Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Florencecourt

 The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


AT the end of the eighteenth century Nash made a survey of the mansions of England, travelling on horseback. My survey of the mansions of Ulster has been made in far greater comfort. Whatever the differences in our mode of travel, I am convinced that Nash would agree that none of the lordly homes he surveyed was lovelier than Florencecourt.

Travelling from Enniskillen on a day when the sky was as tender a blue as an angel's eyes, when the blackthorn was starred with white, when every tree wore green lace and when every hedge and ditch was thickly clustered with primroses, I came to Florencecourt.

The house is in the centre of a green and fertile plain, surrounded by an amphitheatre of blue hills. It is said to be the finest mid-Georgian mansion in Ulster, but more than that, it is a beloved home, bearing the fragrance of a long and honourable past.

There has been little change in its appearance since the house was built about 1736. except that slates have replaced the original oak shingles of the roof.

Stately in the beauty of warm stone, the house overlooks a rolling demesne. A pair of toy cannon guard the great front door of pine on which gleams a fat brass knocker These cannon, taken from an American privateer, are fired to celebrate the coming-of-age of the heir.

The interior of the dwelling is cool and graceful. Many of the ceilings were decorated by Italian workmen; charming cherubs blow out their rounded cheeks on the dining room ceiling, and throughout there is the loving attention to detail found only when workmen are also craftsmen.

Florencecourt was built by Sir John Cole, who was the first Baron Mt. Florence.

Enniskillen owes much to the Cole family. Sir William Cole, who was Plain Captain Cole when the Commissioners of Plantation arrived in Enniskillen in 1609, so protected the town that he saved it from the horrors of the 1641 rising. Sir William, knighted in 1613, the year that he became first Provost and Warder of the Castle, was responsible for warning the Justices in Dublin of the intended rising of October 23, 1641.

It happened that a certain Captain Rory Maguire had invited Sir William, together with other prominent citizens to dine with him. It was Captain Maguire's intention to hold his guests hostages for the cession of Enniskillen. However, a relative of Captain Maguire, Brian Maguire, warned Sir William of the plot, whereupon he hastily departed.

The other guests sensing something amiss, departed also, and the plot was foiled. Sir William despatched a messenger to apprise (he Justices, but unfortunately there was a delay and the Justices did not receive the message until October 22, the day before the rising.

Negotiations are now on hand for the National Trust to undertake the upkeep of Florencecourt, so that there is a distinct possibility that at some time the public may be privileged to view its beauties.


Next week — Dobbin's Castle. Carrickfergus.

Belfast Telegraph – Wednesday, 13th May 1953

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Castlecoole

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


IN 1656 John Corry, a Belfast merchant, purchased Castlecoole from Henry Gilbert. For “eight hundred and sixtie pounds sterling" he bought the "castle, toune and lands" of Castlecoole. The deed set forth that there were:— ‘One Castle. one capitall messuage, 200 messuages, 200 cottages, two water mills, one Done (dower house), 200 gardens, three orchards, 600 acres of land, 300 acres of meadow, 800 acres of pasture, 500 acres of wood, 500 acres of furze and heath, 600 acres of moor, 500 acres of turbary and 600 acres of mariss, with the appurtenances.”

John Corry restored the dwelling, but in the lifetime of his son, Capt. James Corry, it was burned. In 1689 Governor Hamilton ordered its destruction as being an outpost that was in danger of falling into enemy hands.

Captain James Corry was singularly unfortunate. He had raised a force to fight for the Protestant cause, but for complicated reasons the townspeople of Enniskillen turned against him and he went to England.

His son John served King William and Queen Mary both in Ireland and in Flanders and eventually Captain James was able to prove his fidelity to the Crown and to obtain some compensation for the losses he had sustained. He built a Queen Anne house to replace the devastated dwelling.

Armar Lowry-Corry, great, great grandson of the original John was created Baron Belmore in 1781, Lord Belmore, taking advantage of an alteration to the public road to Dublin, was able to add greatly to the demesne. The new public road ran along the foot of a hill in Goregonnell townland known as Standing-stone, and about this hill a pleasant tale is told.

An enormous stone, two or three tons in weight, stands on the highest part of the hill, and tradition has it that a giant, wanting to stride from the Cuilagh Mountains to Toppid Mountain used the rock as a stepping stone.

The first Lord Belmore commissioned James Wyatt to design the present Castle. He purchased his own materials, the Portland stone being carried to Ireland in the brig “Martha," chartered for the purpose. It was landed at Ballyshannon, carted by oxen to Lough Erne, conveyed to Enniskillen by lighter, and finally carted to Castlecoole.

