elaborate Baroque case designed by Lord Gerald Fitzgerald [1821-1886], a son of the 3rd Duke.“
“The door at this end of the saloon leads, by way of an anteroom, to Morrison’s great dining room, which has a screen of Corinthian columns at each end and a barrel-vaulted ceiling covered in interlocking circles of oak leaves and vine leaves.
“The demesne of Carton is a great C18 landscape park, largely created by 1st Duke and Emily Duchess; “Capability” Brown was consulted, but professed himself too busy to come to Ireland. By means of a series of dams, a stream has been widened into a lake and a broad serpentine river; there is a bridge by Thomas Ivory, built 1763, an ornamental dairy of ca 1770 and a shell house. Various improvements were carried out to the gardens toward the end of C19 by Hermione, wife of 5th Duke, who was as famous a beauty in her day as Emily Duchess was in hers; she was also the last Duchess of Leinster to reign at Carton, for her eldest son, 6th Duke, died young and unmarried, and her youngest son, 7th Duke, was unable to live here having, as a young man, signed away his expectations to the “50 Shilling Tailor” Sir Henry Mallaby-Deeley, in return for ready money and an annuity. As a result of this unhappy transaction, Carton had eventually to be sold. It was bought 1949 by 2nd Lord Brocket, and afterwards became the home of his younger son, Hon David Nall-Cain, who opened it to the public. It was sold once again in 1977.”
6. Castletown Gate Lodge, Celbridge, County Kildare€ for 3
“The Village at Lyons, County Kildare is often described as a restoration but to be frank it is more a recreation. By the time the late Tony Ryan bought the estate in 1996, the buildings beside the Grand Canal, which had once included a forge, mill and dwelling houses, were in a state of almost total ruin. Therefore the work undertaken here in the years prior to his death in 2007 involved a great deal of architectural salvage, much of it brought from France, although some Irish elements were incorporated such as a mid-19th century conservatory designed by Richard Turner, originally constructed for Ballynegall, County Westmeath. Today the place primarily operates as a wedding venue, providing an alluring stage set for photographs but bearing little resemblance to what originally stood here.”
Mark Bence-Jones writes of Lyons:
p. 196. “(Alymer/IFR; Lawless, Cloncurry, B/PB1929; Winn, sub St. Oswalds, B/PB) Originally the seat of the Aylmer family. Sold 1796 by Michael Aylmer to Nicholas Lawless,the 1st Lord Cloncurry, son of a wealthy blanket manufacturer, who had a new house built in 1797, to the design of an architect named Grace.
Three storey block with a curved bow on either side of its entrance front, joined to two-storey wings by curved sweeps. About 1801, shortly after his release from the Tower of London, where he had been imprisoned for two years on account of his advanced political views and friendship wiht some of the United Irishmen, the 2nd Lord Cloncurry hired Richard Morrison to undertake improvements and alterations to his father’s house, work continuing till 1805.
During this period, Lord Cloncurry was in Italy, collecting antiques and modern sculpture for the house; he also acquired three antique columns of red Egyptian granite from the Golden House of Nero, afterwards at the Palazzo Farnese, which were used as three of the four columns in a single-storey portico at Lyons, with a triangular pediment surmounted by a free-standing coat-of-arms.The other notable alteration made to the exterior of the house at this time was the substitution of straight colonnades for the curved sweeps linking the main block to the winds, a change similar to that which Morrison made a few years later at Carton. Also the main block and wings were faced with rusticated ashlar up to the height of one storey on the entrnace front. The hall was given a frieze of ox-skulls and tripods based on the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome, doorcases with fluted entablatures and overdoor panels with classical reliefs; a pair of free-standing antique marble Corinthian columns were set against one wall, and vaarous items from Lord Cloncurry’s collection fo sculpture disposed around the other walls. The walls of the dining room and music rom were painted with Irish waterfalls – and other enchanting decoration by Gaspare Gabrielli, an artist brought by Lord Cloncurry from Rome. The bow-ended dining room was also decorated with a wall painting, of Dublin Bay; and was adorned with reliefs of the story of Daedalus.”
Bence-Jones continues: “The seven-bay garden front was left fairly plain, but before it a vast formal garden was laid out, with abundant statuary and urns and an antique column supporting a statue of Venus half way along the broad central walk leading from the house to what is the largest artificial lake in Ireland. Beyond the lake rises the wooded Hill of Lyons.
The Grand Canal passes along one side of the demesne, and there is a handsome Georgian range of buildings beside it which would have been Lord Cloncurry’s private canal station. A daughter of 3rd Lord Cloncurry was Emily Lawless, the poet, a prominent figure in the Irish Revival of the early yars of the present century. Her niece, Hon Kathleen Lawless, bequeathed the Lyons estate to a cousin, Mr G M V Winn, who sold it about 1962 to University College, Dublin, which has erected a handsome pedimented arch from Browne’s Hill, Co Carlow at one of the entrances to the demesne.”
Art Kavanagh’s book on the Landed Gentry and Aristocracy: Meath, volume 1, tells us more about the Aylmers of Balrath. During the reign of Henry VI, Richard Aylmer of Lyons was a Keeper of the Peace for both Dublin and Kildare. He was in charge of protecting the settler community from attack by the neighbouring O’Toole and O’Byrne septs. The family rose to become one of the most prominent families in Meath and Kildare and key figures in the Dublin administration. Before the end of the 16th century they had established two independent branches at Donadea in Kildare and Dollardstown in County Meath.
The first Aylmer of real significance, Art Kavanagh tells us, was John Aylmer (c. 1359 – c. 1415) who married Helen Tyrell of Lyons, an heiress, at the end of the 14th century, and so the family acquired Lyons. [p. 1, Kavanagh, published by Irish Family Names, Dublin 4, 2005]
9. The K Club, Straffan House, County Kildare
Straffan House, the K Club, courtesy of the K Club Resort, 2005.
The Straffan estate formed part of the original land grant bestowed upon Maurice Fitzgerald by Strongbow for his role in the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169. In 1679, the property was purchased by Richard Talbot, the Duke of Tyrconnell who commanded the Jacobite army in Ireland during the war between James II and William of Orange. Tyrconnell’s estates were forfeited to the crown in the wake of the Williamite victory. In about 1710, the property was purchased by Hugh Henry, a prosperous merchant banker, who also owned Lodge Park. He married Anne Leeson, a sister of Joseph Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown. Straffan passed to their son, Joseph, who travelled in Europe and collected art. In April 1764 he married Lady Catherine Rawdon, eldest daughter of the 1st Earl of Moira.
Their son John Joseph (1777-1846) married Lady Emily Fitzgerald, the 23-year-old daughter of the 2nd Duke of Leinster. He was an extravagant spender and had to sell Straffan in 1831.
Hugh Barton (1766-1854) acquired Straffan House from the Henry family in 1831 and his descendents remained there until the 1960s. The Barton family were part of the Barton & Guestier winemakers. Hugh soon commissioned Dublin architect, Frederick Darley, to build a new house, based on Madame Dubarry’s great Château at Louveciennes to the west of Paris.  The house passed through many hands subsequently.
Mark Bence-Jones writes of Straffan House (1988):
p. 266. “(Barton/IFR) An imposing C19 house in a style combining Italianate and French chateau. Main block of two storeys with an attic of pedimented dormers in a mansard roof; seven bay entrance front, the centre bay breking forward and having a tripartite window above a single-storey balustraded Corinthian portico. Entablatures on console brackets over ground-floor windows; triangular pediments over windows above and segmental pediment of central window. Decorated band between storeys; balustraded roof parapet; chimneystacks with recessed panels and tooth decoration. The main block prolonged at one side by a lower two storey wing, from which rises a tall and slender campanile tower, with two tiers of open belvederes. Formal garden with elaborate Victorian fountain. Capt F.B. Barton sold Straffan ca 1949 to John Ellis. It was subsequently the home of Kevin McClory, the film producer, and later owned by Mr Patrick Gallagher, who restored the main block to its original size.”
10. Kilkea Castle, Castledermot, Kildare – hotel
Kilkea Castle County Kildare by Elena on flickr constant commons 2005.
p. 167. “(Fitzgerald, Leinster, D/PB) A medieval castle of the FitzGeralds, Earls of Kildare, especially associated with C16 11th Earl of Kildare, the most famous “wizard Earl.” [Gerald (1525-1585)] After Carton became the family seat in C18, it was leased to a succession of tenants; one of them being the Dublin silk merchant, Thomas Reynolds, friend of Lord Edward Fitzgerald through whom he became a United Irishman, only to turn informer when he realised the full aims of the movement. His role as informer did not prevent the unhappy Reynolds from having the castle, which he had only recently done up in fine style, sacked by the military; who tored up the floorboards and tore down the panelling on the pretext of searching for arms. Subsequent tenants caused yet more damage and there was a serious fire 1849; after which the third Duke of Leinster resumed possession of the castle and restored and enlarged it as a dower-house for his family. The work was sympathetically done, so that the tall grey castle keeps its air of medieval strength with its bartizans and its massively battered stone walls; though its battlements and its rather too regularly placed trefoil headed windows are obviously C19. AT one side of the caslte a long, low, gabled office range was added, in a restrained Tudor Revival style. The interior is entirely of 1849, for the lofty top storey, where the principal rooms were originally situated, was divided to provide a storey extra. The ceilings are mostly beamed, with corbels bearing the Leinster saltire. In 1880s the beautiful Hermione, Duchess of Leinster (then Marchioness of Kildare) lived here with her amiable but not very inspiring husband [Gerald the 5th Duke of Leinster]; finding the life not much to her taste, she composed the couplet “Kilkea Castle and Lord Kildare/are more than any woman can bear.” After the sale of Carton 1949, Kilkea became the seat of the 8th and Present Duke of Leinster (then Marquess of Kildare), but it was sold ca 1960 and is now an hotel.”
11. Leixlip Manor hotel (formerly Liffey Valley House hotel, formerlySt. Catherine’s Park), Leixlip, Co Kildare
The house that stood before the current Manor House was taller and was tenanted by the Earl of Lanesborough. Then in 1792, it was occupied by David La Touche, of the Huguenot banking family. It shortly thereafter burned to the ground and in around 1798 a new house, also called St Catherine’s Park, was built in the same townland to the design of Francis Johnston; it is now Leixlip Manor Hotel & Gardens.
Rt Hon. David La Touche of Marlay (1729-1817) Date c.1800 by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Irish, 1740-1808, courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
12. Martinstown House, Kilcullen, Co Kildare – accommodation
Martinstown House 2012, photograph courtesy of Martinstown House on flickr constant commons.
featured in Great Irish Houses. Forewards by Desmond FitzGerald, Desmond Guinness. IMAGE Publications, 2008.
p. 232. “Martinstown House is one of the finest cottage ornee style buildings in Ireland today. Originally part of the huge estates of the Dukes of Leinster, this fine house was commissioned by Robert Burrowes [d. 1850, son of Kildare Dixon Borrowes, 5th Baronet] and completed by the Burrowes family between 1832 and 1840, when decorative effects such as thatched roofs, undressed stonework and verandahs made of free growing branches were being incorporated into rural Irish dwellings. While experts feel the house was built in 1833, it may have been started years earlier, with many of the outbuildings including stables and also the walled gardens dating to some time between 1815 and 1820.” The book’s authors add that Decimus Burton was involved in the creation of this house.
“Beautiful self catering, Georgian Manor centrally located in the hearth of Kildare in a very private setting. De Burgh Manor comprises of 15 bedrooms all ensuite. The ground floor consists of a double reception room, drawing room, dining room, bar, library , breakfast room and kitchen. Situated on c. 6 acres of grounds overlooking the River Barrow.“
The website also tells us about the history:
“De Burgh Manor was built circa 1709 [the National Inventory says it was built around 1780] by Thomas Burgh [1670-1730] of Oldtown [built ca 1709 by Thomas Burgh (1670-1730), MP, Engineer and Surveyor-General for Ireland, to his own design. The centre block was burned 1950s. A house has now been made out of one of the wings. He also designed Kildrought house, a Section 482 property] for his brother William Burgh later known as Captain William De Burgh and who became Comptroller and Auditor General for Ireland. Thomas Burgh was Barracks Overseer for Ireland from 1701 and was also responsible for [building] – the Library at Trinity College Dublin, Collins Barracks Dublin – now a museum – and Dr Steeven Hospital Dublin.
William De Burgh was born in 1667 and had a son, Thomas, and a daughter, Elisabeth. Thomas, born in 1696, eventually became a Member of Parliament for Lanesboro, Co. Longford. Freeman of Athy Borough and Sovereign of Athy, in 1755 he married Lady Ann Downes, daughter of the Bishop of Cork & Ross. Her mother was a sister to Robert Earl of Kildare. Her brother, Robert Downes, was the last MP for Kildare in 1749 and was Sovereign of Athy.
Thomas had two sons, William and Ulysses [Ulysses was actually the grandson of Thomas, son of another Thomas]. William born in 1741 went on to represent Athy as an MP in Parliament between 1768 and 1776. A monument to his memory by Sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott, a statue of faith, which depicts him with a book in one hand and a scroll in the other and stands in York Minster. He wrote two books on religion and faith.
Ulysses, born in 1788succeeded to the title of Lord Downes [2nd Baron Downes of Aghanville] on the death of his cousin William Downes who was made Lord Chief Justice in 1803 and created Lord Downes on his retirement in 1822. It was Ulysses De Burgh who presented the Town Hall Clock to Athy in 1846 and it was he who had the wings added to Bert House. [Mark Bence-Jones writes of Bert: “enlarged early in C19 by the addition of two storey Classical overlapping wings, of the same height as the centre block; which is of three storeys over basement with two seven bay fronts.”]
Ulysses’ daughter Charlotte was the last of the De Burgh’s to call Bert House home with her husband Lt. General James Colbourne [2nd Baron Seaton of Seaton, co. Devon]. Charlotte and James came to Bert House in 1863 as Lord and Lady Seaton after the death of Lord Downes. It was sold by them in 1909 to Lady Geoghegan who then sold it onto her cousin, Major Quirke.“
2. Firmount, Clane, County Kildare – whole house or weddings
“Firmount House is a unique and stunning venue just outside Clane in County Kildare, only 40minutes from Dublin city centre. Lovingly restored by the owners, the house is known for flexibility and creativity and is now open for weddings, private parties, film shoots, yoga retreats and corporate events. Enjoy visiting the Firmount website and see for yourself the lifelong journey these restoration warriors have taken to provide you with the perfect location in a wonderful, natural setting.
This fabulous house consists of a sitting room, breakfast room and dining room downstairs reached from a large hallway, alongside a commercial kitchen and butlers pantry. The first floor consists of seven large and sumptuous bedrooms – five doubles and two twin rooms with plenty of room for two travel cots which are also provided. There are also six bathrooms. Heated by oil fired radiators, there are also two stoves in the main entertaining space.
“Firmount House has a colourful history dating from the 13th century when there was reputed to be a fortified house on the current site. The Down Survey of 1655 seems to show a house on the land (then known as Keapock). In the 18th century the house was owned by the Warburtons and sat on extensive grounds. The story of the current house really begins in 1878 when Hugh Henry Snr having married his cousin Emily Henry (of Lodge Park, site of the current K-club) bought Firmount house and renovated it extensively. It seems he took what was a Georgian house, wrapped it in concrete (one of the first houses of it’s kind) and added a Victorian wing to the South.
