Monday, 21 December 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Castle Ward

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


Castle Ward

The owner who fell in a duel

NOW, on every fine day, the farmers are busy garnering as much of the harvest as they can save after this wet summer. Driving towards Strangford on one of these blue and gold days of early autumn, I saw a line of men, scythes in hand, moving rhythmically across a cornfield laid low by wind and weather, and impossible to harvest by machine.

Close behind them followed their women kind, gathering and stooking the corn as it fell. These countryfolk were working the fields as their ancestors worked them, when Castle Ward was Carrick na Sheannagh, and before Robert Ward, Surveyor General of Ireland in the time of Elizabeth 1, purchased the estate from the Earl of Kildare.

The original house was built close by the farm and nearer the Lough, and it was from this house that Bernard Ward, great great grandson of Robert Ward, went out to fight against Jocelyn Hamilton, the duel in which he was killed and Jocelyn Hamilton mortally wounded.

Bernard Ward's grandson became Deputy Governor of Co. Down in 1759, and it was about this time that Mrs. Delaney described Castle Ward as being "altogether one of the finest places I ever saw."

However, the Deputy Governor of County Down wanted a finer mansion, albeit he and his Lady found some difficulty in deciding upon the architectural style; he wanted a dwelling in the classic manner, she desired something fashionably Gothic, as Mr. Walpole's house at Strawberry Hill. Husband and wife compromised, with the curious result that at Castle Ward one side of the dwelling has the pointed windows and battlements of the Gothic taste, whilst the other side has a severe classic elevation.

A letter from Mrs. Delaney to her sister, written about the time of the erection of the new dwelling, gives us her opinion. She wrote:

"Mr. Ward is building a fine house, but the scene about it so uncommonly fine it is a pity it should not be judiciously laid out. He wants taste, and Lady Anne is so whimsical that I doubt her judgment. If they do not do too much they cannot spoil the place, for it hath every advantage from nature that can be desired."

In 1770, Mr. Ward was created Baron Bangor. A faithful account of the style of living at Castle Ward about this time is given to us by Sir James Caldwell, of Co. Fermanagh, who, on October 12, 1772, having business with Lord Bangor, called at Castle Ward and was invited to dine and spend the night. Here is an extract from his diary:—

"There was an excellent dinner, stewed trout at the head, chine of beef at the foot, soup in the middle, a little pie at each side, and four trifling things at the corners.

The second course of nine dishes was made out in much the same way. After the cloth was taken away the fruit – a pineapple, a small plate of peaches, grapes and figs, and the rest, pears and apples. During dinner two French horns of Lady Clanwilliam's played very fairly in the hall next the parlour.

Portraits of the Ward ancestors hang in the dining room at Castle Ward, and, as Lady Bangor has handed this historic house to the National Trust, next year the public will be privileged to see these portraits and the treasures that the house contains.


Next week: Stormont Castle.

Belfast Telegraph
, 2 September 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Caledon House, Co. Tyrone

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


Caledon House, Co. Tyrone

Ulster’s richest ‘Nabob’ purchased this estate

In 1772, three years before the Americans began their War of Independence, there returned from India the richest “nabob” that Ulster has known, James Alexander. James, son of Nathaniel, an alderman of Derry had seen service with the East Indian Company, both on the coast of Coromandel and at Fort William. Still only 42 when he returned, James Alexander became one of the greatest landowners in the country, purchasing the Caledon estate from the extravagant son of the 5th Earl of Orrery

The estate of Caledon, or Kinard as it was anciently known, has changed hands more than once in the last three hundred years. The lands were granted, in 1605, to Sir Henry Oge O'Neill, and, later in the seventeenth century, Sir Phelim O'Neill, who held Co Tyrone against the English, had his headquarters there.

When Charles II came to the throne the estate was in the hands of the authorities, and in 1660 a King's letter instructed the Lords Justice to give to Capt. William Hamilton "satisfaction for all his arrears” out of the lands in the barony of Dungannon.

Captain Hamilton's granddaughter, heiress of the Caledon estate, became the second wife of the Earl of Orrery, and it was her son who sold his inheritance to James Alexander.

James married Ann, the daughter of James Crawford, of Crawfordsburn, and, wanting a house in keeping with his wealth and position, he commissioned Thos. Cooley to design the Palladian mansion that stands in that vast and beautiful 800 acres which comprise the Caledon lands.

Caledon House follows the fashion of its era, when even country builders knew enough of the orders and details of antiquity to be able to reproduce a miniature Pantheon.