When we contemplate this regal place, almost mathematical in its Grecian precision, it seems miraculous that all those difficulties were overcome. Gleaming in the sun this princely house is in a most princely setting, the severity of its Attic grace softened by the greenness of the surrounding landscape.

As the building was acquired by the National Trust in 1951. It is possible for the public to visit the main rooms. The treasures are so numerous that only a few can be mentioned. Much of the furniture was designed by James Wyatt, and made on the premises. The piasterwork throughout is wondrous in its grace and formal delicacy, The saloon and drawing room have a distinctly French air, being rich with gilt and brocade.

Delicate Aubusson carpels cover the floors in dining and drawing rooms, and many exquisite pieces of rare Dresden and Sevres china are displayed.

The wonderfully wrought staircase ascends to a lobby, serving the first floor bedrooms. On one side of this lobby is the Bow Room, now a museum, in which Wyatt’s original drawings are to be found. On the other side is the State bedroom, prepared for George IV when he visited Ireland in 1821 to open Kingston Harbour. The monarch never slept in this room, but it remains just as it was prepared for him. The red flock paper is still on the walls, the Spode china rests on mantlepiece and dressing table and three steps lead up to the fabulous gold and crimson canopied bed.

Next week — Florencecourt, Enniskillen.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 4th May 1953.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Richhill Castle

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.

Richhill Castle

Richhill lies off the Portadown to Armagh road. Pleasant Georgian houses form three sides of a square at the top of a hill, and Richhill Castle faces them.

The castle proclaims its age; two wings project from each side of the entrance in the Jacobean manner, their Dutch gables echoed by smaller gables in the central part of the house. Inside, there is a richness of black oak. From the fine wide hall a splendid staircase rises, broad enough to allow the sweeping skirts of the ladies of the 17th century to pass uncrushed.

The seven-foot thick walls could unfold many tales could they but speak; they might even tell the truth about the passage reputed to run from the cellars to the Inn. How many confidences must have been whispered in the deep windows!

The demesne at one time enclosed part of the primeval forest. About 1610 the area was known as Muldory, and Francis Sacheverell of Leicester was granted an undertaking there.

He is known to have resided in the Manor House in 1618. Sacheverell’s daughter married a gentleman by the name of Richardson, and he It was who built the castle and gave it the name of Richhill.

The castle has associations with King William. There is still to be seen "King William's stump," the remains of a giant beech to which the warrior King is said to have tethered his horse whilst he slept, when on his way to the Battle of the Boyne.

Dolly Munroe, famed Dublin beauty, graced this place with her loveliness after her marriage to one of the Richardsons in 1775. Goldsmith referred to Dolly's beauty in his poem, "The Haunch of Venison." He wrote:
       “Of the neck and breast I had to dispose.
       “Twas a neck and breast to rival Munroe's.”

Before her marriage Dolly had been courted by the Viceroy of Ireland Lord Townsend. So anxious was he to secure her that he sent his coach, complete with six running footmen, to call at her house three times each week.

Another of the lady's admirers was the Provost of Trinity. When he died he left her all his prints, saying that they would grace her boudoir far more successfully than they had graced his library. The lady's portrait hangs in the Irish National Gallery. Should her ghost return, she would find her old home sadly altered. Only one wing is inhabited, and the beautiful wrought iron gates have disappeared. They stand, a testimony to the craftsmanship of a bygone age, at the Governor's residence in Hillsborough.

Next week – Castle Coole, Enniskillen.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, April 29, 1953

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Carrick Blacker

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.

Carrick Blacker

CARRICK BLACKER reveals itself from a distance by the characteristic clump of dark cypresses which usually surround a large country house in Ulster. Concealed from the road, it lies between Banbridge and Portadown. The house is approached by a long and graceful avenue of trees, its Flemish bond brickwork standing rich against the darkness of the cypresses.

There is sadness and a feeling of mortality about Carrick Blacker. The little whispering airs have crept about the place, nibbling away, here a little of the brickwork and crumbling there some of the stonework, so that only a shabby shadow of splendour now remains.

The heavy iron-studded door with its great black knocker and handle is as strong as it was in the days of William and Mary; nobility there is still in the fine gables, and the elegance of well-proportioned windows, but the finials from the gables and parapet are lying on the lawn, and the gracious garden is quite overgrown.

Built in 1692, the house was the seat of the Blackers, who claim descent from Blacair, King of the Danes, and founder of Dublin in the tenth century.

It seems strangely apt that Col. Blacker should at one time have had in his possession two ancient weapons, found in a nearby bog, attributed to the Danes who fought in a battle hereabouts in 941.