The estate consisted of 409 acres at that point. Hugh Henry’s son, imaginatively named Hugh Jr, inherited the house in 1888 and lived there until 1917. It is rumoured that his wife, Eileen, had nightmares of the house going down in flames – although given it was made of concrete, we think she would have been ok. The house became a WWI hospital in 1917 and 390 soldiers were treated there until 1919, with no deaths registered – thank goodness for that. However the next decades were not so lucky for the house. In 1929 the house was bought by Kildare County Council and turned into a TB sanatorium. It ran as such until 1961. There are local stories of movies being run in the ballroom for patients with the now Mayor of Clane, at the projector. And of patients sitting on the elevated banks at the very front of the house on the roadside, watching life on the road go by but being unable to participate. 1964 brought the purchase of the house by the Department of Defence who ran it as a Control Centre for Nuclear Tracking and named it Section Seven Regional Control.
Here things get really interesting as the basement of the house was intended to house senior officials, media and communications personel in the event of nuclear fall out. It is rumoured the Taoiseach (Irish prime-minister) was supposed to have a bunker on site and the house can still be found on Russian nuclear maps! This picture shows one of the several signs found in the house. The downside of government and county council ownership is that many original period features were lost through ignorance, neglect and the reinforcement of windows, floors, porticos and doors with concrete.
The current “madthings” bought the house in 2012 with the aim of slowly bringing Firmount house back to life, window by window and floor by floor aswell as bringing Firmount forward into a gathering place with a welcome for all.“
3. Griesemount House, County Kildare, whole house rentals– see above
 Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
Kevin V. Mulligan writes in The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster (p. 83)  that Ardress is the best preserved example of a gentleman’s farmhouse in South Ulster, due to its ownership by the National Trust. The discovernorthernireland website tells us:
“Ardress is nestled in the apple orchards of County Armagh and offers afternoons of fun and relaxation for everyone. Built in the 17th century as a farmhouse, Ardress was remodelled in Georgian times and has a character and charm all of its own.
• Elegant Neo-classical drawing-room with plasterwork by the Dublin plasterer Michael Stapleton • Attractive garden with scenic woodland and riverside walks • Home to an important collection of farm machinery and tools • Rich apple orchards • On display is the 1799 table made for the speaker of the Irish Parliament upon which King George V signed the Constitution of Northern Ireland on 22nd June 1921
Visitor Facilities: Historic house, Farm yard, Garden, Shop, Guided tours, Suitable for picnics, Programme of events.”
Mulligan writes that it is a mid-Georgian house with a two storey facade of seven bays, with a small Tuscan portico in the centre, and it was later enlarged to nine bays by the addition of a slightly lower quoined wings. It began as a smaller five bay house with basement, and Mulligan tells us that it was probably built for Thomas Clarke.
The National Trust website tells us: “Clarke and Ensor families who lived at Ardress from the late 1600s to the mid 20th-century. See how the originally modest farmhouse was enlarged and re-modelled over the years. Some of the furnishings are original while others have made their way back here. Highlights include the drawing room, dining room and a fine collection of paintings on loan from Stuart Hall in County Tyrone.
Past our brand new visitor reception area you’ll find the traditional, cobbled farmyard. Pop into the different outbuildings such as the smithy, byre and threshing barn to get a flavour of old-time rural life. The whole family will love meeting the friendly chickens, goats and donkey, and there’s also a children’s play area.
Bring your walking boots and set off on the Lady’s Mile (really three-quarters-of-a-mile, if you’re counting). This circular, woodland path is a real highlight of any visit, especially in spring when it’s full of wildflowers. There are some great views back to the house and look out for Frizzel’s Cottage, an 18th-century mud-walled house which is now fully refurbished.
Ardress sits in the heart of Armagh’s rich apple-growing country. Visit in May to see the orchards burst into vibrant whites and pinks, truly a memorable sight. During Apple Blossom Sundays (12 and 19 May), there will be orchard tours, local cider, local honey, music, country crafts and family fun. Be sure to come back in October for the Apple Press Days, when you can pick your own apples. Kids can also press their own apple juice.”
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 11. “(Ensor/LG1894) A two storey five bay gable-ended house of ca. 1664 with two slight projections at the back; enlarged and modernized ca. 1770 by the Dublin architect, George Ensor – brother of better-known architect, John Ensor – for his own use. Ensor added a wing at one end of the front, and to balance it he built a screen wall with dummy windows at the other end. These additions were designed to give the effect of a centre block two bays longer than what the front was originally, with two storey one bay wings having Wyatt windows in both storeys. To complete the effect, he raised the façade to conceal the old high-pitched roof; decorating the parapet with curved upstands and a central urn; the parapet of the wings curving downwards on either side to frame other urns. Ensor also added a pedimented Tuscan porch and he altered the garden front, flanking it with curved sweeps. Much of the interior of the hosue was allowed to keep its simple, intimate scale; the oak staircase dates from before Ensor’s time. But he enlarged the drawing room, and decorated the walls and ceiling with Adamesque plasterwork and plaques of such elegance and quality that the work is generally assumed to have been carried out by the leading Irish artist in this style of work, Michael Stapleton. Ardress now belongs to the Northern Ireland National Trust and is open to the public.” 
“The Argory was built in the 1820s and its hillside location has wonderful views over the gardens and 320 acre wooded estate bordering the River Blackwater. This former home of the MacGeough–Bond family has a splendid stable yard with horse carriages, harness room, acetylene gas plant and laundry. Take a stroll around the delightful gardens or for the more energetic along the woodland and riverside way-marked trails.
Fascinating courtyard displays Garden, woodland and riverside walks with wonderful sweeping views Snowdrop walks and superb spring bulbs Adventure playground and environmental sculpture trail Enjoy afternoon tea and award winning scones in Lady Ada’s tea room
The National Trust website tells us: “The Argory is the home of Mr Bond, the last of four generations of the MacGeough Bond family. Designed by brothers Arthur and John Williamson of Dublin (who also did work for Emo Court in County Laois), the house was built by Mr Bond’s great-grandfather, Walter. The Argory was gifted to the National Trust in 1979. Designed in approximately 1819, started in 1820 and finished about 1824, The Argory came into existence due to a quirky stipulation in a will. Created with Caledon stone in coursed ashlar blocks with Navan limestone window sills, quoins and foundations, the interior of this understated and intimate house remains unchanged since 1900.
The house was largely closed up at the end of the Second World War, with Mr Bond, the last owner, moving into the North Wing. What you see today is a result of four generations of collecting, treasured by Mr Bond, displayed as he remembers it from his childhood.”
Of The Argory, Mark Bence-Jones writes (1988):
p. 12. “(MacGeough Bond/IFR) Built ca. 1820 by Walter MacGeough (who subsequently assumed the surname of Bond), to the design of two architects, named A. and J. Williamson, one or both of whom worked in the office of Francis Johnston. A house with imposing and restrained Classical elevations, very much in the Johnston manner, of two storeys, and faced with ashlar. Main block has seven bay front, the centre bay breaking forward under a shallow pediment with acroteria; Wyatt window in centre above porch with Doric columns at corners. Unusual fenestration: the middle window in both storeys either side of the centre being taller than those to the left and right of it. Front prolonged by wing of same height as main block, but set back from it; of three bays, ending with a wide three-sided bow which has a chimneystack in its centre. Three bay end to main block; other front of main block also of seven bays, with a porch; prolonged by service wing flush with main block. Dining room has plain cornice with mutules; unusual elliptical overdoors with shells and fruit in plasterwork. Very extensive office ranges and courtyards at one corner of house; building with a pediment on each side and a clock tower with cupola; range with polygonal end pavilions; imposing archway. The interior is noted for a remarkable organ and for the modern art collection of the late owner. Now maintained by the National Trust.” 
“Brownlow House or Lurgan Castle, so named presumably after the Rt. Hon. Charles Brownlow, who built it in 1833, was created Baron Lurgan in 1839, was owned by the Brownlow family until the turn of the century. Changing fortunes resulted in property being sold to the Lurgan Real Property Company Ltd. and subsequently the House and surrounding grounds were purchased on behalf of Lurgan Loyal Orange District Lodge. The legal document of conveyance is dated 11 July 1904. In appreciation of the effort of the late Sir William Allen, KBE, DSO, DL, MP in obtaining the House, an illuminated address was presented to him by District Lodge and now hangs in the Dining Room beside the portrait of Sir William painted by Frank McKelvey. He together with Messrs. Hugh Hayes, John Mehaffey, George Lunn Jun. and James Malcolm Jun. were the first Trustees.
Browlow House, built in an age of grandeur and cultured tastes, is an imposing building. It has retained much of the atmosphere of bygone days and one can readily pause and still imagine what life was like when it was occupied as a dwelling.”
Mark Bence-Jones writes of Brownlow House (1988):
p. 49. (Brownlow, Lurgan, B/PB) A large Elizabethan-revival house by William Playfair, of Edinburgh, built from 1836 onwards for Charles Brownlow, 1st Lord Lurgan, whose son, 2nd Baron, owned the famous greyhound Master McGrath, and whose brother-in-law, Maxwell Close, built Drumbanagher, also to the design of Playfair. Of honey coloured stone, with a romantic silhouette; many gables with tall finials; many tall chimneypots; oriels crowned with strapwork and a tower with a lantern and dome. The walls of three principal reception rooms are decorated with panels painted to resemble verd-antique; while the ceilings are grained to represent various woods. The grand staircase has brushwork decoration in the ceiling panesl, and the windows are filled with heraldic stained glass. Sold 1903 to the Orange Order, its present owners, by whom it is used for seasonal functions. Its grounds have become a public park.”
4. Derrymore House, Bessbrook, County Armagh – National Trust, open to public.
The National Trust website tells us that Derrymore House is a late 18th-century thatched house in gentrified vernacular style.
“The name Derrymore is derived from ‘doire’, the Irish for an oak grove and ‘mór’, meaning large. Derrymore was the home of Isaac Corry (1753-1813), MP for Newry from 1776. He commissioned John Sutherland (1745-1826), the leading landscape gardener of the day, to carry out improvements to the land. Sutherland enhanced the existing woodland by planting thousands more trees. Oak, chestnut, pine and beech trees now dominate the woodlands, which contain some very fine mature specimens. The picturesque thatched house was built for Corry, in the style of a ‘cottage orné’, which gives it a rather romantic feel. It is surprisingly large inside with reception and bedrooms on the ground floor, and service rooms in the basement.
Isaac Corry was Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer in 1800, when the Act of Union with Britain was passed. It followed a time of extreme political unrest. The Act removed parliamentary control from Dublin to London, a highly contentious move. Many who supported the union were seen as betraying Ireland in the interests of economics and trade, while others saw it as an economic and political necessity. As MP for Newry and supporter of the linen industry, Corry was keen to ensure solid trade links. The Act was also meant to deliver Catholic Emancipation, but to the dismay of many, including Corry, this part of the Act was not ratified.
Corry sold Derrymore in 1810 and retired to his Dublin house, where he died in 1813. After passing through several hands, Derrymore was bought by John Grubb Richardson (1815-1890), owner of the Bessbrook linen works and village and a member of the Society of Friends.
By the mid-19th century the linen industry had become a major part of the Ulster economy. Industrialisation brought in ever more sophisticated engineering. The Craigmore Viaduct, visible from Derrymore demesne, opened in 1852, creating a major transport link between Dublin and Belfast. The linen business at Bessbrook grew from a small mill, with weaving carried out on looms in people’s own cottages (piece work), into an impressive series of flax, spinning and weaving mills, spear-heading new developments in damask weaving, and established a world-wide reputation for Richardson Linens.
John G. Richardson invested heavily in Bessbrook, creating a model village around the large mill, run on Quaker principles of mutual respect between managers and workers. Good housing, religious tolerance, playing fields and schools helped create a thriving and settled community. No public house ensured that there was no need for a police station, nor for a pawnshop.
John G. Richardson let Derrymore house to tenants and built The Woodhouse for his own family in the northern part of the demesne. He created informal gardens through the rocky woodland, making use of the granite rock from local quarries, enhanced the walled garden and built entrance lodges.
In 1940, soldiers of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry arrived in Bessbrook as a defence against German invasion of Northern Ireland from across the Irish border. In 1943, the troops were replaced by the US Army Quartermaster Depot Q111-D until August 1944.
After the war, John S.W. Richardson, a descendant of John G Richardson, offered Derrymore House to the National Trust. In the 1970s the “Troubles” impacted Bessbrook and Derrymore. The mill was turned into a major base for the British Army and was known as the busiest military heliport in Europe. Corry’s association with the Act of Union led to bombs being planted at Derrymore house on several occasions between 1972 and 1979; one firebomb damaged the house. The caretaker, Mr Edmund Baillie and his two sisters lived in the house and luckily were unhurt, but their safety and the survival of the house were largely due to Mr Baillie’s personal courage in moving some of the bombs away from the building. The Trust was forced to close the house and remove the contents for safe keeping; it opened again in the late 1980s. In 1985 John Richardson generously bequeathed the rest of Derrymore demesne to the National Trust, including The Woodhouse, walled garden and various lodges.
The National Trust has worked with a number of partners to enhance access to Derrymore Demesne with a focus on local visitors, providing better footpaths, parking, toilet facilities and a children’s play area to ensure that everyone can enjoy the beauty of Derrymore in harmony with nature and wildlife and its historic past.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes:
p. 102. “(Corry/LG1886) A single-storey thatched cottage ornee of Palladian form, consisting of a bow-fronted centre block and two flanking wings, joined to the main block by diminutive canted links. The central blow of the main block is three sided, and glazed down to the ground, with mullions and astragals; it is flanked by two quatrefoil windows, under hood mouldings. There is also a mullioned window in each wing. Built ante 1787 by Isaac Corry, MP for Newry and last Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer. The Act of Union is said to have been drafted in the fine drawing room here. Now owned by the Northern Ireland National Trust and open to the public.“
Milford House was the one of its age. The most technologically advanced house in 19th century Ireland – the first in Ireland to be lit with hydro electricity. The creation of Robert Garmany McCrum, self made industrialist, benefactor and inventor who revolutionized the linen industry. His son William invented the penalty kick rule in football (which makes Milford world famous!) and his daughter Harriette was a founding member of the women’s suffragette movement in Ireland. By 1880 Milford House had six bathrooms each with a Jacuzzi and Turkish bath and a waterfall in the dining room. From 1936 to 1965 it was home to the Manor House School.
Today Milford House is one of the top ten listed buildings at most serious risk in Northern Ireland.
p. 206. “A two storey vaguely Italianate C19 house. Camber-headed windows; three sided bow; pedimented three bay projection. Elaborate range of glasshouses running out at right angles from the middle of the front. The seat of the McCrums, of the firm of McCrum, Watson & Mercer, damask manufacturers, of Belfast.”
“Crannagael House, owned and occupied by Jane and John Nicholson, is nestled in the heart of the County Armagh countryside and is approximately 3 miles from M1 junction 13 and 5 miles from Portadown on the B28, Moy – Portadown Road.
It is a grade 2 listed Georgian house and is still owned by the same family that built it in the mid 18th century. It is surrounded by gardens, parkland and mature woodland, and the accommodation overlooks an apple orchard – a delight when the blossom is out in May!
Nicholsons have lived at Crannagael House since 1760. Subsequent generations were involved in the linen industry and then in 1884 one Henry Joseph Nicholson, the current owner’s great grandfather, imported the first 60 Bramley Seedling trees to Armagh from Southwell in Nottinghamshire, and the rest as they say is history!
The self contained apartment on the East wing comprises several bedrooms, bathroom and downstairs shower with wc (both with wonderful views of the orchard!)and a fully fitted kitchen, dining area and lounge.”
“Killeavy Castle Estate is the perfect antidote to the modern fast paced world. As the centrepiece of 350 acres of mixed farm and woodland in County Armagh’s stunning Slieve Gullion, it’s the ideal place to escape, retreat, relax and unwind. Easily accessible only 10 minutes outside Newry City and one hour from both Belfast and Dublin Airports makes it Northern Irelands premier Hotel and Spa destination.
At Killeavy Castle Estate we are all about living life more slowly and in the present; cherishing those ahhh moments for when the distractions of the modern world finally ebb away and you get closer to the things that matter most. Whether that’s nature, history, loved ones or even yourself, this secluded country Estate will provide everything you need to emerge fully rejuvenated.
