24. Trinity Innovation Centre, former Bank, Foster Place, Dublin (Open House 2013)
1. 9/9A Aungier Street, Dublin(Open House 2014)
When remedial works were undertaken the age of this building was discovered. It was first realised it was older than thought when planners appraising development changes noticed the way the fireplace sticks so far out into the room.
2. Belvedere House, 6 Great Denmark Street, Dublin (Open House 2015):
We went into three rooms upstairs, up the beautiful staircase. We weren’t allowed photograph on the tour, unfortunately, in the Apollo Room, Venus Room and Jupiter Room.
Belvedere House is a detached symmetrical five-bay four-storey Georgian townhouse over exposed basement, completed 1786, designed by Robert West who, in addition to being a stuccodore was also an architect and property developer, for George Augustus Rochfort, 2nd Earl of Belvedere. The house was built for £24,000 on what would have been rural green fields with a view of the Custom House, the bay and distant mountains. It is alleged that the house is haunted by Mary Molesworth, the first lady of Belvedere, mother to George Rochfort – we came across her at Belvedere in County Westmeath.
Rochfort was the son of the cruel Robert Rochfort, 1st Earl of Belvedere, who kept his wife under lock and key in the countryside after he believed she had an affair with his brother. Some believe that she was the inspiration for Charlotte Bronte’s “madwoman in the attic.” Robert Rochfort had the summer lodge, Belvedere, built in County Westmeath, now open to the public, which also has fine plasterwork. Robert O’Byrne writes that it was the 1st Earl who bought the property on Great Denmark Street. At first his son attempted to sell the property, but then he finished having the house built. Robert O’Byrne also tells us that it is similar to 86 St Stephen’s Green (Newman House, now housing the Museum of Literature of Ireland (MOLI), which was begun in 1765, and which is also attributed to Robert West.
North Great Georges Street itself was originally laid out in 1774 as a driveway leading to Belvedere House.
In 1841 the house was bought by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) to accommodate their growing boys school which had started life ten years previously around the corner on Hardwicke Street, now known as Belvedere College.
One of the more outstanding features of the house is the stucco-work of Adamesque style popularised by Robert and James Adam. This can be seen in the ornamental surrounds, wherein pictures are framed in plaster rather than oil.
Dublin stuccodore and designer Michael Stapleton (1740-1801) was responsible for this work and further examples of his craftsmanship include the ceiling in the exam hall in Trinity College as well as some of the plasterwork in Powerscourt House in South William Street in Dublin and the Aras an Uachtarain in Phoenix Park.
It seems odd that a house designed by Robert West, however, would have plasterwork by Michael Stapleton. Robert O’Byrne elucidates this for us:
“In 1967 C.P. Curran’s Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the 17th and 18th centuries noted in the collection of drawings left by stuccodore Michael Stapleton several items directly relating to the design of ceilings in Belvedere House. Accordingly, this work was assigned to Stapleton. However, the fact that West was responsible for designing the house complicates matters, and the consensus now appears to be that both he and Stapleton had a hand in the plasterwork. Conor Lucey (in The Stapleton Collection, 2007) suggests that Stapleton may have been apprenticed to, or trained with, West and the fact that he was named the sole executor of the latter’s will in 1790 indicates the two men were close. The source material for the stucco work is diverse, that in the stair hall deriving in part from a plate in Robert Adam’s Works in Architecture, but the first-floor rooms feature a wider range of inspiration, much of it from France and Italy.”
We were given a leaflet, which tells us:
“The ground floor rooms were intended for everyday and business use and therefore are minimally ornamented. However when one ascends they will encounter Stapleton’s stucco-work that depicts scenes from Greek and Roman mythology.On the half-landing the Bacchanalia is celebrated. The left panel depicts Bacchus with his thyrsis and staff, the right panel is Ceres with her cornucopia. The central oval shows Cupid being demoted by the three Graces. The arched window is ornamented with symbols of the authority of ancient Rome. The tall pilasters on each side have the Green anthemion (honeysuckle) motifs.
“At the top of the stairs the panel between the two doors on the right show Juno seated on a cloud with her peacock. The panel on the centre wall is Aurora in her chariot pulled by winged horses. Under this plaque “The New Bride” from an ancient marble popular in 18th century Rome. All the five doors have the same over-door: Silenus, the tutor of Bacchus. On the ceiling, Eros is depicted gazing at Psyche as she sleeps. Next is an Apollo head with winged lions and lastly, Cupid with a flower.
“The door immediately to the right of the stairs leads to the Apollo Room, named after the featured frieze of Apollo the music-maker holding court with attendent putti playing a variety of instruments. The adjoining Diana Room depicts Diana, patron of the chase, in a chariot drawn by stags. The design is taken directly from Pergolesi, however, Stapleton added the outer circle of flowers.
“Finally the Venus Room’s flanking panels have lunettes representing astronomy, architecture and sculpture. Notice the beautiful over-doors in all three rooms, each with the head of the principle subject.”
Notice that Venus was taken down by the Jesuits as she was nude, and it is supposedly in the National Gallery.
3. Blackhall Place (formerly Blue Coat School) Dublin, 2019.
Archiseek tells us that the first Blue Coat School or King’s Hospital was erected in Oxmantown Green between 1669-1673. It was officially named the Hospital and Free School of King Charles II. Orphans were nominated to attend the school by the Alderman or the parish, with funding coming from voluntary donations and from ground rent of St. Stephen’s Green. This building was demolished to make way for the new building, pictured above. The current building was started in 1773. Ivory resigned in disgust before it was finished, due to lack of funds, and only a stub was built instead of his tower, and the stub was removed in 1894 and a dome constructed.
The description of the tour tells us:
“The last of Dublin’s Palladian public buildings, the granite and Portland stone Blue Coat School replaced earlier premises, which had been established by King Charles I in 1671 to care for the sons of impoverished citizens. Construction began in 1773 to designs by Thomas Ivory, however funding issues led to a reduced building programme and Ivory’s departure. In 1894, a copper-clad cupola designed by Robert Stirling was added. Today, the building is home to the Law Society of Ireland, which has taken great care to retain many fine interior features.“
The building now houses the Law Society. It was built as a traditional country house composition with a central block, two wings and connecting passages. The wings have decorations intended to mirror the central tower.
The interior contains plasterwork by Charles Thorpe and carvings by Simon Vierpyl.
4. City Assembly Hall, Dublin (2012 Culture Night)
5.Department of Industry and Commerce, Kildare Street (Open House 2019)
The architect was J. R. Boyd Barrett, who won a competition to built it in 1936. It has a stripped Classical design with an Art Deco entrance bay addition. The external relief sculptures are by Gabriel Hayes. The tall round-headed window passes up through the floors to a keystone of representing Eire, with “jazzy” interstitial panels [Archiseek]. On the Schoolhouse Lane side the keystone represents Brendan the Navigator. The main entrance has a heavy cast bronze gates, and the carved lintel of the doorway represents the celtic god Lugh releasing aeroplanes into the air!
The interiors were also designed by Boyd Barrett and everything from the ashtrays, fireplaces and door handles were specially designed. The interiors feature polished woods and metals and patterned linoleum floors, and the ceilings are deeply coffered.
6. Freemason’s Hall, Molesworth Street (Dublin 2010)
The Freemason’s Hall was built on the site of the townhouse of their first Grand Master, the Earl of Rosse. The building was completed in 1866, designed by Edward Holmes of Birmingham. The architect used three orders on the facade: Doric (lower), Ionic (centre) and Corinthian (upper). The pediment contains the Masonic square and compass.
The inside is an exuberant smorgasbord of themes. The Royal Arch Chapter Room has an Egyptian theme. The Prince Mason’s Chapter Room is Gothic Tudor. The Knights Templar Room is designed as a medieval chapel.
The Irish Builder 1877 described the interior: The main hall “is larger than St. Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle…Along each side are six pillars with Corinthian capitals, and there are two of the same style at each end. These are painted to represent white enamel. The capitals are gilt, the pedestals and lower part of the wall are painted a rich chocolate colour; between the pillars the wall spaces are painted a light dun colour, each space being formed into a large panel by a matted gilt moulding with a deep margin of grey. The pillars support a richly designed and gilt entablature. From this spring five semi-circular arches on each side. These arches contain a series of ten cartoons, illustrative of the building of Solomon’s Temple. The ceiling is intersected by beams, which divide it into five panels, and is painted blue, and studded with gold stars. The intersecting beams, together with the architrave and cornice, are cream colour and white, relieved with gold. The predominating colour in the painting of the hall is blue, in order to meet Masonic requirements, that colour being associated with the lower ranks of the order, and the hall being used for general meetings; but other tints are introduced in sufficient abundance. The cartoons have been painted in sepia by Mr. Edward Gibson, Great Russell Street, London, son of Mr. James Gibson of Mary Street, Dublin, by whom the entire of the rest of the hall was designed and finished...”
Henrietta Crofts, Duchess of Bolton (1682-1730) as shepherdess, by James Maubert. Henrietta Street was named in her honour. Vicereine 1717-1720. She was the daughter of James Crofts (Scott), 1st and last Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of King Charles II. She married Charles Paulet, 2nd Duke of Bolton.
The Archiseek website tells us:
“It was built circa 1730 by Luke Gardiner [1690-1755] as his own residence. The design of the original building has been attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. The building is a three storey, eight bay over basement house with a Venetian window between the second and third bays at first floor level. Two major interiors of the 1730’s survive, the upper part of the original main stair hall and a rear room on the ground floor. The first floor reception rooms were embellished with Rococo plasterwork circa 1760. Luke Gardiner was succeeded on his death in 1755 by his son, the Right Honourable Charles Gardiner PC, MP, Surveyor General of Customs and Ranger of the Phoenix Park [The original house was extended to the west c.1755 by Charles Gardiner]. Following his death in 1769, his son, the right honourable Luke Gardiner MP succeeded. He was created Baron Mountjoy in 1779, Viscount in 1795 and killed in the Battle of New Ross, County Wexford in 1798. He was succeeded by his son Charles John Gardiner, Second Viscount Mountjoy, created Earl of Blessington in 1816.
Luke Gardiner, M.P., (d.1755), Vice-Treasurer of Ireland and building developer in Dublin Engraver John Brooks, Irish, fl.1730-1756 After Charles Jervas, Irish, c.1675-1739, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
The Earl died in 1829 without male heirs and the house was leased to a succession of lawyers becoming the Queen’s Inn Chambers in the late 19th century. It was acquired in the early 20th century by the French Order of Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul to provide relief to distressed females. The work of the order continues today and the building is actively used for a variety of community and social services projects.
The 2001 Europa Nostra Restoration Fund Grant generously contributed to the restoration of the decayed decorative Rococo ceiling on the first floor. The restoration works were also co-funded by a grant from Dublin City Council.”
The Archiseek website quotes The Irish Builder, July 15 1893:
“This magnificent mansion was erected about the year 1725, by the Rt. Hon. Luke Gardiner, grandfather of the 1st Viscount Mountjoy, ancestor of the Earl of Blesinton, and may be described as the Manor House of Henrietta-street. The reception-rooms are seven in number, and the cornices and ceilings are finished in a rich and antique style.
The ball-room is a noble apartment; the architraves of the doors and windows are adorned with fluted Corinthian columns sur mounted by pediments. The drawing-room, to the left of the ante-room on the first floor, possesses a beautifully carved oak cornice, the effect of which is peculiarly striking. The front staircase is spacious and lofty; the walls are panelled, and the ceiling is handsomely ornamented. The principal dining room, looking into the garden, is square, with fine stuccoed ceiling, and walls in square panels stuccoed, the squares broken off at the angles by curves. The architraves of the parlour doors are as rich as carving could make them. There is a mock key-stone or block of wood that for elegant and elaborate carving in relief cannot be surpassed. The stuccoed ceilings are in panels with enriched fillets, quite palatial, and only in the ball room are seen arabesques in the centre. The window of the ball-room, which is over the porte-cochère, has three opes, the centre ope being arched, and this is the only architectural adornment externally. Mountjoy House had originally a fine porte-cochère, or covered carriage entry, arched with cut stone, on the park side, next to the present King’s Inns buildings.” 
See also the wonderfully informative book, The Best Address in Town: Henrietta Street, Dublin and its First Residents 1720-80 by Melanie Hayes, published by Four Courts Press, Dublin 8, 2020.
Robert O’Byrne tells us about the use of papier-mache instead of plaster for some decorative work. He tells us:
“When the house was first built, it featured a double-height entrance containing stairs leading to the first-floor. However, some years after the death of Luke Gardiner in 1755 his son Charles reordered this space to create a single-storey entrance hall, behind which a new staircase hall was instated. Probably around the same time a number of rooms were given new ceilings in the rococo manner. These decorations are important because in the majority of cases they are made not of plaster but papier-mâché. The use of this medium is unusual but not unique – a number of other examples survive elsewhere in the city and in Carton, County Kildare – but it seems strange to find it here. One of the attractions of papier-mâché was its relative cheapness (relative to stuccowork, that is) but the Gardiners were certainly affluent to afford anything they wished. On the other hand, its great merit is easier (and cleaner) installation than plaster, so perhaps this is why papier-mâché was preferred for the redecoration of existing rooms.
It was not used, on the other hand, for the saloon, or ballroom (now used as a chapel), which in its present form looks to have been either added or extended at the time when Charles Gardiner was re-fashioning other spaces in the house.” 
9. 12 Henrietta Street, Dublin – private, sometimes open during Open House Dublin
12 Henrietta Street was first occupied by Sir Gustavus Hume (1677-1731), MP, privy councillor and courtier to King George I. He was the third son of the prominent Ulster-Scot Sir John Hume of Castle Hume (2nd Baronet), County Fermanagh and of Sidney, daughter and co-heiress of James Hamilton of Manor Hamilton, County Leitrim and became 3rd Baronet of Castle Hume (now demolished) when his father died as his two elder brothers predeceased their father. Castle Hume was architect Richard Castle’s first known commission in Ireland. It was pulled down in the 1830s and the materials reused to build Ely Lodge nearby.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us it is:
“Terraced three-bay three-storey house over exposed basement, built c.1730, by Luke Gardiner as pair with No. 11, heavily remodelled c.1780…This house was built as a pair with No. 11, possibly to the designs of Edward Lovett Pearce. It was initially leased to Henry Boyle, Speaker of the House of Commons. Later, the house was leased to the 2nd Earl of Shannon in 1780, and subsequently gutted with the removal of a floor to provide a truly grand piano nobile. The building retains most of the interior detailing from that remodelling including stucco decoration by Charles Thorp, with remnants from the earlier scheme. The house has been undergoing a painstaking programme of conservation works and forms an important part of what has been described as ‘Dublin’s Street of Palaces’ while the ongoing conservation work will contribute to the improving fortunes of this remarkable streetscape. Laid out by Luke Gardiner in the 1720s, Henrietta Street is a short cul-de-sac containing the finest early Georgian houses in the city. It was named after Henrietta Crofts, the third wife of Charles Paulet, 2nd Duke of Bolton and Lord Lieutenant in 1717-21, the street developed in a piecemeal fashion and set the trends of scale and design in domestic architecture.”
See also the wonderfully informative book, The Best Address in Town: Henrietta Street, Dublin and its First Residents 1720-80 by Melanie Hayes, published by Four Courts Press, Dublin 8, 2020.
In 1733 William Stewart (1709-1769), 3rd Viscount Mountjoy and later 1st Earl of Blessington, moved to 12 Henrietta Street.
See also the wonderfully informative book, The Best Address in Town: Henrietta Street, Dublin and its First Residents 1720-80 by Melanie Hayes, published by Four Courts Press, Dublin 8, 2020.
11. Iveagh House (80 and 81 St. Stephen’s Green) – Department of Foreign Affairs(Open House 2014)
The Archiseek website tells us:
“Iveagh House is now the Department of Foreign Affairs as it was donated to the Irish State by the Guinness family in 1939. Originally two houses, nos 80/81 St Stephen’s Green, no 80 was originally designed by Richard Cassels [also spelled “Castle”] in 1736. After both houses were bought by Benjamin Guinness in 1862, he acted as his own architect and produced the current house.
“The Dublin Builder, February 1 1866: ‘In this number we give a sketch of the town mansion of Mr. Benjamin Lee Guinness, M.P , now in course of erection in Stephen’s Green, South, the grounds of which run down to those of the Winter Garden. As an illustration so very quiet and unpretending a front is less remarkable as a work of architectural importance than from the interest which the name of that well-known and respected owner gives it, and from whose own designs it is said to have been built. The interior of the mansion promises to be of a very important and costly character, and to this we hope to have the pleasure of returning on a future occasion when it is more fully advanced. The works, we believe, have been carried out by the Messrs. Murphy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral notoriety, under Mr. Guinness’s own immediate directions, without the intervention of any professional architect.’ “
The building was donated to the Irish government by Benjamin Guinness’s grandson Rupert, the 2nd Earl of Iveagh, in 1939 and was renamed Iveagh House.
12. Iveagh Trust Apartment, Iveagh Buildings(Open House 2014)
The Iveagh Trust buildings were commissioned by the Earl of Iveagh in 1901. The architects were Joseph and Smithem, London architects. The centrepiece of the buildings, built to house people who lived in the slums about St. Patrick’s cathdral, was the Iveagh Baths.
13. Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin – private, home of the Mayor of Dublin (Open House 2015)
The Buildings of Ireland website featured the Mansion House as one of its Buildings of the Month, and tells us that The Mansion House, Dawson Street, is the oldest freestanding house in the city and the only surviving mayoral residence in Ireland.
The Mansion House owes its origins to Joshua Dawson (1660-1725), a member of the Guild of Merchants and at the time the second-wealthiest man in Ireland, who in 1705 purchased a tract of poor marshy ground east of the medieval core of Dublin and within two years had laid out a new street which he named Dawson Street. Work on a suitable townhouse began in 1710 and it is clear that the house was intended as the centrepiece of the new street.
The house, a rare example of a Queen Anne-style house, was substantially refronted in 1851 when the original brick finish was plastered, the windows were given robust classical frames, and the parapet was remodelled about a central pediment carrying the Coat of Arms of the City. The elaborate cast-iron canopy (1886) was designed by Daniel J. Freeman (1856/7-1902), City Architect (fl. 1879-93).
The death of Queen Anne in 1714 abruptly disrupted Dawson’s ambitious plans. Fearing that her successor would not be so favoured towards him, Dawson agreed on the 18th of May, 1715, to sell the house to Dublin Corporation at a cost of £3,500 in addition to a yearly ground rent of forty shillings and a loaf of double-refined sugar weighing six pounds due each Christmas. As a condition of the sale, Dawson agreed to build an additional room which could be used for civic receptions: the now-famous Oak Room.
The Oak Room was the venue of the annual City Ball throughout the eighteenth century. On such occasions the Lord Mayor dispensed generous hospitality, aided in no small part by a yearly grant of twenty thousand oysters from the civic oyster beds. The Oak Room continues to play a central role in the life of the Mansion House today.  It contains portraits of Charles II, George II, Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Richmond.
The extension of the property continued well into the nineteenth century and included the Round Room completed in just six weeks in 1821 for the reception of King George IV. Designed by John Semple (d.1840) in the “exotic” style, an apparent nod to the monarch’s Hindu-Gothic Brighton Pavilion, it was remodelled 1892 by J. G. Ashlin, and was the venue for the first sitting of Dáil Éireann in January 1919.