These are not the only relics of the past, for the house once contained the saddlecloth and gauntlet used by King William at the Battle of the Boyne.

The walls of Carrick Blacker would stand forever, but the roof is sadly dilapidated. It was almost a relief to turn from the decaying house to the neat and well-kept farm buildings which stand beside it. An enormous and ferocious bull glared from a pen opposite the kitchen quarters of the mansion. Gleaming white tiles lined the dairy walls, contrasting strangely with the mouldering parapets.

Houses like Carrick Blacker are woven into the very fabric of Ulster's history, unequalled examples of their period and style, and everywhere they are falling into decay.


Since brass, nor stone, not earth nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power
Flout with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?

O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Next week – Richhill.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 22nd April 1953.


Saturday, 23 May 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Galgorm Castle

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.

Galgorm Castle

THE road that leads to Galgorm Castle is dominated by woods on either side. It is a smooth, curving road with strongly built and well-kept walls. How different it must be from the road which Sir Faithful Fortescue travelled in the second decade of the 17th century when he was seeking a site on which to build a bawn.

Sir Faithful was a servitor of Queen Elizabeth; his very name suggests a plain and honest Puritan gentleman.

Whatever the condition of the road when Sir Faithful travelled it, he doubtless heard the rooks filling the air with the noise of their cawing, just as I did when I went to view Galgorm Castle on a day in early spring.

The Castle is set well back amongst great elms, and like the name of the man who first built on this spot, it has a Puritan air. Covered in creeper, the appearance of the house is most symmetrical.

There are eleven chimneys on either side, and one in the middle to complete the balance. Three parapets flank a curved Dutch gable, and this curved gable is echoed by the doorway.

The whole atmosphere of the place is one of utmost neatness, from the primly curtained gatehouse to the pairs of stone balls that line each side of the straight driveway. The ruins of a chapel in the vicinity serve only to emphasise the balance of the rest.

The castle that we see to-day is one built upon the site of the original bawn by Dr. Colville, rector of Ballymoney, in 1632. This gentleman purchased the estate from Sir Faithful and many stories are told concerning him.

In a pamphlet on witchcraft which Classon Porter brought out. It is stated that Dr. Colville's contemporaries accounted for his great wealth by alleging that he sold his soul to the Devil for a hatful of gold.

Such was the Doctor's craft that he arranged to meet the Devil on a limekiln at the Whitewall and slit his hat so that the gold fell through and filled the kiln as well as the hat.

In this type of story, the Devil is always represented as simple and good-natured, and when he later came to claim his victim, the Doctor pleaded for just sufficient time to let the candle by which he was reading the Bible burn away. When the Devil agreed, the Doctor immediately blew out the candle and locked it away in an iron box.

Whatever the truth of this tale, when alterations were carried out at Galgorm in the year 1850, an iron box, a candle, and a Bible were found.


Next week – Carrickblacker, Portadown.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 15th April 1953

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Waringstown House

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.

Waringstown House

THERE have been Warings living at Waringstown House ever since it was built in the seventeenth century. The first Waring came to Ulster from Lancashire, fleeing the persecution of Queen Mary.

It was the grandson of this pioneer who introduced linen manufacture to the district. He brought artisans from Holland to help to establish the industry and it may be that the rather Dutch air of this house can be attributed to the influence of some of these Dutchmen.

Waringstown House fronts the main road between Banbridge and Lurgan. The facade is typically early Renaissance in that its most symmetrical. There is a very gay air about the house due chiefly to its wonderful coral colour. Built of enormous stones and mud, then covered with stucco and washed with this glorious soft pink, the house presents a challenge to some of our grey, modern cities.

Although the facade is so formal, a more human and boisterous type of architecture is revealed when the house is viewed from the garden.

A jolly Dutch gable is thrown up here and a bowed window juts out there. It is as if a joyous country lady had put on a stately countenance for a Court occasion, but could not suppress her roguish dimples. Indeed the house puts one in mind of a lady whose dress shows a beautiful sense of colour, for even the slates, grape blue, have taken on a hint of rose through the years. The clean lines of the windows are outlined in white, sharp against the coral of the house, and to heighten the effect of all this colour, an age-darkened yew hedge is set against the house

Succeeding generations of Warings have left their mark upon the place. Dean Waring of Lurgan wrought most beautiful carvings on the Irish oak of the hall and staircase. Some of the Dean's work is also to be seen in the lovely Jacobean church, built very near to the house on land given by the family. Pulpit, roof and pillars of local oak are wonderfully and lovingly carved with fruit, leaves and flowers. Over the family pew, Dean Waring carved a stork, the family crest. This lovely work is surely a most beautiful memorial of him, an unsung Ulster Grinling Gibbons.