Perfect for a unique getaway, wedding or special celebration, take a closer look at everything the Estate has to offer from a beautifully restored Castle, boutique Hotel accommodation, superb cuisine with ingredients sourced from our local farm, Spa and endless opportunities for walking in a stunning location.”
“Killeavy Castle is a Grade A listed historical building originally designed in 1836 by architect George Papworth of Dublin. Formally known as Killeavy Lodge, the Foxall family had their home rebuilt in the style of the pre-Victorian Gosford Castle with towers, Tudor windows and a medieval-style door transforming the modest farmhouse into a home fit for a king.
Situated on the eastern base of Slieve Gullion, the original castle and surrounding grounds brought a new element to the beautiful landscape. The building contained a basement level with a kitchen, store rooms, servant’s quarters and an underground tunnel to allow servants to enter and exit the building unseen. Above was a parlour and wine cellar, with an adjoining drawing room, library and conservatory. On the top level were six bedrooms, four dressing rooms and bathrooms. There was a beautiful walled garden and an ornamental water wheel.
The Bell family took ownership of the property in 1881, but in recent years the building fell into disrepair. Fortunately, the facade remained intact and, surrounded by fir plantations and lush farmland, it has been returned to its former glory.
George Papworth (1781-1855) was the younger brother of English architect John Buonarotti Papworth. He established himself in Ireland and designed many notable buildings including Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital and the King’s Bridge in Dublin. His drawings of Killeavy were exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1836.
Killeavy’s Journey From Family Home to Historic Hotel
We are proud to have brought a stunning piece of architectural heritage and Northern Ireland history back from the brink of ruin. When we took ownership of Killeavy Castle Estate, we saw its incredible potential and decided to restore it to its former glory.
Our mission was to fully restore Killeavy Castle Estate so that locals and visitors alike could enjoy it for generations to come. In 2019, we opened the Killeavy Castle to the public as a historic hotel, wedding venue, spa and visitor attraction.
Since then, we have welcomed countless visitors from around the world. Guests flock to our Estate to appreciate our meticulously restored 19th century Castle, manicured gardens, unspoiled woodlands, and authentic working farm.
Killeavy Castle Estate Today
Today, the Killeavy Castle Estate comprises our 19th-century Castle, a four-star boutique-style Hotel with 45 guestrooms in our restored Mill and Coach House, and a three-guestroom luxury self catering Gatelodge.
Our guests can also enjoy our fine dining restaurant, casual bistro bar and luxury spa facilities. Comfort and class are our guiding principles, bringing the opulence of days gone by to everyone who visits our Estate.“
From the website: “Welcome to Newforge House, a historic family-run country house offering warm hospitality, luxurious rooms and delicious local seasonal food in tranquil surroundings. Set on the edge of the small village of Magheralin, Newforge is an oasis of calm and the perfect location for your romantic break or a special occasion with friends and family. Our central location, only 30-minute drive from Belfast, makes Newforge an ideal base for touring Northern Ireland.”
“Elmfield Estate has been a family home for generations and of the Shaw family for the last 60 years. It has evolved through the years, from a modest dwelling house and stable yard in the 18c to an impressive Victorian Scottish baronial style house with turrets and ziggurat balustrades, built by the wealthy linen barons in the mid-1800s. The estate ran into disrepair after the second world war but was saved by the Shaws who have lovingly restored the house, farm, and gardens room by room lawn by lawn. Elmfield has certainly been a place of transformation and vision over the last 60 years. When Derek and Ann’s three children were little, they enjoyed the freedom and wildness that only a semi-derelict estate can offer. To turn that into what you see today is down to Derek’s vision.
There are more than 300 years of fascinating history to be discovered here, from the history of the founding, design and redesign of the house to the plans for the grounds and courtyards. Over the years more than one family dynasty of linen merchants has called Elmfield their home, and the layers of heritage here offer deep insights into Northern Ireland’s once-dominant linen industry.
During World War II Elmfield was home to a very different cohort of people, housing German and Italian prisoners of war within its grounds. Some years after the war a comprehensive restoration of the Elmfield Estate was completed by the Shaw family and forms the basis of what you can see today, enabling the estate to host rewarding holistic experiences that include mindfulness and meditation walks, self-discovery retreats, corporate wellness and leadership programmes, and transformative deep yoga residencies.”
“Built around 1619 by Sir Baptist Jones, Bellaghy Bawn is a fortified house and bawn (the defensive wall surrounding an Irish tower house). What exists today is a mix of various building styles from different periods with the main house lived in until 1987.” Open on Sundays.
“Hezlett’s picturesque thatched cottage exterior hides a fascinating early timber frame dating from 1690, making it one of the oldest vernacular domestic buildings in Northern Ireland. The story of the house is told through the experiences of the people who lived there.“
The house at Liffock became home to the Hezletts in 1766 and stayed within the family for the next 200 years until the National Trust acquired it in 1976. The National Trust website tells us:
“Isaac Hezlett (1720-1790) was the first Hezlett to live in the cottage at Liffock. He acquired the dwelling and some land in 1766. At this point in his life he was married to his second wife Esther and had two sons; Samuel from his first marriage with Margaret Kerr and Jack, half-brother to Samuel.When Samuel’s father died, he inherited the farm at the age of 37 and about five years later he married Esther Steel. She was 22 years his junior and they had eight children.Samuel was intimidated by local insurgents to join the United Irishmen; his half-brother Jack was an ardent supporter. He was threatened to be hanged from the Spanish chestnut tree in his own garden.By 1798 the rebellion was at its height and the two brothers were on opposite sides of the war. 30,000 lives were lost when the rebels were finally defeated. Jack escaped to the recently created United States of America while Samuel remained with his family in their home at Liffock until he died in 1821.
Samuel’s eldest son Isaac (1796-1883) married Jane Swan (1805-1896) in 1823. He built a two-storey extension to form a new self-contained unit for his mother and sisters. This extension could be regarded as forerunner of what we call today a ‘granny-flat’. Isaac also increased the acreage farmed at Liffock.Hugh (1825-1906), Samuel and Jane’s eldest son, increased the acreage of the farm once more. By putting his education to good use he made the farm more productive; more cash crops were grown and the herds of dairy cattle and sheep were increased. The outputs from the farm which generated income included the cash crops of flax, barley, potatoes, oats and turnips, in addition to wool, milk, calves, pigs and eggs. Hugh also oversaw an extensive re-modelling of the farmyard and outbuildings.In 1881 the Gladstone Land Act paved the way for further Acts which enabled tenant farmers to buy the land they had hitherto rented. So by the early 20th century the Hezletts were not tenant farmers but owner-occupiers.
In 1976, with funds provided by Ulster Land fund and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society the National Trust acquired the house from the third Hugh Hezlett (1911-1988).”
“Downhill Demesne delves into a life and landscape steeped in history and nature. There’s much to explore as you enter this enchanting estate. Wander around the 18th-century demesne and discover dovecotes and gardens as you stumble upon a spectacular temple.”
The house of Downhill is now a ruin.
The National Trust website tells us:
“2018 marked the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Frederick Augustus Hervey in the Diocese of Derry. He was consecrated as Bishop in St Columb’s Cathedral in March 1768. Frederick was a man of many parts as well as being a cleric he was a scientist with a deep interest in volcanology; he was a collector of art; he travelled extensively and spoke German, French and Italian fluently; he took a keen interest in Irish politics and music; he was a powerful proponent of religious equality; and he was a builder of churches, bridges and roads.
He is remembered by us for his association with the Giant’s Causeway and the creation of the Downhill Demesne. A keen volcanologist, Frederick ‘discovered’ the Giant’s Causeway in the sense that he publicised what was then an isolated, seldom-visited spot and was the first to study it in a wider scientific context and pass on his findings to his learned friends throughout Europe. He also created Downhill House and the Mussenden Temple, Northern Ireland’s most iconic building, as his country retreat.
The Earl Bishop is largely regarded as being his own architect at Downhill but it was the Cork born Michael Shanahan who drew up most of the building plans and was, for most of the time, his buildings works superintendent. The mason James McBlain executed all the decorative carving and much of the subsequent building for the Earl. Italian stuccadores were also employed, chief among whom was Placido Columbani.
Downhill is characterised by a three storey front, facing south and with two long wings at the back of this. Originally these wings terminated in domes topped with ornamental chimney-pots. The wings were continued in ranges of outbuildings, forming inner and outer yards, and ending towards the sea in two immense curving bastions of basalt.
The main house block was faced with freestone from Dungiven quarries, about 30 miles away. The basement is rusticated and the storeys above decorated with pairs of Corinthian pilasters, topped by Vitruvian scroll course, a cornice and parapet.
Sadly the interior of the house shows little of its original character. The house was almost entirely gutted by a fire which broke out on a Sunday in May 1851. The library was completely destroyed and more than 20 pieces of sculpture had been ruined. Most of the paintings were rescued, but a Raphael, The Boar Hunt, was reported destroyed.
In his later years, the Earl Bishop spent very little time in Ireland. His Irish estates were administered by a distant cousin, Henry Hervey Aston Bruce, who succeeded him following his death in 1803.
In 1804 Henry Hervey Aston Bruce was created a baronet and Downhill remained with the Bruce family until at least 1948, though the family rarely lived there after around 1920.
The only other occupation of the house came about during WWII when the site was requisitioned by the RAF. The house was subsequently dismantled after the war and its roof removed in 1950.”
Frederick Augustus Hervey also built Ballyscullion in Derry and Ickworth in Suffolk, England. He built them not only to indulge his love of architecture, but to house his large collection of paintings, furniture and statues. He first encountered his architect, Michael Shanahan, when he was Bishop of Cloyne in Cork. David Hicks tells us in his Irish Country Houses, a Chronicle of Change that Hervey took Shanahan on a trip to Italy between 1770-1772 in order to make sketches of various items of interest that could be incorporated into his home. Shanahan took up residence in the Hervey estate in Derry and acted as the Earl Bishop’s architect in residence.
The Bishop created Mussenden Temple in memory of Mrs Frideswide Mussenden, a cousin who died in 1785. Shanahan was the architect. It is believed that the Bishop used it as a private library, and permitted local Catholics to use the ground floor for mass. He left Downhill and Ballyscullion to Mrs Mussenden’s brother, Reverend Henry Aston Bruce. In doing so, he disinherited his wife and son, with whom he had quarrelled.
Frideswide Mussenden was born Frideswide Bruce. Her parents were Henrietta Aston and James Bruce. Henrietta Aston was daughter of Rev. Hon. Henry Hervey-Aston, son of John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol, who was the brother of Bishop Frederick Augustus’s father. The Bishop’s heir was therefore only distantly related, quite a blow to the disinherited wife and son.
Reverend Bruce who inherited Downhill and Ballyscullion dismantled the latter in 1813, perhaps due to window taxes, and transferred its furniture and art to Downhill. A fire in 1851 destroyed Downhill and much of its contents. The house was rebuilt to some degree to the design of John Lanyon between 1870-74.
Reverend Bruce was created a British Baronet in 1804. His son became 2nd Baronet and grandson, 3rd Baronet of Downhill. It was passed to the 4th, 5th and 6th Baronets. By the 1950s most of the contents of the house has been sold and the house dismantled and surrounding land sold. The estate is now in the care of the National Trust.
“Springhill has a beguiling spirit that captures the heart of every visitor. Described as ‘one of the prettiest houses in Ulster’, its welcoming charm reveals a family home with portraits, furniture and decorative arts that bring to life the many generations of Lenox-Conynghams who lived here from 1680. The old laundry houses one of Springhill’s most popular attractions, the Costume Collection with some exceptionally fine 18th to 20th century pieces.
New Visitor Reception offering a retail and grab and go catering offer. Celebrated collection of costumes, from the 18th century to 1970s. Visit our second-hand bookshop and pick up a bargain.
Walks: Beautiful walled gardens and way marked paths through the parkland. Children’s adventure trail play park and natural play area. A variety of events throughout the year. There are three walks available: Beech Walk, Snowdrop Walk, Sawpit Hill Walk.“
Visitor Facilities: Historic house, garden, shop, refreshments, guided tours. Suitable for picnics and country walks. Programme of events available. House: admission by guided tour (last admission 1 hour before closing). Open Bank Holiday Mondays and all other public holidays in Northern Ireland. Closed 25 and 26 December. Visitor Centre has café and shop. See Information tab for full Opening Times and Prices. Access for visitors with disability and facilities for families. Dogs welcome on leads in grounds/garden only. Available for functions.
Mark Bence-Jones writes about Springhill House in A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 263. “(Lenox-Conyngham/IFR) A low, white-washed, high roofed house with a sense of great age and peace; its nucleus late C17, built ca 1680 by “Good Will” Conyngham, who afterwards played a leading part in the defence of Derry during the Siege. Altered and enlarged at various times; the defensive enclosure or bawn with which it was originally surrounded was taken down, and two single storey free-standing office wings of stone with curvilinear end-gables were built early C18 flaking the entrance front, forming a deep forecourt. Col William Conyngham, MP, added two single-storey wings to the house ca 1765, which was when the entrance front assumed its present appearance: of seven bays, the windows on either side of the centre being narrower than the rest, and with a three sided bow in each of the wings. In the high roof, a single central dormer lighting the attic. The hall has C18 panelling; behind the hall is an early C18 staircase of oak and yew with alternate straight and spiral twisted balusters. The Gun Room has bolection moulded oak panelling which could be late C17 or early C18, though it cannot have been put into this room until much later, for there are remains of C18 wallpaper behind it. The large and lofty drawing room in the right-hand wing is a great contrast after the small, low-ceilinged rooms in the centre of the house; it has a modillion cornice and a handsome black marble chimneypiece. Though essentially a Georgian room, it has been given a Victorian character with a grey and green wallpaper of Victorian pattern. Next to the drawing room, in the garden front, is the dining room, added ca 1850 by William Lenox-Conygham; a large simple room of Georgian character, with a red flock paper and a chimneypiece of yellow marble brought from Herculaneum by the Earl of Bristol Bishop of Derry and presented by him to the family. The garden front, which is irregular, going in and out, facing along an old beech venue to a ruined tower which may originally have been a windmill. Transferred to the Northern Ireland Trust by W.L Lenox-Conygham, HML, shortly before his death in 1957. Springhill is featured in his mother, Mina’s book An Old Ulster Home and is open to the public.”
William Conyngham married Ann Upton, daughter of Arthur Upton of Castle Upton, County Antrim (this still exists and is privately owned), MP for County Antrim. Springhill passed to their daughter Anne who married David Butle, a merchant. Their son George took the name Conyngham and inherited Springhill. Although he had sons, Springhill passed through the line of his daughter, Ann (1724-1777) who married Clotworthy Lenox (1707-1785). Their son took the name George Lenox-Conyngham (1752-1816) when he inherited. George married twice: first to Jane Hamilton, and their son William Lenox-Conyngham (1792-1858) added the dining room to Springhill. George married secondly Olivia Irvine of Castle Irvine (also called Necarne; the park around Necarne Castle can freely be visited during daytime. The ruin of the castle itself is boarded up, so its interior can not be visited), County Fermanagh. One of their descendants was Jack Nicholson who inherited Enniscoe in County Mayo.
Springhill passed then from William Lenox-Conyngham (1792-1858) and his wife Charlotte Mesolina Staples of Lissan, County Tyrone, to their son William Fitzwilliam Lenox-Conyngham, and it was his grandson William Lowry Lenox-Conyngham who left it to the Northern Ireland Trust.
Places to stay, County Derry
1. Ardtara Country House and restaurant, County Derry €€
“Whether it’s for a drink, dinner, a weekend break or a round of golf we want you to enjoy the Brown Trout experience.