The improvement of the Mansion House continued into the early twentieth century when, in anticipation of a royal visit by Queen Victoria, new ceilings were installed in the entrance hall and drawing room to designs by Charles James McCarthy (c.1857-1947), City Architect (fl. 1893-1921). The stained glass window over the principal staircase dates from the same period and carries the signature of Joshua Clarke and Sons of North Frederick Street. The Dublin City coat-of-arms again features as the centrepiece in a frame including the shields of the four provinces of Ireland and the names of prominent supporters of Home Rule. Topped and tailed by a Garland of Peace and a Cornucopia of Prosperity, the window is today known as “The Peace Window”.
14.Marsh’s Library, Dublin (2013)
Marsh’s Library was built in 1701, designed by William Robinson who was surveyor general from 1670-1700, and who also designed the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The Library was set up as the first public library in Ireland, by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713).
The interior of the library remains unchanged from when it was set up. It is no longer a public library, unfortunately, as the books are too delicate for general handling, but one can request to look up books in the catalogue, and it operates as a sort of museum open to the public for a fee. It contains dark oak bookcases topped with lettered gables and a mitre. The library contains the original reading cages – a reader would be locked in so that he or she could not steal the books.
15. 10 Mill Street, Dublin (Open House 2017)
10 Mill Street was built in the 1720s by the Brabazon family, Earls of Meath. In the early 19th century it was converted into a school by the Christian Brothers and later used by several charitable groups. It was remodelled in 1894 by architect George P. Beater as a Methodist mission house and school. [Archiseek]
14. Pigeonhouse Power Station and hotel (2021)
15. Rates Office, formerly Newcomen Bank, Dublin (2013)
Built in 1781 by Thomas Ivory. The original building was half the size, and Ivory’s half was built in mirror image with a portico built to link the two halves. [archiseek]
In 1722 Simon (or William?) Gleadowe (d. 21 August 1807) married into the Newcomen family of Carriglass House in County Longford and took their name. He started the Newcomen Bank. He was knighted to become 1st Baronet Newcomen in 1781 and elected to the Irish Parliament. He voted for the Act of Union and his wife Charlotte was rewarded with a Peerage to become Viscountess Newcomen. Their son inherited her title and became Thomas Gleadowe-Newcomen, 2nd Viscount Newcomen (1776-1825), and he also inherited the Newcomen Bank. The bank had a series of failures and closed in 1825, and Thomas shot himself and died in his office. After his death the title became extinct.
The Open House description tells us:
“An elegant block in Portland stone, the building stands at the corner of Cork Hill and Castle Street, doubled in length on Cork Hill by an 1862 addition. Ivory’s original plan comprised three rooms with a large stair hall, with the site’s irregular boundaries concealed by the use of oval rooms. The interior has been recently renovated and retains fine decoration, with highlights including the larger first-floor oval room and the highly decorated ceiling over the stair hall.”
16. Royal Irish Academy Dublin (2013)
17. Royal College of Physicians, Dublin (2013)
Designed by William George Murray who also designed the Hibernian Bank. It was built in 1861 to replace the College of Physicians previous premises which had burned down at this location. The facade eroded and was completely replaced 100 years later in 1960. A description in the 1862 Irish Builder describes it:
“Entering from the portico, the outer hall or vestibule leads by a spacious flight of five steps to the inner hall, in which the main staircase is placed. On the right and left of this hall are the entrances to the council and examination rooms, registrar’s apartments, back stairs, reading room etc. The college hall is at the rere of the building, and is entered from the first landing of the main staircase, which here divides into a double flight, returning to the right and left.
This noble apartment, 58 feet by 30 feet and 30 feet high… is divided into five bays in length and three in breadth by Corinthian pilasters elevated on a panelled daedo, and surmounted by the ordinary frieze and cornice from which springs a quadrant coved ceiling with semi-circular arches over each bay groined into it. This hall is lighted by five lofty windows at the rere, and also three circular dome-lights in the ceiling…“
The room with the ceremonial mace also contained glass cases with memorabilia and diary of Napoleon from his days on St. Helena, as his physician was an Irishman. He gave his physician his toothbrush and diary as a memorial, telling him the diary would make him rich! He chose this physician on hearing him talk. The physician agreed to be the doctor but said he would not spy for the British. They became friends. He had to bleed Napoleon several times as Napoleon fell ill, and the lancet used is also in the glass case.
18. Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin (Open House 2011)
The Royal College of Surgeons was built in two phases, first by architect Edward Parke, who built what is now the last three bays on the south side and five bays deep on York Street. This was subsumed later by architect William Murray, who added four bays to the north and moved the pediment to the new centre of the building, on St. Stephen’s Green. The facade has large round-headed windows separated by freestanding columns. The pediment has the royal arms, and is topped with three statues: Athena (goddess of Wisdom and War), Asclepius (god of Medicine) and Hygiea (Goddess of Health), all by John Smyth [Archiseek]. It has a rusticated basement storey.
The interior, as listed in Lewis’s guide in 1837, contains a large board room, a library, an apartment for general meetings, an examination hall, several committee rooms and offices, lecture theatres and three museums, two of which have galleries.
There is a top-lit gallery with Adamesque plasterwork.
19. St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin(Culture Night 2012)
The Archiseek website tells us that in the early 1880s, seven feet below street level, under a bakery, the chapter house of St. Mary’s Abbey was discovered. St. Mary’s Abbey was a Cistercian Abbey founded by the Benedictine monks in 1139. It was dissolved in 1530 and fell into disrepair and its existence is reflected in the street names surrouding it: Mary Street and Abbey Street. The Chapter House is the only part remaining, and was built in 1190! 
It was in the Chapter House, which could be rented out, that at a meeting of the Privy Council in 1534, “Silken Thomas” FitzGerald objected to the King, who had imprisoned his father. Thomas thought his father had been executed.
20. Tailor’s Guild Hall, Dublin(Culture Night 2013)
Tailor’s Hall was built in 1706 and is the only Guild Hall from the medieval guilds still in existence in Dublin. It is two storeys over basement and the hall inside is lit by tall round-headed windows on both sides, and has two floors of smaller rooms. It is now the headquarters for An Taisce. It was originally the meeting hall for the Guild of Merchant Tailors, from 1706-1841.
It was used in 1792 as the meeting place for the Catholic Committee during their campaign against Penal Law, and for this the building earned the nickname of “Back Lane Parliament.” Later still, it was used as a meeting place for the United Irishmen around 1798.
From Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin, 2005, p. 367: “1703-1707, Richard Mills overseer. The Tailors’ Guild Hall is a tall shallow red brick building with a steep roof and dormer windows, a large gabled chimneystack and stair compartment projecting from the rear or N. wall. The entrance front is the long S elevation, reached by a stone arch and forecourt from Back Lane. In the 18th century the Hall was concealed behind houses on High Street and Back Lane and preceded only by the narrow arched pathway and a basement area. This unusual sequestered position is explained by the fact that the site was formerly occupied by a Jesuit chapel and college, endowed in 1629 by the Countess of Kildare. Seized by the Crown in 1630, it was subsequently repossessed by Lord and Lady Kildare and returned to the Jesuits who remained here for an unknown period prior to 1706…Tailors’ Hall is substantially early 18C. However, curiosities in the design and [p.368] structure suggest that it may incorporate something of the fabric of the 17C chapel.
The most striking feature of the facade is its asymmetry. Four tall narrow round-headed windows lighting the assembly hall fill almost two-thirds of the facade. To their right the facade is of two storeys and three bays with the entrance on the left next to the hall framed by an elegant rusticated limestone door surround of 1770. The basic arrangement reflects a pragmatic medieval-based system of hall and upper chamber, common in London livery halls of the late C17… A granite base-mould divides the brick masonry of the principal floor from the basement walling, which is largely of Calp with a band of brick forming the slightly cambered heads of the basement windows.”
21. Trinity Innovation Centre, former Bank, Foster Place, Dublin (2013)
Before the formation of AIB (Allied Irish Bank), this was known as the Royal Bank. A Neo-Classical porch was added by George Papworth in 1850. The banking hall was added by Charles Geoghegan in 1859 at the rear of the building. It has a coffered barrel vaulted space top-lit and supported by cast iron Corinthian columns. The building has a double-height entrance hall. The bank closed in 2002 and the building is now owned by Trinity College Dublin.
The description of the day’s event tells us:
“Behind a neat stucco facade (with a neo-classical porch added by George Papworth circa 1850) and a double-height entrance hall, the interior includes what has been described as Dublin’s finest Victorian banking hall. A curving mahogany counter wraps most of the floor area, previously as a barrier between the bank clerks and customers. The space is in excellent condition, lit from above by a coffered and glazed barrel vault, supported by elegant cast-iron columns. For those who love pattern and ornament, the friezes and the plasterwork on the columns and their capitals will be particularly enjoyable.”
Kevin V. Mulligan writes in The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster (p. 83)  that Ardress is the best preserved example of a gentleman’s farmhouse in South Ulster, due to its ownership by the National Trust. The discovernorthernireland website tells us:
“Ardress is nestled in the apple orchards of County Armagh and offers afternoons of fun and relaxation for everyone. Built in the 17th century as a farmhouse, Ardress was remodelled in Georgian times and has a character and charm all of its own.
• Elegant Neo-classical drawing-room with plasterwork by the Dublin plasterer Michael Stapleton • Attractive garden with scenic woodland and riverside walks • Home to an important collection of farm machinery and tools • Rich apple orchards • On display is the 1799 table made for the speaker of the Irish Parliament upon which King George V signed the Constitution of Northern Ireland on 22nd June 1921
Visitor Facilities: Historic house, Farm yard, Garden, Shop, Guided tours, Suitable for picnics, Programme of events.”
Mulligan writes that it is a mid-Georgian house with a two storey facade of seven bays, with a small Tuscan portico in the centre, and it was later enlarged to nine bays by the addition of a slightly lower quoined wings. It began as a smaller five bay house with basement, and Mulligan tells us that it was probably built for Thomas Clarke.
The National Trust website tells us: “Clarke and Ensor families who lived at Ardress from the late 1600s to the mid 20th-century. See how the originally modest farmhouse was enlarged and re-modelled over the years. Some of the furnishings are original while others have made their way back here. Highlights include the drawing room, dining room and a fine collection of paintings on loan from Stuart Hall in County Tyrone.
Past our brand new visitor reception area you’ll find the traditional, cobbled farmyard. Pop into the different outbuildings such as the smithy, byre and threshing barn to get a flavour of old-time rural life. The whole family will love meeting the friendly chickens, goats and donkey, and there’s also a children’s play area.
Bring your walking boots and set off on the Lady’s Mile (really three-quarters-of-a-mile, if you’re counting). This circular, woodland path is a real highlight of any visit, especially in spring when it’s full of wildflowers. There are some great views back to the house and look out for Frizzel’s Cottage, an 18th-century mud-walled house which is now fully refurbished.
Ardress sits in the heart of Armagh’s rich apple-growing country. Visit in May to see the orchards burst into vibrant whites and pinks, truly a memorable sight. During Apple Blossom Sundays (12 and 19 May), there will be orchard tours, local cider, local honey, music, country crafts and family fun. Be sure to come back in October for the Apple Press Days, when you can pick your own apples. Kids can also press their own apple juice.”
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 11. “(Ensor/LG1894) A two storey five bay gable-ended house of ca. 1664 with two slight projections at the back; enlarged and modernized ca. 1770 by the Dublin architect, George Ensor – brother of better-known architect, John Ensor – for his own use. Ensor added a wing at one end of the front, and to balance it he built a screen wall with dummy windows at the other end. These additions were designed to give the effect of a centre block two bays longer than what the front was originally, with two storey one bay wings having Wyatt windows in both storeys. To complete the effect, he raised the façade to conceal the old high-pitched roof; decorating the parapet with curved upstands and a central urn; the parapet of the wings curving downwards on either side to frame other urns. Ensor also added a pedimented Tuscan porch and he altered the garden front, flanking it with curved sweeps. Much of the interior of the hosue was allowed to keep its simple, intimate scale; the oak staircase dates from before Ensor’s time. But he enlarged the drawing room, and decorated the walls and ceiling with Adamesque plasterwork and plaques of such elegance and quality that the work is generally assumed to have been carried out by the leading Irish artist in this style of work, Michael Stapleton. Ardress now belongs to the Northern Ireland National Trust and is open to the public.” 
“The Argory was built in the 1820s and its hillside location has wonderful views over the gardens and 320 acre wooded estate bordering the River Blackwater. This former home of the MacGeough–Bond family has a splendid stable yard with horse carriages, harness room, acetylene gas plant and laundry. Take a stroll around the delightful gardens or for the more energetic along the woodland and riverside way-marked trails.
Fascinating courtyard displays Garden, woodland and riverside walks with wonderful sweeping views Snowdrop walks and superb spring bulbs Adventure playground and environmental sculpture trail Enjoy afternoon tea and award winning scones in Lady Ada’s tea room
The National Trust website tells us: “The Argory is the home of Mr Bond, the last of four generations of the MacGeough Bond family. Designed by brothers Arthur and John Williamson of Dublin (who also did work for Emo Court in County Laois), the house was built by Mr Bond’s great-grandfather, Walter. The Argory was gifted to the National Trust in 1979. Designed in approximately 1819, started in 1820 and finished about 1824, The Argory came into existence due to a quirky stipulation in a will. Created with Caledon stone in coursed ashlar blocks with Navan limestone window sills, quoins and foundations, the interior of this understated and intimate house remains unchanged since 1900.
The house was largely closed up at the end of the Second World War, with Mr Bond, the last owner, moving into the North Wing. What you see today is a result of four generations of collecting, treasured by Mr Bond, displayed as he remembers it from his childhood.”
Of The Argory, Mark Bence-Jones writes (1988):
p. 12. “(MacGeough Bond/IFR) Built ca. 1820 by Walter MacGeough (who subsequently assumed the surname of Bond), to the design of two architects, named A. and J. Williamson, one or both of whom worked in the office of Francis Johnston. A house with imposing and restrained Classical elevations, very much in the Johnston manner, of two storeys, and faced with ashlar. Main block has seven bay front, the centre bay breaking forward under a shallow pediment with acroteria; Wyatt window in centre above porch with Doric columns at corners. Unusual fenestration: the middle window in both storeys either side of the centre being taller than those to the left and right of it. Front prolonged by wing of same height as main block, but set back from it; of three bays, ending with a wide three-sided bow which has a chimneystack in its centre. Three bay end to main block; other front of main block also of seven bays, with a porch; prolonged by service wing flush with main block. Dining room has plain cornice with mutules; unusual elliptical overdoors with shells and fruit in plasterwork. Very extensive office ranges and courtyards at one corner of house; building with a pediment on each side and a clock tower with cupola; range with polygonal end pavilions; imposing archway. The interior is noted for a remarkable organ and for the modern art collection of the late owner. Now maintained by the National Trust.” 
“Brownlow House or Lurgan Castle, so named presumably after the Rt. Hon. Charles Brownlow, who built it in 1833, was created Baron Lurgan in 1839, was owned by the Brownlow family until the turn of the century. Changing fortunes resulted in property being sold to the Lurgan Real Property Company Ltd. and subsequently the House and surrounding grounds were purchased on behalf of Lurgan Loyal Orange District Lodge. The legal document of conveyance is dated 11 July 1904. In appreciation of the effort of the late Sir William Allen, KBE, DSO, DL, MP in obtaining the House, an illuminated address was presented to him by District Lodge and now hangs in the Dining Room beside the portrait of Sir William painted by Frank McKelvey. He together with Messrs. Hugh Hayes, John Mehaffey, George Lunn Jun. and James Malcolm Jun. were the first Trustees.
Browlow House, built in an age of grandeur and cultured tastes, is an imposing building. It has retained much of the atmosphere of bygone days and one can readily pause and still imagine what life was like when it was occupied as a dwelling.”
Mark Bence-Jones writes of Brownlow House (1988):
p. 49. (Brownlow, Lurgan, B/PB) A large Elizabethan-revival house by William Playfair, of Edinburgh, built from 1836 onwards for Charles Brownlow, 1st Lord Lurgan, whose son, 2nd Baron, owned the famous greyhound Master McGrath, and whose brother-in-law, Maxwell Close, built Drumbanagher, also to the design of Playfair. Of honey coloured stone, with a romantic silhouette; many gables with tall finials; many tall chimneypots; oriels crowned with strapwork and a tower with a lantern and dome. The walls of three principal reception rooms are decorated with panels painted to resemble verd-antique; while the ceilings are grained to represent various woods. The grand staircase has brushwork decoration in the ceiling panesl, and the windows are filled with heraldic stained glass. Sold 1903 to the Orange Order, its present owners, by whom it is used for seasonal functions. Its grounds have become a public park.”
4. Derrymore House, Bessbrook, County Armagh – National Trust, open to public.
The National Trust website tells us that Derrymore House is a late 18th-century thatched house in gentrified vernacular style.
“The name Derrymore is derived from ‘doire’, the Irish for an oak grove and ‘mór’, meaning large. Derrymore was the home of Isaac Corry (1753-1813), MP for Newry from 1776. He commissioned John Sutherland (1745-1826), the leading landscape gardener of the day, to carry out improvements to the land. Sutherland enhanced the existing woodland by planting thousands more trees. Oak, chestnut, pine and beech trees now dominate the woodlands, which contain some very fine mature specimens. The picturesque thatched house was built for Corry, in the style of a ‘cottage orné’, which gives it a rather romantic feel. It is surprisingly large inside with reception and bedrooms on the ground floor, and service rooms in the basement.
Isaac Corry was Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer in 1800, when the Act of Union with Britain was passed. It followed a time of extreme political unrest. The Act removed parliamentary control from Dublin to London, a highly contentious move. Many who supported the union were seen as betraying Ireland in the interests of economics and trade, while others saw it as an economic and political necessity. As MP for Newry and supporter of the linen industry, Corry was keen to ensure solid trade links. The Act was also meant to deliver Catholic Emancipation, but to the dismay of many, including Corry, this part of the Act was not ratified.
Corry sold Derrymore in 1810 and retired to his Dublin house, where he died in 1813. After passing through several hands, Derrymore was bought by John Grubb Richardson (1815-1890), owner of the Bessbrook linen works and village and a member of the Society of Friends.
By the mid-19th century the linen industry had become a major part of the Ulster economy. Industrialisation brought in ever more sophisticated engineering. The Craigmore Viaduct, visible from Derrymore demesne, opened in 1852, creating a major transport link between Dublin and Belfast. The linen business at Bessbrook grew from a small mill, with weaving carried out on looms in people’s own cottages (piece work), into an impressive series of flax, spinning and weaving mills, spear-heading new developments in damask weaving, and established a world-wide reputation for Richardson Linens.
John G. Richardson invested heavily in Bessbrook, creating a model village around the large mill, run on Quaker principles of mutual respect between managers and workers. Good housing, religious tolerance, playing fields and schools helped create a thriving and settled community. No public house ensured that there was no need for a police station, nor for a pawnshop.
John G. Richardson let Derrymore house to tenants and built The Woodhouse for his own family in the northern part of the demesne. He created informal gardens through the rocky woodland, making use of the granite rock from local quarries, enhanced the walled garden and built entrance lodges.
In 1940, soldiers of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry arrived in Bessbrook as a defence against German invasion of Northern Ireland from across the Irish border. In 1943, the troops were replaced by the US Army Quartermaster Depot Q111-D until August 1944.
