Places to visit and to stay in County Kildare, Leinster

On the map above:

blue: places to visit that are not section 482

purple: section 482 properties

red: accommodation

yellow: less expensive accommodation for two

orange: “whole house rental” i.e. those properties that are only for large group accommodations or weddings, e.g. 10 or more people.

green: gardens to visit

grey: ruins

Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow are the counties that make up the Leinster region.

As well as places to visit, I have listed separately places to stay, because some of them are worth visiting – you may be able to visit for afternoon tea or a meal.

For places to stay, I have made a rough estimate of prices at time of publication:

€ = up to approximately €150 per night for two people sharing (in yellow on map);

€€ – up to approx €250 per night for two;

€€€ – over €250 per night for two.

For a full listing of accommodation in big houses in Ireland, see my accommodation page: https://irishhistorichouses.com/accommodation/

Kildare:

1. Blackhall Castle, Calverstown, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare – section 482

2. Burtown House and Garden, Athy, Co. Kildare – section 482

3. Castletown House, County Kildare – OPW

4. Coolcarrigan House & Gardens, Coolcarrigan, Coill Dubh, Naas, Co. Kildare – section 482

5. Donadea Forest Park and ruins of Donadea Castle, County Kildare

6. Farmersvale House, Badgerhill, Kill, Co. Kildare – section 482

7. Griesemount House, Ballitore, Co Kildare – section 482

8. Harristown House, Brannockstown, Co. Kildare – section 482

9. Kildrought House, Celbridge Village, Co. Kildare – section 482

10. Larchill, Kilcock, Co. Kildare – section 482

11. Leixlip Castle, Leixlip, Co. Kildare – section 482

12. Maynooth Castle, County Kildare – OPW

13. Millbrook House, County Kildare: House and limited garden access for groups only

14. Moone Abbey House & Tower, Moone Abbey, Moone, Co. Kildare – section 482

15. Moyglare Glebe, Moyglare, Maynooth, Co. Kildare – section 482

16. Steam Museum Lodge Park Heritage Centre, Lodge Park, Straffan, Co. Kildare – section 482

Places to stay, County Kildare:

1. Balyna, Moyvalley, Co Kildare – Moyvalley Hotel 

2. Barberstown Castle, Kildare – hotel 

3. Batty Langley Lodge, Celbridge, County Kildare €€

4. Burtown House holiday cottages

5. Carton House, Kildare – open to public, hotel 

6. Castletown Gate Lodge, Celbridge, County Kildare: Irish Landmark € for 3

7. Castletown Round House, Celbridge, County Kildare: Irish Landmark € for 3-6 

8. The Cliff at Lyons, County Kildare

9. The K Club, Straffan House, County Kildare

10. Kilkea Castle, Castledermot, Kildare – hotel 

11. Leixlip Manor hotel (formerly St. Catherine’s Park) Leixlip, Co Kildare

12. Martinstown House, Kilcullen, Co Kildare – accommodation  

13. Moone Abbey, County Kildare holiday cottages

Whole house accommodation in County Kildare:

1. de Burgh (or Bert) Manor, Kilberry, County Kildare – whole house accommodation

2. Firmount, Clane, County Kildare – whole house or weddings.

3. Griesemount House, County Kildare

Kildare

1. Blackhall Castle, Calverstown, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare

Blackhall Castle, County Kildare.

See my entry:

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/05/14/blackhall-castle-calverstown-kilcullen-county-kildare/
contact: Jeffrey & Naomi White
Tel: 087-6771661
Open: May 1-31, Aug 13-22, Sept 1-15, Dec 1-20, 2pm-6pm Fee: Free

2. Burtown House and Garden, Athy, Co. Kildare – section 482

Burtown House, County Kildare, June 2021.

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.” [1]

3. Castletown House, County Kildare – OPW

The Print Room, Castletown House, County Kildare.

see my OPW entry: https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/02/21/office-of-public-works-properties-leinster-carlow-kildare-kilkenny/

4. Coolcarrigan House & Gardens, Coolcarrigan, Coill Dubh, Naas, Co. Kildare – section 482

Coolcarrigan, County Kildare, September 2019.

See my write-up:

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/05/31/coolcarrigan-house-and-gardens-coill-dubh-naas-county-kildare/
contact: Robert Wilson-Wright
Tel: 086-2580439
www.coolcarrigan.ie
Open: Feb 1-4, 21-25, Mar 1-4, April 23-29, May 9-17, Aug 13-31, Sept 1-9, 14-16, 9am-1pm
Fee: adult €8, OAP/student €5, child free

5. Donadea Forest Park and ruins of Donadea Castle, County Kildare

Donadea Castle, County Kildare, Septemeber 2017.

https://www.coillte.ie/site/donadea-forest-park/

The website tells us:

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.

Donadea Castle, County Kildare, Septemeber 2017.
It has looked much the same for over fifty years: Donadea County Kildare by James P. O’Dea Circa 1958 National Library of Ireland on flickr

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. [2]

Donadea Castle, County Kildare, Septemeber 2017.