At the Brown Trout Inn we know that relaxing means different things to different people. For some, food and drink is all-important. Our menu offers fresh locally sourced produce ranging from ‘taste of Ulster’ favourites like honey-grilled gammon and buttery champ to slow-roasted lamb shanks and not forgetting fresh fish, including grilled trout of course.
For others, putting their feet up is the closest thing to heaven. Our Courtyard accommodation offers space, comfort and quality – the cottages hold NITB four-star status. All our accommodation is easily accessible for wheelchair users and guests with disabilities and all rooms are dog-friendly. Wifi access is free throughtout the hotel.“
3. Roselick Lodge, County Derry – whole house rentalfor 8 guests, three night minimum
“Dating back to 1830, this sympathetically restored Georgian property offers a tranquil rural setting midway between Portstewart and Portrush. Whilst retaining many of the original features and charm, the open plan extension has been adapted to suit modern living. The accommodation comprises three main reception areas, a Magnificent Family Kitchen /Living and Dining area, a cosy and tastefully decorated Snug with open fire, access to south facing Orangery and large secluded cottage gardens. Upstairs are four well proportioned bedrooms sleeping up to eight guests and a spacious first floor balcony with sea views. Minimum 3 night stay.“
Nestled in beautiful parkland where you will find our grand Georgian Mansion House which is perfect for weddings, family get togethers, corporate events and much more.
Mark Bence-Jones writes about Drenagh House (formerly Fruit Hill) in A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 107. “(McCausland/IFR) The earliest major country house by Charles Lanyon, built ca 1837 for Marcus McCausland, replacing an early C18 house on a different site. Of significance in the history of C19 Irish domestic architecture in that it is a competent late-Georgian design by an architect whose buildings in the following decade are definitely Victorian. Two storey; o an attractive pinkish sandstone ashlar. Five bay entrance front with the centre bay recessed and a single-storey Ionic portico in which the outer columns aer coupled. Adjoining front of six bays with two bay pedimented breakfront; the duality of the elevation being emphasised rather than resolved by the presence of three giant pilasters, supporting the pediment. Rear elevation of one bay between two three sided bows, with fanlighted tripartite garden door. Lower service wing at side. Balustraded parapet round roof and on portico. Single-storey top-lit central hall with screen of fluted Corinthian columns; graceful double staircase with elegant cast iron balusters rising from behind one of these screens. Rich plasterwork ceilings in hall, over staircase and in drawing room; simpler ceilings in morning room and dining room. At the head of the stairs, a bedroom corridor with a ceiling of plaster vaulting and shallow domes goes round the central court or well, the lower part of which is roofed over to form the hall. Very large and extensive outbuildings. Vista through gap in trees opposite entrance front of house to idyllic landscape far below, the ground falling steeply on this side; straight flight of steps on the axis of this vista leading down to bastion terrace with urns. Chinese garden with circular “moon gate,” laid out by Lady Margaret McCausland 1960s. Gate lodge by Lanyon with pedimented Ionic portico.”
“The castle is named after its late 16th-century owners, the Audleys, an Anglo-Norman family who held land in the area in the 13th century, It was sold, with the surrounding estate, to the Ward family in 1646 and used in 1738 as an eye-catching focus of the long vista along Castle Ward’s artificial lake, Temple Water.
The site comprises of a number of paths to allow you to get to the Castle.“
“This impressive building was built for the Hon Robert Edward Ward and his family in 1852. It is presently the headquarters of Ards and North Down Borough Council who use the mansions spectacular grand salon as the council chamber. The building is situated in the grounds of Castle Park alongside North Down Museum and is just a short walk from Bangor Castle Walled Garden.
CS Lewis visited North Down on many occasions throughout his life and regularly returned to the area. He enjoyed the beautiful view over Belfast Lough from the grounds of Bangor Castle. As Lewis himself once said “Heaven is Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of County Down”.
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 30. “(Ward, sub Bangor, V/PB; Bingham, Clanmorris, B/PB) An Elizabethan-Revival and Baronial mansion by William Burn, built 1847 for Robert Ward, a descendant of 1st Viscount Bangor. Mullioned windows; oriels created with strapwork; rather steep gables with finials. At one end, a battlemented tower with a pyramidal-roofed clock turret. Partly curved quoins, very characteristic of Burn. Inherited by Robert Ward’s daughter and heiress, Matilda Catherine, wife of 5th Lord Clanmorris. Featured in Peers and Plebs by Madeleine Bingham. Now owned by the town of Bangor.”
“The current Castle Ward is a particularly unusual building, famed for having been built with two completely different architectural styles, both inside and out.
One half is built in the classical Palladian style, with the other half which faces out across Strangford lough built in the more elaborate Gothick* style.
The story told for the reason behind this unusual decorative scheme is that the original builder of the house, Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, did not agree with his wife Lady Anne on the décor. Bernard was more classical in taste with Lady Anne prefering the fashionable Gothick style, leading them to split the house down the middle. This story is compounded by the fact that they separated not long after the house was finished with Anne leaving Castle Ward for good. This hint of scandal has carried this story through the years, but let us consider instead that Anne and Bernard set out to build the house exactly as it is – not a marriage of compromise, but a triumph of collaboration.
When Bernard and Lady Anne inherited the estate in 1759 they set about building themselves a fine new house, one which would be symbolic of their union and exist as a statement of the Ward family’s bold and forward-thinking place in the world. Castle Ward was completed in 1766 and by 1781 they had been created Viscount and Viscountess Bangor in the Peerage of Ireland.
Lady Anne’s grandfather was the nephew of the Duchess of York – wife of King James II, and a first cousin of Queen Anne. This royal ancestry shows itself in the choice of the Gothick style. The ceiling in the Morning Room is copied from the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey where Anne’s maternal family were permitted to be buried due to their royal blood. Rather than the house becoming known as an architectural monstrosity, the couple aimed for it to be a masterpiece, striving against convention and rooting the Ward family as bold, modern thinkers with an impressive past.
The unusal combination of styles has long been a point of joy or novelty for guests, having a ‘marmite’ appeal. On a visit to Castle Ward, writer and poet John Betjeman referred to the ceiling in the Boudoir as “like sitting under a cow’s udder”, and the comment has stuck. Others comment on the otherworldly feeling created in the exotic grandeur of the Gothick side.
Please check the homepage for opening times of the mansion house before planning your visit, as they may change seasonally. There is no need to book your visit in advance.“
The website also tells us more about owner Anne Ward:
“Castle Ward – the story of a warring couple, divided in opinion and styles leading to a house with two sides. Perhaps the story is a little more complicated – here we delve deeper into the background of Lady Anne Bligh, co-architect of Castle Ward.
Given that Lady Anne Ward was co-creator of the dichotomous style of Castle Ward, it is surprising how few of her possessions or papers are left in the collection. Hers’ remains a hidden history. Having left Castle Ward and her husband Bernard in 1770 shortly after the completion of the house, she has become a symbol of mystery and speculation, made notorious and unusual because of her independence of mind and spirit.
The public expression of her personal tastes in the Gothick style at Castle Ward, clashed dramatically with her husband’s preferred classical style, and this has resulted in the condemnation of Lady Ann as unusual. History has found it difficult to understand the architectural choice that was reached by Lady Anne and Bernard, seeming as a legacy to their failed marriage. Whilst Bernard is remembered as the maker of the classical side of the house, symbolically representing reason, balance and order, Lady Anne in contrast represents an ‘otherness’ which she expressed in Gothick architecture – seemingly conveying her fantastical, whimsical and unconventional personality.
The Royal blood from her maternal grandparents gave Lady Anne the hauteur and confidence to do as she pleased. Her grandfather, the Earl of Clarendon was the nephew of the Duchess of York, wife of James II, and a first cousin of Queen Anne. Queen Anne was her mother Theodosia’s Godmother, and as such Theodosia was allowed to marry in Westminster Abbey. This was something Lady Ann was keen to highlight in her choice of architecture at Castle Ward, even copying the plasterwork from the Henry VII Chapel and recreating it in the Morning Room as a reminder of her royal connections.
The Earl of Clarendon also prompted perception of the family as “eccentric” by accounts of them acting out their role as Colonial Governor of New York dressed in articles of women’s clothing which challenged social boundaries of the period. Historians have been unable to confirm the accuracy of these accounts nor the motivations behind the Earl’s alleged presentation of gender non-conformity. Whatever the accuracy or reason, contemporaries condemned the Earl and considered it to be a sign of ‘great insanity’, however the Earl remained protected and often handsomely rewarded by their cousin Queen Anne. This connection provided crucial protection from critics.
Elizabeth Hastings, Countess of Moira who knew the family decribed them as having ‘an hereditary malady’. Members were noted as experiencing varied mental health issues. Lady Anne was accused of having ‘a shade of derangement in her intellects’. Her brother, Lord Darnley, was convinced he was a teapot and was reluctant to engage in sexual activity lest ‘his spout would come off in the night’; Lady Anne’s son Nicholas was declared ‘a lunatic’ in 1785 but details about this are scant.
Lady Anne’s relationship with a woman, prior to her two marriages, has also been the source of popular speculation and of academic debate. At 21, Lady Anne embarked on a six year relationship with Letitia Bushe, a woman considered much inferior in status and wealth, but much more experienced in the world with a great intellect and close friend of Mrs Delany. From the surviving correspondence of Letitia Bushe, it is clear that she was besotted with Lady Anne who was some fifteen years her junior, writing in 1740:
‘This Day twelvemonth was the Day I first stay’d with you, the night of which you may remember pass’d very oddly. I cannot forget how I pity’d you and how by that soft road you led me on to love you… that first Sunday at Bray, when you were dressing and I lay down on your Bed – ‘twas then I took first a notion to you’.
Academic research has suggested that this instance of same-sex love and desire provided Lady Anne with ‘an alternative outlet for emotional needs and energies, free of the complex web of economic and social considerations that surrounded relations between men and women of the propertied classes’ at this time.
Sadly none of Lady Anne’s correspondence to Letitia Bushe survives – in true Lady Anne style she remains an enigma, true to herself regardless of tastes or conventions, and a symbol of ‘the three-dimensional complexity of human life’.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p.78. Castleward: “Ward, Bangor, V/PB) A grandmid-C18 house of three storeys over basement and seven bays; built 1760/73 by Bernard Ward (afterwards 1st Viscount Bangor), and his wife, Lady Anne, daughter of 1st Earl of Darnley, to replace an earlier house. Probably by an English architect; and faced in Bath stone, brought over from Bristol in Mr Ward’s own ships. It seems that the Wards could not agree on the style of their new house; he wanted it to be Classical; but she was of what Mrs Delany called “whimsical” taste and favoured the fashionable new Strawberry Hill Gothic. The result was a compromise. The entrance front was made Classical, with central feature of a pediment and four engaged Ionic columns rising through the two upper storeys, the bottom storey being rusticated and treated as a basement. The garden front, facing over Strangford Lough, was made Gothic, with a battlemented parapet, pinnacles in the centre, and pointed windows in all its three storeys and seven bays – lancet in the central breakfront, ogee on the other side. All the windows have delightful Strawberry Hill Gothic astragals. This front of Castleward, and Moore Abbey, Co Kildare, are the only two surviving examples of mid-C18 Gothic in major Irish country houses which are not old castles remodelled. The interior of Castleward is remarkable in that the rooms on the Classical side of the house are Classical and those on the Gothic side Gothic; thus the hall – now the music room – has a Doric frieze and a screen of Doric columns; whereas the saloon has a ceiling of fretting and quatrefoils, pointed doors and a Gothic chimneypiece. The dining room, with its grained plaster panelling, is Classical and the sitting room is Gothic with spectacular plaster fan vaulting. Mr Ward, however, managed to be one up on his wife in that the staircase, which is in the middle of the house, is Classical; lit by a Vvenetian window in one of the end bows. If we believe Lady Anne, this was not the only time when he got his own way at her expense, for, having left him, as it turned out, for good, she wrote accusing him of bullying her. In C19, a porch was added to one of the end bows of the house, making a new entrance under the staircase; so that the hall became the music room. In the grounds there is a four storey tower-house, built at the end of C16 by Nicholas Ward; also a temple modelled on Palladio’s Redentore, dating from ante 1755; it stands on a hill, overlooking an early C18 artificial lake, or canal. On the death of 6th Viscount, 1950, Castleward was handed over in part payment of death duties to the Northern Ireland Government, who gave it, with an endowment, to the National Trust. The house and garden are now open to the public, and the Trust has set up various projects in different parts of the estate.”
“Hillsborough Castle has been a grand family home and is now the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and a royal residence. Members of the Royal Family stay at Hillsborough when visiting Northern Ireland.
Viewed by some as a politically neutral venue, Hillsborough has played an important role in the Peace Process in Northern Ireland since the 1980s.
In 2014, Historic Royal Palaces took over the running of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens and began an ambitious project to restore the house and gardens to its former glory.
Hillsborough, originally the settlement of Cromlyn (meaning Crooked Glen) in mid-Down, became part of the Hill family estates in the early 1600s. Moyses Hill, the landless second son of an English West Country family, joined the army to seek his fortune in Ireland, where he supported the Earl of Essex, a military leader sent by Elizabeth I.
At this time, the land was still in the hands of Irish chiefs of the Magennis family. But the defeat of Irish chieftain Hugh O’Neill in 1603 opened the way for men such as Moyses Hill to establish themselves as landowners in Ireland. The Hills bought some 5,000 acres of land, then gradually added to this over the next 20 years until the whole area around the present Hillsborough had passed from the Magennises to the Hills.
Successive generations of this ambitious family began to rise, politically and socially, in Ireland. Within 50 years they were one of the most prominent landowning families in the area; their estates stretched for over 130 miles from Larne, north of Belfast to Dun Laoghaire, south of Dublin, around 115, 000 acres in total.
Wills Hill was the first Marquess of Downshire and his diplomatic skills as a courtier cemented the family’s position in society.
From 1768-72 he held the post of Secretary of State for the Colonies. He had grown very powerful in government and served the royal family, for which he was awarded his title in 1789.
Wills Hill famously hosted American founding father Benjamin Franklin, but contrary to popular myth, when they met at Hillsborough in 1771, the two men got along well together.
Wills Hill built not only this house but also the Courthouse in The Square. He also built the terraces around The Square and other buildings in the town.
Hillsborough is unusual for an Irish Big House as it is not a country house around which a town grew; rather it was built as a townhouse, forming one side of a neat Georgian square.
The road to Moira once passed directly below the windows, and opposite the house were a variety of shops, houses and the Quaker Meeting House.
The 3rd and 4th Marquesses, also commissioned a lot of work on the house, giving it the outward appearance it has today.
When the house was being altered in the 1840s, the family decided to expand the gardens and so rebuilt the road, houses and Quaker Meeting House all further away. The old road was absorbed into the landscaping of the gardens, and the south side of the house was opened out to allow views of the ‘picturesque’ gardens.
Successive generations of the Hill family enjoyed the house as a family home, renovating and redecorating in the latest styles and improving the gardens.
However, by the end of the 19th century they were spending more time on their estate in England, at Easthampstead Park in Berkshire or their seaside home at Murlough House in County Down. The sixth Marquess’ uncle and guardian, Lord Arthur Hill remained at Hillsborough Castle to look after his nephew’s estate. The family first rented out Hillsborough in 1909, then sold it completely in 1925.
It was bought by the British government, for around £24,000 (equivalent to £1.3m today) to be the residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland.
Following Partition in 1921, Governors were appointed to represent the monarch in Northern Ireland, replacing the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland who had previously lived at Dublin Castle. The house became known as Government House, remaining the official residence of the Governors for over 50 years.”