After the war, John S.W. Richardson, a descendant of John G Richardson, offered Derrymore House to the National Trust. In the 1970s the “Troubles” impacted Bessbrook and Derrymore. The mill was turned into a major base for the British Army and was known as the busiest military heliport in Europe. Corry’s association with the Act of Union led to bombs being planted at Derrymore house on several occasions between 1972 and 1979; one firebomb damaged the house. The caretaker, Mr Edmund Baillie and his two sisters lived in the house and luckily were unhurt, but their safety and the survival of the house were largely due to Mr Baillie’s personal courage in moving some of the bombs away from the building. The Trust was forced to close the house and remove the contents for safe keeping; it opened again in the late 1980s. In 1985 John Richardson generously bequeathed the rest of Derrymore demesne to the National Trust, including The Woodhouse, walled garden and various lodges.
The National Trust has worked with a number of partners to enhance access to Derrymore Demesne with a focus on local visitors, providing better footpaths, parking, toilet facilities and a children’s play area to ensure that everyone can enjoy the beauty of Derrymore in harmony with nature and wildlife and its historic past.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes:
p. 102. “(Corry/LG1886) A single-storey thatched cottage ornee of Palladian form, consisting of a bow-fronted centre block and two flanking wings, joined to the main block by diminutive canted links. The central blow of the main block is three sided, and glazed down to the ground, with mullions and astragals; it is flanked by two quatrefoil windows, under hood mouldings. There is also a mullioned window in each wing. Built ante 1787 by Isaac Corry, MP for Newry and last Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer. The Act of Union is said to have been drafted in the fine drawing room here. Now owned by the Northern Ireland National Trust and open to the public.“
Milford House was the one of its age. The most technologically advanced house in 19th century Ireland – the first in Ireland to be lit with hydro electricity. The creation of Robert Garmany McCrum, self made industrialist, benefactor and inventor who revolutionized the linen industry. His son William invented the penalty kick rule in football (which makes Milford world famous!) and his daughter Harriette was a founding member of the women’s suffragette movement in Ireland. By 1880 Milford House had six bathrooms each with a Jacuzzi and Turkish bath and a waterfall in the dining room. From 1936 to 1965 it was home to the Manor House School.
Today Milford House is one of the top ten listed buildings at most serious risk in Northern Ireland.
p. 206. “A two storey vaguely Italianate C19 house. Camber-headed windows; three sided bow; pedimented three bay projection. Elaborate range of glasshouses running out at right angles from the middle of the front. The seat of the McCrums, of the firm of McCrum, Watson & Mercer, damask manufacturers, of Belfast.”
“Crannagael House, owned and occupied by Jane and John Nicholson, is nestled in the heart of the County Armagh countryside and is approximately 3 miles from M1 junction 13 and 5 miles from Portadown on the B28, Moy – Portadown Road.
It is a grade 2 listed Georgian house and is still owned by the same family that built it in the mid 18th century. It is surrounded by gardens, parkland and mature woodland, and the accommodation overlooks an apple orchard – a delight when the blossom is out in May!
Nicholsons have lived at Crannagael House since 1760. Subsequent generations were involved in the linen industry and then in 1884 one Henry Joseph Nicholson, the current owner’s great grandfather, imported the first 60 Bramley Seedling trees to Armagh from Southwell in Nottinghamshire, and the rest as they say is history!
The self contained apartment on the East wing comprises several bedrooms, bathroom and downstairs shower with wc (both with wonderful views of the orchard!)and a fully fitted kitchen, dining area and lounge.”
“Killeavy Castle Estate is the perfect antidote to the modern fast paced world. As the centrepiece of 350 acres of mixed farm and woodland in County Armagh’s stunning Slieve Gullion, it’s the ideal place to escape, retreat, relax and unwind. Easily accessible only 10 minutes outside Newry City and one hour from both Belfast and Dublin Airports makes it Northern Irelands premier Hotel and Spa destination.
At Killeavy Castle Estate we are all about living life more slowly and in the present; cherishing those ahhh moments for when the distractions of the modern world finally ebb away and you get closer to the things that matter most. Whether that’s nature, history, loved ones or even yourself, this secluded country Estate will provide everything you need to emerge fully rejuvenated.
Perfect for a unique getaway, wedding or special celebration, take a closer look at everything the Estate has to offer from a beautifully restored Castle, boutique Hotel accommodation, superb cuisine with ingredients sourced from our local farm, Spa and endless opportunities for walking in a stunning location.”
“Killeavy Castle is a Grade A listed historical building originally designed in 1836 by architect George Papworth of Dublin. Formally known as Killeavy Lodge, the Foxall family had their home rebuilt in the style of the pre-Victorian Gosford Castle with towers, Tudor windows and a medieval-style door transforming the modest farmhouse into a home fit for a king.
Situated on the eastern base of Slieve Gullion, the original castle and surrounding grounds brought a new element to the beautiful landscape. The building contained a basement level with a kitchen, store rooms, servant’s quarters and an underground tunnel to allow servants to enter and exit the building unseen. Above was a parlour and wine cellar, with an adjoining drawing room, library and conservatory. On the top level were six bedrooms, four dressing rooms and bathrooms. There was a beautiful walled garden and an ornamental water wheel.
The Bell family took ownership of the property in 1881, but in recent years the building fell into disrepair. Fortunately, the facade remained intact and, surrounded by fir plantations and lush farmland, it has been returned to its former glory.
George Papworth (1781-1855) was the younger brother of English architect John Buonarotti Papworth. He established himself in Ireland and designed many notable buildings including Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital and the King’s Bridge in Dublin. His drawings of Killeavy were exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1836.
Killeavy’s Journey From Family Home to Historic Hotel
We are proud to have brought a stunning piece of architectural heritage and Northern Ireland history back from the brink of ruin. When we took ownership of Killeavy Castle Estate, we saw its incredible potential and decided to restore it to its former glory.
Our mission was to fully restore Killeavy Castle Estate so that locals and visitors alike could enjoy it for generations to come. In 2019, we opened the Killeavy Castle to the public as a historic hotel, wedding venue, spa and visitor attraction.
Since then, we have welcomed countless visitors from around the world. Guests flock to our Estate to appreciate our meticulously restored 19th century Castle, manicured gardens, unspoiled woodlands, and authentic working farm.
Killeavy Castle Estate Today
Today, the Killeavy Castle Estate comprises our 19th-century Castle, a four-star boutique-style Hotel with 45 guestrooms in our restored Mill and Coach House, and a three-guestroom luxury self catering Gatelodge.
Our guests can also enjoy our fine dining restaurant, casual bistro bar and luxury spa facilities. Comfort and class are our guiding principles, bringing the opulence of days gone by to everyone who visits our Estate.“
From the website: “Welcome to Newforge House, a historic family-run country house offering warm hospitality, luxurious rooms and delicious local seasonal food in tranquil surroundings. Set on the edge of the small village of Magheralin, Newforge is an oasis of calm and the perfect location for your romantic break or a special occasion with friends and family. Our central location, only 30-minute drive from Belfast, makes Newforge an ideal base for touring Northern Ireland.”
“Elmfield Estate has been a family home for generations and of the Shaw family for the last 60 years. It has evolved through the years, from a modest dwelling house and stable yard in the 18c to an impressive Victorian Scottish baronial style house with turrets and ziggurat balustrades, built by the wealthy linen barons in the mid-1800s. The estate ran into disrepair after the second world war but was saved by the Shaws who have lovingly restored the house, farm, and gardens room by room lawn by lawn. Elmfield has certainly been a place of transformation and vision over the last 60 years. When Derek and Ann’s three children were little, they enjoyed the freedom and wildness that only a semi-derelict estate can offer. To turn that into what you see today is down to Derek’s vision.
There are more than 300 years of fascinating history to be discovered here, from the history of the founding, design and redesign of the house to the plans for the grounds and courtyards. Over the years more than one family dynasty of linen merchants has called Elmfield their home, and the layers of heritage here offer deep insights into Northern Ireland’s once-dominant linen industry.
During World War II Elmfield was home to a very different cohort of people, housing German and Italian prisoners of war within its grounds. Some years after the war a comprehensive restoration of the Elmfield Estate was completed by the Shaw family and forms the basis of what you can see today, enabling the estate to host rewarding holistic experiences that include mindfulness and meditation walks, self-discovery retreats, corporate wellness and leadership programmes, and transformative deep yoga residencies.”
“Built around 1619 by Sir Baptist Jones, Bellaghy Bawn is a fortified house and bawn (the defensive wall surrounding an Irish tower house). What exists today is a mix of various building styles from different periods with the main house lived in until 1987.” Open on Sundays.
“Hezlett’s picturesque thatched cottage exterior hides a fascinating early timber frame dating from 1690, making it one of the oldest vernacular domestic buildings in Northern Ireland. The story of the house is told through the experiences of the people who lived there.“
The house at Liffock became home to the Hezletts in 1766 and stayed within the family for the next 200 years until the National Trust acquired it in 1976. The National Trust website tells us:
“Isaac Hezlett (1720-1790) was the first Hezlett to live in the cottage at Liffock. He acquired the dwelling and some land in 1766. At this point in his life he was married to his second wife Esther and had two sons; Samuel from his first marriage with Margaret Kerr and Jack, half-brother to Samuel.When Samuel’s father died, he inherited the farm at the age of 37 and about five years later he married Esther Steel. She was 22 years his junior and they had eight children.Samuel was intimidated by local insurgents to join the United Irishmen; his half-brother Jack was an ardent supporter. He was threatened to be hanged from the Spanish chestnut tree in his own garden.By 1798 the rebellion was at its height and the two brothers were on opposite sides of the war. 30,000 lives were lost when the rebels were finally defeated. Jack escaped to the recently created United States of America while Samuel remained with his family in their home at Liffock until he died in 1821.
Samuel’s eldest son Isaac (1796-1883) married Jane Swan (1805-1896) in 1823. He built a two-storey extension to form a new self-contained unit for his mother and sisters. This extension could be regarded as forerunner of what we call today a ‘granny-flat’. Isaac also increased the acreage farmed at Liffock.Hugh (1825-1906), Samuel and Jane’s eldest son, increased the acreage of the farm once more. By putting his education to good use he made the farm more productive; more cash crops were grown and the herds of dairy cattle and sheep were increased. The outputs from the farm which generated income included the cash crops of flax, barley, potatoes, oats and turnips, in addition to wool, milk, calves, pigs and eggs. Hugh also oversaw an extensive re-modelling of the farmyard and outbuildings.In 1881 the Gladstone Land Act paved the way for further Acts which enabled tenant farmers to buy the land they had hitherto rented. So by the early 20th century the Hezletts were not tenant farmers but owner-occupiers.
In 1976, with funds provided by Ulster Land fund and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society the National Trust acquired the house from the third Hugh Hezlett (1911-1988).”
“Downhill Demesne delves into a life and landscape steeped in history and nature. There’s much to explore as you enter this enchanting estate. Wander around the 18th-century demesne and discover dovecotes and gardens as you stumble upon a spectacular temple.”
The house of Downhill is now a ruin.
The National Trust website tells us:
“2018 marked the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Frederick Augustus Hervey in the Diocese of Derry. He was consecrated as Bishop in St Columb’s Cathedral in March 1768. Frederick was a man of many parts as well as being a cleric he was a scientist with a deep interest in volcanology; he was a collector of art; he travelled extensively and spoke German, French and Italian fluently; he took a keen interest in Irish politics and music; he was a powerful proponent of religious equality; and he was a builder of churches, bridges and roads.
He is remembered by us for his association with the Giant’s Causeway and the creation of the Downhill Demesne. A keen volcanologist, Frederick ‘discovered’ the Giant’s Causeway in the sense that he publicised what was then an isolated, seldom-visited spot and was the first to study it in a wider scientific context and pass on his findings to his learned friends throughout Europe. He also created Downhill House and the Mussenden Temple, Northern Ireland’s most iconic building, as his country retreat.
The Earl Bishop is largely regarded as being his own architect at Downhill but it was the Cork born Michael Shanahan who drew up most of the building plans and was, for most of the time, his buildings works superintendent. The mason James McBlain executed all the decorative carving and much of the subsequent building for the Earl. Italian stuccadores were also employed, chief among whom was Placido Columbani.
Downhill is characterised by a three storey front, facing south and with two long wings at the back of this. Originally these wings terminated in domes topped with ornamental chimney-pots. The wings were continued in ranges of outbuildings, forming inner and outer yards, and ending towards the sea in two immense curving bastions of basalt.
The main house block was faced with freestone from Dungiven quarries, about 30 miles away. The basement is rusticated and the storeys above decorated with pairs of Corinthian pilasters, topped by Vitruvian scroll course, a cornice and parapet.
Sadly the interior of the house shows little of its original character. The house was almost entirely gutted by a fire which broke out on a Sunday in May 1851. The library was completely destroyed and more than 20 pieces of sculpture had been ruined. Most of the paintings were rescued, but a Raphael, The Boar Hunt, was reported destroyed.
In his later years, the Earl Bishop spent very little time in Ireland. His Irish estates were administered by a distant cousin, Henry Hervey Aston Bruce, who succeeded him following his death in 1803.
In 1804 Henry Hervey Aston Bruce was created a baronet and Downhill remained with the Bruce family until at least 1948, though the family rarely lived there after around 1920.
The only other occupation of the house came about during WWII when the site was requisitioned by the RAF. The house was subsequently dismantled after the war and its roof removed in 1950.”
Frederick Augustus Hervey also built Ballyscullion in Derry and Ickworth in Suffolk, England. He built them not only to indulge his love of architecture, but to house his large collection of paintings, furniture and statues. He first encountered his architect, Michael Shanahan, when he was Bishop of Cloyne in Cork. David Hicks tells us in his Irish Country Houses, a Chronicle of Change that Hervey took Shanahan on a trip to Italy between 1770-1772 in order to make sketches of various items of interest that could be incorporated into his home. Shanahan took up residence in the Hervey estate in Derry and acted as the Earl Bishop’s architect in residence.
The Bishop created Mussenden Temple in memory of Mrs Frideswide Mussenden, a cousin who died in 1785. Shanahan was the architect. It is believed that the Bishop used it as a private library, and permitted local Catholics to use the ground floor for mass. He left Downhill and Ballyscullion to Mrs Mussenden’s brother, Reverend Henry Aston Bruce. In doing so, he disinherited his wife and son, with whom he had quarrelled.
Frideswide Mussenden was born Frideswide Bruce. Her parents were Henrietta Aston and James Bruce. Henrietta Aston was daughter of Rev. Hon. Henry Hervey-Aston, son of John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol, who was the brother of Bishop Frederick Augustus’s father. The Bishop’s heir was therefore only distantly related, quite a blow to the disinherited wife and son.
Reverend Bruce who inherited Downhill and Ballyscullion dismantled the latter in 1813, perhaps due to window taxes, and transferred its furniture and art to Downhill. A fire in 1851 destroyed Downhill and much of its contents. The house was rebuilt to some degree to the design of John Lanyon between 1870-74.
Reverend Bruce was created a British Baronet in 1804. His son became 2nd Baronet and grandson, 3rd Baronet of Downhill. It was passed to the 4th, 5th and 6th Baronets. By the 1950s most of the contents of the house has been sold and the house dismantled and surrounding land sold. The estate is now in the care of the National Trust.
“Springhill has a beguiling spirit that captures the heart of every visitor. Described as ‘one of the prettiest houses in Ulster’, its welcoming charm reveals a family home with portraits, furniture and decorative arts that bring to life the many generations of Lenox-Conynghams who lived here from 1680. The old laundry houses one of Springhill’s most popular attractions, the Costume Collection with some exceptionally fine 18th to 20th century pieces.
New Visitor Reception offering a retail and grab and go catering offer. Celebrated collection of costumes, from the 18th century to 1970s. Visit our second-hand bookshop and pick up a bargain.
Walks: Beautiful walled gardens and way marked paths through the parkland. Children’s adventure trail play park and natural play area. A variety of events throughout the year. There are three walks available: Beech Walk, Snowdrop Walk, Sawpit Hill Walk.“
Visitor Facilities: Historic house, garden, shop, refreshments, guided tours. Suitable for picnics and country walks. Programme of events available. House: admission by guided tour (last admission 1 hour before closing). Open Bank Holiday Mondays and all other public holidays in Northern Ireland. Closed 25 and 26 December. Visitor Centre has café and shop. See Information tab for full Opening Times and Prices. Access for visitors with disability and facilities for families. Dogs welcome on leads in grounds/garden only. Available for functions.
Mark Bence-Jones writes about Springhill House in A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 263. “(Lenox-Conyngham/IFR) A low, white-washed, high roofed house with a sense of great age and peace; its nucleus late C17, built ca 1680 by “Good Will” Conyngham, who afterwards played a leading part in the defence of Derry during the Siege. Altered and enlarged at various times; the defensive enclosure or bawn with which it was originally surrounded was taken down, and two single storey free-standing office wings of stone with curvilinear end-gables were built early C18 flaking the entrance front, forming a deep forecourt. Col William Conyngham, MP, added two single-storey wings to the house ca 1765, which was when the entrance front assumed its present appearance: of seven bays, the windows on either side of the centre being narrower than the rest, and with a three sided bow in each of the wings. In the high roof, a single central dormer lighting the attic. The hall has C18 panelling; behind the hall is an early C18 staircase of oak and yew with alternate straight and spiral twisted balusters. The Gun Room has bolection moulded oak panelling which could be late C17 or early C18, though it cannot have been put into this room until much later, for there are remains of C18 wallpaper behind it. The large and lofty drawing room in the right-hand wing is a great contrast after the small, low-ceilinged rooms in the centre of the house; it has a modillion cornice and a handsome black marble chimneypiece. Though essentially a Georgian room, it has been given a Victorian character with a grey and green wallpaper of Victorian pattern. Next to the drawing room, in the garden front, is the dining room, added ca 1850 by William Lenox-Conygham; a large simple room of Georgian character, with a red flock paper and a chimneypiece of yellow marble brought from Herculaneum by the Earl of Bristol Bishop of Derry and presented by him to the family. The garden front, which is irregular, going in and out, facing along an old beech venue to a ruined tower which may originally have been a windmill. Transferred to the Northern Ireland Trust by W.L Lenox-Conygham, HML, shortly before his death in 1957. Springhill is featured in his mother, Mina’s book An Old Ulster Home and is open to the public.”
William Conyngham married Ann Upton, daughter of Arthur Upton of Castle Upton, County Antrim (this still exists and is privately owned), MP for County Antrim. Springhill passed to their daughter Anne who married David Butle, a merchant. Their son George took the name Conyngham and inherited Springhill. Although he had sons, Springhill passed through the line of his daughter, Ann (1724-1777) who married Clotworthy Lenox (1707-1785). Their son took the name George Lenox-Conyngham (1752-1816) when he inherited. George married twice: first to Jane Hamilton, and their son William Lenox-Conyngham (1792-1858) added the dining room to Springhill. George married secondly Olivia Irvine of Castle Irvine (also called Necarne; the park around Necarne Castle can freely be visited during daytime. The ruin of the castle itself is boarded up, so its interior can not be visited), County Fermanagh. One of their descendants was Jack Nicholson who inherited Enniscoe in County Mayo.
Springhill passed then from William Lenox-Conyngham (1792-1858) and his wife Charlotte Mesolina Staples of Lissan, County Tyrone, to their son William Fitzwilliam Lenox-Conyngham, and it was his grandson William Lowry Lenox-Conyngham who left it to the Northern Ireland Trust.
Places to stay, County Derry
1. Ardtara Country House and restaurant, County Derry €€
“Whether it’s for a drink, dinner, a weekend break or a round of golf we want you to enjoy the Brown Trout experience.