Next week – Galgorm Castle.

Belfast Telegraph, 8th April 1953

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Antrim Castle

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.

Antrim Castle

IN 1605, two years after the death of the first Elizabeth, a bawn was built where the ruins of Antrim Castle now stand. The castle itself was begun in 1610, and Hugh Clotworthy completed it in 1613. During the reign of the second Charles additions were made by the first Viscount Massereene.

Only the death mask of that gracious place now stands gaunt and stark against the sky. This facade, though windowless, is almost perfect, particularly when the castle is viewed from the terraced gardens. The interior is a complete ruin, destroyed by a disastrous fire In the early 1920s. The hall which once contained the Speaker's chair of the Irish House of Commons is now quite overgrown with ivy.

As I walked along the terrace by the river I saw two pigeons flying above the roofless shell to perch on the single chimney pot incongruously standing on one of the remaining walls. Two mermaids, gazing into a mirror, comb their hair above the door that faces the river, and a similar pair decorate the lintel of the main doorway.

Carved above the preening mermaids is the stone biography or the castle. The arms and portraits are in such good order, that the likeness of Charles I. placed there by the first Viscount Massereene, is still recognisable.

In great contrast to the ruined castle are the beautifully trim grounds. Terraced gardens rise on what were once the bastions, and mellow red brick, ornamented with graceful urns, form* a wall for an inner garden beyond.

Many legends attach themselves to this historic place. One concerns a certain Lady Marian, living at the time of the building of the bawn. Whilst walking one day she was attacked by a wolf and fainted in fright. She recovered to find a wolf-hound, badly wounded, licking her hands and face, and the wolf lying dead nearby. The hound was taken to the castle and treated as a pet, but disappeared without trace after a little time.

Many years later, after the present castle was built, it is said that during a battle a stone hound appeared suddenly on one of the towers, so frightening the attackers that the rising was quelled.

The stone effigy which thus averted disaster did not disappear in the mysterious fashion of its flesh and blood counterpart, for within living memory it was to be seen within the precincts of the castle.


Next week – Waringstown House.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 1 April 1953.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Mount Panther

The following is the first of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.

Mount Panther

Here and there in the Ulster countryside are fine old Manor houses, castles and other buildings full of architectural and historic interest at which the passer-by today has scanty knowledge.

This is the first of a weekly series of articles and sketches outlining the features and recalling the stories of some of these structures.

It deals with Mount Panther, a landmark on the road to Newcastle between Clough and Dundrum. Next week’s subject will be Antrim Castle.

SOME time at the beginning of the Golden Age of Architecture, at the approach to the Mournes, Mount Panther was built. The actual date of erection is unknown, but it was prior to 1740, for at that date it was the residence of the Rector, Dr. Matthews. Drive along the one main street of Clough, go down the hill towards Dundrum and you will see the house in all its mannered grace. Heroically sited on a little hill in wooded parkland, it commands a panoramic view of the Down scene.

Looking at Mount Panther's symmetry it if easy to people park and lanes with the shadowy figures of ladies in flowered and panniered skirts and men in elegant waist-coats and breeches, for the grace of the early eighteenth century lies in every one of its 365 windows.

Amongst those who once visited Mount Panther was the renowned Mrs. Delany, friend of Swift and Dr. Johnson, considered by the latter to be “the highest-bred woman in the world and the woman of fashion of all ages." Her husband was Dr. Delany, Dean of Down and friend of Dr. Matthews

Extracts from her famous diaries tell us of the social life of Mount Panther and its environs. We build up such a picture of Dr. Delany and his wife riding from Mount Panther in 1751, and meeting upon the road Mrs. Annesley and Lady Anne Annesley when they were going “on horseback, to dine under a tent on cold meat, about a mile from that place where they are to build."

Even so do we learn of the beginnings of Castlewellan. What delicious images are conjured by those entries which tell of picnics to Ardglass, carrying paper and pencils, “for taking views," and walks to Wood Island, Mrs. Delany carrying her shepherdess's crook and Dr. Delany a stout cane to enable them to penetrate to the thickest part of the wood.

To-day the young oak under whose shade Mrs. Delany once sat is a spreading giant. The park has lost much of its former glory since many of the great trees have been laid low. A close inspection of the house itself reveals a declining elegance. The high walls and graceful wrought Iron gates still stand, but now, in the place that once stabled fifty horses are two high-powered American cars, and the stable clock is stopped at five past five. — (FINA.)

Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, March 26, 1953.