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 152. “(Hill, Downshire, M/PB; Dixon, Glentoran, B/PB) A large, rambling, two storey late-Georgian mansion of a warm, golden-orange ashlar; its elevations rather long for their height. It appears to incorporate a much smaller house of ca 1760, but was mostly built later in C18, to the design of R.F. Brettingham, by Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire, a prominent member of Lord North’s Cabinet at the time of the American War. The work was not completed until 1797, four years after 1st Marquess’s death. In 1830s and 1840s, the house was enlarged and remodelled, to the design of Thomas Duff, of Newry, and William Sands. The pedimented portico of four giant Ionic columns in the middle of the long seventeen bay garden front – originally the entrance front – which is the principal exterior feature, dates from this period; as does the present appearance of the pedimented front adjoining to the left, with its asymmetrical projecting ends; as well as the treatment of the elevations of the two ranges at right angles to each other which form two sides of the entrance forecourt; one of them having a rather shallow single-storey portico of four pairs of coupled Ionic columns. The forecourt, with its magnificent mid-C18 wrought iron gates and railings, brought here 1936 from Rich Hill, Co Armagh, is on one side of the main square of the charming little town of Hillsborough, which is reminiscent of the Schlossplatz in a small German capital. Although the house backs onto a sizeable demesne, with a lake, the park is on the opposite side of the town. Its chief feature is Hillsborough Fort, a star-shaped fort built by Col Arthur Hill ca 1650. The gatehouse of the fort was rebuilt most delightfully in the Gothic taste ca 1758, perhaps to the design of Sanderson Miller himself. Hillsborough Castle became the official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland 1925, and consequently became known as Government House; from then, until 1973, when the post of Governor was abolished, it was occupied by successive Governors (all PB); namely, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, 4th Earl Granville, 2nd Lord Wakehurst, Lord Erskine of Rerrick, and Lord Grey of Naunton; during this period, the house was frequently visited by members of the British Royal Family. In 1934 the house was seriously damaged by fire, and in the subsequent rebuilding the principal rooms were done up in a more palatial style, with elaborate plasterwork. The future of the house is now uncertain.”
“For the first time in its history, this mystical and enchanting estate, set in magnificent natural surroundings, is open to visit.
Nestled in the picturesque County Down countryside, Montalto is a privately-owned demesne steeped in history dating back to the 1600s. It is famously the site of ‘The Battle of Ballynahinch’ which took place during the Irish rebellion in 1798. It is also home to an exotic plant collection initially created by ‘The Father of Irish Gardening’, Sir Arthur Rawdon.
Montalto Estate aims to reconnect visitors with nature through access to a range of captivating gardens and beautiful walks and trails. The visitor experience includes: public access to the estate’s beautiful gardens along with unique and surprising garden features; historic walks and trails; and an exciting play area where children can explore, learn and wonder at their natural surroundings. A purpose built centre, designed in keeping with the look and feel of the estate, includes a welcome area featuring interpretation of the estate’s history; a stylish café offering flavoursome and beautifully presented food; and a shop that offers a mix of estate produce, local craft products and many other unique and exceptionally designed items.
The beautiful gardens include an Alpine Garden, a Winter Garden, a Cutting Garden, a Walled Garden, a Formal Garden and the Orchard situated within a wildflower meadow. Both the Winter Garden and Alpine Garden will always be accessible whilst the other gardens will be accessible whenever possible as they are working gardens. Four champion trees are located around the lake and the pinetum and over the past three years over 30,000 trees have been planted here.
Active families will enjoy the Woodland Trail and low wood. The impressive purpose built tree house, which was handcrafted onsite, features rope bridges, monkey bars and treetop views kids of all ages will enjoy. Mini explorers can enjoy the smaller tree house and natural play area. Everything within this area has been designed to fuel the imagination through exploration and discovery.
For tranquil and picturesque walks you can enjoy the stunning views of The Lake Walk and The Garden Walk. Catch a glimpse of some of the wonderful wildlife that calls Montalto Estate their home or simply take in the beautiful seasonal displays and reconnect with nature.”
“Montalto, nestled beautifully in the heart of the picturesque Co. Down countryside, is a privately-owned demesne which dates back to the early 1600s.
In pre-plantation times the estate was originally owned by Patrick McCartan. However, due to his involvement in the 1641 Rebellion, his Ballynahinch lands were confiscated, and in 1657 the townland was purchased by Sir George Rawdon [and Patrick McCartan was executed]. Circa 1765, his descendant Sir John Rawdon – First Earl of Moira – built a mansion property on the estate: this is the house that we now know as Montalto House.
Sir John’s ancestor, Sir Arthur Rawdon – The Father of Irish Gardening – had earlier amassed a large collection of exotic foreign plants at Moira Castle. Many of Sir Arthur’s plants were transferred to Montalto when his grandson Sir John moved onto the estate.
During the Battle of Ballynahinch (part of the 1798 Rebellion), rebels occupying Montalto House are attacked by the militia. The mansion sustains some fire and artillery damage. Francis Rawdon-Hastings – 2nd Earl of Moira and Montalto resident – is a respected British military officer during the American War of Independence. He is a close friend of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. For ten years he is Governor General of India, carrying huge military and political responsibilities. He sells the Montalto Estate soon after the 1798 Rebellion and later becomes 1st Marquess of Hastings in 1816.
In 1803 David Ker of Portavo purchased the estate. In 1910 Richard – the last of the Kers to reside at Montalto – is finally forced to sell the estate.In 1912 Arthur, 5th Earl of Clanwilliam, purchases Montalto for £20,000.
The Earl fights in the Boer War (where he is badly wounded), and with the Guards in France in WW1. His wife Lady Muriel cares for wounded Allied officers during their convalescence at Montalto.
In 1979 the house is purchased by the Hogg Corry Partnership. In 1988 Corry withdraws. In 1995 it is purchased by the Wilson family. Working with local architects Hobart and Heron, as well as John O’Connell – a leading conservation architect from Dublin, specialising in Georgian architecture – they set about a programme of works to restore the house, grounds, and outbuildings to their former glory.
The estate has been almost exclusively, a family home since Lord Moira built the first house here. Nowadays Montalto offers visitors the use of 400 acres of rolling Irish countryside, which includes wonderful trails and gardens and a chance to explore this historic demesne and reconnect with nature.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 209. “(Rawdon, Moira, E/DEP; Ker/IFR; Meade, Clanwilliam, E/PB) A large and dignified three storey house of late-Georgian aspet; which, in fact, was built mid-C18 as a two storey house by Sir John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira, who probably brought the stuccodore who was working for him at Moira House in Dublin to execute the plasterwork here; for the ceiling which survives in the room known as the Lady’s Sitting Room is pre-1765 and of the very highest quality, closely resembling the work of Robert West; with birds, grapes, roses and arabesques in high relief. There is also a triple niche of plasterwork at one end of the room; though the central relief of a fox riding in a curricle drawn by a cock is much less sophisticated than the rest of the plasterwork and was probably done by a local man. 2nd Earl, afterwards 1st Marquess of Hastings, who distinguished himself as a soldier in the American War of Independence, and was subsequently Governor-General of India, sold Montalto 1802 to David Ker, who enlarged the windows of the house, in accordance with the prevailing fashion. In 1837, D.G. Ker enlarged the house by carrying out what one would imagine to be a most difficult, not to say hazardous operation; he excavated the rock under the house and round the foundations, thus forming a new lower ground floor; the structure being supported by numerous arches and pillars. It was more than just digging out a basement, as has been done at one or two other houses in Ulster; for the new ground floor is much higher than any basement would be; the operation made the house fully three storeyed. Entrance front of two bays on either side of a central three sided bow; the front also having end bows. Shallow Doric porch at foot of centre bow. Ground floor windows round-headed; those above rectangular, with plain entablatures over the windows of the original ground floor, now the piano nobile. Parapeted roof. The right hand side of the house is of ten bays, plus the end bow of the front; with a pilastered triple window immediately to the right of the bow in the piano nobile, balanced by another at the far end of the elevation. The left-hand side of the house is only of three bays and the bow, with a single triple window’ the elevation being prolonged by a two storey wing with round-headed windows. Various additions were built at the back of the house and at the sides during the course of C19; a ballroom being added by D.S. Ker, grandson of the David Ker who bought the estate. In 1837 ground floor there is an imposing entrance hall, with eight paired Doric columns, flanked by a library and a dining room. A double staircase leads up to the piano nobile, where there is a long gallery running the full width of the house, which may have been the original entrance hall. Also on the piano nobile is the sitting room with the splendid C18 plasterwork. Montalto was bought ca 1910 by 5th Earl of Clanwilliam, whose bridge refused to live at Gill Hall, the family seat a few miles to the west, because of the ghosts there. In 1952, the ballroom and a service wing at the back were demolished.”
“The Stewarts came from Scotland to Donegal as part of the Jacobean Plantation of Ulster. Alexander Stewart and his wife, Mary Cowan, bought a large area of land in County Down in 1744, part of which became Mount Stewart demesne. Mary had inherited a fortune from her brother, Robert Cowan, who was in the East India Company, and was Governor of Bombay.
A modest house on the shore of Strangford Lough was extended in the 1780s into a long low 2-storey house by Alexander’s son, Robert. Robert also built a walled garden and farm buildings further inland, and commissioned James ‘Athenian’ Stuart to design the Temple of the Winds, one of the finest small neo-classical buildings in Ireland. Through his political connections and marriage, Robert rose through the political ranks, becoming earl and subsequently marquess of Londonderry.
It was Robert’s son, best known as Viscount Castlereagh, who chose the architect George Dance to design a new wing for Mount Stewart which included a series of fine reception rooms. The west wing was built around 1804–6.
Castlereagh is best known in Ireland for his involvement in the repression of the 1798 Rebellion and as one of the architects of the Anglo-Irish Union of 1800, for which he was vilified by many. He was however regarded as a consummate statesman and astute negotiator.
From 1802 to 1822 he was based in London as Secretary of State for War and Foreign Secretary during the wars with America and France under Napoleon. He was one of the chief negotiators at the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) and his greatest legacy was steering the Congress towards a more equitable balance of power. The Congress was the first multinational European congress; many issues were discussed including the abolition of slavery. Castlereagh became a staunch supporter of abolition, as the trade was ‘repugnant to the principles of humanity and universal morality’.
The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 earned him more criticism, for although he was not personally responsible and was appalled by the outcome, as Home Secretary he had to justify the yeomanry’s actions. In 1822 he suffered a breakdown and took his own life, just a year after becoming the 2nd marquess of Londonderry.
Castlereagh’s half-brother, Charles Stewart fought in the Peninsula War under Wellington and became British ambassador at Berlin and then Vienna during the Congress. In 1819 he married the wealthy Frances Anne Vane Tempest who had inherited coal mines and a grand estate in County Durham. They travelled widely and rebuilt Wynyard, County Durham and Londonderry House in London. Charles also extended Mount Stewart in the 1840s. His grandson, the 6th Marquess, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the 1880s. The 6th Marquess was strongly opposed to Home Rule for Ireland; he and his wife were instigators and signatories of the Ulster Covenant in 1912.
Charles’s great-grandson, Charles 7th Marquess, served in the First World War, during which his wife Edith founded the Women’s Legion. At the end of the war, Edith began to create the gardens at Mount Stewart and redecorated and furnished the house, processes she thoroughly enjoyed and continued until her death in 1959. Charles served in the new Northern Irish government following the partition of Ireland in 1921. He later became Secretary of State for Air during the early 1930s. The horrors of the First World War and the rise of Communism meant many were anxious to avoid another European war. For Charles, this meant holding a series of meetings with the Nazi leadership, but his actions and intentions were misunderstood and his career and reputation were fatally damaged.
These historic, sometimes seismic, events are woven into Mount Stewart and there are many objects, books and paintings in the house that connect us to the people who experienced, influenced and formed them.”
You can see pictures and read more about the treasures in the house on the website.
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 216. “Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Londonderry, M/PB) A long two storey Classical house of 1820s, one end of which is, in fact, a house built 1803-06 by 1st Marquess of Londonderry (father of the stateman, Castlereagh) to the design of George Dance. The seven bay front of 1803-06 house survives as the end elevation of the present house; unchanged, except that its centre bay now breaks forward under a shallow pediment, similar to those on either side of the present entrance front, which are very much of 1820s. The three rooms at this end of the house keep their original ceilings of delicate plasterwork; the centre one, which was formerly the entrance hall, has a ceiling with pendentives, making it an octagon. Behind this former entrance hall is an imperial staircase with a balustrade of elegant ironwork, lit by a dome; this too, is part of the earlier house. 3rd Marquess, Castlereagh’s younger half-brother, who was far richer than either his father or his brother had ever been, having married the wealthy Durham heiress, Frances Anne Vane Tempest, enlarged the house to its present form ca 1825-28, his architect being William Vitruvius Morrison. A new block was built onto what had been the back of the original house, as wide as the original house was long and long enough to make, with the end of the original house, a new entrance front of 11 bays, with a pedimented porte-cochere of four giant Ionic columns as its main central feature; the three outer bays on either side being treated as pavilions, each with a one bay pedimented breakfront similar to that which was put onto the front of the original house. The outer bays have a balustraded roof parapet, which is carried round the end of the house and along the new garden front. The latter is as long as the entrance front, and has a boldly projecting centre with a pediment and a single-storey portico of coupled Ionic columns; and a curved bow at either end. The principal interior feature of the newer building is a vast central hall, consisting of an octagon, top-lit through a balustraded gallery from a dome filled with stained glass, with rectangular extensions so as to form a room much longer than it is wide; with screens of couple painted marble Ionci columns between the octagon and the extensions. Morrison’s reception rooms are spacious and simple; the drawing room has a screen of Ionic colmns at either end. The interior of the house was done up post WWI by 7th Marquess, Secretary of State for Air in 1930s; the central room in the garden front being panelled as a smoking and living room. The 7th Marquess and his wife (the well-known political hostess and friend of Ramsay MacDonald) also laid out an elaborate garden, going down the hillside from the garden front of the house towards Strangford Lough. As well as this noteaable C20 garden. Mount Stewart boasts of one of the finest C18 garden buildings in Irelnad, the Temple of the Winds, an octagonal banqueting house built 1780 to the design of “Athenian” Stuart, who based it on the Tower of the Winds in Athens. It has a porch on two of its faces, each with two columns of the same modified Corinthian order as that of the columns of the Tower of the Winds. Mount Stewart was given to the Norhtern Ireland National Trust by Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of 7th Marquess, ca 1977, and is now open to the public. The Temple of the Winds was given 1962 to the Trust, which has since restored it; the garden was given to the Trust in 1955.”
8. Newry and Mourne Museum, Bagenal’s Castle, County Down
“Bagenal’s Castle is a sixteenth century fortified house and adjoining nineteenth century warehouse. It houses Newry and Mourne Museum and Newry Visitor Information Centre.
During restoration work on the Castle many original features were uncovered including fireplaces, windows, doorways, gun loops and a bread oven. These have been interpreted for the visitor and drawings were commissioned to illustrate how the various living quarters of the castle would have functioned in the sixteenth century. Highlights include a restored Banqueting Room which is used throughout the year for seasonal and family events.
The Museum’s diverse collections include material relating to prehistory, Newry’s Cistercian foundations, Ulster’s Gaelic order and the relationship with the English Crown; the building of a merchant town and the first summit level canal in the British Isles. You can also discover the history of the ‘Gap of the North’, the historic mountain pass between Ulster and Leinster located to the south of Newry. One of the key main exhibitions, ‘A Border Town’s Experience of the 20th Century’, examines local attitudes to major political and economic events of the 20th century. There are also permanent exhibitions on farming, fishing and folklore in the Mournes and South Armagh.”
“Portaferry Castle is a 16th-century tower-house, built by the Savage family and prominently located on the slope overlooking Portaferry harbour within sight of Strangford and Audley’s Castles across the water. Simpler than the earlier ‘gatehouse’ tower house, it is square in plan with one projecting tower to the south where a turret rises an extra storey and contains the entrance and stair from ground floor to first floor.