At the Brown Trout Inn we know that relaxing means different things to different people. For some, food and drink is all-important. Our menu offers fresh locally sourced produce ranging from ‘taste of Ulster’ favourites like honey-grilled gammon and buttery champ to slow-roasted lamb shanks and not forgetting fresh fish, including grilled trout of course.
For others, putting their feet up is the closest thing to heaven. Our Courtyard accommodation offers space, comfort and quality – the cottages hold NITB four-star status. All our accommodation is easily accessible for wheelchair users and guests with disabilities and all rooms are dog-friendly. Wifi access is free throughtout the hotel.“
3. Roselick Lodge, County Derry – whole house rentalfor 8 guests, three night minimum
“Dating back to 1830, this sympathetically restored Georgian property offers a tranquil rural setting midway between Portstewart and Portrush. Whilst retaining many of the original features and charm, the open plan extension has been adapted to suit modern living. The accommodation comprises three main reception areas, a Magnificent Family Kitchen /Living and Dining area, a cosy and tastefully decorated Snug with open fire, access to south facing Orangery and large secluded cottage gardens. Upstairs are four well proportioned bedrooms sleeping up to eight guests and a spacious first floor balcony with sea views. Minimum 3 night stay.“
Nestled in beautiful parkland where you will find our grand Georgian Mansion House which is perfect for weddings, family get togethers, corporate events and much more.
Mark Bence-Jones writes about Drenagh House (formerly Fruit Hill) in A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 107. “(McCausland/IFR) The earliest major country house by Charles Lanyon, built ca 1837 for Marcus McCausland, replacing an early C18 house on a different site. Of significance in the history of C19 Irish domestic architecture in that it is a competent late-Georgian design by an architect whose buildings in the following decade are definitely Victorian. Two storey; o an attractive pinkish sandstone ashlar. Five bay entrance front with the centre bay recessed and a single-storey Ionic portico in which the outer columns aer coupled. Adjoining front of six bays with two bay pedimented breakfront; the duality of the elevation being emphasised rather than resolved by the presence of three giant pilasters, supporting the pediment. Rear elevation of one bay between two three sided bows, with fanlighted tripartite garden door. Lower service wing at side. Balustraded parapet round roof and on portico. Single-storey top-lit central hall with screen of fluted Corinthian columns; graceful double staircase with elegant cast iron balusters rising from behind one of these screens. Rich plasterwork ceilings in hall, over staircase and in drawing room; simpler ceilings in morning room and dining room. At the head of the stairs, a bedroom corridor with a ceiling of plaster vaulting and shallow domes goes round the central court or well, the lower part of which is roofed over to form the hall. Very large and extensive outbuildings. Vista through gap in trees opposite entrance front of house to idyllic landscape far below, the ground falling steeply on this side; straight flight of steps on the axis of this vista leading down to bastion terrace with urns. Chinese garden with circular “moon gate,” laid out by Lady Margaret McCausland 1960s. Gate lodge by Lanyon with pedimented Ionic portico.”
“The castle is named after its late 16th-century owners, the Audleys, an Anglo-Norman family who held land in the area in the 13th century, It was sold, with the surrounding estate, to the Ward family in 1646 and used in 1738 as an eye-catching focus of the long vista along Castle Ward’s artificial lake, Temple Water.
The site comprises of a number of paths to allow you to get to the Castle.“
“This impressive building was built for the Hon Robert Edward Ward and his family in 1852. It is presently the headquarters of Ards and North Down Borough Council who use the mansions spectacular grand salon as the council chamber. The building is situated in the grounds of Castle Park alongside North Down Museum and is just a short walk from Bangor Castle Walled Garden.
CS Lewis visited North Down on many occasions throughout his life and regularly returned to the area. He enjoyed the beautiful view over Belfast Lough from the grounds of Bangor Castle. As Lewis himself once said “Heaven is Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of County Down”.
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 30. “(Ward, sub Bangor, V/PB; Bingham, Clanmorris, B/PB) An Elizabethan-Revival and Baronial mansion by William Burn, built 1847 for Robert Ward, a descendant of 1st Viscount Bangor. Mullioned windows; oriels created with strapwork; rather steep gables with finials. At one end, a battlemented tower with a pyramidal-roofed clock turret. Partly curved quoins, very characteristic of Burn. Inherited by Robert Ward’s daughter and heiress, Matilda Catherine, wife of 5th Lord Clanmorris. Featured in Peers and Plebs by Madeleine Bingham. Now owned by the town of Bangor.”
“The current Castle Ward is a particularly unusual building, famed for having been built with two completely different architectural styles, both inside and out.
One half is built in the classical Palladian style, with the other half which faces out across Strangford lough built in the more elaborate Gothick* style.
The story told for the reason behind this unusual decorative scheme is that the original builder of the house, Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, did not agree with his wife Lady Anne on the décor. Bernard was more classical in taste with Lady Anne prefering the fashionable Gothick style, leading them to split the house down the middle. This story is compounded by the fact that they separated not long after the house was finished with Anne leaving Castle Ward for good. This hint of scandal has carried this story through the years, but let us consider instead that Anne and Bernard set out to build the house exactly as it is – not a marriage of compromise, but a triumph of collaboration.
When Bernard and Lady Anne inherited the estate in 1759 they set about building themselves a fine new house, one which would be symbolic of their union and exist as a statement of the Ward family’s bold and forward-thinking place in the world. Castle Ward was completed in 1766 and by 1781 they had been created Viscount and Viscountess Bangor in the Peerage of Ireland.
Lady Anne’s grandfather was the nephew of the Duchess of York – wife of King James II, and a first cousin of Queen Anne. This royal ancestry shows itself in the choice of the Gothick style. The ceiling in the Morning Room is copied from the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey where Anne’s maternal family were permitted to be buried due to their royal blood. Rather than the house becoming known as an architectural monstrosity, the couple aimed for it to be a masterpiece, striving against convention and rooting the Ward family as bold, modern thinkers with an impressive past.
The unusal combination of styles has long been a point of joy or novelty for guests, having a ‘marmite’ appeal. On a visit to Castle Ward, writer and poet John Betjeman referred to the ceiling in the Boudoir as “like sitting under a cow’s udder”, and the comment has stuck. Others comment on the otherworldly feeling created in the exotic grandeur of the Gothick side.
Please check the homepage for opening times of the mansion house before planning your visit, as they may change seasonally. There is no need to book your visit in advance.“
The website also tells us more about owner Anne Ward:
“Castle Ward – the story of a warring couple, divided in opinion and styles leading to a house with two sides. Perhaps the story is a little more complicated – here we delve deeper into the background of Lady Anne Bligh, co-architect of Castle Ward.
Given that Lady Anne Ward was co-creator of the dichotomous style of Castle Ward, it is surprising how few of her possessions or papers are left in the collection. Hers’ remains a hidden history. Having left Castle Ward and her husband Bernard in 1770 shortly after the completion of the house, she has become a symbol of mystery and speculation, made notorious and unusual because of her independence of mind and spirit.
The public expression of her personal tastes in the Gothick style at Castle Ward, clashed dramatically with her husband’s preferred classical style, and this has resulted in the condemnation of Lady Ann as unusual. History has found it difficult to understand the architectural choice that was reached by Lady Anne and Bernard, seeming as a legacy to their failed marriage. Whilst Bernard is remembered as the maker of the classical side of the house, symbolically representing reason, balance and order, Lady Anne in contrast represents an ‘otherness’ which she expressed in Gothick architecture – seemingly conveying her fantastical, whimsical and unconventional personality.
The Royal blood from her maternal grandparents gave Lady Anne the hauteur and confidence to do as she pleased. Her grandfather, the Earl of Clarendon was the nephew of the Duchess of York, wife of James II, and a first cousin of Queen Anne. Queen Anne was her mother Theodosia’s Godmother, and as such Theodosia was allowed to marry in Westminster Abbey. This was something Lady Ann was keen to highlight in her choice of architecture at Castle Ward, even copying the plasterwork from the Henry VII Chapel and recreating it in the Morning Room as a reminder of her royal connections.
The Earl of Clarendon also prompted perception of the family as “eccentric” by accounts of them acting out their role as Colonial Governor of New York dressed in articles of women’s clothing which challenged social boundaries of the period. Historians have been unable to confirm the accuracy of these accounts nor the motivations behind the Earl’s alleged presentation of gender non-conformity. Whatever the accuracy or reason, contemporaries condemned the Earl and considered it to be a sign of ‘great insanity’, however the Earl remained protected and often handsomely rewarded by their cousin Queen Anne. This connection provided crucial protection from critics.
Elizabeth Hastings, Countess of Moira who knew the family decribed them as having ‘an hereditary malady’. Members were noted as experiencing varied mental health issues. Lady Anne was accused of having ‘a shade of derangement in her intellects’. Her brother, Lord Darnley, was convinced he was a teapot and was reluctant to engage in sexual activity lest ‘his spout would come off in the night’; Lady Anne’s son Nicholas was declared ‘a lunatic’ in 1785 but details about this are scant.
Lady Anne’s relationship with a woman, prior to her two marriages, has also been the source of popular speculation and of academic debate. At 21, Lady Anne embarked on a six year relationship with Letitia Bushe, a woman considered much inferior in status and wealth, but much more experienced in the world with a great intellect and close friend of Mrs Delany. From the surviving correspondence of Letitia Bushe, it is clear that she was besotted with Lady Anne who was some fifteen years her junior, writing in 1740:
‘This Day twelvemonth was the Day I first stay’d with you, the night of which you may remember pass’d very oddly. I cannot forget how I pity’d you and how by that soft road you led me on to love you… that first Sunday at Bray, when you were dressing and I lay down on your Bed – ‘twas then I took first a notion to you’.
Academic research has suggested that this instance of same-sex love and desire provided Lady Anne with ‘an alternative outlet for emotional needs and energies, free of the complex web of economic and social considerations that surrounded relations between men and women of the propertied classes’ at this time.
Sadly none of Lady Anne’s correspondence to Letitia Bushe survives – in true Lady Anne style she remains an enigma, true to herself regardless of tastes or conventions, and a symbol of ‘the three-dimensional complexity of human life’.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p.78. Castleward: “Ward, Bangor, V/PB) A grandmid-C18 house of three storeys over basement and seven bays; built 1760/73 by Bernard Ward (afterwards 1st Viscount Bangor), and his wife, Lady Anne, daughter of 1st Earl of Darnley, to replace an earlier house. Probably by an English architect; and faced in Bath stone, brought over from Bristol in Mr Ward’s own ships. It seems that the Wards could not agree on the style of their new house; he wanted it to be Classical; but she was of what Mrs Delany called “whimsical” taste and favoured the fashionable new Strawberry Hill Gothic. The result was a compromise. The entrance front was made Classical, with central feature of a pediment and four engaged Ionic columns rising through the two upper storeys, the bottom storey being rusticated and treated as a basement. The garden front, facing over Strangford Lough, was made Gothic, with a battlemented parapet, pinnacles in the centre, and pointed windows in all its three storeys and seven bays – lancet in the central breakfront, ogee on the other side. All the windows have delightful Strawberry Hill Gothic astragals. This front of Castleward, and Moore Abbey, Co Kildare, are the only two surviving examples of mid-C18 Gothic in major Irish country houses which are not old castles remodelled. The interior of Castleward is remarkable in that the rooms on the Classical side of the house are Classical and those on the Gothic side Gothic; thus the hall – now the music room – has a Doric frieze and a screen of Doric columns; whereas the saloon has a ceiling of fretting and quatrefoils, pointed doors and a Gothic chimneypiece. The dining room, with its grained plaster panelling, is Classical and the sitting room is Gothic with spectacular plaster fan vaulting. Mr Ward, however, managed to be one up on his wife in that the staircase, which is in the middle of the house, is Classical; lit by a Vvenetian window in one of the end bows. If we believe Lady Anne, this was not the only time when he got his own way at her expense, for, having left him, as it turned out, for good, she wrote accusing him of bullying her. In C19, a porch was added to one of the end bows of the house, making a new entrance under the staircase; so that the hall became the music room. In the grounds there is a four storey tower-house, built at the end of C16 by Nicholas Ward; also a temple modelled on Palladio’s Redentore, dating from ante 1755; it stands on a hill, overlooking an early C18 artificial lake, or canal. On the death of 6th Viscount, 1950, Castleward was handed over in part payment of death duties to the Northern Ireland Government, who gave it, with an endowment, to the National Trust. The house and garden are now open to the public, and the Trust has set up various projects in different parts of the estate.”
“Hillsborough Castle has been a grand family home and is now the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and a royal residence. Members of the Royal Family stay at Hillsborough when visiting Northern Ireland.
Viewed by some as a politically neutral venue, Hillsborough has played an important role in the Peace Process in Northern Ireland since the 1980s.
In 2014, Historic Royal Palaces took over the running of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens and began an ambitious project to restore the house and gardens to its former glory.
Hillsborough, originally the settlement of Cromlyn (meaning Crooked Glen) in mid-Down, became part of the Hill family estates in the early 1600s. Moyses Hill, the landless second son of an English West Country family, joined the army to seek his fortune in Ireland, where he supported the Earl of Essex, a military leader sent by Elizabeth I.
At this time, the land was still in the hands of Irish chiefs of the Magennis family. But the defeat of Irish chieftain Hugh O’Neill in 1603 opened the way for men such as Moyses Hill to establish themselves as landowners in Ireland. The Hills bought some 5,000 acres of land, then gradually added to this over the next 20 years until the whole area around the present Hillsborough had passed from the Magennises to the Hills.
Successive generations of this ambitious family began to rise, politically and socially, in Ireland. Within 50 years they were one of the most prominent landowning families in the area; their estates stretched for over 130 miles from Larne, north of Belfast to Dun Laoghaire, south of Dublin, around 115, 000 acres in total.
Wills Hill was the first Marquess of Downshire and his diplomatic skills as a courtier cemented the family’s position in society.
From 1768-72 he held the post of Secretary of State for the Colonies. He had grown very powerful in government and served the royal family, for which he was awarded his title in 1789.
Wills Hill famously hosted American founding father Benjamin Franklin, but contrary to popular myth, when they met at Hillsborough in 1771, the two men got along well together.
Wills Hill built not only this house but also the Courthouse in The Square. He also built the terraces around The Square and other buildings in the town.
Hillsborough is unusual for an Irish Big House as it is not a country house around which a town grew; rather it was built as a townhouse, forming one side of a neat Georgian square.
The road to Moira once passed directly below the windows, and opposite the house were a variety of shops, houses and the Quaker Meeting House.
The 3rd and 4th Marquesses, also commissioned a lot of work on the house, giving it the outward appearance it has today.
When the house was being altered in the 1840s, the family decided to expand the gardens and so rebuilt the road, houses and Quaker Meeting House all further away. The old road was absorbed into the landscaping of the gardens, and the south side of the house was opened out to allow views of the ‘picturesque’ gardens.
Successive generations of the Hill family enjoyed the house as a family home, renovating and redecorating in the latest styles and improving the gardens.
However, by the end of the 19th century they were spending more time on their estate in England, at Easthampstead Park in Berkshire or their seaside home at Murlough House in County Down. The sixth Marquess’ uncle and guardian, Lord Arthur Hill remained at Hillsborough Castle to look after his nephew’s estate. The family first rented out Hillsborough in 1909, then sold it completely in 1925.
It was bought by the British government, for around £24,000 (equivalent to £1.3m today) to be the residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland.
Following Partition in 1921, Governors were appointed to represent the monarch in Northern Ireland, replacing the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland who had previously lived at Dublin Castle. The house became known as Government House, remaining the official residence of the Governors for over 50 years.”
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 152. “(Hill, Downshire, M/PB; Dixon, Glentoran, B/PB) A large, rambling, two storey late-Georgian mansion of a warm, golden-orange ashlar; its elevations rather long for their height. It appears to incorporate a much smaller house of ca 1760, but was mostly built later in C18, to the design of R.F. Brettingham, by Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire, a prominent member of Lord North’s Cabinet at the time of the American War. The work was not completed until 1797, four years after 1st Marquess’s death. In 1830s and 1840s, the house was enlarged and remodelled, to the design of Thomas Duff, of Newry, and William Sands. The pedimented portico of four giant Ionic columns in the middle of the long seventeen bay garden front – originally the entrance front – which is the principal exterior feature, dates from this period; as does the present appearance of the pedimented front adjoining to the left, with its asymmetrical projecting ends; as well as the treatment of the elevations of the two ranges at right angles to each other which form two sides of the entrance forecourt; one of them having a rather shallow single-storey portico of four pairs of coupled Ionic columns. The forecourt, with its magnificent mid-C18 wrought iron gates and railings, brought here 1936 from Rich Hill, Co Armagh, is on one side of the main square of the charming little town of Hillsborough, which is reminiscent of the Schlossplatz in a small German capital. Although the house backs onto a sizeable demesne, with a lake, the park is on the opposite side of the town. Its chief feature is Hillsborough Fort, a star-shaped fort built by Col Arthur Hill ca 1650. The gatehouse of the fort was rebuilt most delightfully in the Gothic taste ca 1758, perhaps to the design of Sanderson Miller himself. Hillsborough Castle became the official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland 1925, and consequently became known as Government House; from then, until 1973, when the post of Governor was abolished, it was occupied by successive Governors (all PB); namely, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, 4th Earl Granville, 2nd Lord Wakehurst, Lord Erskine of Rerrick, and Lord Grey of Naunton; during this period, the house was frequently visited by members of the British Royal Family. In 1934 the house was seriously damaged by fire, and in the subsequent rebuilding the principal rooms were done up in a more palatial style, with elaborate plasterwork. The future of the house is now uncertain.”
“For the first time in its history, this mystical and enchanting estate, set in magnificent natural surroundings, is open to visit.
Nestled in the picturesque County Down countryside, Montalto is a privately-owned demesne steeped in history dating back to the 1600s. It is famously the site of ‘The Battle of Ballynahinch’ which took place during the Irish rebellion in 1798. It is also home to an exotic plant collection initially created by ‘The Father of Irish Gardening’, Sir Arthur Rawdon.
Montalto Estate aims to reconnect visitors with nature through access to a range of captivating gardens and beautiful walks and trails. The visitor experience includes: public access to the estate’s beautiful gardens along with unique and surprising garden features; historic walks and trails; and an exciting play area where children can explore, learn and wonder at their natural surroundings. A purpose built centre, designed in keeping with the look and feel of the estate, includes a welcome area featuring interpretation of the estate’s history; a stylish café offering flavoursome and beautifully presented food; and a shop that offers a mix of estate produce, local craft products and many other unique and exceptionally designed items.
The beautiful gardens include an Alpine Garden, a Winter Garden, a Cutting Garden, a Walled Garden, a Formal Garden and the Orchard situated within a wildflower meadow. Both the Winter Garden and Alpine Garden will always be accessible whilst the other gardens will be accessible whenever possible as they are working gardens. Four champion trees are located around the lake and the pinetum and over the past three years over 30,000 trees have been planted here.
Active families will enjoy the Woodland Trail and low wood. The impressive purpose built tree house, which was handcrafted onsite, features rope bridges, monkey bars and treetop views kids of all ages will enjoy. Mini explorers can enjoy the smaller tree house and natural play area. Everything within this area has been designed to fuel the imagination through exploration and discovery.
