Places to visit and stay in County Longford, 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/

Places to visit in County Longford:

1. Castlecor House, County Longford, open by previous arrangement.

2. Maria Edgeworth Visitor Centre, Longford, County Longford.

3. Moorhill House, Castlenugent, Lisryan, Co. Longford – section 482

Places to stay, County Longford:

1. Castlecor House, County Longford

2. Newcastle House Hotel, Ballymahon, County Longford.

3. Viewmount House, Longford

Places to visit in County Longford:

1. Castlecor House, County Longford, open by previous arrangement:

https://castlecorhouse.com/

Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]

I’ve been looking forward to staying in Castlecor house, after seeing a photograph of its incredible octagonal room.

Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]

The website tells us:

The construction of this magnificent residence, as it stands today, spanned 300 years, originally built in the mid 1700’s as a Hunting Lodge with additions in the 19th & 20th century. 

The website continues: “It was built by the Very Revd. Cutts Harman (1706 – 1784), son of the important Harman family of nearby Newcastle House [which offers accommodation]. He was Dean of Waterford cathedral from 1759 and was married to Bridget Gore (1723-1762) from Tashinny [Tennalick, now a ruin, which passed from the Sankey family to the Gore family by the marriage of Bridget’s mother Bridget Sankey to George Gore, son of Sir Arthur Gore, 1st Baronet of Newtown Gore, County Mayo] in c. 1740.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (www.buildingsofIreland.ie) gives the building an unusually long appraisal which explains the unusual building:

It was originally built as a symmetrical two-storey block on octagonal-plan with short (single-room) projecting wings to four sides (in cross pattern on alternating sides), and with tall round-headed window openings between to the remaining four walls. The single wide room to the octagon at first floor level has an extraordinary central chimneypiece (on square-plan) with marble fireplaces to its four faces; which are framed by Corinthian columns that support richly-detailed marble entablatures over. The marble fireplaces themselves are delicately detailed with egg-and-dart mouldings and are probably original. This room must rank as one of the most unusual and interesting rooms built anywhere in Ireland during the eighteenth-century.

Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “The single wide room to the octagon at first floor level has an extraordinary central chimneypiece (on square-plan) with marble fireplaces to its four faces; which are framed by Corinthian columns that support richly-detailed marble entablatures over. The marble fireplaces themselves are delicately detailed with egg-and-dart mouldings and are probably original.” [1]
Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “The walls of the octagonal room are decorated with Neo-Egyptian artwork.” [1]
Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]

The National Inventory continues: “The walls of the octagonal room are decorated with Neo-Egyptian artwork, which may have been inspired by illustrations in Owen Jones’ book ‘Decoration’, published in 1856. The inspiration for this distinctive octagonal block is not known. Some sources suggest an Italian inspiration, such as the pattern books of the noted architect Sebastiano Serlio (1475 – 1554) [Mark Bence-Jones suggests this [2]], or that it was based on the designs of the much larger hunting lodge (Palazzina di caccia of Stupinigi) that was built for the Duke of Savoy, near Turin, between 1729 and c. 1731 (The later seems a highly fanciful idea but there are some similarities in plan, albeit on a much larger scale at Stupinigi); while Craig (1977, 15) suggests that the ‘inspiration is clearly the hunting lodge at Clemenswerth in Lower Saxony, Germany’, which was constructed between 1737 – 1747 to designs by Johann Conrad Schlaun for Prince Clemens August, a structure that Castlecor resembles in terms of scale and plan. However, it may be that the plan of this building was inspired by William Halfpenny (died 1755), an English Palladian architect who created a number of unexecuted designs for Waterford Church of Ireland cathedral and for an associated bishop’s palace from c. 1739. Interestingly, a number of these unexecuted plans for the bishop’s palace included a central octagonal block with projecting wings, while a number of the church plans included an unusual separate baptismal building attached to the nave, which is also on an octagonal-plan. The Very Revd. Cutts Harman may well have been aware of Halfpenny’s unexecuted designs, being Dean of the cathedral from 1759 and was probably associated with the diocese from an earlier date, and perhaps he used these as his inspiration for the designs of Castlecor. The central four-sided chimneypiece is reminiscent of the centerpiece of the Rotunda of Ranelagh Gardens, London, (built to designs by William Jones 1741 – 2; demolished c. 1803) albeit on a much reduced scale at Castlecor. The plan of Castlecor is also similar to a number of buildings (some not executed) in Scotland, including Hamilton Parish Church (built c. 1733 to designs by William Adam (1698 – 1748) and the designs for a small Neoclassical villa prepared by James Adam (1732 – 92), c. 1765, for Sir Thomas Kennedy. The exact construction date of Castlecor is not known, however the traditional building date is usual given as c. 1765. The architectural detailing to the interior of the original block, and perhaps the personal life of Very Revd. Cutts Harman (married in 1751 to a daughter of Lord Annaly of Tennalick 13402348; his duties at Waterford cathedral from 1759; Cutts Harmon leased out a number of plots of land in Longford from c. 1768) would suggest an earlier date of, perhaps, the 1740s. The architect is also unknown although it is possible that Harman designed the house himself (perhaps inspired by a pattern book or by Halfpenny’s unexecuted designs); while Craig (1977) suggest that the architect may have been Davis Ducart (Daviso de Arcort; died 1780/1), an Italian or French architect and engineer who worked extensively in Ireland (particularly the southern half of the island) during the 1760s and 1770s.” We saw Ducart’s work at Kilshannig in County Cork, another section 482 property, see my entry [3].

Castlecor House, County Longford, see the octagonal Great Hall in the centre of the house. photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1].
Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]
Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]

The website tells us:”The Rev. Cutts Harman who had Castlecor built died without issue, it was inherited by his niece’s son [or was it his sister Anne’s son? If so, it was her son Lawrence Harman Parsons (1749-1807); she married Laurence Parsons, 3rd Baronet of Birr Castle. Her son added Harman to his surname when he inherited Castlecor from his uncle], Laurence Harman- Harman, later Lord Oxmantown, and finally Earl of Rosse. Peyton Johnston, the Earl’s nephew, rented the house during this time. Captain Thomas Hussey, Royal Marines; purchased Castlecor in c.I820. There is very little documentary evidence relative to Captain Hussey’s occupancy. He resided there from 1832/3 to 1856 and was High Sheriff of Longford.