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. 

Donadea Castle, County Kildare, Septemeber 2017.

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. 

Donadea Castle, County Kildare, Septemeber 2017.

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 [2]) 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). 

6. Farmersvale House, Badgerhill, Kill, Co. Kildare – section 482

Farmersvale House, County Kildare, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

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.” [3]

8. Harristown House, Brannockstown, Co. Kildare – section 482

Harristown House, County Kildare, August 2019.

See my write-up:

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/09/27/harristown-brannockstown-county-kildare/
contact: Hubert Beaumont
Tel: 087-2588775
https://www.harristownhouse.ie/
Open: Jan 3-14, Feb 21-28, Mar 1-4, May 3-13, June 13-26, Aug 13-21, Sept 1-9, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult/OAP/student €10, child €5

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!

Kildrought, County Kildare.

10. Larchill, Kilcock, Co. Kildare – section 482

Larchill, County Kildare.

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

See my entry: https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/09/02/larchill-kilcock-co-kildare/

11. Leixlip Castle, Leixlip, Co. Kildare – section 482

Leixlip Castle, County Kildare, June 2019.

See my entry:

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/09/04/leixlip-castle-county-kildare-desmond-guinnesss-jewelbox-of-treasures/
contact: Penelope Guinness
Tel: 01-6244430
Open: Jan 31, Feb 1-4, 7-11, Mar 28-31, Apr 1, 4-8, May 9-20, June 7-17, Aug 13-22, Sept 5-11, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €8, OAP/student/child €4, concessions no charge for school groups

12. Maynooth Castle, County Kildare – OPW

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/02/21/office-of-public-works-properties-leinster-carlow-kildare-kilkenny/

13. Millbrook House, County Kildare:

House and limited garden access for groups only

Minimum 4, maximum 8 visitors

May to September: 

Monday-Thursday, 11 am to 3 pm

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.” [5]

See also the entry by Robert O’Byrne, https://theirishaesthete.com/tag/millbrook/

14. Moone Abbey House & Tower, Moone Abbey, Moone, Co. Kildare – section 482

Moone Abbey House, County Kildare, May 2019.

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/06/13/moone-abbey-house-and-tower-moone-county-kildare/
contact: Jennifer Matuschka
Tel: 087-6900138
Open: May 1-31, Aug 13-21, Sept 1-20, 12 noon- 4pm Fee: adult €8, OAP/student/child €4

15. Moyglare Glebe, Moyglare, Maynooth, Co. Kildare – section 482

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

Lodge Park, photograph courtesy of Historic Houses of Ireland.

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 

Now called Moyvalley Hotel. https://www.moyvalley.com/aboutus.html

The website tells us:

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” [6]

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.

2. Barberstown Castle, Kildare – hotel 

www.barberstowncastle.ie

Barberstown Castle, photograph courtesy of barberstowncastle.ie

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 €€

https://www.irishlandmark.com/propertytag/cottages-and-houses/?gclid=Cj0KCQiApL2QBhC8ARIsAGMm-KFInICcRSxwLSiDxfFNk5WFytNcVrLvOQYhzJbIBes4V-M65iXz0gYaAln_EALw_wcB

Batty Langley Lodge, Castletown, 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.

4. Burtown House holiday cottages – see above

www.burtownhouse.ie

5. Carton House, Kildare – open to public, hotel 

https://www.cartonhouse.com/

The house was built in 1739 to designs by Richard Castle and remodelled in 1815 by Richard Morrison. This is now the front of the building – it was formerly the back, and was changed when Richard Morrison carried out the remodelling.

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.

Tyrconnell Tower in grounds of Carton House, photograph 2014 for Tourism Ireland. (see [7])

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.”

Carton House 2014, for Failte Ireland (see [7])
The Garden Front of Carton House, July 2022. It was initially the front of the house.

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.

Leinster House, also built by Richard Castle for the FitzGeralds.
The garden front of Carton House. The house was built in 1739 to designs by Richard Castle and remodelled in 1815 by Richard Morrison.

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.”

James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare, later 1st Duke of Leinster by Robert Hunter, Irish, 1715/1720-c.1803. Photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
Emilia Mary, Countess of Kildare (née Lennox), (1731-1814), Wife of the 20th Earl of Kildare and future 1st Duke of Leinster After Joshua Reynolds, English, 1723-1792, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
Portrait of Emilia Mary, Duchess of Leinster, (née Lennox), (1731-1814), Wife of the 1st Duke of Leinster, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

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.

William Robert Fitzgerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, (1749-1804) Date 1775 by Engraver John Dixon, Irish, c.1740-1811 After Joshua Reynolds, English, 1723-1792. Photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

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.”

