Wednesday 7 July 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Moira Village

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


Moira Village

There is a story locked up in every home

FOR this, the last of this series of articles, I have chosen to write not of one house, but of all those houses that together make up the charming Georgian village of Moira.

Moira is a roadside village, the houses being built on either side of the highway, and its charm and interest are evident to the traveller from the moment that he sees the fine trees growing in the centre of the wide street.

The houses are mostly of rubble masonry, some thatched, some colour-washed a pleasing rose-pink, some with wide arched doorways and graceful fanlights.

It is a peaceful place, this typical Ulster village through which runs the main Lisburn-Lurgan road. Set in an open-flourishing landscape of green fields from whence come some of the means to feed the thriving towns of Britain. Moira has changed very little since Sir George Rawdon acquired an estate there at the end of the 17th century.

The road on which this village is built is excellent, for thereabouts is a tradition of good roads. Even in 1683 the roads for which Sir George was responsible, were described as “verv good, not only from the nature of the soil which generally affords gravel, but from Sir George Rawdon's care.”

Indeed, so excellent a road-maker was this gentleman that he has been described as “the best highwayman in the kingdom.”

Each of the homes of Moira has a story, as yet unwritten, known only to those who live therein.

Every old house has a story if we care to search for it. I have found, during the months in which I have been writing about these homes of Ulster, that this search is well worth making. It may lead in some tale of high romance, to some old deed of courage, or to some story of fortunes founded from small beginnings.

There remain many old Ulster homes whose stories have not been written – great houses, Georgian farms, ancient castles and secluded country houses handed to succeeding generations of the same family.

Of those that I have seen and admired I remember best the serenity of Florencecourt, the green peace of the Southwell almshouses, the glowing rose of Waring House, and the distant grace of Mount Panther, but, above all, I recall with gratitude the kindness of those who own the storied homes of Ulster, and without whose help these tales could not have been written.


Belfast Telegraph, 30 December 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Orangefield House

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


Orangefield House

The demesne has gone and mansion is lost

BELFAST, like all great cities, has crept ever outward, urbanising the surrounding pastureland, using stream and river for its own purpose, until now one must seek for those landmarks that were outstanding features little more than a century past.

When, in 1823, Atkinson described Orangefield, the seat of Hugh Crawford, a proprietor of the Belfast Bank, he said that this estate was “a more extensive feature of the Belfast neighbourhood than any of those on the Downpatrick road.”

Then, the handsome square house stood on a richly planted demesne of 200 acres, and a corn and flour mill added greatly to the wealth of the owner and to the welfare of the tenants.

The trees in the demesne were for the most part oak and ash, either fully grown or “far advanced to maturity,” some of them planted no doubt by Thomas Bateson who left Lancashire in the 17th century and came to Orangefield.

The uniformly laid surface of the land was in those days considered a defect, but the extensive views of the Belfast mountains, the hills of Castlereagh and the church of Knock and Breda compensated for this fault.

The fault became a virtue later when the level land was covered with neat and pleasant houses. To-day the extensive demesne is so intersected by parks and avenues that it is difficult to find the “excellent mansion” of which Atkinson wrote.

The mansion, though in good repair, is no longer the spruce dwelling house that it was, and the oak and the ash have long since gone. Only here and there are to be seen the stumps of the great trees beside a sturdy remnant of the wall which once enclosed the demesne.

For a long time Orangefield was deserted and then a group of enterprising businessmen saw its possibilities. It is now the headquarters for several manufacturing concerns. The windows are stacked high with boxed goods and all day vans come and go in the driveway.

Here in this place that once saw a most leisurely manner of living, workpeople are busy preparing and canning food-stuffs, and, since Orangefield House is in the centre of a most populous neighbourhood, it is never difficult to find extra hands. Even the old stables and coach-houses have been re-built and utilised, and a modern, hygienic canning plant has been installed where once the horses rested.


Next week – Brownlow House, Lurgan.

Belfast Telegraph, 16 December 1953.

Monday 14 June 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Brownlow House, Lurgan

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


Brownlow House, Lurgan

From skill and taste came pleasing harmony

LURGAN has grown very much since Captain Pynnar made his survey of property in Co. Armagh in 1618, and noted that William Brownlow had made “a very fair town consisting of 42 houses, all of which are inhabited with English families, and the streets all paved clean through.”

Much of William Brownlow's “very fair house of stone and brick” that lay adjacent to the town can be seen to-day, and the rebuilding which has taken place through the intervening centuries has been carried out so skilfully that there is a lively harmony about the whole dwelling.

Here there is no formalism to produce an “architectural composition.” Windows appear where they are needed to supply light, as the native common sense of those first Elizabethans dictated — a common sense shared both by the Victorians and our own contemporary Elizabethans.

Ornamental chimneys, both real and decorative, sprout from every peak of the many-gabled roof, giving the whole building an air of exuberance and gaiety. This exuberant air is increased by the delicate scrolled stonework that abounds about the dwelling.