Mark Bence-Jones adds: “To make the house more habitable, a conventional two storey front was built onto it early in C19, either by Peyton Johnston, who rented the house after it had been inherited by the Earl of Rosse, or by Thomas Hussey, the subsequent tenant who bought the property ante 1825. This front joins two of the wings so that its ends and theirs form obtuse angles. In the space between it and the octagon is a top-lit stair. Early in the present century, a wider front of two storeys and three bays in C18 manner, with a tripartite pedimented doorway, was built onto the front of the early C19 front. Castlecor subsequently passed to a branch of the Bonds, and was eventually inherited by Mrs C. J. Clerk (nee Bond).”

Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]

The National Inventory continues to tell us the history of the house: “The building was extended c. 1850 (the house appears on its original plan on the Ordnance Survey first edition six-inch map 1838) by the construction of a two-storey block to the northeast corner of the house, between two of the wings of the original structure. The earlier wing to the west may have been extended at this time also. The lion’s head motifs to the rainwater goods throughout the building (built around and before c. 1850) are very similar to those found at the gate lodge serving Castlecor to the northwest, built c. 1855, suggesting that the house was altered at this time, possibly as part of wider program of works at the estate.”

The lion’s head motifs to the rainwater goods throughout the building: Castlecor House, County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]

The National Inventory continues: “The projection to the south wing having the box bay window also looks of mid-to-late nineteenth century date and may also have been added at this time. The Castlecor estate was bought by the Hussey family during the late-eighteenth century following the death of Cutts Harman, and the first series of works may have been carried out when Capt. Thomas Hussey (1777 – 1866), High Sheriff of Longford from 1840 – 44, was in residence. However, the Castlecor estate was offered for sale by Commissioners of Incumbered Estates in 1855 when it was bought by a branch of the Bond family and, perhaps, the house was extended just after this date by the new owners. The Bonds were an important landed family in Longford at the time, and owned a number of estates to the centre of the county, to the north of Castlecor, and a branch also lived at adjacent Moygh/Moigh House (13402606) [still standing and in private hands] during the second half of the nineteenth century. Thomas Bond (1786 – 1869) [of Edgeworthstown] was probably the first Bond in residence at Castlecor. A John Bond, later of Castlecor, was High Sheriff of Longford in 1856. The last Bond owner/resident was probably a Mrs Clerk (nee Bond) [Emily Constance Smyth Bond] who was in residence in 1920. She married a Charles James Clerk (J.P. and High Sheriff of Longford in 1906) in 1901/2, and he was responsible for the three-bay two-storey block that now forms the main entrance, built c. 1913. This block was built to designs by A. G. C. Millar, an architect based on Kildare Street, Dublin. This block is built in a style that is reminiscent of a mid-eighteenth century house, having a central pedimented tripartite doorcase and a rigid symmetry to the front elevation. The house became a convent (Ladies of Mary) sometime after 1925 until c. 1980, and was later in use as a nursing home until c. 2007. This building, particularly the original block, is one of the more eccentric and interesting elements of the built heritage of Longford, and forms the centrepiece of a group of related structures.” [1]

The website tells us that the four wings adjoining the original octagonal hunting lodge align with the four cardinal compass points.

In 2009, the current owners Loretta Grogan and Brian Ginty set about purchasing the house, with the aspiration to restore Castlecor House, its grounds, native woodland and walled garden with pond and orchard to its former glory, opening it to the public by appointment and also welcoming guests.

2. Maria Edgeworth Visitor Centre, Longford, County Longford.

https://www.discoverireland.ie/longford/the-maria-edgeworth-visitor-centre

Maria Edgeworth Visitors Centre, Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, photo by Dympna Reilly 2020 ©Longford County Council, Ireland’s Content Pool (see [15])

The Maria Edgeworth Centre, in County Longford, is located in one of Ireland’s oldest school buildings that opened in 1841. Using a combination of audio, imagery and interactive displays, the centre tells the story of the Edgeworth family and the origins of the National School system. You will also learn about the role the family played in the educational, scientific, political and cultural life in Ireland. Maria Edgeworth was a notable pioneer of literature and education, a feminist and a social commentator of her time. Audios and displays are available in seven languages.”

3. Moorhill House, Castlenugent, Lisryan, Co. Longford – section 482

contact: Michael O’Donnell
Tel: 047-81952
Open: Aug 1-31, Sept 1-29, 9.30am-1.30pm
Fee: adult/OAP/student/child €8

Moorhill House, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.[4]

The National Inventory describes it:

Detached three-bay two-storey over basement house on L-shaped plan, built c. 1815, having two-storey-storey return to rear (northwest) with pitched slate roof. Two-storey extension attached to the northwest end of rear return. Recently renovated. Possibly incorporating fabric of earlier building/structure. …This appealing and well-proportioned middle-sized house, of early nineteenth-century appearance, retains its early form, character and fabric. Its form is typical of houses of its type and date in rural Ireland, with a three-bay two-storey main elevation, hipped natural slate roof with a pair of centralised chimneystacks, and central round-headed door opening with fanlight. The influence of classicism can be seen in the tall ground floor window openings and the rigid symmetry to the front facade. The simple doorcase with the delicate petal fanlight over provides a central focus and enlivens the plain front elevation. The return to the rear has unusually thick walls and a relative dearth of openings, possibly indicating that it contains earlier fabric. This house forms an interesting group with the entrance gates to the southeast, the outbuildings (13401509) and walled garden to the rear, and the highly ornate railings to the southwest side featuring a sinuous vine leaf motif. The quality of these railings is such that their appearance is equally fine from both sides, the vine leaves being cast in three dimensions. They are notable examples of their type and date, and add substantial to the setting of this fine composition, which is an important element of the built heritage of the local area. Moorhill was the home of a R. (Robert or Richard) Blackall, Esq. in 1837 (Lewis). The Blackalls were an important family in the locality and built nearby Coolamber Manor c. 1837 [built for Major Samuel Wesley Blackhall (1809 – 1871)…to designs by the eminent architect John Hargrave (c. 1788 – 1833). Hargrave worked extensively in County Longford during the 1820s and was responsible for the designs for the governor’s house at Longford Town Jail in 1824; works at Ardagh House in 1826; the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Church of Ireland church at Newtown-Forbes; the remodelling of Castle Forbes, nearby Farragh/Farraghroe House (demolished); Doory Hall now ruinous; St. Paul’s Church of Ireland church, Ballinalee; and possibly for the designs of St. Catherine’s Church of Ireland church at nearby Killoe. …and [Coolamber Manor] may have replaced an earlier house associated with the Blackall family at Coolamber (a Robert Blackall (1764 – 1855), father of the above, lived in Longford in the late-eighteenth century)].