Augustus Frederick FitzGerald, 3rd Duke of Leinster, (1791-1874) Engraver George Sanders, Scottish, 1810-c.1876 After Stephen Catterson Smith, Irish, 1806-1872. Photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

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.” [8]

Carton, Image for Country Life, by Paul Barker.
The coat of arms in the pediment on the garden front of Carton House.
The Chinese Room at Carton House, decorated by Emily, Countess of Kildare in the mid 18th century. Above the chimneypiece is a Chippendale mirror erupting into a series of gilded branches, some of which are sconces. Pub.  Orig Country Life 18/02/2009  vol CCIII

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 Gold Saloon, Carton House.
The Gold Saloon at Carton House, which was originally known as the Eating Parlour. The organ case was designed by Lord Gerald FitzGerald in 1857.
The Gold Saloon at Carton House, which was originally known as the Eating Parlour. Country Life archives, for 18/02/2009 [not used] 
The Courtship of the Gods in the Gold Saloon at Carton House. It dates from 1739 and was executed by the Lafranchini brothers. Cupids hang from wreaths and further putti sit on the cornice. Beneath this is a frieze with pairs of creatures and a series of masks and scallop shells.

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.

Carton, From Country Life 14/11/1936 . We did not see this room, if it still exists.

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.” 

Caroline, Duchess of Leinster (née Lady Sutherland-Leveson-Gower), (1827-1887), Wife of 4th Duke, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
A shell cottage in the grounds of Carton House begun in the second half of the 18th century. A passage leads into a domed shell room embellished with coral and stained glass. Not Used Country Life archives 18/02/2009. Photographer Paul Barker.
Shell Cottage Carton, Photographer Paul Barker, for Country LIfe. Not used.
Shell Cottage Carton, Photographer Paul Barker, for Country LIfe. Not used.

6. Castletown Gate Lodge, Celbridge, County Kildare € for 3

Castletown Gate Lodge, a Landmark Trust property.

https://www.irishlandmark.com/propertytag/cottages-and-houses/?gclid=Cj0KCQiApL2QBhC8ARIsAGMm-KFInICcRSxwLSiDxfFNk5WFytNcVrLvOQYhzJbIBes4V-M65iXz0gYaAln_EALw_wcB

7. Castletown Round House, Celbridge, County Kildare: Irish Landmark € for 3-6 

Castletown Round House, a Landmark Trust property.

https://www.irishlandmark.com/property/castletown-round-house/

8. The Cliff at Lyons, County Kildare

www.cliffatlyons.ie

Robert O’Byrne writes about the Cliff at Lyons:

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.”[9]

The entrance front of Lyons House, designed by Oliver Grave for Nicholas Lawless, 1st baron Cloncurry circa 1786 and remodelled by his son Richard Morrison in 1802-05. Pub Orig Country Life 16/01/2003, vol. CXCVII by Photographer Paul Barker. (see[7])

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.” 

The garden front of Lyons House, The new orangery and pool house are the single-storey buildings flanking the central block. Pub Orig Country Life 16/01/2003, vol. CXCVII by Photographer Paul Barker. (see [7])

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. [10] 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.

https://www.kilkeacastle.ie/

Mark Bence-Jones writes (1988):

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, formerly St. Catherine’s Park), Leixlip, Co Kildare

http://www.leixlipmanorhotel.ie/about-us/the-manor-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.

http://martinstownhouse.com/wordpress/ 

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.

See also Robert O’Byrne’s entry, which has lovely pictures: https://theirishaesthete.com/2022/03/07/martinstown/

13. Moone Abbey, County Kildare holiday cottages – see above

Whole house accommodation in County Kildare:

1. de Burgh Manor (or Bert), Kilberry, County Kildare – whole house accommodation

Bert House or De Burgh, photograph courtesy of National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

https://www.deburghmanor.ie

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 1788 succeeded 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

https://www.firmounthouse.com/

The website tells us:

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

[1] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Burtown%20House

[2] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Kildare%20Landowners

[3] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Griesemount%20House

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11805062/kildrought-house-main-street-celbridge-celbridge-co-kildare

[5] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Millbrook%20House

[6] 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.

[7] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en

[8] https://archiseek.com/2014/carton-maynooth-co-kildare/

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/01/08/a-stage-set/

[10] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_barton.html

Places to visit and stay in Ulster: Counties Armagh, Derry, and Down

On the map above:

blue: places to visit that are not section 482

purple: section 482 properties

red: accommodation

yellow: less expensive accommodation for two

orange: “whole house rental” i.e. those properties that are only for large group accommodations or weddings, e.g. 10 or more people.

green: gardens to visit

grey: ruins

The province of Ulster contains counties Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Tyrone.

For places to stay, I have made a rough estimate of prices at time of publication:

€ = up to approximately €150 per night for two people sharing (in yellow on map);

€€ – up to approx €250 per night for two;

€€€ – over €250 per night for two.

