Office of Public Works Properties: Ulster

The province contains counties Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Derry, Monaghan and Tyrone. Since the OPW operates in the Republic of Ireland, the Ulster counties in the OPW are Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. Only Donegal contains OPW properties, and so far, I have only visited one of them.

Donegal:

1. Doe Castle, County Donegal

2. Donegal Castle, County Donegal

3. Glebe Art Museum, County Donegal

4. Newmills Corn and Flax Mills, County Donegal.

A Castle which seems to be maintained by the National Parks service is Glenveagh Castle, which is also open to the public. https://www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie/explore-experience/article-castle-history/

Donegal:

1. Doe Castle, County Donegal:

Doe Castle, Donegal, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Gardiner Mitchell, 2014, for Tourism Ireland.

From the OPW website:

Nestled in an inlet of Sheephaven Bay in County Donegal, skirting the wild waters of the Atlantic, stands Doe Castle – the medieval stronghold of the MacSweeneys.

The fortress was built in the 1420s. For almost 200 years it served as home, refuge and bastion for at least 13 MacSweeney chiefs – some of whom were party and witness to the most seismic events of Irish history.

For example, MacSweeney chief Eoghan Og II gave shelter to survivors of the 1588 Spanish Armada fleet at Doe. The last chief of the castle, Maolmhuire an Bhata Bhui, marched out with Red Hugh O’Donnell, lord of Tyrconnell, to the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

An exquisite carved and ornamented Mac Sweeney grave-slab, dating from 1544, is on show inside the tower house. Display panels onsite chronicle the castle’s history in fascinating detail.” [1]

Doe Castle, Donegal, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Chris Hill, 2017, for Tourism Ireland.

The MacSweeneys were originally Gallowglasses or mercenaries, from Scotland. The castle tower is believed to have been built in the 1420s; the bawn walls and two storey hall beside the tower in the 1620s. In the 1790s, the castle came into the possession of Retired General, George Vaughan Hart, who raised the bawn walls and built the new entrance beside the tower where his initials can still be seen. Doe was later purchased by a neighbouring landlord, Stewart of Ards, and was occupied until the 1890s. It came under government control in the 1930s. The deeply carved and highly ornamented Mac Sweeney grave-slab from the nearby Ballymacsweeney graveyard, now inside the tower house, dates  from 1544. [2]

In 1761 the Court of Chancery confirmed George Vaughan of Buncrana to be the owner of Doe Castle. Towards the end of the 18th century General George Vaughan Hart (grandson of George Vaughan) acquired the castle and began to renovate it. He repaired the bawn wall and placed on the seaward section a number of cannon captured at Seringapatam, India. He erected a ground floor annex and a staircase against the southern wall of the keep and altered the interior of the keep by inserting arched recesses and fireplaces. The barbican across the trench at the western entrance is a nineteenth century Hart addition.

I found in the Dictionary of National Biography a George Vaughan Hart (1752-1832) who was fifth in descent from General Henry Hart, military governor of Londonderry and Culmore forts in the seventeenth century. He fought in the American War, West Indies and India. He represented Donegal county in parliament from 23 October 1812 till the dissolution of 1831. Hart died at his seat at Kilderry, Donegal, 14 June 1832. He married Charlotte, daughter of John Ellerker of Ellerker, in 1792, and by her had five sons and three daughters. [3]

General Hart’s descendants owned Doe Castle until 1864 when William Edward Hart sold Doe Castle in the Landed Estate Courts and the Stewart family of nearby Ards purchased it. From then on Doe Castle was rented to tenants. In 1932 Doe Castle was sold to the Irish Land Commission and is now a National Monument.

2. Donegal Castle, County Donegal:

Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.

The OPW website states:

In the very heart of the county town, towering over the River Eske, stands Donegal Castle. Red Hugh O’Donnell [Lord of Tyrconnell, died in 1602] himself built it as his personal fortress in the fifteenth century. It is said that, leaving to seek succour in Spain in the wake of the Battle of Kinsale [in the Flight of the Earls], Hugh determined to make sure his castle would never ever fall into English hands – by setting it on fire.