The Interior of the dwelling is in the true Adam style every detail being in perfect unity. To preserve the contours of the oval drawing room. for example, even the doors and mantels are curved.

James Alexander and his comely bride were, however, destined never to reside together in this classical replacement of the old house, for Ann died before the house was completed, leaving an infant son. After her death her husband devoted himself almost entirely to his Parliamentary duties. As a reward for his zeal in public office he was created a Viscount in 1797. Three years later he became an Earl.

When his son inherited the estate in 1802, the classicism of the Georgian period was at its zenith, and the 2nd Earl commissioned the great John Nash to design the enlargement he had planned.

This grandson of Alderman Alexander's was a model landlord in those days when philanthropy was not generally to be found. His relations with his tenants were of the happiest; he built model cottages, laid out the town of Caledon, and erected the pleasant Court House, at a cost to himself of some £3,000. So beloved was he by his tenants that at his death a handsome column was erected in the demesne, paid for by public subscription.


Next week — Castle Ward, Strangford, Co. Down

Belfast Telegraph, 26 August 1953.

Monday, 14 December 2020

Belfast’s First Fair


333 Years Ago This Week (in 1937 that was)

Belfast’s First Fair Was Held

Belfast's first fair was held in the first week of August 1604, 333 years ago. It was not very much of a Fair Day. Belfast was only the germ of what it is to-day. There was a castle, a church, a few wooden houses clustered round the confluence of the Faraet and the Logan, and nothing else but countryside around.

* * * * *

It was King James I. who granted the authority to hold a fair in Belfast. When the King gave so much land to James Hamilton In Clandeboye he mentioned "a Friday weekly market at Belfast "

Later, a further grant was given to a Mr. John Wakeman, of Belfast, who had liberty to "hold for ever a fair on every August 1 and the day following at Belfast."

* * * * *

The Sovereign of Belfast, in addition to his other duties, was Clerk of the Market at Belfast's first fair.

What exactly his duties were it is hard to say, but the authorities took good care to see that all custom's duties payable on goods sold were to be settled "at the port of Cnrrickfergus."

* * * * *

Business at the Belfast fair evidently had increased thirty years later. A town hall was actually mooted in 1639 which was to be used for municipal work as well as a market house. This town hall stood at the corner of High Street and Corn Market. In the "sellers" were benches for storing goods, while the upper floor was the council chamber of the corporation. The only relic of this old building — the foundation of Belfast's commerce — is a bell the property of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, to whom it was presented by Lord Donegall.

* * * * *

What did they buy and sell in the early Belfast fairs? It should be remembered that a considerable trade in wines had been in vogue for some time before the first Belfast fair. This wine came from Spain mostly, and paid — or did not pay — its duty at Carrickfergus Castle.

Then there were horses, fowl, cows, sheep pigs and goats, which made their first official appearance at a Belfast fair. There were the usual agricultural sales of vegetables, and, as the fairs became regular, articles of clothing.

* * * * *

Readers should remember that it was under James I. that regular administration of justlce began to be established in Ulster. This naturally led to a growth of trade. Counties Antrim and Down were fairly well populated at this time, and in addition to Carrickfergus the ports of Connswater and Garmoyle only had official recognition from the Customs' officers.

Therefore, the recognition of Belfast as a suitable place to hold a weekly fair was timely.

And it is to be noted that in the succeeding reign of Charles I. it was reported that the Customs' revenue from Belfast had increased fourfold: shipping had increased a hundredfold, and the values of land around Belfast had increased greatly.

Did Belfast's first fair lay its foundations as a city? Did It put the little village on the high road of prosperity? It's history has proved at any rate it assisted its progress considerably.


Belfast Telegraph, 6 August 1937

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Springhill, Moneymore

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


Springhill, Moneymore – The House of 'Good Will'

IN the township of Ballindrum (the township of the hill's ridge) about five miles from Lough Neagh, is Springhill. The long low house, charming in its white simplicity, its symmetry surely prophesying the classic dignity of the Georgian period, stands on a high hill. Copper beeches line the approach to an open courtyard and break in fronds across the gleaming facade of the dwelling. Beyond the arched doorway in the wall lie the old Brew House, the Turf Shed, the Slaughter House, and the Laundry. On the dwelling’s further side could once be seen a second courtyard or bawn, where cattle were herded in times of trouble.

In her lovingly written book on the house, Mrs. Lenox-Conyngham describes the beauty of tha Dutch garden, sweet with old-fashioned flowers planted by bygone hands, with its walls blossoming with the Macartney rose, the first of its kind to be brought from China to Ireland, nearly two centuries ago.