For tranquil and picturesque walks you can enjoy the stunning views of The Lake Walk and The Garden Walk. Catch a glimpse of some of the wonderful wildlife that calls Montalto Estate their home or simply take in the beautiful seasonal displays and reconnect with nature.”
“Montalto, nestled beautifully in the heart of the picturesque Co. Down countryside, is a privately-owned demesne which dates back to the early 1600s.
In pre-plantation times the estate was originally owned by Patrick McCartan. However, due to his involvement in the 1641 Rebellion, his Ballynahinch lands were confiscated, and in 1657 the townland was purchased by Sir George Rawdon [and Patrick McCartan was executed]. Circa 1765, his descendant Sir John Rawdon – First Earl of Moira – built a mansion property on the estate: this is the house that we now know as Montalto House.
Sir John’s ancestor, Sir Arthur Rawdon – The Father of Irish Gardening – had earlier amassed a large collection of exotic foreign plants at Moira Castle. Many of Sir Arthur’s plants were transferred to Montalto when his grandson Sir John moved onto the estate.
During the Battle of Ballynahinch (part of the 1798 Rebellion), rebels occupying Montalto House are attacked by the militia. The mansion sustains some fire and artillery damage. Francis Rawdon-Hastings – 2nd Earl of Moira and Montalto resident – is a respected British military officer during the American War of Independence. He is a close friend of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. For ten years he is Governor General of India, carrying huge military and political responsibilities. He sells the Montalto Estate soon after the 1798 Rebellion and later becomes 1st Marquess of Hastings in 1816.
In 1803 David Ker of Portavo purchased the estate. In 1910 Richard – the last of the Kers to reside at Montalto – is finally forced to sell the estate.In 1912 Arthur, 5th Earl of Clanwilliam, purchases Montalto for £20,000.
The Earl fights in the Boer War (where he is badly wounded), and with the Guards in France in WW1. His wife Lady Muriel cares for wounded Allied officers during their convalescence at Montalto.
In 1979 the house is purchased by the Hogg Corry Partnership. In 1988 Corry withdraws. In 1995 it is purchased by the Wilson family. Working with local architects Hobart and Heron, as well as John O’Connell – a leading conservation architect from Dublin, specialising in Georgian architecture – they set about a programme of works to restore the house, grounds, and outbuildings to their former glory.
The estate has been almost exclusively, a family home since Lord Moira built the first house here. Nowadays Montalto offers visitors the use of 400 acres of rolling Irish countryside, which includes wonderful trails and gardens and a chance to explore this historic demesne and reconnect with nature.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 209. “(Rawdon, Moira, E/DEP; Ker/IFR; Meade, Clanwilliam, E/PB) A large and dignified three storey house of late-Georgian aspet; which, in fact, was built mid-C18 as a two storey house by Sir John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira, who probably brought the stuccodore who was working for him at Moira House in Dublin to execute the plasterwork here; for the ceiling which survives in the room known as the Lady’s Sitting Room is pre-1765 and of the very highest quality, closely resembling the work of Robert West; with birds, grapes, roses and arabesques in high relief. There is also a triple niche of plasterwork at one end of the room; though the central relief of a fox riding in a curricle drawn by a cock is much less sophisticated than the rest of the plasterwork and was probably done by a local man. 2nd Earl, afterwards 1st Marquess of Hastings, who distinguished himself as a soldier in the American War of Independence, and was subsequently Governor-General of India, sold Montalto 1802 to David Ker, who enlarged the windows of the house, in accordance with the prevailing fashion. In 1837, D.G. Ker enlarged the house by carrying out what one would imagine to be a most difficult, not to say hazardous operation; he excavated the rock under the house and round the foundations, thus forming a new lower ground floor; the structure being supported by numerous arches and pillars. It was more than just digging out a basement, as has been done at one or two other houses in Ulster; for the new ground floor is much higher than any basement would be; the operation made the house fully three storeyed. Entrance front of two bays on either side of a central three sided bow; the front also having end bows. Shallow Doric porch at foot of centre bow. Ground floor windows round-headed; those above rectangular, with plain entablatures over the windows of the original ground floor, now the piano nobile. Parapeted roof. The right hand side of the house is of ten bays, plus the end bow of the front; with a pilastered triple window immediately to the right of the bow in the piano nobile, balanced by another at the far end of the elevation. The left-hand side of the house is only of three bays and the bow, with a single triple window’ the elevation being prolonged by a two storey wing with round-headed windows. Various additions were built at the back of the house and at the sides during the course of C19; a ballroom being added by D.S. Ker, grandson of the David Ker who bought the estate. In 1837 ground floor there is an imposing entrance hall, with eight paired Doric columns, flanked by a library and a dining room. A double staircase leads up to the piano nobile, where there is a long gallery running the full width of the house, which may have been the original entrance hall. Also on the piano nobile is the sitting room with the splendid C18 plasterwork. Montalto was bought ca 1910 by 5th Earl of Clanwilliam, whose bridge refused to live at Gill Hall, the family seat a few miles to the west, because of the ghosts there. In 1952, the ballroom and a service wing at the back were demolished.”
“The Stewarts came from Scotland to Donegal as part of the Jacobean Plantation of Ulster. Alexander Stewart and his wife, Mary Cowan, bought a large area of land in County Down in 1744, part of which became Mount Stewart demesne. Mary had inherited a fortune from her brother, Robert Cowan, who was in the East India Company, and was Governor of Bombay.
A modest house on the shore of Strangford Lough was extended in the 1780s into a long low 2-storey house by Alexander’s son, Robert. Robert also built a walled garden and farm buildings further inland, and commissioned James ‘Athenian’ Stuart to design the Temple of the Winds, one of the finest small neo-classical buildings in Ireland. Through his political connections and marriage, Robert rose through the political ranks, becoming earl and subsequently marquess of Londonderry.
It was Robert’s son, best known as Viscount Castlereagh, who chose the architect George Dance to design a new wing for Mount Stewart which included a series of fine reception rooms. The west wing was built around 1804–6.
Castlereagh is best known in Ireland for his involvement in the repression of the 1798 Rebellion and as one of the architects of the Anglo-Irish Union of 1800, for which he was vilified by many. He was however regarded as a consummate statesman and astute negotiator.
From 1802 to 1822 he was based in London as Secretary of State for War and Foreign Secretary during the wars with America and France under Napoleon. He was one of the chief negotiators at the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) and his greatest legacy was steering the Congress towards a more equitable balance of power. The Congress was the first multinational European congress; many issues were discussed including the abolition of slavery. Castlereagh became a staunch supporter of abolition, as the trade was ‘repugnant to the principles of humanity and universal morality’.
The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 earned him more criticism, for although he was not personally responsible and was appalled by the outcome, as Home Secretary he had to justify the yeomanry’s actions. In 1822 he suffered a breakdown and took his own life, just a year after becoming the 2nd marquess of Londonderry.
Castlereagh’s half-brother, Charles Stewart fought in the Peninsula War under Wellington and became British ambassador at Berlin and then Vienna during the Congress. In 1819 he married the wealthy Frances Anne Vane Tempest who had inherited coal mines and a grand estate in County Durham. They travelled widely and rebuilt Wynyard, County Durham and Londonderry House in London. Charles also extended Mount Stewart in the 1840s. His grandson, the 6th Marquess, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the 1880s. The 6th Marquess was strongly opposed to Home Rule for Ireland; he and his wife were instigators and signatories of the Ulster Covenant in 1912.
Charles’s great-grandson, Charles 7th Marquess, served in the First World War, during which his wife Edith founded the Women’s Legion. At the end of the war, Edith began to create the gardens at Mount Stewart and redecorated and furnished the house, processes she thoroughly enjoyed and continued until her death in 1959. Charles served in the new Northern Irish government following the partition of Ireland in 1921. He later became Secretary of State for Air during the early 1930s. The horrors of the First World War and the rise of Communism meant many were anxious to avoid another European war. For Charles, this meant holding a series of meetings with the Nazi leadership, but his actions and intentions were misunderstood and his career and reputation were fatally damaged.
These historic, sometimes seismic, events are woven into Mount Stewart and there are many objects, books and paintings in the house that connect us to the people who experienced, influenced and formed them.”
You can see pictures and read more about the treasures in the house on the website.
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 216. “Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Londonderry, M/PB) A long two storey Classical house of 1820s, one end of which is, in fact, a house built 1803-06 by 1st Marquess of Londonderry (father of the stateman, Castlereagh) to the design of George Dance. The seven bay front of 1803-06 house survives as the end elevation of the present house; unchanged, except that its centre bay now breaks forward under a shallow pediment, similar to those on either side of the present entrance front, which are very much of 1820s. The three rooms at this end of the house keep their original ceilings of delicate plasterwork; the centre one, which was formerly the entrance hall, has a ceiling with pendentives, making it an octagon. Behind this former entrance hall is an imperial staircase with a balustrade of elegant ironwork, lit by a dome; this too, is part of the earlier house. 3rd Marquess, Castlereagh’s younger half-brother, who was far richer than either his father or his brother had ever been, having married the wealthy Durham heiress, Frances Anne Vane Tempest, enlarged the house to its present form ca 1825-28, his architect being William Vitruvius Morrison. A new block was built onto what had been the back of the original house, as wide as the original house was long and long enough to make, with the end of the original house, a new entrance front of 11 bays, with a pedimented porte-cochere of four giant Ionic columns as its main central feature; the three outer bays on either side being treated as pavilions, each with a one bay pedimented breakfront similar to that which was put onto the front of the original house. The outer bays have a balustraded roof parapet, which is carried round the end of the house and along the new garden front. The latter is as long as the entrance front, and has a boldly projecting centre with a pediment and a single-storey portico of coupled Ionic columns; and a curved bow at either end. The principal interior feature of the newer building is a vast central hall, consisting of an octagon, top-lit through a balustraded gallery from a dome filled with stained glass, with rectangular extensions so as to form a room much longer than it is wide; with screens of couple painted marble Ionci columns between the octagon and the extensions. Morrison’s reception rooms are spacious and simple; the drawing room has a screen of Ionic colmns at either end. The interior of the house was done up post WWI by 7th Marquess, Secretary of State for Air in 1930s; the central room in the garden front being panelled as a smoking and living room. The 7th Marquess and his wife (the well-known political hostess and friend of Ramsay MacDonald) also laid out an elaborate garden, going down the hillside from the garden front of the house towards Strangford Lough. As well as this noteaable C20 garden. Mount Stewart boasts of one of the finest C18 garden buildings in Irelnad, the Temple of the Winds, an octagonal banqueting house built 1780 to the design of “Athenian” Stuart, who based it on the Tower of the Winds in Athens. It has a porch on two of its faces, each with two columns of the same modified Corinthian order as that of the columns of the Tower of the Winds. Mount Stewart was given to the Norhtern Ireland National Trust by Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of 7th Marquess, ca 1977, and is now open to the public. The Temple of the Winds was given 1962 to the Trust, which has since restored it; the garden was given to the Trust in 1955.”
8. Newry and Mourne Museum, Bagenal’s Castle, County Down
“Bagenal’s Castle is a sixteenth century fortified house and adjoining nineteenth century warehouse. It houses Newry and Mourne Museum and Newry Visitor Information Centre.
During restoration work on the Castle many original features were uncovered including fireplaces, windows, doorways, gun loops and a bread oven. These have been interpreted for the visitor and drawings were commissioned to illustrate how the various living quarters of the castle would have functioned in the sixteenth century. Highlights include a restored Banqueting Room which is used throughout the year for seasonal and family events.
The Museum’s diverse collections include material relating to prehistory, Newry’s Cistercian foundations, Ulster’s Gaelic order and the relationship with the English Crown; the building of a merchant town and the first summit level canal in the British Isles. You can also discover the history of the ‘Gap of the North’, the historic mountain pass between Ulster and Leinster located to the south of Newry. One of the key main exhibitions, ‘A Border Town’s Experience of the 20th Century’, examines local attitudes to major political and economic events of the 20th century. There are also permanent exhibitions on farming, fishing and folklore in the Mournes and South Armagh.”
“Portaferry Castle is a 16th-century tower-house, built by the Savage family and prominently located on the slope overlooking Portaferry harbour within sight of Strangford and Audley’s Castles across the water. Simpler than the earlier ‘gatehouse’ tower house, it is square in plan with one projecting tower to the south where a turret rises an extra storey and contains the entrance and stair from ground floor to first floor.
There are three storeys and an attic, and like early tower-houses it has spiral stairs. However, like some later tower houses it lacks a stone vault as all floors were originally made of wood.
***THE CASTLE IS CURRENTLY CLOSED FOR REPAIRS AND WILL NOT OPEN THIS YEAR”
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 232. “(Nugent, sub Douglas-Nugent/IFR) A dignified house of 1821, by William Farrell, who apparently worked on a plan produced by Charles Lilley 1790, the three storey centre of the house being very possibly a three storey block of 1770s. The centre of the entrance front is of five bays, with a central Wyatt window in each of two upper storeys; and a porch with paired Ionic columns and Ionic end piers. On either side of the centre there is a wide, three-sided bow, ofonly two storeys but as high as the rest of the front. Ionic columns in hall and some good plasterwork. The house stands in beautiful parkland overlooking the entrance to Strangford Lough.”
Places to stay, County Down
1. Barr Hall Barns, Portaferry, County Down– self catering €
and Florida Manor Gambles Patch, Hollow View and Meadow Green.
The website tells us: “Dating back to 1676, Florida Manor, an original Irish Georgian Estate has undergone sympathetic refurbishment. Within the estates original stone perimeter wall lies 200 acres of extensive landscaped grasslands, private lakes, walkways and bridal paths.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 297. “(Gordon/IFR) A C18 house consisting of a three storey principal block with a recessed centre, linked to lower wings by curved sweeps with balustrades and pilasters. Projecting enclosed porch, also balustraded and with Ionic columns. quoins. Originally the seat of the Crawfords; passed by marriage to the Gordons C18. The house became ruinous in the present century but has been restored as two dwellings.”
“A tower with pepper-pot bartizans rising from a hill at the southern end of the demesne, completed 1862 to a design by William Burn. It was built in honour of his mother, Helen, Lady Dufferin, one of three beautiful and lively sisters who were the granddaughters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan; in a room near the top of the tower, lined with delicate Gothic woodwork, the walls are adorned with poems on bronze tablets expressing the love between mother and son; including a poem written specially for Lord Dufferin by Tennyson:
The website tells us: “Kiltariff Hall is a Victorian Country House on the outskirts of the small market town of Rathfriland. Built by our great-grandfather William Fegan in 1888, the house is set at the end of a short drive and is surrounded by mature oak, sycamore and pine trees. It is run myself, Catherine and my sister Shelagh who grew up in Kiltariff when it was a working farm. We are both passionate and knowledgeable about the Mourne area and believe that providing good locally produced food is key to ensuring guests enjoy their stay.“
“Narrow Water Castle is the private home of the Hall family who have lived at Narrow Water since 1670, originally in the Old Narrow Water Keep situated on the shoreline of Carlingford Lough which is now a national monument.
As a private home the castle is not open for public admission. It does however occasionally open its doors for weddings and exclusive events.
In 1816 construction began on the new Castle by Thomas Duff, a well-known Newry architect who also designed the Cathedrals in Newry, Armagh and Dundalk. The Elizabethan revival style castle is made from local granite and built next to the existing house, Mount Hall (1680). It was completed in 1836.
The self catering apartments are located in the original hub of the castle (Mount Hall), dating back to 1680. Mount Hall joins the Elizabethan revival part of the castle to the courtyard.“
Number 2: The apartment opens into an elegant open plan, living room and dining room with open fire. We have used several antique pieces of furniture to hint of times gone by. We are happy to provide logs if our guests wish to use the fire.
There are two spacious, beautifully furnished bedrooms, one of which is en-suite.
Number 6: This 2 bedroom luxury apartment is the perfect place to escape and unwind. Both bedrooms are en-suite. There is a grand open plan living /dining area with a unique feature skylight and exposed beams. The living area is adorned with antique furniture has a wood burning stove for cosy nights by the fire. The modern kitchen is fully equipped and the dining area seats six comfortably. A quality sofa bed allows this apartment to accommodate up to six guests. This apartment is on the first floor with access via the original stone staircase dating to the 1680s
The website tells us: “Slieve Donard was originally built by the Belfast and County Down Railway as an ‘end of the line’ luxury holiday destination. Construction started in 1896 and was completed and officially opened on 24th June 1898 at the cost of £44,000. It was one of the most majestic hotels of its time and was almost self-sufficient with its own bakery, vegetable gardens, pigs, laundry and innovatively a power plant, which also provided electricity for the railway station.
Slieve Donard typified the idea of Victorian grandeur and luxury with its Drawing Room, Grand Coffee Room, Reading and Writing Room, Smoking Room, Billiard Room and Hairdressing Rooms—you can’t help but conjure up scenes of great style and decadence. ‘One could even partake of seawater baths, douche, spray, needle and Turkish baths all provided by an electric pump straight from the sea.
In 2021, Adventurous Journeys (AJ) Capital Partners acquired Slieve Donard Resort and Spa, which will become the first Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts property in Northern Ireland and the fourth hotel in the collection.“
9. St John’s Point Lighthouse Sloop, Killough, County Down€ for 3-4
“This fabulous period home is a historic Irish country farm house. Set on wonderful gardens including an orchard, Tullymurry House is an ideal base for golf, fishing, hiking, walking, beach, and other outdoor pursuits.“
11. Tyrella, Downpatrick, County Down, BT30 8SU– accommodation €
“Tyrella House is a luxury B&B and wedding venue located in the heart of picturesque County Down, with its necklace of pretty fishing villages. A fine 18th century house surrounded by glorious wooded parkland with its own private beach just a short walk from the house, Tyrella offers a tranquil and relaxing getaway.
Tyrella House has been owned by the Corbett family for over 60 years, and was bought by John Corbett after the Second World War to train race horses.
His son, David Corbett began running B&B in the 1990s, which continues to this day. In 2020, the day to day running of the B&B was taken over by his son, John and his wife Hannah.“
“At Ballydugan we can provide accommodation and an oasis of relative calm for the Bride’s immediate family. Also if absolute adherence to tradition is important then we haveBallymote Country Housenearby, where we can ensure that the paths of the Bride and Groom will not cross prior to the wedding.“
 Mulligan, Kevin V. The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster, Armagh, Cavan and Monaghan. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2013.
 p. 11. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 p. 12, Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
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
Today we start with places to see in Ulster. I am publishing this list first because in my researches, I have so often met with families and properties in Northern Ireland which I had not been including in my listings. I can’t wait to start exploring Northern Ireland as well as continuing my visits to Section 482 properties.
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);
1. Antrim Castle gardens and Clotworthy House, County Antrim – estate and gardens open to the public, the Castle was destroyed by fire. The stable block, built in the 1840s and now known as Clotworthy House, is used as an arts centre.
“Antrim Castle Gardens are an absolute historical gem. You will find nothing like these 400 year old gardens anywhere else in Northern Ireland. A £6m restoration project, which received generous support from Heritage Lottery Fund, has now preserved this historic site for generations to come.
Walk into the past as you stroll around this magnificent setting, visiting beautiful features such as the Large Parterre, Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Garden and Yew Tree Pond.
Within the heart of the Gardens is a unique visitor experience, the refurbished Clotworthy House. Visit the Garden Heritage Exhibition where you can read about the history of the Gardens and the story of the Massereene family. It provides a fantastic opportunity to come and learn about garden history how the lives of the key family members intertwine with the development of Antrim town and the surrounding areas.