Looking at this stonework one can almost believe that the fabled petrifying powers of Lough Neagh have been bequeathed to the ornamental lake that fronts the house, and that some past occupant has proved the waters magic quality by immersing lace to decorate his dwelling.

Succeeding members of the Brownlow family remained patrons of Lurgan throughout the years that followed Pynnar’s Survey.

As early at 1824 the beautiful demesne was thrown open to the public. Even then, the people of Lurgan were free to walk round the fine lake and watch the water-fowl cleave triangular furrows through the reeds, whilst the gulls whirled and swooped and screamed overhead.

Brownlow House was bought by the Orange Body in 1903 and is now an Orange Hall. The beautiful demesne, with its rich plantations and fine sheet of water is a public park.

Bicycles and motor-cars break the stillness of the misty lake, but the water-fowl still sail among the rushes.


Next Week — Moira Village, County Down.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 23 December 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Corry's Crescent

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


Corry's Crescent

Conceived on lines of Georgian graciousness

WALKING along University Road, with public and private transport perpetually roaring past and crowds of workers, shoppers and University students hurrying on their way, it seems scarcely possible that little more than a hundred years have lapsed since a certain section of the public complained that Queen's had been built too far out in the country.

There is a map of 1848 that shows Queen's and Corry’s Crescent surrounded by open fields, and from this map one can get a clear mental picture of the beautiful square that Robert Carry visualised.

Only the Upper and Lower Crescents of the square he planned were completed, and those who built here later lacked his ideals of beauty.

The Upper Crescent, with its graceful sweeping curve and fine proportions, was completed first, somewhere about 1848, and from the Belfast Directory of 1852 we learn that four new houses in the Lower Crescent were then finished and occupied.

The dignified houses that make up these fine terraces were planned during the middle years of Victoria's reign, when pomposity rampaged in English architecture

Fortunately, Georgian graciousness lingered in Belfast, and here, in Corry’s Crescent is none of the Neo-Gothic influence that characterised new buildings in England at this time, when the spread of education and increased wealth from expanding manufacturing power had given a varied and solid culture to a new middle class.

The terrace where Robert Corry spent much of his life was doubtless the culmination of all he had dreamt during the weary months that followed the accident in which be fractured both his legs.

Looking through the Belfast directories for the years between the Great Exhibition and the Prince Consort's death, one gets a picture of Belfast life in the Crescents. For obvious reasons the Crescents were favoured places of residence for the professors from Queen's. Merchants and manufacturers who wished to live in rural surroundings yet needed to be within easy reach of the city found the neighbourhood a happy choice.

The directory of 1856 tells us that the fortunate occupant of No. 9, Lower Crescent, was a “gentleman.” One wonders if he found the Ladies Seminary run by his next-door-neighbour Miss Black, too noisy for his name had disappeared by 1860.

Merchants, manufacturers, lawyer, parsons, professors, and increasingly, Corry's timber merchants and shipowners, inhabited the terraces, so that, to-day as in the map of 1848, we refer to this place as “Corry's Crescent,” not Upper and Lower Crescent as the directories and nameplates indicate.


Next week – Orangefield

Belfast Telegraph, 9 December 1853

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – The Old Museum, Belfast

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


The Old Museum, Belfast

A glance back to the time when Belfast’s museum was founded.

ONE of the objects of the Belfast Reading Society, established in 1788, was the formation of “collections of nature and art."

The Reading Society, now known as the Linenhall Library, flourished, but little was done about the “collections of nature and art" until, in 1821, eight young citizens formed themselves into the Belfast Natural History Society.

The first meeting was held on May 5, 1821, at the house of Dr. Drummond, one of the founder members, in Chichester Street. The newly-formed Society continued to meet in Chichester Street until Dr. Drummond's lease expired, when the natural philosophy classroom at the Belfast Academical Institution was offered to them as a temporary headquarters.

Membership and interest in the new Society grew, their headquarters were again changed, and at length it became obvious that they must seek a permanent home, both for the ever-increasing “collections of nature and art," and for their frequent meetings.

Eventually the founder members secured a part of Thos. M'Cammon's land in College Square, tenders were sent out by the architects, Messrs, Duff & Jackson, and on May 4, 1830, the Marquis of Donegall laid the foundation stone of the Belfast Museum.

The old Museum is to-day the headquarters for various societies, and the original collections have been removed to the Municipal Museum in Stranmills Road.

The classical proportions of the old building retain their dignity, although overshadowed by the more opulent Technical College.

This was the first provincial museum to be built in Ireland, and for 80 years it served the public well. At first the museum was open only on specific days, but in 1837 it was decided to open six days a week.

Charges ordinarily were 3d for mechanics and children, and 8d for other persons, but on Easter Monday, which was the great day for visiting the Museum, the charge was 1d for children and 2d for adults.

A hundred years ago the majority of Belfast citizens had only about six days holiday a year — two days for July 12, two days for Christmas and two days for Easter. The great thing to do at Easter was to go, first to the Botanic Gardens to watch the balloon go up, and then to the Museum, where strange, wonderful and rare things were to be seen.