But he was to be disappointed. English captain Sir Basil Brooke became the castle’s new lord in 1616. As part of a massive programme of improvements, Brooke built a handsome manor house beside the tower. He also commissioned the magnificent chimney-piece, finely decorated with carved fruit and his own imperious coat of arms.

The building complex fell into ruin in the twentieth century, but was brought back to its former glory in the 1990s. Currently, a suite of information panels illuminates the chequered history of the castle and its disparate owners.

Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
In Donegal Castle grounds, Feb 2014.
Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.

The Brooke family had the castle until the 1670s, when they moved to Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, and sold it to the Gore family, who later became Earl of Arran. In 1898 the 5th Earl of Arran gave it to the state, and the OPW has partially restored it.

Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
Photograph from the National Library of Ireland, Donegal Castle fireplace 1895. The fireplace was installed by Basil Brooke and contains his coat of arms.
Stephen in Donegal Castle 2014.
In Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.
In Donegal Castle, Feb 2014.

3. Glebe Art Museum, Churchill, Letterkenny, County Donegal:

General Enquiry: (074) 913 7071

glebegallery@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

This elegant Regency house, dating from 1828, is set in woodland gardens near the town of Letterkenny in County Donegal. The celebrated painter Derek Hill lived and worked here from the 1950s until the 1980s, when he presented the house to the Irish state – along with an extraordinary collection of art.

Hill was a man of exquisite taste. The house itself, is as he left it – beautifully decorated with William Morris textiles and furniture of oriental design. His collection includes hundreds of works by some of the leading lights of the art world, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Louis le Brocquy and Auguste Renoir. There are also choice pieces from further afield, including Japan and the Islamic world.

Hill’s studio, which adjoins the house, has been transformed into a modern and stylish gallery, which now plays host to changing exhibitions.

The Glebe House was originally known as St. Columb’s. The OPW website tells us:

It was built in the Regency style in 1828 as the rectory to St Columba’s (Church of Ireland), Churchill, in the Parish of Gartan. The first Rector lived in the house for less than three years to be succeeded, in 1831, by the Rev. Henry Maturin.

In 1861, Reverend Maturin was closely involved in the event that brought the names of Gartan and Church Hill to national prominence. John George Adair, owner of the Glenveagh Estate, believed that his tenants were stealing his sheep, had killed his steward, John Murray, and were even threatening his own life. Consequently, he was determined to evict them. Maturin acted as mediator and joined with Father Kerr, the Catholic Parish Priest, in sending an open letter to Adair appealing for clemency for the tenants. Their appeal fell on deaf ears and in April 1861, 244 people from 46 families were evicted. For his ecumenical action Reverend Maturin was censured by the Dublin Protestant press.

Reverend Maturin died in 1880. Following this, the Glebe, now too large and expensive for the Church to keep up, was leased to tenants for some years before eventually being sold. After renovations, it opened in 1898 as St Columb’s Hotel, taking guests for the salmon and trout fishing in spring and summer and for the shooting in the autumn. Apart from the years 1916-1922, when the hotel was taken over for a short while by the IRA and later by the Royal Irish Constabulary, the hotel was open every year until the death of its Owner, Mrs Kitty Johnstone in 1950. It was then run by her daughter until it was acquired by Derek Hill.” [4]

4. Newmills Corn and Flax Mills, County Donegal:

From the OPW website:

Take a short trip out of Letterkenny for a first-hand look at the technology that powered the Industrial Revolution.

The oldest surviving building at Newmills is 400 years old and there have been mills at Newmills since the early nineteenth century. In Victorian times a flax mill lay at the core of the complex, providing crucial supplies to the linen industry, the backbone of Ulster’s economy at the time. A corn mill ground barley, oats and imported maize.

Newmills steadily expanded to include a public house, a scutcher’s cottage and a forge. By the early 1900s Newmills was also exporting food – the earliest supplies of butter, bacon and eggs for Sir Thomas Lipton’s nascent grocery empire in Glasgow came from there.