For a full listing of accommodation in big houses in Ireland, see my accommodation page: https://irishhistorichouses.com/accommodation/

Armagh:

1. Ardress House, County Armagh

2. The Argory, County Armagh 

3. Brownlow House, County Armagh

4. Derrymore House, Bessbrook, County Armagh – National Trust

5. Milford House, Armagh 

Places to Stay, County Armagh

1. Crannagael House, 43 Ardress Road, Portadown Craigavon Armagh BT62 1SE €€

2. Killeavy Castle, County Armagh

3. Newforge House, Magheralin, Craigavon, Co. Armagh, BT67 0QL €€

Whole house rental, County Armagh:

1. Elmfield Estate, Craigavon, County Armagh.

Derry:

1. Bellaghy Bawn, County Derry 

2. Hezlett House, 107 Sea Road, Castlerock, County Derry, BT51 4TW on Downhill Demesne.

3. Mussenden Temple, Downhill Demesne

4. Springhill House, County Derry

Places to stay, County Derry

1. Ardtara Country House and restaurant, County Derry €€ 

2. Brown Trout Inn, Aghadowey, Nr Coleraine Co. Derry, BT51 4AD

3. Roselick Lodge, County Derry – whole house rental for 8 guests, three nights minuminimum

Whole House Rental, County Derry

1. Beechill House, 32 Ardmore Road, Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland BT47 3QP – weddings

2. Drenagh House, County Derrywhole house rental, 22 guests

Down:

1. Audley’s Castle, County Down

2. Bangor Castle Park, County Down

3. Castle Ward, County Down 

4. Dundrum Castle, County Down

5. Hillsborough Castle, County Down 

6. Montalto Estate, County Down

7. Mount Stewart, County Down

8. Newry and Mourne Museum, Bagenal’s Castle, County Down

9. Portaferry Castle, County Down

Places to stay, County Down

1. Barr Hall Barns, Portaferry, County Down

2. Castle Ward, Potter’s Cottage in farmyard and Castle Ward bunkhouse

3. Culloden, County Down – hotel €€€

4. Florida Manor, 22 Florida Road, Killinchy, Newtownards, Co Down, BT23 6RT Northern Ireland

5. Helen’s Tower, Bangor, County Down: Irish Landmark property €€

6. Kiltariff Hall, County Down

7. Narrow Water Castle, apartment, Newry Road, Warrenpoint, Down, Northern Ireland, BT34 3LE

8. The Old Inn, Bangor, County Down

9. Slieve Donard hotel and spa, County Down €€

10. St John’s Point Lighthouse Sloop, Killough, County Down: Irish Landmark property € for 3-4

11. Tullymurry House, Tullymurry road, Donaghmore, Newry, County Down sleeps 8, € for 8

12. Tyrella, Downpatrick, County Down, BT30 8SUaccommodation €

Whole house County Down

1. Ballydugan House, County Down (weddings)

Places to Visit in County Armagh

1. Ardress House, County Armagh

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/ardress-house-p675191

and https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ardress-house

Kevin V. Mulligan writes in The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster (p. 83) [1] 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 event
s.”

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.” [2]

2. The Argory, County Armagh

The Argory was built in the 1820s on a hill and has wonderful views over the gardens and 320 acre wooded riverside estate. 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. Photo by Brian Morrison 2009 for Tourism Ireland. [3]

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/the-argory-p675201

The discovernorthernireland website tells us:

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

Visitor facilities –
Historic house: Garden: Countryside: Shop: Refreshments: Guided tours: Suitable for picnics
.”

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.” [4]

3. Brownlow House, County Armagh

Brownlow House, Lurgan Castle, Lurgan, Photographer/ Christopher Heaney, 2022 for Tourism Ireland.

http://www.brownlowhouse.com

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. 

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/derrymore-house

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.

5. Milford House, Armagh

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/milford-house-p700871

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.

http://www.milfordhouse.org.uk

Mark Bence-Jones writes:

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.”

Places to Stay, County Armagh

1. Crannagael House, 43 Ardress Road, Portadown Craigavon Armagh BT62 1SE €€

Mob: +44 (0) 75 9004 7717
Mob: +44 (0) 78 3153 0155
Email: crannagaelhouse@gmail.com

https://www.crannagaelhouse.com

Crannagael House, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2018, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [4]).

The website tells us:

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.”

2. Killeavy Castle, County Armagh

St. Patrick’s day Greening, Killeavy Castle Estate, Co Armagh, 2022 ©Killeavy Castle Estate, for Failte Ireland.

https://www.killeavycastle.com

The website tells us:

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.


The Architect

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.

3. Newforge House, Magheralin, Craigavon, Co. Armagh, BT67 0QL €€

https://www.newforgehouse.com

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.”

Newforge House, County Armagh, photograph by Brian Morrison 2016, for Northern Ireland Tourism, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [4]).

Whole house rental, County Armagh:

1. Elmfield Estate, Craigavon, County Armagh

https://elmfieldestate.com/about/

The website tells us:

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.”

Derry:

1. Bellaghy Bawn, County Derry

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/bellaghy-bawn-p675661

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.

2. Hezlett House, 107 Sea Road, Castlerock, County Derry, BT51 4TW on Downhill Demesne. https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/hezlett-house-p687301

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).”

3. Mussenden Temple, Downhill Demesne

Mussenden Temple by Matthew Woodhouse 2015 for Tourism Ireland. (see [4])

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mussenden-temple-and-downhill-demesne

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.