There are three storeys and an attic, and like early tower-houses it has spiral stairs. However, like some later tower houses it lacks a stone vault as all floors were originally made of wood.
***THE CASTLE IS CURRENTLY CLOSED FOR REPAIRS AND WILL NOT OPEN THIS YEAR”
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 232. “(Nugent, sub Douglas-Nugent/IFR) A dignified house of 1821, by William Farrell, who apparently worked on a plan produced by Charles Lilley 1790, the three storey centre of the house being very possibly a three storey block of 1770s. The centre of the entrance front is of five bays, with a central Wyatt window in each of two upper storeys; and a porch with paired Ionic columns and Ionic end piers. On either side of the centre there is a wide, three-sided bow, ofonly two storeys but as high as the rest of the front. Ionic columns in hall and some good plasterwork. The house stands in beautiful parkland overlooking the entrance to Strangford Lough.”
Places to stay, County Down
1. Barr Hall Barns, Portaferry, County Down– self catering €
and Florida Manor Gambles Patch, Hollow View and Meadow Green.
The website tells us: “Dating back to 1676, Florida Manor, an original Irish Georgian Estate has undergone sympathetic refurbishment. Within the estates original stone perimeter wall lies 200 acres of extensive landscaped grasslands, private lakes, walkways and bridal paths.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 297. “(Gordon/IFR) A C18 house consisting of a three storey principal block with a recessed centre, linked to lower wings by curved sweeps with balustrades and pilasters. Projecting enclosed porch, also balustraded and with Ionic columns. quoins. Originally the seat of the Crawfords; passed by marriage to the Gordons C18. The house became ruinous in the present century but has been restored as two dwellings.”
“A tower with pepper-pot bartizans rising from a hill at the southern end of the demesne, completed 1862 to a design by William Burn. It was built in honour of his mother, Helen, Lady Dufferin, one of three beautiful and lively sisters who were the granddaughters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan; in a room near the top of the tower, lined with delicate Gothic woodwork, the walls are adorned with poems on bronze tablets expressing the love between mother and son; including a poem written specially for Lord Dufferin by Tennyson:
The website tells us: “Kiltariff Hall is a Victorian Country House on the outskirts of the small market town of Rathfriland. Built by our great-grandfather William Fegan in 1888, the house is set at the end of a short drive and is surrounded by mature oak, sycamore and pine trees. It is run myself, Catherine and my sister Shelagh who grew up in Kiltariff when it was a working farm. We are both passionate and knowledgeable about the Mourne area and believe that providing good locally produced food is key to ensuring guests enjoy their stay.“
“Narrow Water Castle is the private home of the Hall family who have lived at Narrow Water since 1670, originally in the Old Narrow Water Keep situated on the shoreline of Carlingford Lough which is now a national monument.
As a private home the castle is not open for public admission. It does however occasionally open its doors for weddings and exclusive events.
In 1816 construction began on the new Castle by Thomas Duff, a well-known Newry architect who also designed the Cathedrals in Newry, Armagh and Dundalk. The Elizabethan revival style castle is made from local granite and built next to the existing house, Mount Hall (1680). It was completed in 1836.
The self catering apartments are located in the original hub of the castle (Mount Hall), dating back to 1680. Mount Hall joins the Elizabethan revival part of the castle to the courtyard.“
Number 2: The apartment opens into an elegant open plan, living room and dining room with open fire. We have used several antique pieces of furniture to hint of times gone by. We are happy to provide logs if our guests wish to use the fire.
There are two spacious, beautifully furnished bedrooms, one of which is en-suite.
Number 6: This 2 bedroom luxury apartment is the perfect place to escape and unwind. Both bedrooms are en-suite. There is a grand open plan living /dining area with a unique feature skylight and exposed beams. The living area is adorned with antique furniture has a wood burning stove for cosy nights by the fire. The modern kitchen is fully equipped and the dining area seats six comfortably. A quality sofa bed allows this apartment to accommodate up to six guests. This apartment is on the first floor with access via the original stone staircase dating to the 1680s
The website tells us: “Slieve Donard was originally built by the Belfast and County Down Railway as an ‘end of the line’ luxury holiday destination. Construction started in 1896 and was completed and officially opened on 24th June 1898 at the cost of £44,000. It was one of the most majestic hotels of its time and was almost self-sufficient with its own bakery, vegetable gardens, pigs, laundry and innovatively a power plant, which also provided electricity for the railway station.
Slieve Donard typified the idea of Victorian grandeur and luxury with its Drawing Room, Grand Coffee Room, Reading and Writing Room, Smoking Room, Billiard Room and Hairdressing Rooms—you can’t help but conjure up scenes of great style and decadence. ‘One could even partake of seawater baths, douche, spray, needle and Turkish baths all provided by an electric pump straight from the sea.
In 2021, Adventurous Journeys (AJ) Capital Partners acquired Slieve Donard Resort and Spa, which will become the first Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts property in Northern Ireland and the fourth hotel in the collection.“
9. St John’s Point Lighthouse Sloop, Killough, County Down€ for 3-4
“This fabulous period home is a historic Irish country farm house. Set on wonderful gardens including an orchard, Tullymurry House is an ideal base for golf, fishing, hiking, walking, beach, and other outdoor pursuits.“
11. Tyrella, Downpatrick, County Down, BT30 8SU– accommodation €
“Tyrella House is a luxury B&B and wedding venue located in the heart of picturesque County Down, with its necklace of pretty fishing villages. A fine 18th century house surrounded by glorious wooded parkland with its own private beach just a short walk from the house, Tyrella offers a tranquil and relaxing getaway.
Tyrella House has been owned by the Corbett family for over 60 years, and was bought by John Corbett after the Second World War to train race horses.
His son, David Corbett began running B&B in the 1990s, which continues to this day. In 2020, the day to day running of the B&B was taken over by his son, John and his wife Hannah.“
“At Ballydugan we can provide accommodation and an oasis of relative calm for the Bride’s immediate family. Also if absolute adherence to tradition is important then we haveBallymote Country Housenearby, where we can ensure that the paths of the Bride and Groom will not cross prior to the wedding.“
 Mulligan, Kevin V. The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster, Armagh, Cavan and Monaghan. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2013.
 p. 11. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 p. 12, Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
Just to finish up my entries about Office of Public Works properties: Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow are the counties that make up the Leinster region.
1. Altamont Gardens
2. Castletown House, County Kildare
3. Maynooth Castle, County Kildare
1. Altamont House and Gardens, Bunclody Road, Altamont, Ballon, County Carlow:
“A large and beautiful estate covering 16 hectares in total, Altamont Gardens is laid out in the style of William Robinson, which strives for ‘honest simplicity’. The design situates an excellent plant collection perfectly within the natural landscape.
For example, there are lawns and sculpted yews that slope down to a lake ringed by rare trees and rhododendrons. A fascinating walk through the Arboretum, Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen, sheltered by ancient oaks and flanked by huge stone outcrops, leads to the banks of the River Slaney. Visit in summer to experience the glorious perfume of roses and herbaceous plants in the air.
With their sensitive balance of formal and informal, nature and artistry, Altamont Gardens have a unique – and wholly enchanting – character.” 
From Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the care of the OPW, Government Publications, Dublin, 2018:
“Altamont House was constructed in the 1720s, incorporating parts of an earlier structure said to have been a medieval nunnery. In the 1850s, a lake was excavated in the grounds of the house, but it was when the Lecky-Watsons, a local Quaker family, acquired Altamont in 1924 that the gardens truly came into their own.
Feilding Lecky-Watson had worked as a tea planter in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where he nurtured his love of exotic plants, and of rhododendrons in particular. Back in Ireland, he became an expert in the species, cultivating plants for the botanical gardnes at Glasnevin, Kew and Edinburgh. So passionate was he about these plants that when his wife, Isobel, gave birth to a daughter in 1922, she was named Corona, after his favourite variety of rhododendron.” 
Around the lake are mature conifers that were planted in the 1800s, including a giant Wellingtonia which commemorates the Battle of Waterloo.  Corona continued in her father’s footsteps, planing rhododendrons, magnolia and Japanese maples. Another feature is the “100 steps” hand-cut in granite, leading down to the River Slaney. There are red squirrels, otters in the lake and river, and peacocks. Before her death, Corona handed Altamont over to the Irish state to ensure its preservation.
2.Castletown House and Parklands, Celbridge, County Kildare.
“Castletown is set amongst beautiful eighteenth-century parklands on the banks of the Liffey in Celbridge, County Kildare.
The house was built around 1722 for the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly, to designs by several renowned architects. It was intended to reflect Conolly’s power and to serve as a venue for political entertaining on a grand scale. At the time Castletown was built, commentators expected it to be ‘the epitome of the Kingdom, and all the rarities she can afford’.
The estate flourished under William Conolly’s great-nephew Thomas and his wife, Lady Louisa, who devoted much of her life to improving her home.
Today, Castletown is home to a significant collection of paintings, furnishings and objets d’art. Highlights include three eighteenth-century Murano-glass chandeliers and the only fully intact eighteenth-century print room in the country.
It is still the most splendid Palladian-style country house in Ireland.“
The Conolly familysold Castletown in 1965. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the estate was bought for development and for two years the house stood empty and deteriorating. In 1967, Hon Desmond Guinness courageously bought the house with 120 acres, to be the headquarters of the Irish Georgian Society, and in order to save it for posterity. Since then the house has been restored and it now contains an appropriate collection of furniture, pictures and objects, which has either been bought for the house, presented to it by benefactors, or loaned. It is now maintained by the Office of Public Works and the Castletown Trust.
William Conolly (1662-1729) rose from modest beginnings to be the richest man in Ireland in his day. He was a lawyer from Ballyshannon, County Donegal, who made an enormous fortune out of land transactions in the unsettled period after the Williamite wars.
William Conolly had property on Capel Street in Dublin, before moving to Celbridge. Conolly’s house was on the corner of Capel Street and Little Britain Street and was demolished around 1770.  The Kildare Local History webpage gives us an excellent description of William Conolly’s rise to wealth:
“In November 1688, William Conolly was one of the Protestants who fled Dublin to join the Williamites in Chester alongside his late Celbridge neighbour Bartholomew Van Homrigh.
On the victory of William III, he acquired a central role dealing in estates forfeited by supporters of James II, commencing his rise to fortune with the forfeited estates of the McDonnells of Antrim.
In 1691 he purchased Rodanstown outside Kilcock, which became his country residence until he purchased Castletown in 1709.
A dowry of £2,300 came his way in 1694 when he married Katherine Conyngham, daughter of Albert Conyngham, a Williamite General who had been killed in the war at Collooney in 1691.
He was appointed Collector and Receiver of Revenue for the towns of Derry and Coleraine on May 2nd 1698.
Conolly was the largest purchaser of forfeited estates in the period 1699–1703, acquiring also 20,000 acres spread over five counties at a cost of just £7,000.” 
He rose to become Speaker of the House of Commons in the Irish Parliament. William Conolly married Katherine Conyngham of Mount Charles, County Donegal, whose brother purchased Slane Castle in County Meath (see my entry https://irishhistorichouses.com/2019/07/19/slane-castle-county-meath/). As well as earning money himself, his wife brought a large dowry.
William Conolly purchased land in County Kildare which had been owned by Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), 2nd Earl of Limerick, in 1709. Dongan’s estate had been confiscated as he was a Jacobite supporter of James II (he became first governor of the Duke of York’s province of New York! The Earldom ended at his death). Dongan’s mother was the daughter of William Talbot, 1st Baronet of Carton (see my entry about Carton, County Kildare, under Places to stay in County Kildare https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/04/27/places-to-visit-and-to-stay-leinster-kildare-kilkenny-laois/).
The Archiseek website tells us about the design of Castletown House:
“Soon after the project got underway Conolly met Alessandro Galilei (1691-1737), an Italian architect, who had been employed in Ireland by Lord Molesworth in 1718 [John Molesworth, 2nd Viscount, who had been British envoy to Florence]. He designed the façade of the main block in the style of a 16th century Italian town palace. He returned to Italy in 1719 and was not associated with the actual construction of the house which began in 1722. Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (died 1733), a young Irish architect, on his Italian grand tour became acquainted with Galilei in Florence and through this connection he was employed by the Speaker to complete Castletown when he returned to Ireland in 1724. Pearce had first hand knowledge of the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) and his annotated copy of Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura survives. It was Pearce who added the Palladian colonnades and the terminating pavillions. This layout was the first major Palladian scheme in Ireland and soon had many imitators.” 
Mark Bence-Jones describes Castletown in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses. The centre block is of three storeys over basement, and has two almost identical thirteen bay fronts “reminiscent of the façade of an Italian Renaissance town palazzo; with no pediment or central feature and no ornamentation except for doorcase, entablatures over the ground floor windows, alternate segmental and triangular pediments over the windows of the storey above and a balustraded roof parapet. Despite the many windows and the lack of a central feature, there is no sense of monotony or heaviness; the effect being one of great beauty and serenity.”  The centre block is made of Edenderry limestone, and is topped by cornice and balustrade. On the ground floor the windows have frieze, cornice and lugged architrave, and on the first floor, alternating triangular and segmental pediments.
Pearce added the curved Ionic colonnades and two two-storey seven bay wings. He also designed the impressive two-storey entrance hall inside.
William died in 1729 aged just 67, so he had only a few years to enjoy his house. His wife Katherine lived on in the house another twenty-three years until her death at the age of 90 in 1752. William and Katherine had no children, so his estate passed to his nephew William James Conolly (1712-1754), son of William’s brother Patrick. We came across William James Conolly before in Leixlip Castle (another Section 482 property), which he also inherited. William James married Lady Anne Wentworth, the daughter of the Earl of Strafford. Her father, Thomas Wentworth 1st Earl of Strafford is not the more famous Thomas Wentworth 1st Earl of Strafford who was executed (of whom there is at least one portrait in Castletown) but a later one, of the second creation. William James died just two years after Katherine Conolly, so the estate then passed to his son Thomas Conolly (1738-1803).
Thomas married Louisa Lennox in 1758, one of five Lennox sisters, daughters of the Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. From the age of eight she had lived at nearby Carton with her sister Emily, who was married to James Fitzgerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare (who became the 1st Duke of Leinster). At Carton, Louisa was exposed to the fashionable ideas of the day in architecture, decoration, horticulture and landscaping.  Louisa loved Castletown and continually planned improvements, planting trees, designing the lake and building bridges.
Archiseek continues: “The Castletown papers, estate records and account books, together with Lady Louisa’s [i.e. Louisa Lennox, wife of Tom Conolly] diaries and correspondence with her sisters, provide a valuable record of life at Castletown and also of the reorganisation of the house. Lady Louisa’s letters from the 1750s onwards are revealing of the fashions in costume design, fabric patterns and furniture. She played an important part in the alteration and redecoration of Castletown during the 1760s and 1770s. As no single architect was responsible for all of the work carried out, she supervised most of it herself. Much of the redecoration of the house was done to the published designs of the English architect Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) who never came to Ireland himself. Chambers also worked for Lady Louisa’s brother, the 3rd Duke of Richmond, at Goodwood in Sussex. In a letter, written in July 1759, Lady Louisa mentions instructions given by Chambers to his assistant Simon Vierpyl who supervised the work at Castletown.” (see )
Description of the Hall, from Archiseek: “This impressive two-storeyed room with a black and white chequered floor, was designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. The Ionic order on the lower storey is similar to that of the colonnades outside and at gallery level there are tapering pilasters with baskets of flowers and fruit carved in wood. The coved ceiling has a central moulding comprising a square Greek key patterned frame and central roundel with shell decoration.” [see 6]
The polished limestone floor with its chequered design and the Kilkenny marble fireplace reflect William Conolly’s desire to build the house solely of native Irish materials. Unfortunately when we visited in October 2022, the hall was half hidden with a large two storey curtain, as the windows are all being repaired. As we can see in the photograph, the room has an Ionic colonnade to the rear, and a gallery at first floor level, and the stair hall is through an archway in the east wall.