The waterwheel that drove the corn mill can still be seen in action. It is one of the largest working waterwheels in the country.

[1] https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/

[2] http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/north-west/doecastle/

[3] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/40821009/kilderry-house-ardmore-muff-donegal

[4] https://glebegallery.ie/glebe-house/

Huntington Castle, County Carlow

In the past, in August 2016, I visited Huntington Castle in Clonegal, County Carlow.

Contact person: Alexander Durdin Robertson, tel 053-9377160

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid restrictions: 

Feb 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, Mar 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, Apr 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 24-25, May 1-31, June 1-30, July 1-31, Aug 1-31, Sept 1-30, Oct 2-3, 9-10, 16- 17, 23-24, Nov 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, Dec 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 11am-5pm


Fee: house/garden, adult/student €9, garden only €6, OAP house/garden €8, garden only €5, child house /garden €6, garden only €3, group and family discounts available 

It’s magical! And note that you can stay at this castle – see their website! [1]

Huntington Castle stands in the valley of the River Derry, a tributary of the River Slaney, on the borders of Counties Carlow and Wexford, near the village of Clonegal. Built in 1625, it is the ancient seat of the Esmonde family, and is presently lived in by the Durdin-Robertsons. It passed into the Durdin family from the Esmonde family by marriage in the nineteenth century, so actually still belongs to the original family. It was built as a garrison on the strategically important Dublin-Wexford route, on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, to protect a pass in the Blackstairs Mountains. After fifty years, the soldiers moved out and the family began to convert it into a family home. [2]

A History of the house and its residents

The castle website tells us that the Esmondes (note that I have found the name spelled as both ‘Esmond’ and ‘Edmonde’) moved to Ireland in 1192 and were involved in building other castles such as Duncannon Fort in Waterford and Johnstown Castle in Wexford. Laurence Esmonde was a convert to Anglicanism and served in the armies of British Queen Elizabeth I and then James I . He fought in the Dutch Wars against Spain, and later, in 1599, he commanded 150 foot soldiers in the Nine Years War, the battle led by an Irish alliance led mainly by Hugh O’Neill and Tyrconnell (Hugh Roe O’Donnell) against the British rule in Ireland. In reward for his services,  he was raised to the peerage in 1622 as Baron of Limerick (I was confused about this, but there is a Limerick, or Limbrick, in County Wexford, according to wikipedia, and it is now called Killinierin), and it seems that a few years after receiving this honour he built the core of the present Huntington Castle: a three-storey fortified tower house, which forms the front facing down the avenue, according to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses. [3]

 

Huntington Castle, Clonegal, County Carlow, the view when one enters the courtyard from the avenue. There is an irregular two storey range with castellated battlements and a curved bow and battlemented gable, and the earlier building, the fortress, rises above them.
photograph by Kevin Loftus, 2017, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool [4].

This original tower-house is made of rough-hewn granite. The first alterations and additions to that core were made around 1680 by the grandson of Laurence, also a Sir Laurence Esmonde. In her discussion of marriage in Making Ireland English, Jane Ohlmeyer writes that for the Irish, legitimacy of children didn’t determine inheritance, and so attitudes toward marriage, including cohabitation and desertion, were very different than in England. She writes that the first Baron Esmonde behaved in a way reminiscent of medieval Gaelic practices when he repudiated his first wife and remarried without a formal divorce. Laurence met Ailish, the sister of Morrough O’Flaherty (note that Turtle Bunbury tells us that she was a granddaughter of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley!) on one of his expeditions to Ulster, and married her. However, after the birth of their son, Thomas, she returned to her family, fearing that her son would be raised as a Protestant. Esmonde went on to marry Elizabeth Butler, a granddaughter of the ninth earl of Ormond (daughter of Walter Butler, and she was already twice widowed). He had no children by his second marriage and despite acknowledging Thomas to be his son, he did not admit that his first marriage was lawful and consequently had no official heir and his title Baron of Limerick became extinct after his death. Although his son did not inherit his title, he did inherit his property. [5] Baron Esmonde governed the fort of Duncannon from 1606-1646 when he died after a siege of the fort by General Preston of the Confederates, who considered Esmonde a defender of the Parliamentarians (i.e. Oliver Cromwell’s men, the “roundheads”). [6]

The bow was probably added by the descendent Manning Durdin-Robertson.