Moorhill House “was possibly the home of Robert Blackall, the father of Samuel Wensley, who was responsible for the construction of Coolamber Manor and later served as M.P. (1847 – 51) for the county before serving as Governor of Queensland, Australia from 1868 until his death in 1871. Moorhill may have been the residence of a Francis Taylor in 1894 (Slater’s Directory).”

Places to stay, County Longford:

1. Castlecor House, County Longford – see above

https://castlecorhouse.com/

2. Newcastle House Hotel, Ballymahon, County Longford

https://www.newcastlehousehotel.ie

Newcastle House (now a hotel), County Longford, photograph from Newcastlehousehotel.ie
photograph from the Newcastlehousehotel.ie

Newcastle House is a 300-year-old manor house, set on the banks of the River Inny near Ballymahon, in Co. Longford.

The website tells us; “Standing on 44 acres of mature parkland and surrounded by 900 acres of forest, Newcastle House is only one and half hour’s drive from Dublin, making it an excellent base to see, explore and enjoy the natural wonders of Ireland. So whether you are looking for a peaceful place to stay (to get away from it all) or perhaps need a location to hold an event, or that most important wedding, give us a call.”

Newcastle House (now a hotel), County Longford, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [5]

The website previously included a brief history of the inhabitants of Newcastle:

Newcastle Wood was once part of Newcastle Demesne, an estate of some 11,000 hectares run by the King- Harman family in the 1800’s. The beautiful, historic nearby Newcastle House was where the King- Harmans lived and there are many features and place names in the woodland which refer back to that time.

We came across Lawrence Harman Parsons (1749-1807) who became the 1st Earl of Rosse, and who added Harman to his surname to become Lawrence Harman Parsons Harman, when he inherited Castlecor in County Longford. He married Jane King, daughter of Edward Thomas King, 1st Earl of Kingston, from Boyle, County Roscommon. They had a daughter, Frances Parsons-Harmon, who married Robert Edward King (1773-1854), 1st Viscount Lorton of Boyle, County Roscommon. Their second son, Lawrence Harman King assumed the additional name of Harman to become Lawrence Harman King-Harman (1816-1875). It was his family who lived at Newcastle Wood.

The old website continued: “The King- Harmans were generally regarded as good landlords by the local populace. They employed many local people in all sorts of trades. The last of the King- Harmans died in 1949. King- Harman sold lands to the Forestry Department in 1934 and over the following two years it was planted with a mixture of coniferous and broadleaf trees.

Then National Inventory describes the house:

Detached double-pile seven-bay three-storey over basement former country house, built c. 1730 and altered and extended at various dates throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, having curvilinear Dutch-type gable to the central bay and later gable-fronted single-bay single-storey entrance porch with matching curvilinear Dutch-type gable to the centre of the main block (southeast elevation), built c. 1820. Advanced three-bay single-storey over basement wing flanking main block to northeast, and advanced four-bay two-storey over basement wing flanking main block to southwest, both built c. 1785. Recessed single-bay single-storey over basement Tudor Gothic style addition attached to northeast elevation having gable-fronted rear elevation and chamfered corners at ground floor level having dressed ashlar limestone masonry , built c. 1850, and two-storey extension to southwest, built c. 1880. Possibly incorporating the fabric of earlier house(s) to site c. 1660. Later in use as a convent and now in use as a hotel…Round-headed door opening to front face of porch (southeast) having carved limestone surround with architrave, square-headed timber battened door with decorative cast-iron hinge motifs, wrought-iron overlight, and having moulded render label moulding over.Painted stuccoed ceilings and ceiling cornices, some with a neoclassical character, a number of early panelled timber doors and marble fireplaces survive to interior...” [5]

Newcastle House, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “Round-headed door opening to front face of porch (southeast) having carved limestone surround with architrave, square-headed timber battened door with decorative cast-iron hinge motifs, wrought-iron overlight, and having moulded render label moulding over.” The Inventory tells us that the carved coat of arms is probably of the King family. [5]
Newcastle House, photograph from Newcastlehousehotel.ie: “Painted stuccoed ceilings and ceiling cornices, some with a neoclassical character.” [5]
photograph from the Newcastlehousehotel.ie

Before belonging to the King-Harman family, Newcastle belonged to the Sheppard family. It came to the King-Harman family through the marriage of Frances Sheppard (d. 1766) daughter of Anthony Sheppard of Newcastle to Wentworth Harman (d. 1714) of Moyle, County Longford.

The National Inventory adds:

The lands and house at Newcastle were successively in the possession of the Chappoyne/Chappayne/Choppin, the Sheppard, the Harman and the King-Harman families. The earliest mention of the estate is references to an Anthony Chappoyne at Newcastle in 1660, although this may have been the site of an earlier ‘castle’ from as early as the fourteenth century (as the placename suggests). In 1680 a Robert Choppayne appears to have purchased/consolidated the lands of Newcastle from Gerald Fitzgerald, 17th Earl of Kildare. Dowdall (1682) describes the site as ‘..on the southside of the river is Newcastle, the antient Estate of the Earl of Kildare now the estate and habitation of Robert Choppin Esqr where he hath lately built a fair house and a wooden bridge over said river’. The estate passed into the ownership of Anthony Sheppard (born 1668 – 1738), heir (son?) of Robert Chappoyne, c. 1693, who served as High Sheriff of County Longford in 1698. His son, also Anthony, was M.P. for Longford in 1727. The estate later passed by marriage into the ownership into the Harman family at the very end of the seventeenth century. Robert Harman (1699 – 1765; M.P. for Longford c. 1760 -5) [son of Wentworth Harman and Frances Sheppard] was in possession of the estate of much of the middle of the eighteenth century and it is likely that he was responsible for much of the early work on the house. The Very Revd. Cutts Harman, who built the quirky hunting/fishing lodge at nearby Castlecor, inherited the house c. 1765 following the death of his brother Robert. The estate later passed into the ownership of Lawrence Parsons-Harman (1749 – 1807) in 1784 (M.P. for Longford 1776 – 1792; Baron Oxmantown in 1792; Viscount Oxmantown in 1795; Earl of Rosse 1806; sat was one of the original Irish Representative Peers in the British House of Lords) and he greatly increased the Newcastle estate, and by his death (1807) its size had doubled to approximately 31,000 acres in size. It is likely that he was responsible for the construction of the side wings to the main block and general improvements to the house from 1784. The estate passed into the ownership of his wife Jane, Countess of Rosse (who partially funded the construction of a number of Church of Ireland churches and funded a number of schools in County Longford during the first half of the nineteenth century), who left the estate to her grandson Laurence King-Harman (1816 – 1878) after falling out with her son. Laurence King-Harman has probably responsible for the vaguely Tudor Gothic extension to the northeast elevation. The brick chimneystacks also look of mid-nineteenth century date and may have been added around the same time this wing was constructed. The King family had extensive estates in Ireland during the nineteenth century, owning the magnificent Rockingham House (demolished) and King House [also a Section 482 property which I hope to visit later this year], Boyle, both in County Roscommon; as well as Mitchelstown Castle in County Cork, burnt in 1922 (memorial plaques and carved stone heads from Mitchelstown Castle were built into the northeast elevation of Newcastle House c. 1925, but have been removed and returned to Cork in recent years). The estate reached its largest extent in 1888, some 38,616 acres in size, when Wentworth Henry King-Harman was in residence. The estate was described in 1900 as ‘a master-piece of smooth and intricate organisation, with walled gardens and glasshouses, its diary, its laundry, its carpenters, masons and handymen of all estate crafts, the home farm, the gamekeepers and retrievers kennels, its saw-mill and paint shop and deer park for the provision of venison. The place is self supporting to a much greater degree than most country houses in England’. The estate went in to decline during the first decades of the twentieth century, and with dwindled in size to 800 acres by 1911. The house and estate remained in the ownership of the King-Harman family until c. 1951, when Capt. Robert Douglas King-Harman sold the house to an order of African Missionary nuns (house and contents sold for £11,000). It was later in use as a hotel from c. 1980.” [5]

photograph from the Newcastlehousehotel.ie

3. Viewmount House, Longford

http://www.viewmounthouse.com

Viewmount House, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [6]

The website tells us:

Discover this boutique gem, a secret tucked away in the heart of Ireland. This magnificent 17th century manor is complemented by its incredible countryside surroundings, and by the four acres of meticulously-maintained garden that surround it. Within the manor you’ll find a place of character, with open fires, beautiful furniture, fresh flowers and Irish literature. The manor retains its stately, historic charm, and blends it with thoughtful renovation that incorporates modern comfort.

Here, you will unwind into the exceptionally relaxing atmosphere, a restful world where all you hear is peace, quiet and birdsong.

This house was advertised for sale in recent years. The National Inventory describes it:

Detached three-bay three-storey house, built c. 1750 and remodeled c. 1860, having single-bay single-storey porch with flat roof to the centre of the front elevation (north). Renovated c. 1994. Formerly in use as a Church of Ireland charter school (c. 1753 – 1826)…This elegant mid-sized Georgian house is a fine example of the language of classical architecture reduced to its essential elements. It retains its early character and form despite recent alterations….Set in extensive mature grounds, this fine structure is a worthy addition to the architectural heritage of County Longford….This house was the home of the Cuffe family during the first half of the eighteenth century. It was later inherited by Thomas Pakenham (later [1st] Baron Longford [of Pakenham Hall, or Tullynally, County Westmeath, another section 482 property, see my entry]) following his marriage to Elizabeth Cuffe (1714-94) in 1739 or 1740. It is possible that Viewmount House was constructed shortly after this date and it may have replaced an earlier Cuffe family house on or close to the present site. The house was never lived in by the Pakenham family but it was used by their agent to administer the Longford estate, c. 1860. It was apparently in use as a charter school from 1753 until 1826, originally founded under the patronage of Thomas Pakenham. There is a ‘charter school’ indicated here (or close to here) on the Taylor and Skinner map (from Maps of the Roads of Ireland) of the area, dated between 1777 – 1783. A ‘free charter school’ at Knockahaw, Longford Town, with 32 boys, is mentioned in an Irish Education Board Report, dated 1826 – 7 (Ir. Educ. Rept 2, 692 – 3).” [6]

[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13402608/castlecor-house-castlecore-longford

[2] p. 66. 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] www.irishhistorichouses.com/2020/12/10/kilshannig-house-rathcormac-county-cork/

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13401508/moorhill-house-castlenugent-longford

[5] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13402709/newcastle-house-newcastle-newcastle-demesne-longford

[6] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13007038/viewmount-house-knockahaw-longford

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

Office of Public Works properties County Cork, Munster

Munster’s counties are Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

I have noticed that an inordinate amount of OPW sites are closed ever since Covid restrictions, if not even before that (as in Emo, which seems to be perpetually closed).

Cork:

1. Annes Grove, County Cork

2. Barryscourt Castle, County Cork – currently closed (June 2022)

3. Charles Fort, County Cork

4. Desmond Castle, Kinsale, County Cork – currently closed

5. Doneraile Court, County Cork – house currently closed

6. Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens, County Cork

7. Ilnacullin, Garanish Island, County Cork

Cork:

1. Annes Grove, Castletownroche, County Cork:

Annes Grove, County Cork, 1981 from Dublin City Library and Archives. [1]

Tel: 022 26145, annesgrove@eircom.net

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/annes-grove-gardens/

This is due to be open soon by the OPW. It does not have a website yet. In December 2015 Annes Grove House and Garden were donated to the state by the Annesley family.