SPRINGHILL has been the home of the Conynghams since the family came to Ireland with those first settlers who had grants of land from James I. Tradition has it that when the native Irish rose, in 1641, and horribly massacred the settlers, the Conyngham owner was absent, and was saved. The title deeds of the property were destroyed, and it was not until 1652 that Cromwell granted new title deeds to that William Conyngham who had been High Sheriff of County Derry some twenty years before.

This same William Conyngham had a son known to succeeding generations as Good Will. The story of the marriage of Good Will and 16-year-old Ann Upton, both of whom were to be so nearly concerned in the siege of Derry, reads like a page from an old romance.

THE union, happy as it was, was childless, although Ann herself was one of a family of 20 We can picture them in 1680, at the beginning of their happy forty years of marriage, in that peaceful period that preceded Dutch William’s accession, making additions to the beloved old home and creating new gardens and orchards.

Their peace was savagely shattered when Good Will received a secret warning of the impending troubles, and sent his Ann, for safety, to stay with Alderman Lennox and his lady in the city of Derry.

Ann would not lack company in Derry, for besides the Lennox family, she numbered among her connection James Conyngham, a merchant of the city, and two younger members of the Conyngham family, Alexander and John, who were apprenticed there following the English custom for the younger sons of good families.

WHILST Ann busied herself in Derry Good Will was active on King William’s behalf. Now Colonel Conyngham, he was in command of Colonel Canning’s regiment of foot, and was one of the six members of King William’s Supreme Council.

Throughout the long days of the siege, whilst Ann played her part within the city, how proud she must have been to know that her two young relatives were among the Apprentice Boys who acted so gallantly in Derry’s defence!

When peace came, husband and wife reunited, returned to Springhill to spend long years in mutual love and sympathy.

Reminders of Good Will are at Springhill yet, among them the gold watch presented to him by the Irish Society for his work as "Overseer of the woods and forest of Ulster," the testament bearing the signature of George Walker, and a long gun, with an inlaid silver barrel, that was used at the siege. The tenderness of Good Will’s affection for his "deare wife” is very evident in the provisions of his will. He died in 1721, but for thirty years his Ann lived on alone.


Next week: Caledon House, Co. Tyrone.

Belfast Telegraph, 19 August 1953

Storied Homes of Ulster – Mountstewart

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



Congress of Vienna chairs are in the dining room

ALREADY there is about the countryside the first vague whisper of autumn. Along the shores of Strangford Lough the banked foliage that borders the grounds of Mountstewart has taken on a flush of russet. Even now the first burned leaves have drifted on to the serene waters of the little lake beyond the house, where they float like pale gold barques among the rosy lilies.

The house itself waits, in quiet dignity, ready to withstand the wildest storms of the turn of the year, at it has since it was built for Alexander Stewart, somewhere about the year 1780.

When the first instalments of "Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam" began to appear in 1773. Robert Adam wrote:— "We have adopted a beautiful variety of light mouldings, gracefully formed, delicately enriched and arranged with propriety and skill." This phrase describes exactly the ornament in the older portion of Mountstewart, for here one finds all the delicacy of line, the modesty, the dignity and the good manners that characterised the Age of Elegance.

Most charming

The most charming room in the dwelling is the graceful breakfast room, believed to have been the entrance of the original house.

A long window overlooks the paved and beflowered terrace which surrounds the entire house. The floor, inlaid with a wood of a darker hue, echoes the design of the ceiling in a perfect unity of form.

The doors, leading on one side to a study, on the other to Lady Londonderry's sitting-room, have marquetry panels whose pattern is a replica of the plasterwork on their surrounding arches.

Mountstewart abounds in mementoes of the celebrated Lord Castlereagh, who was Britain's
Foreign Minister, when the Congress of Vienna was interrupted by the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba.

Huge volumes

Huge bound volumes of the Castlereagh papers almost fill one wall of the study. A portrait of Lord Castlereagh shows us a pale young man with thoughtful eyes, and a strong mouth, a complete contrast with his gay young brother who was Ambassador in Vienna at time of the Congress.

In the dining-room newly decorated in an inspired dark yellow which is a perfect foil for the gold framed portraits of the Stewart ancestors in their dark crimson robes, are the very chairs used by those representatives of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and France who attended the Congress in 1815.

Upon the backs and seats of these chairs are embroidered both the personal arms and the arms of the country, of the representative who used the chairs in Vienna.