The light filled Oriel Gallery plays host to a range of stunning exhibitions throughout the year.
Be sure to visit and sample the many culinary delights in the Garden Coffee Shop with its delicious treat menu which has something to suit everyone. Your visit won’t be complete without a visit to the Visitor Shop where there is a unique range of goods with a distinct garden focus. With Christmas just around the corner, the shop offers some interesting and quaint gift ideas so why not drop in and pick something up for a friend, a loved one or even to spoil yourself.
With a year round programme of events and activities including talks, walks, interactive workshops, performances and exhibitions, the Gardens are just waiting to be explored.“
“Antrim Castle Gardens is a 17th century Anglo Dutch water garden, one of only three in the British Isles. In a beautiful riverside location close to Antrim town centre they are perfect for a stroll, a coffee or the opportunity to experience a variety of exhibitions, courses and classes.
Developed around Antrim Castle, built by Sir Hugh Clotworthy and his son, Sir John Clotworthy, between 1610 and 1662, they are a complex living museum containing over four centuries of culture and heritage that tell the stories of the people who created, lived and worked here.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes of Antrim Castle in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses
“(Skeffington, Massereene and Ferrard, V/PB) A castle by the side of the Sixmilewater, just above where it flows into Lough Neagh, built originally 1613 by the important English settler, Sir Hugh Clotworthy, and enlarged 1662 by his son, 1st Viscount Massereene [John Clotworthy (1614-1665)]. The castle was rebuilt 1813 as a solid three storey Georgian-Gothic castellated mansion, designed by John Bowden, of Dublin, faced in Roman cement of a pleasant orange colour; the original Carolean doorway of the castle, a tremendous affair of Ionic pilasters, heraldry, festoons and a head of Charles I, being re-erected as the central feature of the entrance front, below a battlemented pediment. Apart from this, and tower-like projections at the corners, with slender round angle turrets and shallow pyramidal roofs, the elevations were plain; the entrance front being of four bays between the projections, and the long adjoining front of 11 bays. Mullioned oriels and a tall octagonal turret of ashlar were added to the long front in 1887, when the castle was further enlarged. Remarkable C17 formal garden, unique in Ulster, its only surviving counterpart being at Killruddery, Co Wicklow. Long canal, bordered with tall hedges, and other canal at right angles to it, making a “T” shape; old trees, dark masses of yew and walls of rose-coloured brick. Mount, with spiral path, originally the motte of a Norman castle. Imposing Jacobean revival outbuildings of course rubble basalt with sandstone dressings; built ca. 1840. Entrance gateway to the demesne with octagonal turrets. Antrim Castle was burnt 1922.” 
The 1st Viscount Massereene married Margaret Jones, daughter of Roger Jones, 1st Viscount Ranelagh. Their daughter Margaret married and her husband gained the title through her, to become John Skeffington, 2nd Viscount Massereene. The 4th Viscount, whose first name was Clotworthy, which became a family name, married Lady Catherine Chichester, eldest daughter of Arthur, 4th Earl of Donegall. Their son Clotworthy became 1st Earl of Massereene.
The 4th Earl died in 1816, and the earldom expired; but the viscountcy of Massereene and barony of Loughneagh devolved upon his only daughter and sole heiress, Harriet Skeffington, 9th Viscountess of Massereene (1789-1843) . She married, in 1810, Thomas Henry Foster, 2nd Viscount Ferrard. It was for Harriet and Thomas that the castle was rebuilt in 1813. Algernon William John Clotworthy Whyte-Melville Skeffington, 12th Viscount Massereene and Ferrard, DSO, was the last of the Skeffingtons to live at Antrim Castle. Lord and Lady Massereene and their family were hosting a grand ball in Antrim Castle when it was burnt by an IRA gang on the 28th October, 1922. Following the fire, Lord Massereene went to live in the nearby dower house, Skeffington Lodge (which subsequently became the Deer Park Hotel, but is no longer a hotel). Further losses of family treasures – this time by sale, not by fire – now followed.
After the Second World War, Skeffington Lodge was abandoned; the Antrim Castle stable block was converted for use as a family residence, and was re-named Clotworthy House. Clotworthy was acquired by Antrim Borough Council, and was converted for use as an Arts Centre in 1992.
Timothy William Ferrers tells us that a fine stone bridge, the Deer Park Bridge, spans the river at a shallow point and formed a link between the demesne and the rest of the estate. He continues:
“The Anglo-Norman motte adjacent to the house was made into a garden feature, with a yew-lined spiral walk leading to the top, from which views of the grounds, the town of Antrim and the river could (and can still) be enjoyed.
The castle and the motte were enclosed within a bawn and protected by artillery bastions, which were utilized for gardens from the 18th century.
The formal canals, linked by a small cascade and lined with clipped lime and hornbeam hedges, are the main attraction. The main gate lodge from the town, the Barbican Gate, was possibly built in 1818 to the designs of John Bowden and has been separated from the site by the intrusion of the road. An underpass now connects the lodge entrance to the grounds.” (see )
Also Featured in Irish Country Houses, Portraits and Painters. David Hicks. The Collins Press, Cork, 2014.
“Belfast Castle estate is situated on the lower slopes of Cave Hill Country Park in north Belfast. It contains both parkland and mature mixed woodland and offers superb views of the city from a variety of vantage points. The estate is home to many different species of wildlife, including long-eared owls, sparrowhawks and Belfast’s rarest plant, the town hall clock.
More information about the estate is available from Cave Hill Visitor Centre, located in Belfast Castle. You can call the centre directly on 028 9077 6925. Park features include Cave Hill Adventurous Playground, Cave Hill Visitor Centre, landscaped gardens, a Millennium herb garden, ecotrails and orienteering routes. We also offer refreshments (in Belfast Castle), scenic views, full car parking facilities and a wide variety of wildlife.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:
“(Chichester, Donegall, M/PB; Ashley-Cooper, Shaftsbury, E/PB) The original Belfast Castle was a tall, square semi-fortified house with many gables, built at the beginning of C17 by the Lord Deputy Sir Arthur Chichester, uncle of the 1st Earl of Donegall. It stood surrounded by formal gardens and orchards going down to a branch of the River Lagan, and was the seat of the Donegalls until 1708 when it was destroyed by a fire “caused through the carelessness of a female servant,” three of six daughters of 3rd Earl perishing in the blaze. The castle was not rebuilt and the ruin was subsequently demolished; its site and that of its gardens is now occupied by Castle Place and the adjoining streets, in what is now the centre of the city. For much of C18, the Donegalls lived in England; later, they lived at Ormeau, just outside Belfast to the south-east. 3rd Marquess of Donegall [George Hamilton Chichester (1797-1883)] found Ormeau inconvenient; and so, towards the end of 1860s, he and his son-in-law and daughter, afterwards 8th Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury, built a large Scottish-Baronial castle at the opposite side of the city, in a fine position on the lower slopes of Cave Hill, overlooking the Lough; it was named Belfast Castle, after Sir Arthur Chichester’s vanished house. The architects of the new Belfast Castle were Sir Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn; stylistically, it would seem to be very much Lynn’s work; but it may also perhaps have been influenced by a design by William Burn, having a plan almost exactly similar to those of several of Burns’s Scottish-Baronial castles. Tall square tower, of six storeys, in the manner of Balmoral. Projecting pillared porch in “Jacobethan” style, with strapwork on columns. On the garden front, a fantastic snaking Elizabethan staircase of stone leading down to the terrace from the piano nobile was added 1894. Entrance hall in base of tower; larger hall opening at one end into staircase well with massive oak stair; arcaded first floor gallery. Now well maintained by the City of Belfast as a setting for functions.” 
The Castle passed from the 3rd Marquess of Donegall to his daughter Harriet Chichester and her husband Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1831-1886), who became the 8th Earl of Shaftsbury. Their son the 9th Earl of Shaftsbury served as Lord Mayor in 1907 and Chancellor of Queen’s University the following year. The family presented the castle and estate to the City of Belfast in 1934.
Timothy William Ferres tells us that from the end of the 2nd World War until the 1970s the castle became a popular venue for wedding receptions, dances and afternoon teas. In 1978, Belfast City Council instituted a major refurbishment programme that was to continue over a period of ten years at a cost of over two million pounds.
The architect this time was the Hewitt and Haslam Partnership. The building was officially re-opened to the public on 11 November 1988. [see 2]
“Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle in Northern Ireland, situated in the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim, on the northern shore of Belfast Lough.
Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the castle played an important military role until 1928 and remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland.
For more than 800 years, Carrickfergus Castle has been an imposing monument on the Northern Ireland landscape whether approached by land, sea or air. The castle now houses historical displays as well as cannons from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
A visit will give you the opportunity to see how the Great Hall at the top of the Great Tower has been transformed by the new roof which has greatly improved the visitor’s experience.“
The Department for Communities website has more information about Carrickfergus Castle. It tells us:
“Begun by John de Courcy soon after his 1177 invasion of Ulster. Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the castle played an important military role until 1928 and remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland.
Its long history includes sieges by King John in 1210 and Edward Bruce in 1315, its capture by Schomberg for William III in 1689, and capture by the French under Thurot in 1760. The castle was used by the army until 1928, and in the 1939 to 1945 war it housed air-raid shelters.“
John de Courcy (1177-1204) came to Ireland in the time of King Henry II, and Henry gave him land in Ulster. De Courcy fought the inhabitants of Downpatrick for his land and set up a castle there for himself. King Henry II was so pleased with him he created him Earl of Ulster and Lord of Connacht and in 1185 appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. [see Patrick Weston Joyce, The Wonders of Ireland, 1911, on https://www.libraryireland.com/Wonders/Sir-John-De-Courcy-1.php ]
“With evidence of settlement from the first millennium, the present castle ruins date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was inhabited by both the feuding McQuillan and MacDonnell clans. Historical and archaeological exhibits are on display for public viewing.
Opening Hours: Please check before visiting as public access may be restricted.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:
“(McDonnell, Antrim, E/PB) The ancestral stronghold of the McDonnells, Earls of Antrim, dramatically situated at the end of a rocky promontory jutting out into the sea off the north Antrim coat. The castle, which was built at various periods from C14 to C17, eventually consisted of several round towers and a gatehouse with rather Scottish bartizans, joined by a curtain wall, with domestic buildings inside this enclosure. The latter included a mid-C16 loggia with sandstone columns, and a two storey Elizabethan or Jacobean house, with three large oriels. These two buildings were first of two courtyards into which the castle enclosure was divided; the other and lower yard containing offices and servants’ quarters. There were also buildings on the mainland, erected early C17. In 1639, part of the curtain wall of the castle collapsed into the sea, together with some of the servants’ quarters and a number of servants. After the Civil Wars, the castle was abandoned by the family in favour of Glenarm Castle, it is now a romantic ruin.” 
5. Galgorm Castle – now part of a golf club, County Antrim
The website tells us: “Galgorm Castle is an historic estate dating back to Jacobean times but has evolved into one of Northern Ireland’s most vibrant destinations with diverse business, golf and recreational activities housed there. The focal point is the 17th century Jacobean castle dating back to 1607, which has been restored and along with the immaculate walled gardens is part of the Ivory Pavilion wedding and events company. The castle is also a historical reminder of the important role the Galgorm Estate played as part of Northern Ireland’s history. Away from the championship golf course there is plenty of opportunity to try the game for the first time at the Fun Golf Area with a six-hole short course and Himalayas Putting Green. The Galgorm Fairy Trail is another family option which runs out of Arthur’s Cottage at the Fun Golf Area.And if looking for great food and drink, a meal at the Castle Kitchen + Bar at the Galgorm Castle clubhouse is a must. Members and non-members are welcome.”
The website contains a history of the Castle:
“Galgorm Castle is one of the finest examples of Jacobean architecture in Ireland. In May 1607, King James I granted the Ballymena Estate to Rory Og MacQuillan, a mighty warrior, famous for stating “No Captain of this race ever died in his bed,” (which thankfully means Galgorm Castle has one less ghost.). His Castle overlooks and dominates the 10th green and a network of souterrains at the fifth and eighth greens.
Sir Faithful Fortescue (b. 1585) was the nephew Arthur Chichester. This name may have come from his habit of being particularly sharp in his dealings as he tricked Rory Og McQuillan out of estates and started to build Galgorm Castle in 1618. He might better have been known as Sir Faithless Fortescue as during the Civil War, in the heat of the battle of Edghhill, he changed sides from the Parliamentarians to the Cavaliers, but forgot to instruct his men to remove the orange sashes of the Parliamentarians so seventeen of them were slain by the Cavaliers as the enemy.
Always known for turning a quick buck Sir Faithless sold the estate to the infamous Dr Alexander Colville [(c.1597-c.1679. He was a clergyman who became a wealthy landlord so it may have been malicious gossip that led to rumours)] who, as legend has it was an alchemist, reputed to have sold his soul to the devil for gold and knowledge. The stories of the good doctor are well documented and his portrait is not allowed to ever leave the castle or disaster will fall. His footsteps beat out a steady tattoo through the night as he does his rounds. Other nights, a ghostly light flickers around the park as he searches for his treasure, lost for over 300 years.
The Youngs – rich linen merchants, bought the Estate in 1850 and their cousin Sir Roger Casement lived here for six years while he was at Ballymena Academy.
The Duke of Wurtenburg made his headquarters at Galgorm following the Battle of the Boyne. The renowned Irish scholar Rose Young was born at Galgorm in 1865.
During the 1980’s, Christopher Brooke and his family inherited Galgorm Castle Estate and began developing his vision to turn Galgorm Castle into the one of Northern Ireland’s premier destinations, securing the Estate’s long-term future.”
6. Glenarm Castle, County Antrim– private, can book a tour
The website tells us that Glenarm Castle is one of few country estates that remains privately owned but open to the public. It is steeped in a wealth of history, culture and heritage and attracts over 100,000 visitors annually from all over the world.
“Visitors can enjoy enchanted walks through the Walled Garden and Castle Trail, indulge in an amazing lunch in the Tea Room, purchase some local produce or official merchandise, or browse through a wide range of ladies & gents fashions and accessories and a selection of beautiful gifts, souvenirs and crafts in the Byre Shop and Shambles Workshop – with many ranges exclusive to Glenarm Castle.“
“Glenarm Castle is the ancestral home of the McDonnell family, Earls of Antrim. The castle is first and foremost the private family home of Viscount and Viscountess Dunluce and their family but they are delighted to welcome visitors to Glenarm Castle for guided tours on selected dates throughout the year.
Delve deep into the history of Glenarm Castle brought to life by the family butler and house staff within the walls of the drawing room, the dining room, the ‘Blue Room’ and the Castle’s striking hall.
Finish the day with the glorious sight of the historic Walled Garden, which dates back to the 17th century.“
Dates are limited and booking in advance is required.
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 135. “(McDonnell, Antrim, E/PB) Originally a castle built 1603 by Sir Randal MacDonnell [1610-1682], afterwards 1st Earl of Antrim, as a hunting lodge or secondary residence; became the principal seat of the family after Dunluce Castle was abandoned.
The mansion house was rebuilt ca 1750 as a 3-storey double gable-ended block, joined by curving colonnades to two storey pavilions with high roofs and cupolas. [This would have been during the life of the 5th Earl of Antrim, Alexander MacDonnell (1713-1775)].
The main block had a pedimented breakfront with three windows in the top storey, a Venetian window below and a tripartite doorway below again, flanked on either side by a Venetian window in each of the two lower storeys and a triple window above. The pavilions were of three bays. Ca. 1825, the heiress of the McDonnells, Anne, Countess of Antrim in her own right, and her second husband [Edmund Phelps], who had assumed the surname of McDonnell, commissioned William Vitruvius Morrison to throw a Tudor cloak over Glenarm. He did very much the same as he had done at Borris, Co Carlow and Kilcoleman Abbey, Co Kerry; adding four slender corner turrets to C18 block, crowned with cupolas and gilded vanes; he also gave the house a Tudor-Revival façade with stepped gables, finials, pointed and mullioned windows and heraldic achievements, as well as a suitably Tudor porch. The other fronts were also given pointed windows and the colonnades and pavilions were swept away, a two storey Tudor-Revival service wing being added in their stead.
The interior remained Classical; the hall being divided by an arcade with fluted Corinthian columns; the dining room having a cornice of plasterwork in the keyhole pattern. In 1929, the Castle was more or less gutted by fire; in the subsequent rebuilding, to the designs of Imrie & Angell, of London, the pointed and mullioned windows were replaced with rectangular Georgian sashes. Apart from the octagon bedroom, which keeps its original plasterwork ceiling with doves, the interior now dates from the post-fire rebuilding; some of the rooms have ceilings painted by the present Countess of Antrim [Elizabeth Hannah Sacher]. The service wing was reconstructed after another fire 1967, the architect being Mr Donal Insall. In 1825, at the same time as the castle was made Tudor, the entrance to the demesne from the town of Glenarm was transformed into one of the most romantic pieces of C19 medievalism in Ireland, probably also by Morrison. A tall, embattled gate tower, known as the Barbican, stands at the far end of the bridge across the river, flanked by battlemented walls rising from the river bed.”
Randall William MacDonnell, 6th Earl of Antrim and later 1st (and last) Marquess of Antrim (1749-1792), married Letitia Morres, daughter of Hervey Morres 1st Viscount Mountmorres of Kilkenny. They had no sons. His eldest daughter Anne Catherine became Countess of Antrim in her own right. When she died her sister Charlotte became Countess of Antrim. Her sons became the 4th and 5th Earls of Antrim. The descendants still live in the castle.
See also the blog of Timothy William Ferres. [see 2]
7. Lissanoure Castle, County Antrim– private, wedding venue
George MacCartney, 1st and last Earl Macartney, lived at Lissanoure Castle, and is an ancestor of my husband, Stephen! His mother was a Winder.
The website tells us: “Lissanoure Castle is an award-winning venue situated on a privately owned estate. The beautiful natural landscape provides the perfect backdrop for those all important photos and memories that last a lifetime. The 18th century Coach House and the Castle Barn have been converted into spectacular venues, with a fully licensed bar.“
“Lissanoure Castle is on an island site in the heart of a privately owned estate of Peter and Emily Mackie. It was the original seat of Lord Macartney, the first British Ambassador to China.” Earl Macartney brought his cousin (1st cousin, once removed) Edward Winder with him to China, and Edward kept a diary, which is in the National Library of Ireland’s manuscript room.
The website for Lissanoure tells us: “There has been a settlement at Lissanoure since Celtic times because of its naturally defensive position. In the middle of the lake there is a crannóg (an artificial island normally dating from the Iron Age and used for defence).
The earliest record of a castle situated at Lissanoure dates from 1300. There is some confusion about who built it, some records naming Sir Philip Savage and other records showing Richard Óg de Burgh, second Earl of Ulster (also known as The Red Earl).
The estate passed to the O’Hara family of Crebilly in the early part of the fourteenth century. There are maps dated 1610 and published by John Speede, showing the castle (called Castle Balan) sited on the north shore of the lake.
The estate was sold in 1733 to George Macartney, a member of the Irish Parliament, for over fifty-four years.
It passed in due course to his only grandson, George (born 1737) later Envoy Extraordinary to Catherine the Great, Chief Secretary for Ireland, President of Fort St. George, Madras, Ambassador to China, Govenor of the Cape of Good Hope, Earl in the Irish Peerage and Baron in the British Peerage.
The estate remained with the Macartney family until the beginning of the last century when it was acquired by the Mackie family.