Nestled into an eighteenth century ornamental glen, adjacent to the River Awbeg, the demesne of Annes Grove in north County Cork is the setting for the most exquisite Robinsonian-style gardens in Ireland….

The Gardens at Annes Grove were largely the creation of Richard Grove Annesley in the first half of the twentieth century.” [2]

Annes Grove, County Cork, 1981 from Dublin City Library and Archives. [see 1]

The estate was previously known as Ballyhimmock, and it was acquired by William Grove around 1626.

In 1792 it was inherited by Arthur Grove Annesley (1774-1849) from an aunt by marriage, heiress to the Grove family, after which it was renamed by merging the two family names. [3] Arthur Grove Annesley’s uncle Francis Charles Annesley, 1st Earl Annesley of Castlewellan, County Down, married Mary Grove who inherited the estate from her father.

At the centre of the garden is a restored Gothic style summerhouse. The main house is of Queen Anne design, from the 18th century. Pergolas, a lily pond, Victorian stone fernery, a woodland walk and river garden, a rockery and wild water garden create an atmospheric setting.

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

2. Barryscourt Castle, County Cork:

Barryscourt Castle by Julia Delio, flickr constant commons, August 2009.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/barryscourt-castle/:

Barryscourt Castle was the seat of the great Anglo-Norman Barry family and is one of the finest examples of a restored Irish Tower House. Dating from between 1392 and 1420, the Castle has an outer bawn wall and largely intact corner towers. The ground floor of the Tower House contains a dungeon into which prisoners were dropped via the ‘drop-hole’ located on the second floor.

The Barrys supported the Fitzgeralds of Desmond during the Irish rebellions of the late sixteenth century. To prevent it being captured by Sir Walter Raleigh and his army, the Barrys [David Barry, 5th Viscount Barry (1550-1617)] partially destroyed the Castle.

During the Irish Confederate War of the seventeenth century Barryscourt Castle was once again successfully attacked.  Cannon balls lodged in the wall above the Castle entrance bear witness to this conflict. The last head of the Barry family was Lord David Barry.

Barryscourt Castle has been extensively restored. The Main Hall and Great Hall have been completed and fittings and furnishings reinstated. Within the Castle grounds, the herb and knot garden and the charming orchard have been restored to their original sixteenth century design.

After David Barry’s death in 1617 the family made Castlelyons their principal seat (now a ruin). The castle was restored by the OPW and the Barryscourt Trust between 1987-1993, with reproduction furniture made by Victor Chinnery. [4]

An article in the Irish Examiner by Padraig Hoare published 22nd May 2021 tells us that the site is closed and will be for some time:

A reopening date must be established for one of East Cork’s most historic landmarks after languishing in the midst of safety works for five years.

That is according to Cork East TD Séan Sherlock, who said Barryscourt Castle in Carrigtwohill has to be a priority for the Government body in charge of the facility, the Office of Public Works (OPW).

History enthusiasts and families alike were disappointed in the summer of 2020, when it emerged that Barryscourt Castle would remain closed for another 18 months.

The latest update from the OPW given in response to a parliamentary question from Mr Sherlock suggests it may be even longer than the date anticipated a year ago.

The Department of Public Expenditure said restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic “has disrupted the good progress” of works being done to make the facility safe.

It is not possible at this time to give a precise date for reopening to the public,” the department said.

3. Charles Fort, Summer Cove, Kinsale, County Cork:

The Soldiers Quarters, the Hospital ward, the Lighthouse (by Robert Reading) and Magazine of the 17th Century Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [5]

General Enquiries: 021 477 2263, charlesfort@opw.ie

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/charles-fort-national-monument/

From the OPW website:

As one of the country’s largest military installations, Charles Fort has been part of some of the most momentous events of Irish history. During the Williamite Wars, for example, it withstood a 13-day siege before it fell. Later, in the Civil War of the early 1920s, anti-Treaty forces on the retreat burned it out.

Charles Fort is a massive star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century, well preserved despite its history. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, is credited with designing it. Its dimensions are awe-inspiring – some of the outer defences are 16 metres high.

The view from the ramparts looking out over Kinsale Harbour is spectacular.

The Soldiers Quarters, and Magazine of the 17th Century Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [see 5]
The seaward Devils Bastion and lighthouse of the 17th Century Charles Fort, with Kinsale boatyard in the background, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland; Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [see 5]

4. Desmond Castle (also known as the French Prison), Kinsale, County Cork:

Desmond Castle Kinsale 1941, photograph from Dublin City Library archives. [see 1]

General Enquiries: 021 477 4855, desmondcastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/desmond-castle-kinsale/:

Desmond Castle in Kinsale dates from around 1500. It is a classic urban tower house, consisting of a three-storey keep with storehouses to the rear.

Maurice Bacach Fitzgerald, the earl of Desmond, originally built the castle as the customs house for the town. [I think this must be the 9th Earl of Desmond – JWB] It served as a prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because it usually held French inmates, as well as Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch and Americans, it became known locally as the French Prison and carries that name to this day. The building was co-opted as an ordnance store during the momentous Battle of Kinsale (1601) and served as a workhouse during the Great Famine.

Desmond Castle certainly had a colourful history and this continued into the twentieth century. In the early 1900s it was used as a venue to host local Gaelic League meetings. Finally, in the 1930s, a thriving undertaking business operated from within the National Monument.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us:

Freestanding three-bay three-storey tower house, commenced c.1500, abutting earthen terrace to rear. Attached cell blocks and exercise yards to rear (north-west) and platform to side (north-east). Historically used as magazine (1600-1601), as prison for foreign prisoners (1601-1790) and as borough jail (1791-1846). Restored in 1938 currently in use as museum.

5. Doneraile Court, County Cork:

Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020. Tooled limestone porch with deep entablature, Ionic pilasters and columns, a heavy balustraded parpapet and swan neck doorcase. Oval heraldic motif to centre of parapet has curvilinear, foliate and wreath-swag decorative surround. Frank Keohane tells us that the porch is probably designed by G. R. Pain, added in the 1820s.