The growing popularity of the Museum can be gauged from the numbers who went there. On Easter Monday, 1843, 1,200 folk visited it; on Easter Monday, 1853. 5,950 went to see the exhibits.

The Easter advertisements which told Belfast citizens of the wonders on show at the old Museum were very different from the bulletins which now tell us what we may learn in the new building which has inherited the original “collections of nature and art."


Next week – Corry's Crescent, Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 2 December 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Saintfield House, Co. Down

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


Saintfield House, Co. Down

Baffled pikemen and the painted beauty

SOMETIME between 1749 and 1790, prior to big marriage. Francis Price had a house built in the heart of his rolling Saintfield parkland. The trees that he and his successors planted are old giants now, fringing the winding drive that leads to the house, and casting long shadows as the wintry sun momentarily turns the last dried leaves to a glowing amber.

Against the walls of the house the Virginia creeper still flaunts a few flushed flags, but on the climbing rose only dusters of brilliant berried remain of all the summer's glory.

Originally, the house consisted of a three-storey centre block, but later, flanking wings, two floors high, were added, and these were joined to the main edifice by single storey connecting blocks. This variation in height adds to the interest of the exterior of the house.

Within the dwelling aere many mementos of the Price ancestors. Still preserved is a magnificent blue velvet coat, with companion satin waistcoat lavishly embroidered in blue and silver, that Francis Price wore on special occasions. There is also a curious contraption used by Nicholas Price, son of Francis, to enable him to take exercise when, after his eightieth birthday, he was too old for riding horse-back.

Nicholas Price was probably the best-known of this old family. Mrs. Delaney met him when he was a small boy, and she wrote of him: "Poor little Nickey Price, I’m afraid there is no hope for him."

In spite of the doubts of the Dean's wife Nicholas Price lived to be 96, and it is said that he attributed his life and health to the waters of Ballynahinch Spa. He came to be known as "The Old Squire."

During the '98 rising, the Old Squire had a most fortunate escape. Whilst he was away in Dublin a band of rebels marched on Saintfield House and lined up a cannon on the lawn, preparatory to blasting the place.

The steward, who had been left in charge ran out to say that his master was away, whereupon the rebels held their fire and chased the steward indoors. The unfortunate man id in a passage that runs round the basement, whilst the cut-throats sought him throughout the house.

In the search, a pike was thrust through a portrait of a lady, presumably to discover if the unlucky wretch had hidden behind it. The scar left by this pike-thurst mars the lady's painted beauty even yet.

Eventually the unhappy man was discovered, taken to the lawn in front of the house, and shot.

For several weeks the rebel gang had possession of Saintfield House, but were eventually overcome, after the Battle of Ballynahinch.


Next week — The Old Museum, College Square North, Belfast

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 25 November 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Hockley Lodge, Armagh

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


Hockley Lodge, Armagh

Dower House that retains its old-world charm

THE roads of Co. Armagh interlace the flourishing countryside as ribbons interlace a Victorian petticoat. Alongside some of these winding roads run the high, strong walls of those twenty-two proportions of territory, possessed by English settlers, into , which the baronies of O’Neilland and Orior were divided when the King's Commissioners began their inquiry in 1618.

Some little way beyond one of these enclosing walls, about two miles from Armagh, lies Hockley Lodge, once a Dower House of the Molyneaux family of Castledillon.

The great house of Castledillon is now an annexe of St. Luke's Hospital, and the splendid coach-house, designed by Cooley, where once the ladies of the house ran a charity school, are workshops.

The small Dower House is, however, still a charming home. Built on sloping ground, its entrance in classic Georgian style, is single-storied, whilst the rear of the building, of seventeenth century origin, is two-storied.

The window tax caused many of the windows at Hockley Lodge to be blinded, about the year 1807, but it is noticeable that, in order to escape the tax, the windows were not bricked up in the usual way, but had a brick wall built about 18 inches away from them, somewhat in the manner of modem windows protected from air-raid blast.

Evidently the then owner of Hockley Lodge believed that the window tax would not last long How irritated he must have been that the hated tax was not repealed until 1851!

At the rear of the house is a courtyard containing the farm buildings, the most imposing of which is an octagonal dairy, forming the centre of one side of the court. This dairy is lit from a high, domed roof and its cool gloom is accentuated by its floor of Armagh marble.

Outside the kitchen door is a brick oven, complete with flue, where once the bread for the household was baked.

At the time of the 1641 rebellion, Hockley Lodge was occupied by a daughter of John Dillon. As she was married to a man of native extraction, she remained safe from harm when the county was a battleground. Indeed, she was able to help some of her friends and neighbours to escape, even though nearby Charlemont Fort was conquered and held by the rebel, Sir Phelim O'Neill.

It is recorded by Sir C. Cooks in his “Statistical Survey of County Armagh,” published in 1804, that at that time a Mr. Shields was then the occupant of Hockley Lodge. At the time of the “Survey’s” publication, Mr. Shields, like all the other county families, would be enjoying the years of troubled peace that followed the ’98 rising — such troubled years as those that we have seen in our own day and generation.


Next week – Saintfield House, Saintfield, Co Down.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 13 November 1953.