Today, it is still a traditional family estate with farming and forestry and it is owned and managed by Peter and Emily Mackie. They have continued the restoration work, started by his parents, of the castle and the gardens.“
Earl Macartney did not have children. The website tells us that The Lissanoure and Dervock estates were left to Macartney’s wife who had a life-interest. The heir was his sister’s daughter, Elizabeth Belaguier, who married the Rev. Dr Travers Hume, a Church of Ireland clergyman. However she never inherited the estates as she died before the Countess of Macartney, so Elizabeth’s eldest son, George Hume, inherited the Lissanoure and Dervock estates, with one of the conditions being that he assumed the surname Macartney.
George Hume Macartney had expressed dissatisfaction with the existing castle as it was often in need of repair, for it suffered from damp, and the family had to move out for periods. He decided to rebuild much of it whilst, at the same time rebuilding an “elegant cottage in the later English style” near the edge of the lake. He changed the Gothic mansion to a Georgian styled mansion extending the living quarters for the house into where the stables and coach houses were in the court yard. He then built on a semi-circular yard of grand dimensions for the stables and coach houses with an impressive Tudor revival archway and clock tower entrance.
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
“Following Lord Macartney’s death in 1806, Lissanoure was inherited by his great-nephew, George Hume, who assumed the surname of Macartney; and who began rebuilding the house from 1829 onwards, pulling down the old castle, which stood at one corner of it; putting up a Tudor archway leading into the courtyard, surmounted by an octagonal battlemented belfry and spire, very much in the manner of William Vitruvius Morrison.
Not until 1847 did he tackle the front of the house, having in the meantime built himself ”an elegant cottage in the later English style, richly embellished” by the side of the lake. In that same year, after the front wall has been taken down, with a view to rebuilding it, there was an explosion which killed Mrs Macartney and presumably also damaged the structure of the house; for all work on it ceased and it was allowed to fall into ruin. The “elegant cottage” continued to serve as the family residence and it was later rebuilt in a more rustic style, with dormer gables and elaborate bargeboards; and an office wing a the back almost twice as large as the house itself.” 
The website tells us that George Hume Macartney died and the Lissanoure and Dervock estates were inherited in 1869 by his eldest son, George Travers Macartney, a former Captain in the 15th King’s Hussars. “He was well regarded by all his tenants and workers, so it came as a tremendous shock when he died of a sudden heart attack on the 29th August 1874 attack aged 44 leaving a wife and four small children. The people of Dervock erected a fountain to him beside the bridge in the centre of the village in his memory and many tributes were paid to him.
Carthanach George Macartney, aged 5 years, inherited the estates. He was officially landlord of Lissanoure and Dervock for a total of 62 years, a record among Irish gentry.
His mother and cousins took charge in the early years but when Carthanach came to power he proved himself kind and generous.
He saw the break-up of the estate under the Land Acts,which started in 1881, under which his tenantry eventually became owner-occupiers and he was left only with the lands immediately around his home, which he farmed. In 1936 his son George Travers Lucy Macartney aged 40 years became his successor... In 1943 The Mackie family of James Mackie & Sons of Belfast, once the world’s largest producers of textile machinery and major contributors to the war effort with the production of Bofors gun shells and the fuselage for Stirling bombers, buy the estate from the Macartney family.”
8. Malone House, Belfast, County Antrim– wedding and conference venue
“Located on the site of a 17th century fort, Malone House was built in the 1820s for William Wallace Legge, a rich Belfast merchant who had inherited the surrounding land. A keen landscaper, he designed and planted most of the estate’s grounds, which remain relatively unchanged today.
When Legge died, ownership of Malone House passed to the Harberton family, who lived on the premises from 1868 to 1920. The building’s last owner was William Barnett, who presented Malone House to the city of Belfast in 1946.
Following its presentation to the city, Malone House was leased to the National Trust in the early 1970s. After it was nearly destroyed by a fire in 1976, the building was repaired by the council and reopened in June 1983.
Since then, it has become a major venue for weddings, conferences, social functions and other events, while the surrounding grounds are popular with walkers and cyclists.”
9. Wilmont House (park only), Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Rose Gardens.
“The beautiful Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park comprises rolling meadows, woodland, riverside fields and formal gardens. The City of Belfast International Rose Garden has made the park world famous, and contains over 20,000 blooms in the summer, divided into trial and display beds, an historical section, and a heritage garden that displays the best of the roses from local breeders. Each season thousands of visitors enjoy the rose gardens and associated events during Rose Week.
Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park also contains International Camellia Trials, a walled garden, a Japanese-style garden with water features for quiet contemplation, a very popular childrens’ playground, an orienteering course and many walks.”
Mark Bence-Jones describes Wilmont House: p. 285. “(Reade/LGI1958) A plain two storey Victorian house, built 1859. Three bay front, with balustraded porch; lower wing, ending with wing as high as main block. Adjoining front with central curved bown and one bay on either side. Camber-headed windows in upper storey of main block. Eaved roof on bracket cornice.”
Timothy William Ferres tells us:
“The original house, which stood on the site of the present-day barbecue area, dated back to 1740 and was replaced by the present red-bricked house in 1859.
This house was designed by Thomas Jackson (1807-90), one of Belfast`s most notable Victorian architects.
Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon purchased Wilmont demesne in 1919.
Sir Thomas died at Harrowgate in 1950. Lady Dixon, who was appointed DBE after the 1st World War in recognition of her service to HM Forces, died in 1964. A year before her death, in 1963, Wilmont demesne was officially handed over to Belfast Corporation. The house, according to her wishes, was shortly afterwards opened as a home for the elderly; while the grounds, at her behest, were opened to the public.
The present park, named after its benefactors, consists of 134 acres and has been the venue for the City of Belfast International Rose Trials since 1964.” (see )
Places to stay. Count Antrim:
1. Ballyealy Cottage, Castle Shane Estate, County Antrim€€ for two, € for 3-5
The website tells us: “Located close to the shores of Lough Neagh, Ballealy Cottage is a nature lover’s paradise. With a wonderful wildlife garden and surroundings to explore this property is ideal for people who want to escape from the hustle and bustle life. With zero light pollution Ballealy Cottage is perfect for star gazing and watching the resident bat colony returning to roost in the evenings.”
“Ballygally Castle, affectionately dubbed “the jewel in the Hastings Crown”, was purchased by the Hastings Hotels Group in 1966 and over the years various extensions and renovations have transformed it to the charming hotel it is today. It received official four star status from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in 2007 and in 2014 the hotel underwent a further major refurbishment and extension project, with the addition of ten new Coastal Deluxe bedrooms, a new larger Reception area and the stunning new Kintyre Ballroom. All developments at the Castle have been very carefully undertaken so as not to distract from the history of the original building, as the hotel’s distinctive character comes from the fact that it dates back to 1625. The Ballygally Castle is unique in that it is the only 17th Century building in Northern Ireland still being used as a residence today!
Built in 1625 by James Shaw and his wife Isabella Brisbane. Shaw, a native of Greenock, Scotland, came to Ireland in 1606 to seek his fortune. In 1613, he received a sub-grant of land from the Earl of Antrim. It was on this land that the castle was built. [James Shaw, a Scot, built the castle in Scottish style with a steep roof, high walls, corner turrets and dormer windows. Its walls are five feet thick and studded with ‘loopholes’, narrow vertical slits through which muskets could be fired.]
The castle came under attack during the 1641 rising, when the Gaelic Irish rose against the English and Scots settlers. Although a nearby Irish garrison controlled the countryside around and tried to force their way in, the inhabitants held out.
They did not all survive. John Jamieson sent his two sons and daughter out to fetch corn. One son was hung by rebels and his daughter taken prisoner.
In 1680 the castle was actually captured by the ‘Tories’ of Londonderry – dispossessed Irish chieftains who had lost everything following the 1641 rising. However, with a bounty on their heads, they did not stay long and soon returned to the then plentiful woods.
The original castle served as a place of refuge for the Protestants during the Civil Wars. During that time, it was handed down from fathers to sons and in 1799 it was passed to William Shaw, the last squire of Ballygally. In the early 1800s the Shaw family lost their wealth and the estate was sold to the Agnew family for £15,400.
For several years it was used as a coastguard station, before the Reverend Classon Porter and his family took residence. It was then taken over by the Moore family. They then sold it to textile millionaire Mr. Cyril Lord in the early 1950s, who refurbished it as a hotel.
After centuries of private ownership, Ballygally Castle was turned into the elegant Candlelight Inn in the 1950s by ‘Carpet King’ Cyril Lord, who became famous from the TV ads for his carpet company. Its candelabra brand was designed around distinctive light fittings, some of which can still be seen in the 1625 Room.
Sir Billy Hastings bought Ballygally Castle in 1966. Beautifully refurbished, the hotel has preserved the castle’s unique character and many of its features.“
Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 22. “A unique example of a C17 Plantation Castle surviving intact, inhabited and unchanged, except from the insertion of sash windows. Built 1625 by James Shaw. With its high roof, its two pepperpot bartizans, and its two curvilinear dormer-gables, which do not quite match, it looks for all the world like a little C16 or early C17 tower-house in Scotland. In 1814, the residence of Rev. Thomas Alexander. Now an hotel.”
See also the blog of Timothy William Ferres. [see 2]
Mark Bence-Jones writes in A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
p. 24. “(Traill/IFR) A C18 house originally belonging to Archibald Stewart of Ballintoy; bought by the Traill family 1789, two storey over basement; three bay front. The front was subsequently given Wyatt windows; battlemented segmental flanking walls with niches were built 1815; and a wing was added, also in early C19. At some other date, the Tuscan doorcase was moved from the centre to the front to the righ-hand bay, thereby spoiling the symmetry. Plasterwork in hall which may be contemporary with the original building of the house; plasterwork festoons, flowers and foliage elsewhere, probably later.”
See also the blog of Timothy William Ferres. [see 2]
4. Drum Gate Lodge, Ballylough House, Bushmills, County Antrim€€
The blog of Timothy William Ferres tells us that there are two gate lodges to Ballylough House: the unusual circular West Lodge of ca 1800, now known as The Drum; and the East Lodge of ca 1840, which is still occupied and has its own charming cottage garden. The West Lodge, now known as The Drum, was built at the end of a long avenue of beech trees at the western edge of the Ballylough Estate in 1800 by Archdeacon Traill, two years after he bought the estate. [see 2]
5. Blackhead Cutter Lighthouse keeper’s house, Whitehead, County Antrim €€ for two, € for 4/5
“Located at the heart of County Antrim, our location is easily accessed from anywhere in Northern Ireland, and further afield with Belfast International Airport only a short 10-minute drive away.
If the walls within our iconic venue could speak, they will tell many stories of times gone by, dating back to the 1600’s when it housed the High Kings of Ireland, to its days as a Paper Mill and a Linen Mill before it took form as a hotel.
It’s time for you to experience the history that flows through this iconic venue, rich with traditional features still on show, complimented now by its modern and contemporary décor.“
8. Barbican, Glenarm Castle, County Antrim– €€ see also Glenarm Castle, above
Timothy William Ferres tells us: “The Barbican gate lodge is built into the estate wall at the end of an old stone bridge spanning the river Glenarm. It was commissioned in 1823 by Edmund Phelps, the second husband of Anne Catherine, Countess of Antrim suo jure, who inherited the estate when her father, the 6th Earl, died without male issue.
The architect William Vitruvius Morrison built it using local, coursed, rubble basalt and red ashlar sandstone dressings. This gate lodge has a narrow turret staircase which leads onto a roof terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside.” [see 2]
“KILMORE HOUSE, Glenariff, County Antrim, comprises a large two-and-a-half-storey Edwardian block with earlier Georgian wings to its southern elevation.The house was constructed in stages, and parts of the building may date from as early as the 18th century. The current façade of the house, however, was built in 1907-8.
The first recorded occupant of the site was Coll McDonnell, a gentleman who leased 10 acres of land in Kilmore from his kinsman, Lord Antrim, and established a dwelling there in 1706. The site passed to Coll’s son Alexander in 1742; and then to his grandson, John, in 1803 before being occupied by his great-grandson Randal in 1815.
The McDonnells initially resided in an early-Georgian house which had been constructed in the townland ca 1706.
The two-storey, four-bay farmhouse (at the south side of the two-and-a-half-storey Edwardian block) had been constructed by 1832.
A thatched building (which predated the rest of the farmhouse) was presumably the McDonnell family’s previous dwelling on the site, however it cannot be confirmed with certainty whether any trace of this structure survives at the site.
The farmhouse at Kilmore was originally known as Ballinlig.
By the mid-19th century Ballinlig had passed to Randal McDonnell’s eldest son Alexander; following whose decease, in 1862, Ballinlig was occupied by his younger brother, Colonel John McDonnell, who remained at the site until his own death in 1905.
McDonnell’s residence became known as “Kilmore House” by at least the turn of the 20th century. Following the death of Colonel McDonnell in 1905, Kilmore House passed to his nephew, Captain William Alexander Silvertop.
The Silvertop family extended the house in 1907-8. The Edwardian extension was designed by Nicholas Fitzsimmons (1869-c1940), a Belfast-based architect who entered into partnership with Robert Graeme Watt and Frederick Tulloch in 1909. Fitzsimons’s original plans show that the extension consisted of the two-and-a-half-storey Edwardian block to the north side of the Georgian farmhouse.
The plans of Kilmore House record that the interior floor-plan of the original farmhouse was altered to incorporate the kitchen, dining-room, a study and private chapel; whilst the new block consisted of a drawing-room and billiards-room (at ground floor), bedrooms and bathrooms (at first floor) and servants quarters (in the attic storey).
Captain Silvertop served in France during the 1st World War, but following his death, in 1917, the house was sold and passed out of the McDonnell family. Kilmore House had lain vacant from 1910 until 1919, when it was purchased by Joseph Maguire, a senator in the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont.
The De La Salle Order purchased Kilmore in 1958, when it was occupied by the Most Rev Dr D Mageean, RC Bishop of Down and Connor (1882-1962).The Bishop resided at Kilmore House until ca 1960, when the building was converted into a holiday home for visitors to the North Coast, administered by the Trustees of Kilmore Holiday House.
Kilmore House was listed in 1980 and is now a country house hotel. Today the house is set in thirteen acres. It has fourteen bedrooms. A stained-glass window at the landing still has the McDonnell and Silvertop armorial bearings.” (see )
10. Kiln Wing, Old Corn Mill, Bushmills, County Antrim€€
The website tells us that Larchfield extends to 600 acres and includes peaceful forest and woodland alongside picturesque river banks. Steeped in history, Larchfield’s heritage dates back to the 1600’s with many remarkable ups and downs throughout its 350-year history.
“Larchfield’s story starts back in 1660 when the land (at that time, about 1500 acres) was bought from the O’Neills. It wasn’t until 1750 that the original part of the current house was built on the site of an old farm house. It was built by the Mussendens, who were merchants bankers in Belfast. We have an interesting connection with Mussenden Temple in County Londonderry which was built by the Earl Bishop (a cousin) in memory of Mrs. Mussenden from Larchfield who died at the age of 22, sadly before Mussenden Temple was finished.
In 1845, the house was redesigned by Charles Lanyon, one of Belfast’s most prominent and influential architects of the Victoria Era and famous for designing Queens University and the Custom House in Belfast among many others. We know that Lanyon changed the front of the house to face south, with new driveways.
Then in 1868/9, William Mussenden sold the house to Ogilvie B Graham, 1st of a family of hereditary directors of the York Street Flax Spinning Company. The valuation of the house was about £100 at the time and as well as adding an extra storey to the main house, Graham added the gate lodge.
In 1873 the Victorian wing of the house was added, followed by the Fish Pond Lake in 1896. Our Fish Pond Lake, accessed exclusively by only the bride and groom when we host a wedding, is referenced both in maps from 1896 and also in Gerard Brennan’s book, A Life of One’s Own. In this book he also refers to Larchfield as the pink house. Gerard Brennan was the grandson of the Ogilvie Grahams.
Moving to more recent times, in 1968, Mr. Leslie Mackie, father of current owner Gavin Mackie, bought the estate at auction from Col Ogilvy Graham (approx. 300 acres). Some of the best parkland trees had to be bought back from a timber merchant as they had been sold prior to auction!
The current owners (Gavin and Sarah Mackie) were married themselves at Larchfield in 2007, and moved back to take on the estate from Gavin’s parents. The estate was opened up for weddings and events around this time and in 2010, as part of its renovation, the Stables was re-built and re-roofed for hire for ceremonies and smaller functions downstairs.
In 2012, Rose Cottage was the first of the onsite accommodation to be restored, leading to the development of accommodation for up to 37 guests. Late 2019 saw the completion of the redevelopment of an 1800s railway style building facing the Larchfield Estate cottages. Harkening back to its history as a piggery, The Old Piggery was officially launched in 2020 as a new offering for experiences, dining, special celebrations and corporate retreats. This project was kindly supported by the Rural Development Programme.“
“The Merchant Hotel has long been admired for its distinctive architectural style, both in its former life as the headquarters of the Ulster Bank and now, in its current incarnation as a five-star luxury hotel.
This formidable sandstone structure was purpose built as the headquarters of the Ulster Bank. The site was originally acquired in 1836. However, the decision to build was not taken until 1857. Bank Directors Robert Grimshaw and James Heron visited Glasgow and Edinburgh to glean as much information as possible on the best banking buildings. It was their wish that the building should appear elegant, substantial and prosperous.
The location was deemed suitable as it was in the heart of Belfast’s mercantile and commercial centre. In fact, Waring Street derives its name from a successful local merchant William Waring.
For the creation of the Ulster Bank headquarters, the directors felt the work should be undertaken by an innovative architect. Over sixty proposals were submitted to the bank’s committee and £100 was offered for the best design. In the end the design of a talented Glaswegian by the name of James Hamilton was selected. The building work was undertaken by Messer’s D and J Fulton, while the spectacularly ornate plasterwork in the main banking hall was carried out by Belfast man George Crowe.
The exterior of the building is Italianate in style. Sculptures depicting Commerce, Justice and Britannia, look down benignly from the apex of the magnificent façade. Under the grand central dome of the main banking hall (now The Great Room Restaurant), fruit and foliage designs surround the walls in a magnificent frieze. Four Corinthian columns frame the room and feature plump putti (cherub-like figures) depicting science, painting, scripture and music.
Generosity of proportions and an ornate but not ostentatious style throughout the building has ensured that it is one of the most renowned and best loved buildings in Belfast. When the designs were first shown at the 1858 London Architectural Exhibition, the literary magazine Athenaeum described them as “very commendable, earnest, massive, rich and suitable”. Writing more than a century later, founding member of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society C.E.B. Brett said the building offered “every inducement to linger and ponder on wealth and its advantages”.
The Ulster Bank headquarters were transformed into the five-star Merchant Hotel in 2006. The original Grade A listed building was then greatly enhanced in the summer of 2010 by the addition of a £16.5 million extension featuring a wealth of new facilities for guests.
Thanks to local historian Raymond O’Regan for some of the historical information referenced in this section.“
15. Old Bushmills Barn, 15 Priestlands Road, Antrim€€€ for two; € for four
The history of the barn fascinates everyone. Tradition and innovation melts into these stunning grounds. Bushmills is a town with a rich history boasting the oldest distillery in the world, originating in 1608.
Bushmills grows and The Old Rectory & its Barns are built.
The 1821 listing’s text changed to: In 1821 for a cost of £1200 (£960,000 in today’s money) the still existing church, Dunluce Parish was built. Four years later in 1825 the Rectory and the Barns were extended, a big step in the history of Bushmills, serving as a home to the church’s ministers for the next 150 years.