From the entrance hall, one enters the magnificent Stair Hall. The Castletown website describes the stair hall:
“The Portland stone staircase at Castletown is one of the largest cantilevered staircases in Ireland. It was built in 1759 under the direction of the master builder Simon Vierpyl (c.1725–1811). Prior to this the space was a shell, although a plan attributed to Edward Lovett Pearce suggests that a circular staircase was previously intended.
The solid brass balustrade was installed by Anthony King, later Lord Mayor of Dublin. He signed and dated three of the banisters, ‘A. King Dublin 1760’. The opulent rococo plasterwork was created by the Swiss-Italian stuccadore Filippo Lafranchini, who, with his older brother Paolo, had worked at Carton and Leinster House for Lady Lousia’s brother-in-law, the first Duke of Leinster, as well as at Russborough in Co. Wicklow. Shells, cornucopias, dragons and masks feature in the light-hearted decoration which represents the final development of the Lafranchini style. Family portraits are also included with Tom Conolly at the foot of the stairs and Louisa above to his right. The four seasons are represented on the piers and on either side of the arched screen.“
Mark Bence-Jones continues:
In the following year, Tom Conolly and Lady Louisa employed the Francini to decorate the walls of thestaircase hall with rococo stuccowork; and in 1760 the grand staircase itself – of cantilevered stone, with a noble balustrade of brass columns – was installed; the work beign carried out by Simon Vierpyl, a protégé of Sir William Chambers. The principal reception rooms, which form an enfilade along the garden front and were mostly decorated at this time, are believed to be by Chambers himself; they have ceilings of geometrical plasterwork, very characteristic of him. Also in this style is the dining room, to the left of the entrance hall. It was here that, according to the story, Tom Conolly found himself giving supper to the Devil, whom he had met out hunting and invited back, believing him to be merely a dark stranger; but had realised the truth when his guest’s boots were removed, revealing him to have unusually hairy feet. He therefore sent for the priest, who threw his breviary at the unwelcome guest, which missed him and cracked a mirror. This, however, was enough to scare the Devil, who vanished through the hearthstone. Whatever the truth of this story, the hearthstone in the dining room is shattered, and one of the mirrors is cracked.“
The Dining Room, description from Archiseek:
“This room dates from the 1760s redecoration of Castletown undertaken by Lady Louisa Conolly and reflects the mid-eighteenth century fashion for separate dining rooms. Originally, there were two smaller panelled rooms here. It was reconstructed to designs by Sir William Chambers, with a compartmentalised ceiling similar to one by Inigo Jones in the Queen’s House at Greenwich. The chimney-piece and door cases are in the manner of Chambers. Of the four doors, two are false.
Furniture original to Castletown includes the two eighteenth-century giltwood side tables. Their frieze is decorated with berried laurel foliage similar to the door entablatures in the Red and Green Drawing Rooms. The three elaborate pier glasses are original to the Dining Room. The frames are carved fruiting vines, symbols of Bacchus and festivity. These are probably the work of the Dublin carver Richard Cranfield (1713-1809) who, with the firm of Thomas Jackson of Essex Bridge, Dublin, was paid large sums for carving and gilding throughout the house.“
Between the front of the house, with its Entrance Hall, Stair Hall and Dining Room is a corridor, or rather, two corridors, one to the west and one to the east of the Entrance Hall. This corridor is on every storey, including the basement. To the rear (north) of the house on the ground floor is an enfilade of rooms: the Brown Study to the west end, next to another staircase, then the Red Drawing Room, the Green Drawing Room, the Print Room, the State Bedroom, and then small rooms called the Healy Room and the Map Room.
The corridors now hold paintings and art works, and one has a cabinet of Meissen porcelain.
Next to the Dining Room at the front of the house is the Butler’s Pantry, which contains photographs of the servants of Castletown, and a portrait of a housekeeper, Mrs Parnel Moore (1649–1761). It’s unusual to have a portrait of a housekeeper but perhaps someone painted her because she was a beloved member of the household, as she lived to be at least 112 years! This is a very old portrait dating back to the 1700s.
The Castletown website tells us about the Butler’s Pantry: “The Butler’s Pantry dates from the 1760s and connected the newly created Dining Room with the kitchens in the West Wing. Food was carried in from the kitchens through the colonnade passageway and then reheated in the pantry before being served. The great kitchens were on the ground floor of the west wing, with servants’ quarters upstairs. Upwards of 80 servants would have been employed in the house and kitchens in the late eighteenth century under the direction of the Butler and the Housekeeper.”
The Red Drawing Room, description from Archiseek:
“It is one of a series of State Rooms that form an enfilade and were used on important occasions in the eighteenth century. This room was redesigned in the mid 1760s in the manner of Sir William Chambers. The chimney-piece, ceiling and pier glasses are typical of his designs.
The walls are covered in red damask which is probably French and dates from the 1820s. Lady Shelburne recorded in her journal seeing a four coloured damask, predominently red, in this room. The Aubusson carpet dates from about 1850 and may have been made for the room. Much of the furniture has always been in the house and Lady Louisa Conolly paid 11/2 guineas for each of the Chinese Chippendale armchairs which she considered very expensive. The chairs and settee were made in Dublin and they are displayed in a formal arrangement against the walls as they would have been in the eighteenth century. The bureau was made for Lady Louisa in the 1760s.“
The neoclassical ceiling, which replaced the vaulted original, is based on published designs by the Italian Renaissance architect, Sebastiano Serlio, and is modelled after one in Leinster House (belonging to Lady Louisa’s sister’s husband the Earl of Kildare). The white Carrara chimney-piece came to the house in 1768.
The Green Drawing Room, description from Archiseek:
“The Conollys formally received important visitors to the house in the Green Drawing Room which was the saloon or principal reception room. The room was redecorated in the 1760s and like the other state rooms reflects the neo-classical taste of the architect Sir William Chambers. The Greek key decoration on the ceiling is repeated on the pier glasses and the chimney-piece. Originally these were pier tables with a Greek key frieze and copies of these may be made in the future. The chimney-piece is similar to one designed by Chambers for Lord Charlemont’s Casino at Marino.”
The Castletown website tells us: “The Green Drawing Room was the main reception room or saloon on the ground floor. Visitors could enter from the Entrance Hall or the garden front. Like the other state rooms it was extensively remodelled between 1764 and 1768. The influence of the published designs of Serlio and the leading British architect Isaac Ware can be seen in the neo-classical ceiling, door cases and chimney-piece...The walls were first lined with a pale green silk damask in the 1760s. Fragments of this silk, which was replaced by a dark green mid-nineteenth century silk, survived and the present silk was woven as a direct colour match in 1985 by Prelle et Cie in Lyon, France.”
The Brown Study is at one end of this enfilade of rooms. The website describes it:
“The Brown Study with its wood-panelled walls, tall oak doors, corner chimney-piece, built-in desk and vaulted ceiling is decorated as it was in the 1720s when the house was first built. This room was used as a bedroom in the late nineteenth century and then as a breakfast parlour in the early twentieth century.
Between the windows is a piece of the ‘Volunteer fabric’. Printed on a mixture of linen and cotton in Harpur’s Mills in nearby Leixlip, it depicts the review of the Leinster Volunteers in the Phoenix Park in 1782. Thomas Conolly was active in the Volunteer leadership in both Counties Derry and Kildare. The Volunteers were a local militia force established during the American War of Independence to defend Ireland from possible French invasion while the regular troops were in America. They were later linked to the Patriot party in the Irish House of Commons led by Henry Grattan and to their campaigns for political reform.“
Mark Bence-Jones continues: “The doing-up of the house was largely supervised by Lady Louisa, and two of the rooms bear her especial stamp: the print room, which she and her sister, Lady Sarah Napier made ca. 1775; and the splendid long gallery on the first floor, which she had decorated with wall paintings in the Pompeian manner by Thomas Riley 1776.“
The website tells us about the Print Room, completed in 1769: “More than any other room in Castletown, the Print Room bears the imprint of Lady Louisa, who assiduously collected, cut out, and arranged individual prints, frames and decorations. The prints were glued on panels of off-white painted paper which was later attached to the walls on battens covered with cloth. Lady Louisa thus created an intimate, highly individual room which has survived changing tastes and fashions and is now the only fully intact eighteenth-century print room in Ireland.”
Print rooms were fashionable in the 18th century – ladies would collect their favourite prints and paste the walls with them. Prints featured include Le Bas, Rembrandt and Teniers, the actor David Garrick and Sarah Cibber, Louisa’s sister Sarah, Charles I and Charles II as a boy, with whom Louisa shared a bloodline.
The room was later used as a billiards room, and this helped inadvertedly to save the prints, as our guide told us, as the smoke from their pipes helped to protect against silverfish insects which eat wallpaper.
Next to the Print Room is the State Bedroom. The website tells us:
“In the 1720s, when the house was first laid out, this room, along with the rooms either side, probably formed William Conolly’s bedroom suite. It was intended that he would receive guests in the morning while sitting up in bed or being dressed in the manner of the French court at Versailles. In the nineteenth century, the room was converted into a library and the mock leather Victorian wall paper dates from this time. Sadly, the Castletown library was dispersed in the 1960s and today the furniture reflects the room’s original use.“
Next to the State Bedroom is The Healy Room: “This room originally served as a dressing room or closet attached to the adjoining State Bedroom. It was used as a small sitting room and later became Major Edward Conolly’s bedroom in the mid-twentieth century, as it was one of the few rooms that could be kept warm in winter. It is now known as the Healy room after the pictures of the Castletown horses by the Irish artist Robert Healy (d.1771).”
Upstairs has more bedrooms, and the beautiful Long Gallery. A corridor overlooks the Great Hall.
To one side of the Stair Hall upstairs is Lady Kildare’s Room, named after Lady Louisa’s sister Emily, Countess of Kildare and later Duchess of Leinster, who had raised Louisa and the two younger sisters Sarah and Cecilia at nearby Carton House after their parents’ death. Currently being renovated, in the past the room housed the Berkeley Costume Collection. Made in France, Italy, and England, the dresses on display consist of rich embroidered bodices and full skirts made from silk and gold thread.
Across the upstairs East Corridor from Lady Kildare’s room is the Blue Bedroom. The website tells us that the Blue Bedroom provides a fine example of an early Victorian bedroom. Like the Boudoir, it forms part of an apartment with two adjoining dressing rooms, one of which was upgraded into a bathroom with sink and bathtub. The principal bedrooms, used by the family and honoured guests, were on this floor. Bedrooms on the second floor were also used for guests and for children, while the servants slept in the basement. This room has a lovely pink canopied bed, but we did not see the room when we visited in 2022.
At the front of the house on the other side of the Great Hall upstairs are the Boudoir, and Lady Louisa’s Bedroom, and across the West Corridor upstairs, the Pastel Room. The website tells us:
“The Boudoir and the adjoining two rooms formed Lady Louisa’s personal apartment. The Boudoir served as a private sitting room for Louisa and subsequent ladies of the house. The painted ceiling, dado rail and window shutters possibly date from the late eighteenth century and were restored in the 1970s by artist Philippa Garner. The wall panels, or grotesques, after Raphael date from the early nineteenth century and formerly hung in the Long Gallery. Amongst the items inside the built-in glass cabinet are pieces of glass and china featuring the Conolly crest.
In the adjoining room, Lady Louisa’s Bedroom, OPW’s conservation architects have left exposed the walls to offer visitors a glimpse of the different historic layers in the room, from the original brick walls, supported by trusses, to wooden panelling to fragments of whimsical printed wall paper that once embellished the room.“
Across the West Corridor upstairs is the Pastel Room. The Corridor has more portraits.
The Pastel Room, the website tells us, was originally an anteroom to the adjoining Long Gallery. It was used as a school room in the nineteenth century and is now known as the Pastel Room because of the fine collection of pastel portraits. The smaller pastels surrounding the fireplace include a pair of portraits of Thomas and Louisa Conolly by the leading Irish pastel artist of the eighteenth century, Hugh Douglas Hamilton.
From the Pastel Room, we enter the Long Gallery. The website tells us about this room:
“Originally laid out as a picture gallery with portraits of William Conolly’s patrons on display, its function and layout changed under Lady Louisa. In 1760, she had the original doorways to the upper east and west corridors removed, replacing them with the central doorway above the Entrance Hall. The new doorcases as well as new fireplaces at either end were designed by leading English architect, Sir William Chambers, while the actual execution was overseen by Simon Vierpyl. The Pompeian style decoration on the walls dates from the 1770s and was inspired by Montfaucon’s publications on the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and by Raphael’s designs for the Vatican. The murals were the work of an English artist and engraver Charles Ruben Riley (1752–98). The Long Gallery became a space for informal entertaining and was full of life and activity as the following excerpt from one of Louisa’s letters suggests: “Our gallery was in great vogue, and really is a charming room for there is such a variety of occupations in it, that people cannot be formal in it. Lord Harcourt was writing, some of us played at whist, others at billiards, Mrs Gardiner at the harpsichord, others at chess, others at reading and supper at one end. I have seldom seen twenty people in a room so easily disposed of.”
The Long Gallery, description from Archiseek:
“…measuring almost 80 by 23 feet, with its heavy ceiling compartments and frieze dates from the 1720s. Originally there were four doors in the room and the walls were panelled in stucco similar to the entrance Hall. In 1776 the plaster panels and swags were removed but traces of them were found behind the painted canvas panels when they were taken down for cleaning during recent conservation work.”
Archiseek continues: “In the mid 1770s the room was redecorated in the Pompeian manner by two English artists, Charles Reuben Riley (c.1752-1798) and Thomas Ryder (1746-1810). Tom and Louisa’s portraits are at either end of the room over the chimney-pieces and the end piers are decorated with cyphers of the initals of their families: The portrait of Lady Louisa is after Reynolds (the original is in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard) and that of Tom after Anton Raphael Mengs (the original is in the National Gallery of Ireland).
Archiseek tells us: “The subjects of the wall paintings were mostly taken from engraving in d’Hancarville’s Antiquites Etrusques, Greques, et Romaines (1766-67) and de Montfaucon’s L’antiquite expliquee et representee en figures (1719). The busts of the poets and philosophers are placed on gilded brackets designed by Chambers. In the central niche stands a seventeenth-century statue of Diana. Above is a lunette of Aurora, the godess of the dawn, derived from a ceiling decoration by Guido Reni, the seventeenth century Bolognese painter.
The three glass chandeliers were made for the room in Venice and the four large sheets of mirrored glass came from France. In the 1770s the Long Gallery was used as a living room and was filled with exquisite furniture. Originally in the room, there were a pair of side tables attributed to John Linnell, with marble tops attributed to Bossi, a pair of commodes by Pierre Langlois, that were purchased in London for Lady Louisa by Lady Caroline Fox and a pair of bookcases at either end of the room.
In 1989 major conservation work was carried out on the Long Gallery. The wall paintings that had been flaking for many years were conserved. The original eighteenth-century gilding has been cleaned and the chandeliers restored. The project was funded by the American Ireland Fund, the Irish Georgian Society and by private donations.“
Mark Bence-Jones tells us: “The gallery, and the other rooms on the garden front, face along a two mile vista to the Conolly Folly, an obelisk raised on arches which was built by Speaker Conolly’s widow 1740, probably to the design of Richard Castle. The ground on which it stands did not then belong to the Conollys, but to their neighbour, the Earl of Kildare, whose seat, Carton, is nearby. The folly continued to be a part of the Carton estate until 1968, when it was bought by an American benefactress and presented to Castletown. At the end of another vista, the Speaker’s widow built a remarkable corkscrew-shaped structure for storing grain, known as the Wonderful Barn. One of the entrances to the demesne has a Gothic lodge, from a design published by Batty Langley 1741. The principal entrance gates are from a design by Chambers.“
The Obelisk, or Conolly Folly, was reputedly built to give employment during an episode of famine. It was restored by the Irish Georgian Society in 1960.