Thomas Esmonde did not inherit his father’s title but was himself awarded a Baronetcy, and became Baronet Esmonde in 1629. It was the 2nd Baronet, Laurence, who made the first additions to Huntington Castle around 1680, and who named it “Huntington” after the Esmonde’s “ancestral pile” in England [7]. A wing was constructed by the latter’s grandson (yet another Sir Laurence, 4th Baronet) around forty years later in 1720. The castle, as you can see, is very higgeldy piggedly, reflecting the history of its additions.

Brendan O’Neill tells us in his book Irish Castles and Historic Houses that the property was inherited by Alexander Durdin in 1849, whose grand-uncle had married the two daughters and co-heirs of Sir John Esmonde, third Baronet, as his two successive wives. This is how the house passed from Esmondes to Durdins.

According to the Irish Historic Houses website, the Durdin family were long established in County Cork, where they had acquired the estates of William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) [see 2]. In 1880, Helen, the Durdin heiress who inherited the castle, married Herbert Robertson, Baron Strathloch (a Scots feudal barony) and MP for a London borough. Together they made a number of late Victorian additions at the rear of the castle while their professional architect son, Manning Durdin-Robertson, an early devotee of concrete, carried out yet further alterations in the 1920s.

Manning Durdin-Robertson married Nora Kathleen Parsons, from Birr Castle. She wrote The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland, an important memorial of the last years of English rule in Ireland [8]. I ordered a copy of the book from my local library! It’s a lovely book and an enjoyable rather “chatty” read. She writes a bit about her heritage, which you can see in my entry on another section 482 castle, Birr Castle. She tells us about life at the time, which seems to have been very sociable! She writes a great description of social rank:

The hierarchy of Irish social order was not defined, it did not need to be, it was deeply implicit. In England the nobility were fewer and markedly more important than over here and they were seated in the mansions considered appropriate….
The top social rows were then too well-known and accepted to be written down but, because a new generation may be interested and amused, I will have a shot at defining an order so unreal and preposterous as to be like theatricals in fancy dress. Although breeding was essential it still had to be buttressed by money.

Row A: peers who were Lord or Deputy Lieutenants, High Sheriffs and Knights of St. Patrick. If married adequately their entrenchment was secure and their sons joined the Guards, the 10th Hussars or the R.N. [Royal Navy, I assume]
Row B: Other peers with smaller seats, ditto baronets, solvent country gentry and young sons of Row A, (sons Green Jackets, Highland regiments, certain cavalry, gunners and R.N.).
Row A used them for marrying their younger children.
Row C: Less solvent country gentry, who could only allow their sons about £100 a year. These joined the Irish Regiments which were cheap; or transferred to the Indian army. They were recognised and respected by A and B and belonged to the Kildare Street Club.
Row D: Loyal professional people, gentlemen professional farmers, trade, large retail or small wholesale, they could often afford more expensive Regiments than Row C managed. Such rarely cohabited with Rows A and B but formed useful cannon fodder at Protestant Bazaars and could, if they were really liked, achieve Kildare Street.

Absurd and irritating as it may seem today, this social hierarchy dominated our acceptances.

I had the benefit of always meeting a social cross section by playing a good deal of match tennis…. The top Rows rarely joined clubs and their play suffered….There were perhaps a dozen (also very loyal) Roman Catholic families who qualified for the first two Rows; many more, equally loyal but less distinguished, moved freely with the last two.

Amongst these “Row A” Roman Catholics were the Kenmares, living in a long gracious house at Killarney. Like Bantry House, in an equally lovely situation.

photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool

We were not allowed to take photos inside, except for in the basement, but you can see some pictures on the official website [1] and also on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [9].

There were wonderful old treasures in the house including armour chest protections in the hallway along the stairs, which was one of the first things to catch my attention as we entered. We went up a narrow stairway linked as Bence-Jones describes “with wainscot or half-timbered studding.”