Lord Castlereagh brought back other souvenirs from Vienna. Each Minister presented him with a gold snuffbox." the lid of which bore the Ministerial portrait in miniatures in their gold frames still exist to show us the countenances of Metternich and Talleyrand and the others, but the snuffboxes were melted down, sometime in Queen Victoria's reign, and turned in to an ink pot of solid gold.

[Last few paragraphs dealing with the gardens were faded and unreadable but will be added when access to a better copy has been made.]


Next week – Springhill, Moneymore, Co. Londonderry.
Belfast Telegraph, 12 August 1953

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn

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


The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn

This Ulster house once sold smuggler's wine.

THE ripening wheat is gilding the fields along the highway that leads through Crawfordsburn from Holywood Priory to the ruins of Bangor’s ancient Abbey. How many and how different the feet that have trodden this old road in the last fifteen hundred years.

The sandalled feet of pilgrims and monks and scholars, journeying between Bangor and Armagh; the cross-thonged feet of the Danes who desolated Abbey and town; the leather shod feet of the settlers, wary of the wolves that lurked thereabouts, the marching feet of Count Schomberg's army on the route from Ballyholme to the Long Bridge at Belfast — do any of these footsteps echo eerily about the gilded fields?

Left his caves

From the time that man left his caves, outgrew his liking for wood, and began to journey from place to place, there have been inns along the roads he travelled.

Certainly there has been an inn at Crawfordsburn since the hamlet took its name from those Scottish Crawfords who were tenants of Sir James Hamilton in the time of James I.

Before the time of the Crawfords the name of the place was Ballykillare, which Rev. J. O'Laverty tells us could mean "the townland of the Western Church." Would a search reveal an ancient burying place?

Striking feature

To-day the Old Inn is the most striking feature of the old road, its white and black standing sharp against the blues and greens and gold of the landscape.

That part of the dwelling which has been standing since 1614 is still thatched, and the musicians' gallery within serves to remind us of a time when the inn was the meeting place not only of peasant and yeoman, but of the lesser gentry who came, of an evening, to sample the foreign wines provided by mine host.


In this particular inn some of these foreign wines may have had the added piquancy of having evaded the Customs' officers for a former owner discovered secret hiding places used by smugglers. There was considerable smuggling between the Down coast and the Isle of Man right to the end of the eighteenth century.

The Ardglass peasant-poet, Burdy, tells us, in verse, that the free-traders took out meal, fruit, flax, whisky, flour, and potatoes, and returned with sugar, coffee, wine and rum.


The name of the hostelry must at one time have been "The Old Ship Inn.” When, I wonder, was the sign of the ship disregarded.

After the Hamiltons, the Montgomerys and the Stewarts have planted this part of Ulster, the Old Inn became a stopping place for the mail coach making connections with the sailing packets at Donaghadee. Here the horses were changed, and many of the famous travellers to Ireland have rested, at least for refreshment — certainly the Duke of Wellington was once a guest and rumour has it that Peter the Great called when he made a visit to Ulster to study the manufacture of damask linen.

So many foreign coins have changed hereabouts in the 17th and 18th centuries that there was an accepted rate for the "broad pieces" as the local inhabitats termed the pistoles and money.

Nowadays, although the coach has given way to the touring-car, the broad-piece to the prosaic pound-note, there is still music in the gallery or Old Inn as the fiddles play gayly to the wedding-guests, in the way they have almost "since Adam delv'd and Eve span."


Next week – Mountstewart

Belfast Telegraph, 5 August 1953

Storied Homes of Ulster – Lissan House

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


Lissan House, County Londonderry

IN the quiet fields of Co. Londonderry the oats are ripening fast; the chaffinch, weary with his mating and the summer-long feeding of his fledglings, has no song.

Not a leaf stirs in the heavy foliage of the ancient trees in the demesne around Lissan House. The house itself is hidden from view by these great trees and the driveway that leads to it twists and turns as if the very path would safeguard the dwelling from a stranger's sight,

Lissan House is grey and vast and very self-sufficient. The rambling old walls contain a laundry that would need an army of maids for its efficient running and the cobbled coach houses could take six carriages and still have room for more.

There is even an old forge within the house with an anvil where the pike heads were hammered out long ago.

Lissan was evidently quite a feudal community when Charles I came to the throne. Indeed, the eatate must have formed a village nn itself when the row of white cottages beyond the stables was inhabited by the men and maids who served house and family.