General enquiries: 046 942 3175, donerailecourt@opw.ie

https://doneraileestate.ie/

From the website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/doneraile-wildlife-park/:

Doneraile Court towers majestically over the glorious Doneraile Park, a 160-hectare landscaped parkland and wildlife estate.

The house was built by the St Leger family around 1645 on the site of a ruined castle. By the time it was refurbished in the mid-eighteenth century it had become an outstanding example of Georgian architecture. Its associations range from links to the famous St Leger Stakes in horse racing and literature, with famous Irish writers such as Elizabeth Bowen. [A horse race took place in 1742 in which Edmund Burke and Cornelius O’Callaghan met a bet as to whose horse could cover the distance fastest between the church steeples of Buttevant and Doneraile. This gave rise to the term “steeplechasing.”]

Thirteen generations of the St Leger family lived at Doneraile over three centuries. The family had some extraordinary members. For example, Elizabeth St Leger made history when she became the first woman Freemason in the world in 1712.

Elizabeth (1695-1772) was the daughter of Arthur, 1st Viscount Doneraile. He was an active Freemason and sometimes hosted lodge meetings at his home. The story has it that Elizabeth fell asleep in the library, and woke to hear a secret Masonic ceremony taking place. When the Freemasons discovered that she had heard their secret, she had to be sworn in as a member in order to protect their privacy! She remained a member, as can be seen wearing Masonic symbols in portraits. She married Colonel Richard Aldworth, High Sheriff of County Cork.

The fine parklands are designed in the naturalistic style of the famous Capability Brown. They include many beautiful water features, plus a parterre walled garden and gardeners’ cottages. There are numerous pathways and graded walks. Lucky visitors might just spot some of the red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle that live on the estate.” [6]

The house remained in the hands of the St. Leger family until 1969. Following decades of care by the Irish Georgian Society, it passed to the OPW in 1994.

Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.

From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage:

“Detached three-storey over half basement country house, built c. 1730, containing fabric of earlier house, built c. 1645. Possibly also incorporating fabric of medieval castle. Extended 1805, conservatory added 1825, extended 1869, and also incorporating other nineteenth-century additions.”

The 1730s work on the house was carried out for Arthur St. Leger, 2nd Viscount Doneraile (1694-1734). Mark Bence-Jones suggests that it was the work of architect Isaac Rothery, but Frank Keohane suggests it could have been Benjamin Crawley. [7] The bow-ended block on the left of the garden front was added 1756-58, payment was made for this to architect Thomas Roberts.

National Inventory Appraisal: “The artist who created the ornate plaster work to the interior is unknown, but was clearly highly skilled. Doneraile Park is associated with Edmund Spenser the poet, who refers to the River Awbeg which flows through the park as the ‘gentle mulla’. The lands were bought by William St Ledger from the Spensers [William St. Leger (1586-1642), Privy Counsellor, Lord President of Munster, 1627, MP for Cork County, 1634, who was appointed, in that year, Sergeant-Major-General in the Army, employed to fight against the rebels in Ireland – JWB].

The timber panelled room to the interior is original to the earliest incarnation of the house. It is thought that it was here that Elizabeth St Ledger [1695-1772] was initiated as one of only three female members of freemasons in history after eavesdropping on a meeting. Added to this association with important historical characters, Doneraile Court represents more than three hundred years of construction and alteration, with different architectural features representing each phase.”

The bow ends on the front facade were built when improvements were made by the Hayes St. Leger 2nd Viscount of the second creation (1755-1819), between 1804-1808. At this time a new kitchen was added to the back of the house along with a now-lost Gothic conservatory.

The Hall was remodelled in the 1820s, when it was extended into the new porch. It has a screen of paired Ionic pillars, a frieze decorated with rosettes and an acanthus ceiling rose.

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“…On the other side of the house, a wing containing a new dining room was added 1869 by 4th Viscount Doneraile of the later creation. At the back of the hall is an oval late-Georgian staircase hall in which a staircase with slender wooden balusters rises gracefully to the top of the house beneath of ceiling of Adamesque plasterwork. To  the right of the staircase hall is one of the rooms of the original house, with a corner fireplace and fielded panelling; it was possibly in here that, ca 1713, Elizabeth St Leger was initiated as one of the only three women Freemasons in history, after she had been caught spying on a Lodge meeting held by her father. Behind this room was the vast and splendid dining room of 1869 which formerly had an immense mahogany sideboard in a mirrored alcove confronting a full-length portrait of the 4th Viscount with his favourite hunter. He was one of the greatest Victorian hunting men; ironically, he died of rabies through being bitten by a pet fox.  The three drawing rooms on the other side of the house are early C19 in character and probably date from the reconstruction after the fire; they have simple but elegant friezes, overdoors with volutes and windows going right down to the floor.  The long connection of the St Legers with Doneraile ended when Mary, Viscountess Doneraile died 1975. The garden, which boasts of a Lime Walk and a long “fishpond” or canal surviving from the original C18 layout, is now maintained by the Dept of Lands; as is the park, in which there is still a herd of red deer. The house, after standing empty for several years and becoming almost derelict, is in the process of being restored by the Irish Georgian Society, with a view to finding someone who would be willing to take it on. The 1869 dining room wing has been demolished.” [8]

From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “Floating elliptical winder staircase with curved newel post and turned timber banisters. Timber treads with carved timber panels to side. Decorative render roses under stair. Ornate Adam-style ceiling with central ceiling rose and decorative fluted surround to stair ceiling.”

The staircase hall is lit by a tall round-arched window above an elliptical window.
The ceiling of Adamesque plasterwork, over the elliptical floating staircase (ie. Neoclassical interior design like the work of Scottish architect William Adams and his sons, most famous of whom are Robert and James).
Memorial to Lady Elizabeth St Leger, Viscountess Doneraile (d. 1761), in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, wife of Hayes St Leger, 4th Viscount Doneraile (1702-1767), daughter of Joseph Dean, Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer and of Margaret Boyle, daughter of Roger Boyle of Castlemartyr in County Cork.
The landscape of Doneraile is laid out in “Capability” Brown style, which is characterized by a natural flowing appearance rather than more formally patterned gardens.