4. Springhill House, County Derry

Springhill House and Gardens Courtesy of Tourism Northern Ireland 2007 (see [3])

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/springhill-p675711

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.

Caravan Site 

and https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/springhill

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 €€

 WWW.ARDTARA.COM

2. Brown Trout Inn, Aghadowey, Nr Coleraine Co. Derry, BT51 4AD

https://www.browntroutinn.com/

The website tells us:

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 rental for 8 guests, three night minimum

https://www.roselicklodge.co.uk

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.

Whole House Rental, County Derry

1. Beechill House, 32 Ardmore Road, Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland BT47 3QPweddings

https://www.beech-hill.com/

Beechill Country House Hotel, Courtesy of Tyrone and Sperrins destination, for Tourism Ireland.

2. Drenagh House, County Derry – whole house rental, 22 guests

https://www.drenagh.com

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.” 

Down:

1. Audley’s Castle, Castle Ward, County Down

Audley’s Castle, Castle Ward by Bernie Brown for Tourism Ireland 2014 (see [3])

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/audleys-castle-p707501

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.

2. Bangor Castle Park, County Down

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/bangor-castle-town-hall-p676451

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.” 

3. Castle Ward, County Down

Castle Ward, County Down, 13 August 2006 Picture by David Cordner http://www.davidcordner.com :Tourism Northern Ireland (see [3])

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/castle-ward-p675331 and https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/castle-ward

The National Trust website tells us:

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 grand mid-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.” 

4. Dundrum Castle, County Downruins

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do

5. Hillsborough Castle, County Down

Hillsborough Castle & Gardens, Tourism Northern Ireland 2017 (see [3])

https://www.hrp.org.uk/hillsborough-castle

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.

Wills Hill, 1st Earl of Hillsborough, (1718-1793), later 1st Marquess of Downshire, After Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Irish, 1740-1808. Photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

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.” 

Hillsborough Castle & Gardens, Tourism Northern Ireland 2017 (see [3])

6. Montalto Estate, County Down

Montalto House, County Down, © Tourism Ireland created by Lewis McClay 2019 (see [3])

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/montalto-estate-p728301

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.

https://montaltoestate.com

The website tells us:

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.” 

7. Mount Stewart, County Down

Mount Stewart, County Down, by Art Ward for Tourism Northern Ireland, 2016. (see [3])

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/mount-stewart-p675341 and https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mount-stewart

The National Trust website tells us:

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.

From “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.

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.” 

Mount Stewart, County Down, by Art Ward for Tourism Northern Ireland, 2016 (see [3])
Mount Stewart, County Down, by Art Ward for Tourism Northern Ireland, 2016 (see [3])

8. Newry and Mourne Museum, Bagenal’s Castle, County Down

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/newry-and-mourne-museum-bagenals-castle-p690251

Bagenal’s Castle, County Down, Courtesy of Tourism Northern Ireland, 2010. (see [3])

The Discover Northern Ireland website tells us:

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.”

9. Portaferry Castle, County Down

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/portaferry-castle-p676311

The website tells us:

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.” 

from Mark Bence-Jones.

Places to stay, County Down

1. Barr Hall Barns, Portaferry, County Down – self catering €

https://www.barrhallbarns.co.uk/

The website tells us:

Barr Hall Barns are 18th Century period cottages in an outstanding tranquil location with panoramic views across Strangford Lough to the Mourne Mountains.

We are based just outside the seaside village of Portaferry, at the very southern tip of the Ards Peninsula, overlooking Barr Hall Bay which is protected by the National Trust.

With idyllic walking routes right at our doorstep, come escape to an area of natural outstanding beauty and enter the truly magical setting of Barr Hall Barns.

2. Castle Ward, Potter’s Cottage in farmyard:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/the-potters-cottage-northern-ireland

and Castle Ward bunkhouse: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/castle-ward-bunkhouse-northern-ireland

Sleeps 14 people.

3. Culloden, County Down – hotel €€€

Culloden Estate and Spa, photograph courtesy of Hastings Hotel 2017, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [3])

4. Florida Manor, 22 Florida Road, Killinchy, Newtownards, Co Down, BT23 6RT Northern Irelandself-catering, €€

http://www.floridamanorni.com/cgi-bin/greeting?instanceID=1

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.” 

5. Helen’s Tower, Bangor, County Down €€

https://www.irishlandmark.com/property/helens-tower/

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: 

Helen’s Tower here I stand 

Dominant over sea and land 

Son’s love built me, and I hold 

Mother’s love in lettered gold.” 

And see Robert O’Byrne’s entry about it at https://theirishaesthete.com/2022/09/05/helens-tower/

6. Kiltariff Hall, County Down

https://www.kiltariffhall.co.uk 

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.

7. Narrow Water Castle, apartment, Newry Road, Warrenpoint, Down, Northern Ireland, BT34 3LEself catering

http://narrowwatercastle.co.uk

Narrow Water, photograph by Chris Hill 2005 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool (see[3]).