In that part of the house occupied by the family a wide oak staircase with the twisted rails, characteristic of the Jacobean period, rises roof high, like a huge Chinese box. This coach-wide staircase opens on to each floor in such a manner that one has the impression of having access to every room in the dwelling, just as a child, removing the facade of a doll's house, can see all the rooms at once.

Like all houses with a long family tradition, Lissan has been rebuilt and added to from time to time, and each generation has left its mark. The wallpaper in tha drawing-room, gay with a pattern of exotic birds and flowers, is well over 200 years old – one of the first few hand-made papers imported from Japan.

There has been a dwelling in this place since 1620, and the Staples family have inhabited it since the baronetcy was first granted in 1628. Sir Thomas Staples held the title in those troublous days alter Charles I was beheaded, when Cromwell’s iron hand was heavy on the Irish.

It was Sir Thomas who purchased Cookstown from a Dublin lady — it is said for £325 — and in his absence the house was burned by the rebel O'Quinn, and his wife and four children seized. Lady Charity and her children were eventually released, but whether they were ransomed or whether they escaped is not known. Certainly they were re-united with Sir Thomas at Londonderry.

The grass is very green over these old battlefields, and although the house itself bears little witness of the wild happenings of those Stuart times, the Staples name and the stories handed to each succeeding generation, remain to remind us of a time when the still cornfields held quiet, but no peace.


Next week – The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn

Belfast Telegraph, 29 July 1953

Monday, 19 October 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Old Cross Inn, Newtownards

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

The Old Cross Inn, Newtownards

When Rome fell and barbarity overwhelmed Europe, the seeds of civilisation were held in the Ards peninsula. At Newtownards, in the 6th century, St. Finian had a school; later the Normans formed a settlement on the flat plain with its protective surrounding hills, and here, for centuries, the Scots came to trade.

Voyaging from Portpatrick, the traders hired horses at Donaghadee to convey their merchandise to Newtownards, and there they displayed their wares in the market place. The old coaching inns around the High Street saw much traffic. Their goods exchanged for silver or gold, the Scottish traders no doubt took their victuals at these hostelries, for them a temporary home in a strange land, as inns have been temporary homes for travellers since time immemorial. Refreshed and rested, the merchants would begin their long homeward journey.

Many of these Inns are in existence to-day, the wide gateway to the stables speaking to us of a time when the hooves of many horses rang out on cobbled streets.

The Old Cross Inn bears the date 1619, and doubtless there was an Inn on this spot when Hugh Montgomery, Laird of Braidstane, acquired the lands of Claneboye from Con O'Neill, last degenerate son of an ancient clan, a few months before the death of Elizabeth the First.

The Laird of Braidstane laid the foundations of Newtownards as it is to-day, bringing his own workmen, who left the imprint of their Scottish craft upon the place. Hugh Montgomery's craftsmen would gather in the inns whilst the new town was taking shape, and possibly it was here that they came to celebrate the erection of the cross that stands where four streets met.

William Montgomery, writing his manuscript in 1683, gives us a very clear description of the cross, and of the lay-out of the town.

He described the edifice as:— "a fair, neat, circular building, octagonal, all hewn freestone carved, painted and gilded, with a small door and stairs ascending to a battlement (which is breast high from the vault) without, and from the pavement of the said vault issue divers spouts carved with several antique heads, which at the Coronation and nativity days of our King disembogue wine to the glad and merry multitude.

"In the middle of this fabric and upon the vault aforesaid, stands a pillar of hewn stone of eight squares, 20 feet high, with a lion sejant on the top. This piece of work is called the market cross whence are made public (with the town solemnities) all proclamations that come from the Chief Governor of this Kingdom. The body of this fabric, which is seen of four streets, hath the King's Arms fronting to the great street."

Just now the Town Hall and the great square are gay with the scarlet and blue and gold banners put up to show the town's joy at the recent visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Great as were the rejoicings on this glad occasion they could hardly compare with the revels held in Newtownards when a momentary gleam of success for the Royalist cause came in 1649. Writing of those celebrations, Montgomery tells us:—

"I saw the claret flow in abundance from the spouts of the market cross, and catched in hats and bowls by who could or would; the noise of trumpets sounding, levitts, drums beating, the soldiers discharging 3 volleys apiece, as the brass guns did at his Lordship's house, at the healths drunk to three Royal brothers and at night bonfires in the streets and illuminations of candies at the windows.""