6. Fota Arboretum and Gardens, Carrigtwohill, County Cork

General enquiries: (021) 481 5543 https://fotahouse.com/

fota.arboretum@opw.ie

From the OPW website: https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/fota-arboretum-and-gardens/

Fota House was designed by 19th century architects Richard and William Morrison. From the beautifully proportioned rooms with exquisite plasterwork, to the preserved service wing and kitchens, Fota House offers visitors an intimate look at how life was lived in the past, for the cooks, butlers, footmen and maids who supported the lavish lifestyle of the gentry. Our painting collection is considered to be one of the finest collections of landscape painting outside the National Gallery of Ireland and includes works by William Ashford PRHA, Robert Carver, Jonathan Fisher and Thomas Roberts.” [9]

Front porch of Fota House. Fluted baseless Green Doric columns support a weighty entablature in which wreaths alternate wiht the Barry crest in the metopes.

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

(Smith-Barry (now Villiers)/IFR) After Barry’s Court had been abandoned by the Barrymores, a hunting box was built on the nearby Fota Island, in Cork Harbour, by Hon John Smith-Barry [1725-1784], a younger son of 4th Earl of Barrymore, to whom Fota and some of the other Barrymore estates were given 1714. This house, of three storeys and seven bays, was greatly enlarged ca 1820 by John Smith-Barry [d.1837, grandson of his earlier namesake] to the design of Sir Richard Morrison, so that it became a wide-spreading Regency mansion of stucco with stone dressings. The original house, given a single-storey Doric portico with fluted columns and acroteria beneath a pedimented Wyatt window, remained the centre of the composition; flanked by two storey projecting wings with pedimented ends on the entrance front and curved bows on the garden front. A long two storey service range was added at one side. In 1856, a billiard room wing, in the same style as the Morrison wings but of one storey only, was added on the entrance front, projecting from the end of the service range. The space between this and the main building was filled in ca 1900 by Arthur Smith-Barry, 1st (and last) Lord Barrymore of a new creation [(1843-1925), grandson of John Smith-Barry], with a single-storey range containing a long gallery.” [10]

Frank Keohane tells us that the later John Smith-Barry settled here after his marriage to Eliza Courtenay of Ballyedmond, Midleton, County Cork. He was illegitimate, so perhaps he built the home to establish his reputation. [11] Smith-Barry hired John and William Vitruvius Morrison to enlarge the hunting lodge which had been built by his grandfather. He also built sea walls around the island and re-routed the public road to form a deer park and carriage drives around the shore.

Fota House facing onto the Pleasure Garden, photo by George Munday, 2014, Ireland’s Content Pool. [12]
Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry (1843-1925), 1st Baron Barrymore.

Bence-Jones continues:“The exterior simplicity of Fota is a foil to the splendours within; for the interior has that richness which Sir Richard Morrison and his son, William Vitruvius, were so well able to create. The hall, which runs the entire length of the front of the original house, is divided by screens of paired Ionic columns with yellow scagliola.” The long gallery was designed by William H. Hill.

Fota House, County Cork, August 2020. The hall, which runs the entire length of the front of the original house, is divided by screens of paired Ionic columns with yellow scagliola. The floor is paved with Portland stone with inset iron grilles that served the old central-heating system. The entablatures of plasterwork have the repeating pattern of wreaths and Smith-Barry crests the same as on the porch.
The central compartment of ceiling plasterwork has heavy swagged laurel garlands and lyres.
The ceiling rose in the long hall, with oak leaf wreath entwined with snakes.

To the right of the long hall are the Drawing Room and Library. The Drawing Room is entered via a small ante-room.

The ante-room at Fota.
The ante-room at Fota, with stencilwork by Sibthorpe & Son of Dublin.

The Drawing Room Ceiling has deep borders with floral wreaths containing doves, alternating with lozenges of bay leaf containing Apollonian trophies of musical and hunting instruments. The drawing room and ante-room ceilings were added to in the 1890s with stencilwork and gilding by Sibthorpe & Son of Dublin.

The Drawing Room, Fota.
The Drawing Room, Fota. The fireplaces throughout Fota are of Neoclassical statuary marble, with Ionic columns and friezes enriched with wreaths and garlands.
The Drawing Room, Fota. The ceiling of the drawing room, which entends into one of the bows on the garden front, has a surrounding of foliage, birds and trophies in high relief, similar to that in the library, and late C19 stencilled decoration and panels of pictorial paper in the centre.
The Drawing Room, Fota.
The ceiling of the drawing room, which entends into one of the bows on the garden front, has a surrounding of foliage, birds and trophies in high relief, similar to that in the library, and late C19 stencilled decoration and panels of pictorial paper in the centre.
The Drawing Room, Fota.
The library, Fota.

To the left of the hall is the Dining Room. It has a screen of grey scagliola Corinthian columns at the sideboard end, and rich plasterwork with a ceiling border of vines on a trellis ground and a frieze of bucrania draped with garlands.

There are elaborate plasterwork ceilings in the library and dining room, which are in the Morrison wings, at either end of the hall; the dining room has a screen of grey marble Corinthian columns.
The chimneypiece in the dining room is garlanded with vines and flowers.

Also on display in the main reception rooms is a fine collection of art work described as the most significant of its type outside the National Gallery of Ireland.  Masterpieces of the eighteenth-century Irish Landscape School include works by William Ashford (1746-1824); George Barret (1730-84); Robert Carver (c.1730-91); and Thomas Roberts (1748-78).  Nineteenth-century art is represented by Daniel Maclise (1806-70); Erskine Nicol (1825-1904); and James Arthur O’Connor (1792-1841).  An entire room is dedicated to Irish watercolours and features the work of Mildred Anne Butler (1858-1941); Hugh Douglas Hamilton (c.1740-1808); and George Petrie (1790-1866).” [13]

At the back of the house is the study, which extends into one of the bows. It has a simple frieze of wreaths.

The Study, Fota.

Bence-Jones continues: “A doorway opposite the entrance door leads into the staircase hall, which is of modest size, being the staircase hall of the original house; but it has been greatly enriched with plasterwork. The ceiling is domed, with wreaths on the pendentives and eagles in the lunettes; there is a frieze of wreaths and at the head of the stairs two fluted Tower of Winds columns frame an enchanting vista to a second and smaller staircase, leading up to the top storey.” The stairs are of cantilevered Portland stone, with brass balusters and a mahogany handrail.