As Bence-Jones tells us, Castletown was inherited by Tom Conolly’s nephew, Edward Michael Pakenham, who took the name of Conolly, to become Pakenham Conolly. Thomas and Louisa had no children, and Thomas’s sister Harriet married John Staples, and their daughter was Louisa Staples. Louisa married Thomas Pakenham (1757-1836). It was their son, Edward Michael (1786-1849) who inherited Castletown.
The house then passed to his son, another Thomas Conolly (1823-1876). He was an adventourous character who travelled widely and kept a diary. Stephen and I recently attended a viewing of portraits of Thomas and his wife Sarah Eliza, which are to be sold by Bonhams. His diary of his trip to the United States during the time of the Civil War is being published.
Sarah Eliza was the daughter of a prosperous Celbridge paper mill owner, Joseph Shaw. Her substantial dowry helped to fund her husband’s adventurous lifestyle! A photograph album which belonged to her brother Henry Shaw, of a visit to Castletown, was rescued from the rubble of his home in London when it was destroyed by a German bomb in 1944. Sadly, he died in the bombing. The photograph album is on display in Castletown.
Sarah Eliza and Thomas had four children. Thomas, born in 1870, died in the Boer War in 1900. William died at the age of 22. Edward Michael (Ted), born in 1874, lived until his death in Castletown, in 1956. Their daughter Catherine married Gerald Shapland Carew, 5th Baron Carew, the grandson of Robert Carew, 1st Baron Carew of Castleboro House, County Wexford (today an impressive ruin), and son of Shapland Francis Carew and his wife Hester Georgiana Browne, daughter of Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo.
Catherine’s son, William Francis Conolly-Carew (1905-1994), 6th Baron Carew, inherited Casteltown, and added Conolly to his surname.
3.Maynooth Castle, County Kildare:
General information: 01 628 6744, email@example.com
“This majestic stone castle was founded in the early thirteenth century. It became the seat of power for the FitzGeralds, the earls of Kildare, as they emerged as one of the most powerful families in Ireland. Garret Mór, known as the Great Earl of Kildare, governed Ireland in the name of the king from 1487 to 1513.
Maynooth Castle was one of the largest and richest Geraldine dwellings. The original keep, begun around 1200, was one of the largest of its kind in Ireland. Inside, the great hall was a nerve centre of political power and culture.
Only 30 kilometres from Dublin, Maynooth Castle occupies a deceptively secluded spot in the centre of the town, with well-kept grounds and plenty of greenery. There is a captivating exhibition in the keep on the history of the castle and the family.“
 p. 8, Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the Care of the OPW. Government Publications, Dublin 2, 2018.
 p. xiii, Jennings, Marie-Louise and Gabrielle M. Ashford (eds.), The Letters of Katherine Conolly, 1707-1747. Irish Manuscripts Commission 2018. The editors reference TCD, MS 3974/121-125; Capel Street and environs, draft architectural conservation area (Dublin City Council) and Olwyn James, Capel Street, a study of the past, a vision of the future (Dublin, 2001), pp. 9, 13, 15-17.
 p. 75. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 p. 129. Great Irish Houses. Forewards by Desmond FitzGerald, Desmond Guinness. IMAGE Publications, 2008.
This is due to be open soon by the OPW. It does not have a website yet. In December 2015 Annes Grove House and Garden were donated to the state by the Annesley family.
“Nestled into an eighteenth century ornamental glen, adjacent to the River Awbeg, the demesne of Annes Grove in north County Cork is the setting for the most exquisite Robinsonian-style gardens in Ireland….
The Gardens at Annes Grove were largely the creation of Richard Grove Annesley in the first half of the twentieth century.” 
The estate was previously known as Ballyhimmock, and it was acquired by William Grove around 1626.
In 1792 it was inherited by Arthur Grove Annesley (1774-1849) from an aunt by marriage, heiress to the Grove family, after which it was renamed by merging the two family names.  Arthur Grove Annesley’s uncle Francis Charles Annesley, 1st Earl Annesley of Castlewellan, County Down, married Mary Grove who inherited the estate from her father.
At the centre of the garden is a restored Gothic style summerhouse. The main house is of Queen Anne design, from the 18th century. Pergolas, a lily pond, Victorian stone fernery, a woodland walk and river garden, a rockery and wild water garden create an atmospheric setting.
“Barryscourt Castle was the seat of the great Anglo-Norman Barry family and is one of the finest examples of a restored Irish Tower House. Dating from between 1392 and 1420, the Castle has an outer bawn wall and largely intact corner towers. The ground floor of the Tower House contains a dungeon into which prisoners were dropped via the ‘drop-hole’ located on the second floor.
The Barrys supported the Fitzgeralds of Desmond during the Irish rebellions of the late sixteenth century. To prevent it being captured by Sir Walter Raleigh and his army, the Barrys [David Barry, 5th Viscount Barry (1550-1617)] partially destroyed the Castle.
During the Irish Confederate War of the seventeenth century Barryscourt Castle was once again successfully attacked. Cannon balls lodged in the wall above the Castle entrance bear witness to this conflict. The last head of the Barry family was Lord David Barry.
Barryscourt Castle has been extensively restored. The Main Hall and Great Hall have been completed and fittings and furnishings reinstated. Within the Castle grounds, the herb and knot garden and the charming orchard have been restored to their original sixteenth century design.“
After David Barry’s death in 1617 the family made Castlelyons their principal seat (now a ruin). The castle was restored by the OPW and the Barryscourt Trust between 1987-1993, with reproduction furniture made by Victor Chinnery. 
An article in the Irish Examiner by Padraig Hoare published 22nd May 2021 tells us that the site is closed and will be for some time:
“A reopening date must be established for one of East Cork’s most historic landmarks after languishing in the midst of safety works for five years.
That is according to Cork East TD Séan Sherlock, who said Barryscourt Castle in Carrigtwohill has to be a priority for the Government body in charge of the facility, the Office of Public Works (OPW).
History enthusiasts and families alike were disappointed in the summer of 2020, when it emerged that Barryscourt Castle would remain closed for another 18 months.
The latest update from the OPW given in response to a parliamentary question from Mr Sherlock suggests it may be even longer than the date anticipated a year ago.
The Department of Public Expenditure said restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic “has disrupted the good progress” of works being done to make the facility safe.
“It is not possible at this time to give a precise date for reopening to the public,” the department said.“
3. Charles Fort, Summer Cove, Kinsale, County Cork:
General Enquiries: 021 477 2263, firstname.lastname@example.org
“As one of the country’s largest military installations, Charles Fort has been part of some of the most momentous events of Irish history. During the Williamite Wars, for example, it withstood a 13-day siege before it fell. Later, in the Civil War of the early 1920s, anti-Treaty forces on the retreat burned it out.
Charles Fort is a massive star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century, well preserved despite its history. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, is credited with designing it. Its dimensions are awe-inspiring – some of the outer defences are 16 metres high.
The view from the ramparts looking out over Kinsale Harbour is spectacular.“
4. Desmond Castle (also known as the French Prison), Kinsale, County Cork:
General Enquiries: 021 477 4855, email@example.com
“Desmond Castle in Kinsale dates from around 1500. It is a classic urban tower house, consisting of a three-storey keep with storehouses to the rear.
Maurice Bacach Fitzgerald, the earl of Desmond, originally built the castle as the customs house for the town. [I think this must be the 9th Earl of Desmond – JWB] It served as a prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because it usually held French inmates, as well as Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch and Americans, it became known locally as the French Prison and carries that name to this day. The building was co-opted as an ordnance store during the momentous Battle of Kinsale (1601) and served as a workhouse during the Great Famine.
Desmond Castle certainly had a colourful history and this continued into the twentieth century. In the early 1900s it was used as a venue to host local Gaelic League meetings. Finally, in the 1930s, a thriving undertaking business operated from within the National Monument.“
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us:
“Freestanding three-bay three-storey tower house, commenced c.1500, abutting earthen terrace to rear. Attached cell blocks and exercise yards to rear (north-west) and platform to side (north-east). Historically used as magazine (1600-1601), as prison for foreign prisoners (1601-1790) and as borough jail (1791-1846). Restored in 1938 currently in use as museum.“
5. Doneraile Court, County Cork:
General enquiries: 046 942 3175, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Doneraile Court towers majestically over the glorious Doneraile Park, a 160-hectare landscaped parkland and wildlife estate.
The house was built by the St Leger family around 1645 on the site of a ruined castle. By the time it was refurbished in the mid-eighteenth century it had become an outstanding example of Georgian architecture. Its associations range from links to the famous St Leger Stakes in horse racing and literature, with famous Irish writers such as Elizabeth Bowen. [A horse race took place in 1742 in which Edmund Burke and Cornelius O’Callaghan met a bet as to whose horse could cover the distance fastest between the church steeples of Buttevant and Doneraile. This gave rise to the term “steeplechasing.”]
Thirteen generations of the St Leger family lived at Doneraile over three centuries. The family had some extraordinary members. For example, Elizabeth St Leger made history when she became the first woman Freemason in the world in 1712.”
Elizabeth (1695-1772) was the daughter of Arthur, 1st Viscount Doneraile. He was an active Freemason and sometimes hosted lodge meetings at his home. The story has it that Elizabeth fell asleep in the library, and woke to hear a secret Masonic ceremony taking place. When the Freemasons discovered that she had heard their secret, she had to be sworn in as a member in order to protect their privacy! She remained a member, as can be seen wearing Masonic symbols in portraits. She married Colonel Richard Aldworth, High Sheriff of County Cork.
“The fine parklands are designed in the naturalistic style of the famous Capability Brown. They include many beautiful water features, plus a parterre walled garden and gardeners’ cottages. There are numerous pathways and graded walks. Lucky visitors might just spot some of the red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle that live on the estate.” 
The house remained in the hands of the St. Leger family until 1969. Following decades of care by the Irish Georgian Society, it passed to the OPW in 1994.
From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage:
“Detached three-storey over half basement country house, built c. 1730, containing fabric of earlier house, built c. 1645. Possibly also incorporating fabric of medieval castle. Extended 1805, conservatory added 1825, extended 1869, and also incorporating other nineteenth-century additions.”
The 1730s work on the house was carried out for Arthur St. Leger, 2nd Viscount Doneraile (1694-1734). Mark Bence-Jones suggests that it was the work of architect Isaac Rothery, but Frank Keohane suggests it could have been Benjamin Crawley.  The bow-ended block on the left of the garden front was added 1756-58, payment was made for this to architect Thomas Roberts.
National Inventory Appraisal: “The artist who created the ornate plaster work to the interior is unknown, but was clearly highly skilled. Doneraile Park is associated with Edmund Spenser the poet, who refers to the River Awbeg which flows through the park as the ‘gentle mulla’. The lands were bought by William St Ledger from the Spensers [William St. Leger (1586-1642), Privy Counsellor, Lord President of Munster, 1627, MP for Cork County, 1634, who was appointed, in that year, Sergeant-Major-General in the Army, employed to fight against the rebels in Ireland – JWB].
The timber panelled room to the interior is original to the earliest incarnation of the house. It is thought that it was here that Elizabeth St Ledger [1695-1772] was initiated as one of only three female members of freemasons in history after eavesdropping on a meeting. Added to this association with important historical characters, Doneraile Court represents more than three hundred years of construction and alteration, with different architectural features representing each phase.”
The bow ends on the front facade were built when improvements were made by the Hayes St. Leger 2nd Viscount of the second creation (1755-1819), between 1804-1808. At this time a new kitchen was added to the back of the house along with a now-lost Gothic conservatory.
The Hall was remodelled in the 1820s, when it was extended into the new porch. It has a screen of paired Ionic pillars, a frieze decorated with rosettes and an acanthus ceiling rose.
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:
“…On the other side of the house, a wing containing a new dining room was added 1869 by 4th Viscount Doneraile of the later creation. At the back of the hall is an oval late-Georgian staircase hall in which a staircase with slender wooden balusters rises gracefully to the top of the house beneath of ceiling of Adamesque plasterwork. To the right of the staircase hall is one of the rooms of the original house, with a corner fireplace and fielded panelling; it was possibly in here that, ca 1713, Elizabeth St Leger was initiated as one of the only three women Freemasons in history, after she had been caught spying on a Lodge meeting held by her father. Behind this room was the vast and splendid dining room of 1869 which formerly had an immense mahogany sideboard in a mirrored alcove confronting a full-length portrait of the 4th Viscount with his favourite hunter. He was one of the greatest Victorian hunting men; ironically, he died of rabies through being bitten by a pet fox. The three drawing rooms on the other side of the house are early C19 in character and probably date from the reconstruction after the fire; they have simple but elegant friezes, overdoors with volutes and windows going right down to the floor. The long connection of the St Legers with Doneraile ended when Mary, Viscountess Doneraile died 1975. The garden, which boasts of a Lime Walk and a long “fishpond” or canal surviving from the original C18 layout, is now maintained by the Dept of Lands; as is the park, in which there is still a herd of red deer. The house, after standing empty for several years and becoming almost derelict, is in the process of being restored by the Irish Georgian Society, with a view to finding someone who would be willing to take it on. The 1869 dining room wing has been demolished.” 
From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “Floating elliptical winder staircase with curved newel post and turned timber banisters. Timber treads with carved timber panels to side. Decorative render roses under stair. Ornate Adam-style ceiling with central ceiling rose and decorative fluted surround to stair ceiling.”
6. Fota Arboretum and Gardens, Carrigtwohill, County Cork
“Fota House was designed by 19th century architects Richard and William Morrison. From the beautifully proportioned rooms with exquisite plasterwork, to the preserved service wing and kitchens, Fota House offers visitors an intimate look at how life was lived in the past, for the cooks, butlers, footmen and maids who supported the lavish lifestyle of the gentry. Our painting collection is considered to be one of the finest collections of landscape painting outside the National Gallery of Ireland and includes works by William Ashford PRHA, Robert Carver, Jonathan Fisher and Thomas Roberts.” 
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:
“(Smith-Barry (now Villiers)/IFR) After Barry’s Court had been abandoned by the Barrymores, a hunting box was built on the nearby Fota Island, in Cork Harbour, by Hon John Smith-Barry [1725-1784], a younger son of 4th Earl of Barrymore, to whom Fota and some of the other Barrymore estates were given 1714. This house, of three storeys and seven bays, was greatly enlarged ca 1820 by John Smith-Barry [d.1837, grandson of his earlier namesake] to the design of Sir Richard Morrison, so that it became a wide-spreading Regency mansion of stucco with stone dressings. The original house, given a single-storey Doric portico with fluted columns and acroteria beneath a pedimented Wyatt window, remained the centre of the composition; flanked by two storey projecting wings with pedimented ends on the entrance front and curved bows on the garden front. A long two storey service range was added at one side. In 1856, a billiard room wing, in the same style as the Morrison wings but of one storey only, was added on the entrance front, projecting from the end of the service range. The space between this and the main building was filled in ca 1900 by Arthur Smith-Barry, 1st (and last) Lord Barrymore of a new creation [(1843-1925), grandson of John Smith-Barry], with a single-storey range containing a long gallery.” 
Frank Keohane tells us that the later John Smith-Barry settled here after his marriage to Eliza Courtenay of Ballyedmond, Midleton, County Cork. He was illegitimate, so perhaps he built the home to establish his reputation.  Smith-Barry hired John and William Vitruvius Morrison to enlarge the hunting lodge which had been built by his grandfather. He also built sea walls around the island and re-routed the public road to form a deer park and carriage drives around the shore.