There are some noteable structures inside the building, as Robert O’Byrne notes. “The drawing room has 18th century classical plaster panelled walls beneath a 19th century Perpendicular-Gothic ceiling. Some passages on the ground floor retain their original oak panelling, a number of bedrooms above being panelled in painted pine. The dining room has an immense granite chimneypiece bearing the date 1625, while those in other rooms are clearly from a century later.” [9]

photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool

Another drawing room is hung with tapestry, which would have kept the residents a bit warmer in winter. There are beautiful stuccoed ceilings, which you can see on the website.

O’Neill adds that Huntington was one of the first country houses in Ireland to have electricity, and in order to satisfy local interest a light was kept burning on the front lawn so that the curious could come up and inspect it.

I loved the light and plant filled conservatory area, with a childlike drawing on one wall. The glass ceiling is draped in grape vines.

We were allowed to take photos in the basement, which used to house dungeons, and now holds the “Temple of Isis.” It also contains a well, which was the reason the castle was situated on this spot. In the 1970s two of the four children of Manning Durdin-Robertson, the writer and mystic Olivia Durdin-Robertson, who was a friend of W.B. Yeats and A.E. Moore, and her brother Laurence (nicknamed Derry), and his wife Bobby, converted the undercroft into a temple to the Egyptian Goddess Isis, founding a new religion. In 1976 the temple became the foundation centre for the Fellowship of Isis [10]. I love the notion of a religion that celebrates the earthy aspects of womanhood, and I purchased a copy of Olivia Durdin-Robertson’s book in the coffee shop. The religion takes symbols from Egyptian religion, as you can see in my photos of this marvellous space:

Our tour guide.
DSC_1394
there is a well here.

Turtle Bunbury has a video of the Fellowship of Isis on his website [7]! You can get a flavour of what their rituals were like initially. Perhaps they are similar today. The religion celebrates the Divine Feminine.

After a tour of the castle, we then went to the back garden. According to its website,

The Gardens were mainly laid out in the 1680’s by the Esmondes. They feature impressive formal plantings and layouts including the Italian style ‘Parterre’ or formal gardens, as well the French lime Avenue (planted in 1680). The world famous yew walk is a significant feature which is thought to date to over 500 years old and should not be missed.

Later plantings resulted in Huntington gaining a number of Champion trees including more than ten National Champions. The gardens also feature early water features such as stew ponds and an ornamental lake as well as plenty to see in the greenhouse and lots of unusual and exotic plants and shrubs.

photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool
photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool

The Irish Aesthete also discusses this garden in another blog entry [11]. He tells us that the yew walk, which stretches 130 yards, dates from the time of the Franciscan friary in the Middle Ages! The “stew ponds” would have held fish that could be caught for dinner.

500 year old yew walk.
DSC_1369
photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool

After the garden, we needed a rest in the Cafe.

I loved the arrangement of plates on the walls of the cafe!

I was also thrilled by the hens who roamed the yard and even tried to enter the cafe:

There is space next to the cafe that can be rented out for events:

A few plants were for sale in the yard. A shop off the cafe sells local made craft, pottery, and books. The stables and farmyard buildings are kept in good condition and buzzed with with the business of upkeep of the house and gardens.

what is this tall flower?

[1] https://www.huntingtoncastle.com/

[2] The website http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Huntington%20Castle says it was built on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, whereas the Irish Aesthete says it was built on the site of a 13th century Franciscan monastery.

[3]  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.

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

[5] p. 171, Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English. The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012. See also pages 43, 273, 444 and 451.

[6] Dunlop, Robert. ‘Edmonde, Laurence.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition volume 18, accessed February 2020. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Esmonde,_Laurence_(DNB00)

[7] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_houses/hist_hse_huntington.html

[8] Robertson, Nora. The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland. published by Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd., Dublin, 1960.

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/01/23/huntington/

[10] http://www.fellowshipofisis.com/

[11] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/11/14/light-and-shade/

Irish Historic Homes