The staircase hall, which is of modest size, being the staircase hall of the original house; but it has been greatly enriched with plasterwork. The ceiling is domed, with wreaths on the pendentives and eagles in the lunettes; there is a frieze of wreaths and at the head of the stairs two fluted Tower of Winds columns frame an enchanting vista to a second and smaller staircase, leading up to the top storey. 

At the top of the stairs is a small recess, leading up to the secondary stair, with a pair of shell-headed niches, a Greek-key border and a pair of Tower of the Winds columns. A cross-corridor gives access to the bedrooms, the differing levels resulting in various little lobbies and landings.

The principal bedroom suite is placed over the Dining Room and communicates directly with nurseries in the service wing. The suite contains a boudoir with barrel-vaulted ceiling and a half-dome decorated with doves trailing garlands. Plaster drapery fills the lunette to the vault with a little top-lit skylight at the apex of the dome with amber and blue coloured glazing.

The Boudoir.
The Boudoir.
The Boudoir.

Fota passed to John Smith-Barry’s great-granddaughter Mrs Dorothy Bell (1894-1975), the last of the clan to live on the Barry estates. It was sold to University College Cork and in 1983, Richard Wood took a lease of the house and restored it with John O’Connell as architect, to display his collection of Irish art to the public. It was then sold and the pictures removed, and in 1991 the house and arboretum passed to the Fota Trust and in 1999 extensive conservation work was carried out under the direction of John Cahill of the Office of Public Works. [14]

The Nursery.
The servant’s bedroom.
The game store larder.
The Kitchen.
The back stairs in Fota.

Bence-Jones writes: In mid-C19, James Hugh Smith-Barry laid out formal gardens behind the house, with lawns and hedges, wrought-iron gates and rusticated piers, a temple and an orangery. He also began to plant the arboretum, which has since become world-famous. The planting was continued for more than a century after his death by his son, [Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry (1843-1925)] Lord Barrymore [1st Baron Barrymore], and by Lord Barrymore’s son-in-law and daughter, Major [William Bertram] and Hon Mrs [Dorothy] Bell; in the mild climate of Fota many rare and tender species flourish. The demesne of Fota extends over the entire island, which is skirted by the road and railway from Cork to Cobh; there are impressive Classical entrance gates by Morrison similar to those at Ballyfin, Co Laois and Killruddery, Co Wicklow. On the point of the island is an early C19 castellated turret, by John Hargrave of Cork. Fota was sold 1975 to University College Cork.” 

The OPW website tells us:

The arboretum and gardens on Fota Island, just 16 kilometres from Cork city centre, are an essential destination for any one of a horticultural bent.

The arboretum extends over 11 hectares and contains one of the finest collections of rare, tender trees and shrubs grown outdoors in Europe. The unique conditions at Fota – its warm soil and sheltered location – enable many excellent examples of exotics from the southern hemisphere to flourish.

The gardens include such stunning features as the ornamental pond, formal pleasure gardens, orangery and sun temple. James Hugh Smith-Barry laid them out in the first half of the nineteenth century. Fota House, the Smith-Barrys’ ancestral home, still stands. The house, arboretum and gardens share the island with a hotel and golf resort and a wildlife park. [15]

7. Ilnacullin, Garanish Island, Glengarriff, Bantry, County Cork:

https://garinishisland.ie/plan-a-visit/

Italian garden, Garnish Island, Glengarriff, Beara, Co. Cork, Photograph by Chris Hill 2014, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 5]

general enquiries: (027) 63040

garanishisland@opw.ie

Ilnacullin is an island in the coastal harbour at Glengariff in Bantry Bay. It has an almost sub-tropical climate with mild winters and high levels of rainfall and humidity. These conditions favour the growth of exotic plants. The gardens were set out in the Arts and Crafts style and contain Italianate pavilions and follies, framed against a backdrop of beautiful views.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ilnacullin-garinish-island/:

Ilnacullin is an island garden of diminutive size and rare beauty. Nestled in the sheltered coastal harbour at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, the gardens display a wealth of unique horticultural and architectural gems. Bryce House is a fitting memorial to the visionary creators of this unique place. 

The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the early twentieth-century creative partnership of John Annan and Violet Bryce, the island’s owners, and Harold Peto, an architect and garden designer. The area enjoys a mild and humid micro-climate that makes for spectacular and flourishing plant life all year round.

Small ferry boats and 60-seater waterbuses take visitors to Ilnacullin regularly. The short crossing usually includes an extra treat – a visit to the nearby seal colony and an opportunity to glimpse majestic sea eagles.

The Island was bequeathed to the Irish people by the Bryce’s son, Roland, in 1953 and is cared for by the OPW. Bryce House contains material from the Bryces’s lives, including John Annan Bryce’s collection of Burmese statues, Chinese ceramics, Japanese woodblock prints, metal works and rare exotic objects. There are also Old Master drawings by Salvator Rosa, Mauro Antonio Tesi and Giambattista Tiepolo. Over the years the Bryces hosted prominent cultural figures such as George (AE) Russell, George Bernard Shaw and Agatha Christie. [16] You can see a tour of the house and gardens on the website.

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

[1] https://repository.dri.ie/

[2] p. 12, Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the care of the OPW, Government Publications, Dublin, 2018.

[3] p. 310, Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland. Cork City and County. Yale University Press: New Haven and London. 2020.

[4] p. 261, Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

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

[6] See also https://doneraileestate.ie

[7] p. 377. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

Another work Keohane identifies as being by Benjamin Crawley is Castle Bernard, now a ruin in County Cork:

Castle Bernard, County Cork, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

[8] p. 105. Mark Bence-Jones. 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.

[9] fotahouse.com

[10] p. 127. Mark Bence-Jones. 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.

[11] p. 412. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[12] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/44873

[13] http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/PlacesToSee/Cork/

[14] p. 412. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[15] https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/fota-arboretum-and-gardens/

[16]https://garinishisland.ie/the-house-and-gardens/