The website tells us:

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

8. The Old Inn, Bangor, County Down €€

https://www.theoldinn.com

Established in 1614!

The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, Bangor, photograph Courtesy of Alexandra Barfoot 2022 for Tourism Northern Ireland.

9. Slieve Donard hotel and spa, County Down €€

https://www.slievedonardhotel.com

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.

Slieve Donard hotel and spa, courtesy of Hastings Hotel, 2017, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see[3])

9. St John’s Point Lighthouse Sloop, Killough, County Down € for 3-4

St John’s Lighthouse Killough by Bernie Brown 2014 for Tourism Ireland. (see [3])

www.irishlandmark.com

JP Ketch and JP Sloop. Each sleeps four people, From £328 for 2 nights.

10. Tullymurry House, Tullymurry road, Donaghmore, Newry, County Down – sleeps 8, € for 8

https://www.irishlandmark.com/propertytag/cottages-and-houses/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA64GRBhCZARIsAHOLriLIJz7CUUx5wWUI2qTIAf7BmdPnvsPy0gkZeJ3VthNkuoG8mj6PetUaAhcXEALw_wcB

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 €

https://www.tyrellahouse.com/the-rooms

The website tells us:

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.

Whole house County Down

1. Ballydugan House, County Down (weddings)

http://ballyduganhouse.com/

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 have Ballymote Country House nearby, where we can ensure that the paths of the Bride and Groom will not cross prior to the wedding.

[1] Mulligan, Kevin V. The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster, Armagh, Cavan and Monaghan. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2013.

[2] 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.

[3] Ireland’s Content Pool, https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en

[4] 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.

[5] https://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/clough-oughter-castle/48729 

[6] http://www.discoverbelturbet.ie/unesco-geopark/clough-oughter/

[7] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/09/09/a-mere-shell/

[8]  see Timothy William Ferres: http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Cavan%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-07-03T12:32:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=10&by-date=false

Moone Abbey House and Tower, Moone, County Kildare

Moone Abbey House.

contact: Jennifer Matuschka
Tel: 087-6900138
Open in 2022: May 1-31, Aug 13-21, Sept 1-20, 12 noon- 4pm

Fee: adult €8, OAP/student/child €4

We visited Moone Abbey House on Saturday May 11th, 2019.

We had a 3pm appointment with the owner, Jennifer Matuschka. We visited Charleville House in Wicklow earlier in the day. Moone Abbey is at the far end of Kildare, approximately an hour away from Charleville. We arrived nearly an hour early, however, having given ourselves plenty of driving time in case we got lost on the way.

This gave us time to see the Abbey itself. The Abbey predates the house by centuries, so the house is named after the Abbey that was on its lands. Access from the road to the Abbey is a narrow gap in the stone wall. The Abbey contains the impressive Moone Cross, one of the two tallest Celtic Crosses in Ireland, and certainly the tallest that either Stephen or I had ever seen (we think – certainly none made such an impression, since we were able to stand right next to it). The Abbey is a ruin but a roof has been constructed to protect the cross, which originally stood outside the Abbey.

The High Cross of Moone Abbey, looking inside the Abbey from the front.
Inside the Abbey.
Back of the Abbey.

According to the Irish Historic Houses website [1]:

Behind the mid-18th century Palladian house are the remains of Moone Abbey, a monastery originally founded in the 6th century by St. Columkille and rebuilt almost 700 years later. The abbey contains the splendid High Cross of Moone, rediscovered amidst the ruins during the nineteenth century, while the house’s mediaeval predecessor stands a little way off; a ‘Ten Pound’ tower house in remarkably fine condition.

Stephen and the south side of the cross

A panel describes the finding of the cross – and in fact there is a second cross displayed in parts, behind where Stephen stands in the photo above.

The panel says:

The two remarkable High Crosses displayed here – one complete except for its cap, and the other surviving only in fragments – were probably both carved in the ninth century, and are the earliest surviving testimony to the existence of an early Christian monastery on this site. Yet its old Irish name, Moen or Moin Cholm-cille, the “walled enclosure” or “bog” of St. Colmcille, better known as Columba, suggests that the abbey may have been founded by the great Celtic churchman who lived in the sixth century. His connection with the site is supported by a twelfth century literary source, and a nearby well dedicated to him was a popular place of annual pilgrimage until the last century. The O’Flanagan family certainly provided hereditary abbots during the eleventh century but, by 1225, the archbishop of Dublin was in a position to give the monastery’s lands and mill to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

The Franciscans were said to have had a house in Moone, and this church with its long rectangular shape so typical of Irish medieval friary architecture, may well have been built by them, possibly around 1300, but abandoned when the English king Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-40. Outside, to the south-east, there was once a four-story tower in which the friars may have lived, but it was demolished in the early 1800’s, along with a Lady Chapel adjoining the north-east wall of the church.