In 1821 for a cost of £1200 (£960,000 in today’s money) the still existing church, Dunluce Parish was built. Four years later in 1825 the Rectory and the Barns was erected, starting its journey in the history of Bushmills, serving as a home to the church’s ministers for the next 150 years.
The Reverent James Morewood was the first occupant.
During these periods of ownership, the Barns are used for servants quarters and stables for horses.
In 1960 flooding happened and the house and barns were abandoned and a new modern house was built for the minister at that time and future ministers to come.
Young business owners Robert Mckeag and Louise Mckeag purchase the house from the church and the original restoration of this Georgian Manor begins.
The original restoration of the now Old Rectory is completed. With the Barns now having a tin roof.
The Old Rectory hosts the VIP guests and commentators of the American news channel NBC news for the 148th British Open, Royal Portrush.
After studying International Hospitality and Tourism Management and working at The Gleneagles Hotel, Robert and Louise’s son Jasper dreams up the perfect accommodation for exploring the booming tourism spot – The North Coast of Northern Ireland.”
“Step through the bold red stable door of this cottage to discover the quirky internal layout. Take in the sea views from the bedroom or head outside to feel the sand between your toes on the wide sandy beach. Families, history enthusiasts and walkers will love the secluded location.
Sitting in the heart of the Antrim coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you may recognise the dramatic landscape surrounding the cottage from the Game of Thrones series. Inside, the layout downstairs is definitely unusual, but you’ll find a living room with woodburner, separate dining room, bathroom and hallway (not necessarily in that order, but that’s part of the fun). Upstairs there’s three bedrooms; a double, a twin and a single. Make the most of sunny seaside days and nights in the enclosed grassy gardens front and back, where the picnic table provides a great spot for an al-fresco family meal.
With its secluded setting just north of the village of Cushendun, Strand House is ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The village (which is now cared for by the National Trust) was built in the Cornish style in 1912 by Baron Cushendun in attempt to please his Cornish-born wife. The sheltered bay is also where you’ll find amenities like the pub, tearoom and shops. Or stay closer to home and relax on the beautiful sandy beach that curves right past the cottage. If you’re a nature lover, there are red squirrels to seek out in the forest at nearby Glenmona House.“
18. Tullymurry House, Banbridge, County Antrim, whole house rental:€€€ for two; € for 3-8
The website tells us: “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.“
“Whitepark House is situated on the North Antrim coast road above the prettiest beach in Northern Ireland, Whitepark Bay.
The Giants Causeway is 4 miles west of us and Ballintoy harbour and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is 2 miles east.
We like to think that Whitepark House is one of the most interesting and atmospheric houses on the North coast , it was here in 1730 and has been added to over the centuries.
In the winter of 2006 we decided we felt confident enough to re-invest in the house and did a major renovation………re-wiring the house, new plumbing, heating, bathrooms and even a new roof…… we added a big conservatory for guests breakfast in the summer and some extra space for ourselves.
Hopefully we’ll never have to see another builder in our lifetime.
We now have 3 double bedrooms, some overlook the garden, some look towards the sea, all have large bathrooms containing power showers and separate baths. The rooms are individual in style thanks to Siobhan’s curtain making skills, one has a brass four poster bed, the others are brass or leather.”
“The stunning Magheramorne Estate, conveniently located just 23 miles from Belfast, is one of the most exclusive venues available for private hire in Northern Ireland. From weddings, family parties, corporate meetings and events to occasion meals, this coastal estate offers a variety of unique indoor and outdoor spaces to fulfil your dreams.
Built as a grand family home around 1880, the house has recently enjoyed sympathetic and elegant restoration in keeping with its Grade B1 listed status.
The Allen family have made significant investments to ensure the house meets modern expectations while carefully retaining the welcoming warmth of genuine domestic comfort.
Designed circa 1878 by Samuel P Close, it was built by James Henry for Sir James Hogg to mark his rise to the peerage of Baron Magheramorne in 1880. It replaced Ballylig House, an earlier and more modest residence originally constructed in 1817.
Magheramorne House was then occupied by the Baron’s family until 1904 when Colonel James McCalmont took up residence.
The estate changed hands again in 1932 as Major Harold Robinson, (of Robinson and Cleaver’s department store fame), transformed the house and grounds.
He further extended and developed the impressive gardens by planting many of the 150 different species of woodland trees present at the estate to this day.
These grounds are today maintained in their impressively manicured state by a skilled full-time gardener.
Magheramorne House’s architectural and historical significance is reflected in its Grade B1 listed status. While the accommodation has been modernised since its original construction, many notable period features, both internally and externally, have been retained.
The magnificent gardens extend over 40 acres and are a particular feature of the estate.
They include formal landscaped gardens and an exceptional array of specimen trees that impressively enhance the naturalistic planting.
Also tucked away in the private estate are two dramatic glens, a waterfall, ornamental walks, streams, ponds, feature bridges and a wide array of flora, fauna and indigenous wildlife to discover.
A new chapter in the history of Magheramorne Estate was opened in 2020 following its purchase by the Allen family who are very well respected in the food and hospitality sector.
They are currently investing all their time and energy into giving Magheramorne Estate a whole new lease of life with a sympathetic restoration and innovative plans for staging future events.“
 p. 6. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 p. 36, Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988, Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 p. 116. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 p. 188, Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 p. 198. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
Just to finish up my entries about Office of Public Works properties: Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow are the counties that make up the Leinster region.
1. Altamont Gardens
2. Castletown House, County Kildare
3. Maynooth Castle, County Kildare
1. Altamont House and Gardens, Bunclody Road, Altamont, Ballon, County Carlow:
“A large and beautiful estate covering 16 hectares in total, Altamont Gardens is laid out in the style of William Robinson, which strives for ‘honest simplicity’. The design situates an excellent plant collection perfectly within the natural landscape.
For example, there are lawns and sculpted yews that slope down to a lake ringed by rare trees and rhododendrons. A fascinating walk through the Arboretum, Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen, sheltered by ancient oaks and flanked by huge stone outcrops, leads to the banks of the River Slaney. Visit in summer to experience the glorious perfume of roses and herbaceous plants in the air.
With their sensitive balance of formal and informal, nature and artistry, Altamont Gardens have a unique – and wholly enchanting – character.” 
From Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the care of the OPW, Government Publications, Dublin, 2018:
“Altamont House was constructed in the 1720s, incorporating parts of an earlier structure said to have been a medieval nunnery. In the 1850s, a lake was excavated in the grounds of the house, but it was when the Lecky-Watsons, a local Quaker family, acquired Altamont in 1924 that the gardens truly came into their own.
Feilding Lecky-Watson had worked as a tea planter in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where he nurtured his love of exotic plants, and of rhododendrons in particular. Back in Ireland, he became an expert in the species, cultivating plants for the botanical gardnes at Glasnevin, Kew and Edinburgh. So passionate was he about these plants that when his wife, Isobel, gave birth to a daughter in 1922, she was named Corona, after his favourite variety of rhododendron.” 
Around the lake are mature conifers that were planted in the 1800s, including a giant Wellingtonia which commemorates the Battle of Waterloo.  Corona continued in her father’s footsteps, planing rhododendrons, magnolia and Japanese maples. Another feature is the “100 steps” hand-cut in granite, leading down to the River Slaney. There are red squirrels, otters in the lake and river, and peacocks. Before her death, Corona handed Altamont over to the Irish state to ensure its preservation.
2.Castletown House and Parklands, Celbridge, County Kildare.
“Castletown is set amongst beautiful eighteenth-century parklands on the banks of the Liffey in Celbridge, County Kildare.
The house was built around 1722 for the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly, to designs by several renowned architects. It was intended to reflect Conolly’s power and to serve as a venue for political entertaining on a grand scale. At the time Castletown was built, commentators expected it to be ‘the epitome of the Kingdom, and all the rarities she can afford’.
The estate flourished under William Conolly’s great-nephew Thomas and his wife, Lady Louisa, who devoted much of her life to improving her home.
Today, Castletown is home to a significant collection of paintings, furnishings and objets d’art. Highlights include three eighteenth-century Murano-glass chandeliers and the only fully intact eighteenth-century print room in the country.
It is still the most splendid Palladian-style country house in Ireland.“
The Conolly familysold Castletown in 1965. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the estate was bought for development and for two years the house stood empty and deteriorating. In 1967, Hon Desmond Guinness courageously bought the house with 120 acres, to be the headquarters of the Irish Georgian Society, and in order to save it for posterity. Since then the house has been restored and it now contains an appropriate collection of furniture, pictures and objects, which has either been bought for the house, presented to it by benefactors, or loaned. It is now maintained by the Office of Public Works and the Castletown Trust.
William Conolly (1662-1729) rose from modest beginnings to be the richest man in Ireland in his day. He was a lawyer from Ballyshannon, County Donegal, who made an enormous fortune out of land transactions in the unsettled period after the Williamite wars.
William Conolly had property on Capel Street in Dublin, before moving to Celbridge. Conolly’s house was on the corner of Capel Street and Little Britain Street and was demolished around 1770.  The Kildare Local History webpage gives us an excellent description of William Conolly’s rise to wealth:
“In November 1688, William Conolly was one of the Protestants who fled Dublin to join the Williamites in Chester alongside his late Celbridge neighbour Bartholomew Van Homrigh.
On the victory of William III, he acquired a central role dealing in estates forfeited by supporters of James II, commencing his rise to fortune with the forfeited estates of the McDonnells of Antrim.
In 1691 he purchased Rodanstown outside Kilcock, which became his country residence until he purchased Castletown in 1709.
A dowry of £2,300 came his way in 1694 when he married Katherine Conyngham, daughter of Albert Conyngham, a Williamite General who had been killed in the war at Collooney in 1691.
He was appointed Collector and Receiver of Revenue for the towns of Derry and Coleraine on May 2nd 1698.
Conolly was the largest purchaser of forfeited estates in the period 1699–1703, acquiring also 20,000 acres spread over five counties at a cost of just £7,000.” 
He rose to become Speaker of the House of Commons in the Irish Parliament. William Conolly married Katherine Conyngham of Mount Charles, County Donegal, whose brother purchased Slane Castle in County Meath (see my entry https://irishhistorichouses.com/2019/07/19/slane-castle-county-meath/). As well as earning money himself, his wife brought a large dowry.
William Conolly purchased land in County Kildare which had been owned by Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), 2nd Earl of Limerick, in 1709. Dongan’s estate had been confiscated as he was a Jacobite supporter of James II (he became first governor of the Duke of York’s province of New York! The Earldom ended at his death). Dongan’s mother was the daughter of William Talbot, 1st Baronet of Carton (see my entry about Carton, County Kildare, under Places to stay in County Kildare https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/04/27/places-to-visit-and-to-stay-leinster-kildare-kilkenny-laois/).
The Archiseek website tells us about the design of Castletown House:
“Soon after the project got underway Conolly met Alessandro Galilei (1691-1737), an Italian architect, who had been employed in Ireland by Lord Molesworth in 1718 [John Molesworth, 2nd Viscount, who had been British envoy to Florence]. He designed the façade of the main block in the style of a 16th century Italian town palace. He returned to Italy in 1719 and was not associated with the actual construction of the house which began in 1722. Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (died 1733), a young Irish architect, on his Italian grand tour became acquainted with Galilei in Florence and through this connection he was employed by the Speaker to complete Castletown when he returned to Ireland in 1724. Pearce had first hand knowledge of the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) and his annotated copy of Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura survives. It was Pearce who added the Palladian colonnades and the terminating pavillions. This layout was the first major Palladian scheme in Ireland and soon had many imitators.” 
Mark Bence-Jones describes Castletown in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses. The centre block is of three storeys over basement, and has two almost identical thirteen bay fronts “reminiscent of the façade of an Italian Renaissance town palazzo; with no pediment or central feature and no ornamentation except for doorcase, entablatures over the ground floor windows, alternate segmental and triangular pediments over the windows of the storey above and a balustraded roof parapet. Despite the many windows and the lack of a central feature, there is no sense of monotony or heaviness; the effect being one of great beauty and serenity.”  The centre block is made of Edenderry limestone, and is topped by cornice and balustrade. On the ground floor the windows have frieze, cornice and lugged architrave, and on the first floor, alternating triangular and segmental pediments.
Pearce added the curved Ionic colonnades and two two-storey seven bay wings. He also designed the impressive two-storey entrance hall inside.
William died in 1729 aged just 67, so he had only a few years to enjoy his house. His wife Katherine lived on in the house another twenty-three years until her death at the age of 90 in 1752. William and Katherine had no children, so his estate passed to his nephew William James Conolly (1712-1754), son of William’s brother Patrick. We came across William James Conolly before in Leixlip Castle (another Section 482 property), which he also inherited. William James married Lady Anne Wentworth, the daughter of the Earl of Strafford. Her father, Thomas Wentworth 1st Earl of Strafford is not the more famous Thomas Wentworth 1st Earl of Strafford who was executed (of whom there is at least one portrait in Castletown) but a later one, of the second creation. William James died just two years after Katherine Conolly, so the estate then passed to his son Thomas Conolly (1738-1803).
Thomas married Louisa Lennox in 1758, one of five Lennox sisters, daughters of the Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. From the age of eight she had lived at nearby Carton with her sister Emily, who was married to James Fitzgerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare (who became the 1st Duke of Leinster). At Carton, Louisa was exposed to the fashionable ideas of the day in architecture, decoration, horticulture and landscaping.  Louisa loved Castletown and continually planned improvements, planting trees, designing the lake and building bridges.
Archiseek continues: “The Castletown papers, estate records and account books, together with Lady Louisa’s [i.e. Louisa Lennox, wife of Tom Conolly] diaries and correspondence with her sisters, provide a valuable record of life at Castletown and also of the reorganisation of the house. Lady Louisa’s letters from the 1750s onwards are revealing of the fashions in costume design, fabric patterns and furniture. She played an important part in the alteration and redecoration of Castletown during the 1760s and 1770s. As no single architect was responsible for all of the work carried out, she supervised most of it herself. Much of the redecoration of the house was done to the published designs of the English architect Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) who never came to Ireland himself. Chambers also worked for Lady Louisa’s brother, the 3rd Duke of Richmond, at Goodwood in Sussex. In a letter, written in July 1759, Lady Louisa mentions instructions given by Chambers to his assistant Simon Vierpyl who supervised the work at Castletown.” (see )
Description of the Hall, from Archiseek: “This impressive two-storeyed room with a black and white chequered floor, was designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. The Ionic order on the lower storey is similar to that of the colonnades outside and at gallery level there are tapering pilasters with baskets of flowers and fruit carved in wood. The coved ceiling has a central moulding comprising a square Greek key patterned frame and central roundel with shell decoration.” [see 6]
The polished limestone floor with its chequered design and the Kilkenny marble fireplace reflect William Conolly’s desire to build the house solely of native Irish materials. Unfortunately when we visited in October 2022, the hall was half hidden with a large two storey curtain, as the windows are all being repaired. As we can see in the photograph, the room has an Ionic colonnade to the rear, and a gallery at first floor level, and the stair hall is through an archway in the east wall.
From the entrance hall, one enters the magnificent Stair Hall. The Castletown website describes the stair hall:
“The Portland stone staircase at Castletown is one of the largest cantilevered staircases in Ireland. It was built in 1759 under the direction of the master builder Simon Vierpyl (c.1725–1811). Prior to this the space was a shell, although a plan attributed to Edward Lovett Pearce suggests that a circular staircase was previously intended.
The solid brass balustrade was installed by Anthony King, later Lord Mayor of Dublin. He signed and dated three of the banisters, ‘A. King Dublin 1760’. The opulent rococo plasterwork was created by the Swiss-Italian stuccadore Filippo Lafranchini, who, with his older brother Paolo, had worked at Carton and Leinster House for Lady Lousia’s brother-in-law, the first Duke of Leinster, as well as at Russborough in Co. Wicklow. Shells, cornucopias, dragons and masks feature in the light-hearted decoration which represents the final development of the Lafranchini style. Family portraits are also included with Tom Conolly at the foot of the stairs and Louisa above to his right. The four seasons are represented on the piers and on either side of the arched screen.“
Mark Bence-Jones continues:
In the following year, Tom Conolly and Lady Louisa employed the Francini to decorate the walls of thestaircase hall with rococo stuccowork; and in 1760 the grand staircase itself – of cantilevered stone, with a noble balustrade of brass columns – was installed; the work beign carried out by Simon Vierpyl, a protégé of Sir William Chambers. The principal reception rooms, which form an enfilade along the garden front and were mostly decorated at this time, are believed to be by Chambers himself; they have ceilings of geometrical plasterwork, very characteristic of him. Also in this style is the dining room, to the left of the entrance hall. It was here that, according to the story, Tom Conolly found himself giving supper to the Devil, whom he had met out hunting and invited back, believing him to be merely a dark stranger; but had realised the truth when his guest’s boots were removed, revealing him to have unusually hairy feet. He therefore sent for the priest, who threw his breviary at the unwelcome guest, which missed him and cracked a mirror. This, however, was enough to scare the Devil, who vanished through the hearthstone. Whatever the truth of this story, the hearthstone in the dining room is shattered, and one of the mirrors is cracked.“
The Dining Room, description from Archiseek:
“This room dates from the 1760s redecoration of Castletown undertaken by Lady Louisa Conolly and reflects the mid-eighteenth century fashion for separate dining rooms. Originally, there were two smaller panelled rooms here. It was reconstructed to designs by Sir William Chambers, with a compartmentalised ceiling similar to one by Inigo Jones in the Queen’s House at Greenwich. The chimney-piece and door cases are in the manner of Chambers. Of the four doors, two are false.
Furniture original to Castletown includes the two eighteenth-century giltwood side tables. Their frieze is decorated with berried laurel foliage similar to the door entablatures in the Red and Green Drawing Rooms. The three elaborate pier glasses are original to the Dining Room. The frames are carved fruiting vines, symbols of Bacchus and festivity. These are probably the work of the Dublin carver Richard Cranfield (1713-1809) who, with the firm of Thomas Jackson of Essex Bridge, Dublin, was paid large sums for carving and gilding throughout the house.“
Between the front of the house, with its Entrance Hall, Stair Hall and Dining Room is a corridor, or rather, two corridors, one to the west and one to the east of the Entrance Hall. This corridor is on every storey, including the basement. To the rear (north) of the house on the ground floor is an enfilade of rooms: the Brown Study to the west end, next to another staircase, then the Red Drawing Room, the Green Drawing Room, the Print Room, the State Bedroom, and then small rooms called the Healy Room and the Map Room.
The corridors now hold paintings and art works, and one has a cabinet of Meissen porcelain.
Next to the Dining Room at the front of the house is the Butler’s Pantry, which contains photographs of the servants of Castletown, and a portrait of a housekeeper, Mrs Parnel Moore (1649–1761). It’s unusual to have a portrait of a housekeeper but perhaps someone painted her because she was a beloved member of the household, as she lived to be at least 112 years! This is a very old portrait dating back to the 1700s.
The Castletown website tells us about the Butler’s Pantry: “The Butler’s Pantry dates from the 1760s and connected the newly created Dining Room with the kitchens in the West Wing. Food was carried in from the kitchens through the colonnade passageway and then reheated in the pantry before being served. The great kitchens were on the ground floor of the west wing, with servants’ quarters upstairs. Upwards of 80 servants would have been employed in the house and kitchens in the late eighteenth century under the direction of the Butler and the Housekeeper.”