Before 1850 a mason in search of good building stones discovered the base and head of the tall cross “deeply buried under a heap of fallen masonry” where the tower had once stood, and these were mounted together by the fourth Duke of Leinster and Mr Yeates, the then owner of the adjoining mansion. One Michael O’Shaughnessy later discovered a shaft portion which then lay loose around the churchyard for years until it was inserted between the other two parts in 1893, with assistance from the Kildare Achaeological Society. this helped to raise the height to over seven metres, and thereby made Moone of the two tallest High Crosses in Ireland.

The granite for the cross must originally have been brought from some miles away, and the slightly differing hues of the stones has led to doubts as to whether all three parts belong together, but no evidence to the contrary was found when the cross was temporarily dismantled in 1994, before being brought inside and displayed here in 1996.

Further panels explain the carvings on the cross.

This picture explains the south side of the cross, from top to bottom:

human figure
human figure
human figure turned to left
angel
heart-shaped feature (enclosing human head?)
roaring lion
long eared animal sniffing the ground
Saints Paul and Anthony breaking bread in the desert – the hermit saints, seated on their high backed chairs in the middle of the desert, break the bread which the rather plump raven above them had brought for their nourishment.
The Temptation of (probably) St. Anthony the Hermit. A central figure, probably St. Anthony, tempted by the devil who, half human and half animal, appears in the guise of a goat and cock.
Six headed monster. There is a head at each end of this six-legged monster, from whose twin body-spirals four fabulous animals uncoil themselves, two with their heads in profile and the other pair with a head seen from above. The significance of this curious beast is uncertain (apocalyptic?).

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Anthony in the middle with a goat on one side and cock on the other, representing the devil. Below is the six-headed monster.

The Twelve Apostles. I had an apostle like this made of old bog turf – it was my mother’s, a gift from me or my sister, I’m not sure.
IMG_1141
my Moone Abbey Apostle. I never realised until I saw the cross at Moone that this statue’s design was based on the Cross of Moone. Statue is made by Owen Crafts, Ballyshannon, Ireland.

Above, the west face: Adam and Eve being tempted by the snake, Adam about to sacrifice his son Isaac (with the ram in the thicket nearby which the Lord tells him to offer instead of his son), and below, Daniel in the lions’ den (he is saved by an angel). You can see the North side in this picture also, just about. This is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to the side of Adam and Eve. King Nebuchadnezzar had thrown them in the furnace for refusing to worship a golden image he had set up, but they did not burn. I used to know a song about this, that I was taught along with my classmates in Australia by Mrs. Firth. It went “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, lived in Judah a long time ago, they had funny names and they lived far away but they knew what was right and they knew what to say. This is a story that you ought to know about Shadrach, what kind of name is that? Meshach, who had a name like that? Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego-ooooh!” Below them on the cross is the Flight into Egypt of Mary and Jesus on the donkey and Joseph alongside, as they’d been warned of the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod. The final picture, on bottom, is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

The west face of the cross: Jesus, with an animal above, and below, two human heads each in the claws of two serpents.

We were still early when we drove up to the house. Someone passed by in jodphurs and said Jenny, the owner, would be out to us in a minute.

Jenny greeted us warmly. She told us first about the impressive tower. It is a “ten pound tower” – landowners were paid ten pounds in the 1400s to build a fortified tower for protection of the inhabitants to defend from Irish marauders: in this area, the O’Tooles were the marauders. (In Irish Castles and Historic Houses by Brendan O’Neill, he writes “In the early fifteenth century, government subsidies were offered to those able to construct castles or towers in the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Meath, but these “ten-pound” castles were fairly basic.”). 

The Irish Historic Houses website adds: “In return for building a defensive castle or tower, 20’ long, 16’ wide and at least 40’ high, dimensions that were smaller than those of a typical Irish tower house, landowners received a subsidy of £10 to help defray their expenses, perhaps the earliest instance of that much-loved Irish institution, the building grant.”

The website also states that “the monastery was duly suppressed and dissolved in the sixteenth century, and its lands ultimately passed to the Jacobite O’Dempsey family who lived in the nearby tower house.”

The Jacobites were supporters of King James II. However, when James II fled from Ireland to France, and William of Orange was crowned king, Jacobites in Ireland lost their land. The estate was granted to a Cromwellian soldier, Thomas Ashe, who was buried in the nearby Rath of Moone. The Irish Aesthete writes in his blog entry on 30th Sept 2019 that Thomas Ashe was a Dublin alderman, who died in 1741. [2]

The property was subsequently leased for 999 years to Samuel Yates (or Yeats, the spellings have been used interchangeably), who built the current house in about 1750. Yates, according to the Irish Aesthete, was from Colganstown, in County Dublin, another property listed in Section 482! Colganstown is said to have been designed by Nathanial Clements, so Moone Abbey House may also have been designed by Clements although it is not known. Robert O’Byrne the Irish Aesthete also mentions the Dublin-based architect John Ensor as the possible architect of Moone Abbey House. John Ensor also designed the Rotunda round room at Parnell Square, formerly known as Rutland Square, in Dublin.

Yates’s new house consisted of a central block, five bays wide and two of storeys over a basement, with wings on either side joined to the central block by curved walls. The stretch of the house, with the wings, make it “Palladian” style. Originally there was a single bay central breakfront surmounted by a pediment with a Diocletian window (a Diocletian or thermal window, according to Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness in Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities, is a large semi-circular window with two vertical mullions dividing it into three. This styles derives from Roman baths!) [3]  After a fire in around 1800, the central block was rebuilt and given an extra storey, and the Diocletian window seems to have disappeared.

The curved two storey wall, concealing a courtyard, that join the wings of the house to the main house.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website describes the frontal aspect of the house [4]:

The ‘modern’ house is a fine example of a pseudo Palladian structure that is composed of a central residential block, linked by curved walls or wings to attendant ‘outbuildings’ and at Moone this arrangement has been little altered since first constructed. The house is composed of graceful Classical proportions and is without superfluous detailing – the porch to centre of the main (south-east) front, the bow to the rear (north-west), the curved walls and Dutch-style gables are all subtle features that enliven the composition. Furthermore, the regular distribution of openings adds a rhythmic quality to the piece. The house retains an early aspect and early materials, including fenestration and a slate roof...

There is a bay in the back which we didn’t see but one can see it in pictures on the National Inventory website. The wings of the house are two storey two bay blocks with Dutch gables.

Inside, Jenny pointed out to us that the house itself is surprisingly narrow from front to back, just one room “deep” plus the front hallway. The two wings are attached by concave walls which front courtyards rather than more rooms, so they make the house look bigger than it actually is. One of these attached wings has been used for stables in the past and is now to be renovated for accommodation, while the other is a guest-house.

A statue in a niche in the concave wall between a wing and the main house
The second curved wall that is between house and the wing, and the two storey, two bay wing, with its Dutch gable. This is now a guest house. Beyond lie the farm buildings.

The single storey projecting porch was added later in the 19th century.

The Irish Historic Houses website goes on to expand on the previous occupiers of the house:

Members of the Yates family were no strangers to drama. One was piked to death by the Ballytore rebels in 1798, suspected of alerting the authorities to their activities. Another was prosecuted for abusing his position as High Sheriff to seduce a young woman from Castledermot, while the 1800s fire was allegedly the result of a family feud that got out of hand. Eventually, their unconventional behaviour took its toll on the family finances and in the 1840s they were forced to sell under the Encumbered Estates Act after a tenure of almost a hundred years.

The purchasers were the O’Carroll family, who themselves sold out to the Bolands in 1910 while the estate was bought by a member of the princely German family of Hohenlohe in 1960 and their descendants still live at Moone today. Nearby is the famous castellated flour mill of the Shackleton family, ancestors of Sir Ernest the polar explorer, while the whole complex is approached from Moone village through a pair of splendid piers that originally formed one of the entrances to Belan, the long demolished great house of the famous collector, connoisseur and patron, Lord Aldborough.

After a brief tour of the house, Jenny then brought us out to the garden, including the walled garden. She then allowed us to climb up into the tower, at our own risk! We were thrilled to be allowed such access. It’s amazing to climb the original stairs in such a tower.

Inside the Tower House
DSC_0721
Ceiling slates, a corbelled roof of overlapping slates. There is such a corbelled roof also inside Newgrange.
A fireplace in an upstairs room in the tower, and window.

The tower has been converted into a pigeon loft. The book Did you know…? 100 Quirky Facts about County Offaly by Amanda Pedlow (published by Offaly County Council, Nov 2013) contains an entry on pigeon houses. They were used to raise pigeons for food. Several tiers of small nest-holes are placed high above the ground to make it more difficult for rodents to kill the young pigeons. Nest holes are square shaped but in the tower in Offaly and perhaps the one in Moone, inside the walls the holes turn at a right angle to make an L shape. Inside this dark space the pigeons raise their young, called “squabs.” These were a valuable source of food. The birds were considered to be domestic fowl rather than wild game and belonged to the neighbouring house. The presence of a pigeon house was evidence of the high status of the owners.

The pigeon boxes built into the tower.

I was able to take aerial photos from the top, of the house and its surroundings.

From the front of the house, and top of the tower,  we could see a beautiful single-span cast-iron footbridge over the Buggawn, or Griese, River. We headed down to see it after climbing the tower.

DSC_0729

The house is beautifully situated near the river, with a lovely view toward another stone bridge in the other direction.

View from the river back toward the house and tower. The Abbey lies behind the house.

The house is a working farm, and Jenny and her husband, whose parents bought the house in 1960, also hosts bed and breakfast guests. The guesthouse is advertised on the airbnb website [5]. I’d love to return and stay!

[1]  http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Moone%20Abbey

[2] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/09/30/moone-abbey/

[3] Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities.Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970.

[4] http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=kd&regno=11903614

[5] https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/11415715?guests=1&adults=1&sl_alternate_dates_exclusion=true&source_impression_id=p3_1559472574_rN9y32sa2JklBBRL