However, Cromwell soon made short work of the rising, and having quelled the English Royalists, he turned his attention to their Irish counterparts. In April, 1650, the 3rd Viscount Montgomery, who had rejoiced so wholeheartedly at the news of his Monarch's accession, submitted to Cromwell at Clonmel and was banished to Holland. Not for eleven long years was the market cross to see the proclamation of Charles II's accession and the ancient hostelries, the rejoicings attendant upon such news.


Next week:— Jordan's Castle, Ardglass.

Belfast Telegraph, 15 July 1953.



Monday, 28 September 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Killymoon Castle

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


Killymoon Castle, Co. Tyrone

THE BEES in busy in the blackberry blossom that grows in the hedges in the lane to Killymoon. The air is heavy with the scent of the honeysuckle, and the song of the birds has a midsummer lethargy. Beyond the emerald of the golf course, the lane drops steeply to run through bushy woods, and, green and deep leans through the cool trees.

One suspects that here, on Midsummer's Eve, the Little People play, and it would be no surprise to see Puck’s face peering at one from behind a holly bush, or to catch a glimpse of Titania's mothy frock. The path ends abruptly at the ponderous portico of the fairy tale castle that Nash designed for Colonel William Stewart in 1807.

Killymoon was Nash's first important work in Ireland, and it led to quite an important Irish connection. Indeed, in the very next year, the architect designed Lissan Rectory for the Rev. John Staples, a connection by marriage of Colonel Stewart.

Like the Staples, the Stewart family had owned land in the Cookstown district since Elizabethan days, and this castle has all the dignity of a baronial hall. It is a castle to delight a child – a truly picture book place, straight from the pages of Grimm or Hans Andersen. The dwelling is a mixture of Norman, Early English and pure inventive Nash, part of that fancy dress ball of architecture that characterised the early years of the nineteenth century.

The interior of the castle promotes still further the faery atmosphere. The eight-sided drawing room is long and lofty, lit by tall arched windows which are surmounted by a great, gilded pole, Each arched corner of the octagon is mirror-lined and reflects a thousand facets of dancing light. The walls still wear the original wallpaper that has the sheen of moire silk. Great double doors of polished oak lead to a spacious hall, and similar doors open on to an oval dining room, whose restrained plasterwork and marble fireplace show the dignity of their Georgian origin.

It is in the hall that one begins to feel that Nash invoked elfin help in the building of this place. The wrought iron staircase rises, in delicate arabesques, from a marble floor to a vaulted ceiling that is like the chef d'oeuvre of some goblin pastry cook. The fragile plasterwork, like the sugar spires of an inverted wedding cake, ends in gilded drops, like the frozen tears of some miniscule Midas.

Colonel Stewart was 27 when this castle was built, I wonder did he bring Titania herself to be his bride? Alas, if he did. her dowry must have been fairy gold.

Fortunes and families fall, and this fabulous fairy dwelling which cost £80,000 to build in 1807, was sold about thirty years ago, for just a hundred pounds.

Now the gracious terraces are overgrown, no lilies float on the lily pond, and the very rooms have a utilitarian purpose. Over that cool and gracious dining room the bees are busy; do they ever carry a message to Titania? Does she still come, on Midsummer's Eve, to dance on a moonbeam and see herself in every gilded arch? Perhaps the bees know, but they tell their secrets only to a chosen few, and I, alas, am not one of the chosen.


Next week – The Old Cross, Newtownards.

Belfast Telegraph, 8 July 1953.


Storied Homes of Ulster – Hillsborough Castle

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


Hillsborough Castle

ALL ROADS LEAD to Hillsborough, that ancient town in the heart of the county were once stood the stronghold of the Magenisses. On this site the first-born of Sir Moyses Hill, that gallant soldier who served the first Elizabeth, built a castle.

Now, here is the home of the Governor of Northern Ireland, representative in Ulster of Queen Elizabeth the Second. How strangely interwoven are the strands which bind us to our past!

The dwelling itself is full of the grace of its period, its friendly rooms making for an intimacy unusual in an official residence. When our beloved Queen begins her Royal progress through Ulster she will find at Hillsborough an atmosphere of warmth and homeliness. Throughout the castle there is that subdued colour that bespeaks exquisite taste.

The soft beige carpeting, the old rose brocades of the drawing-room, the delicate colours of the walls — all these things make a wonderfully soft yet colourful background for brilliant dresses and uniforms, whilst the white ceilings, gold ornamented, give just sufficient sharpness to clarify the whole picture.

I was privileged to stand, a few days ago, in the marble hall where Her Majesty will enter the castle. Should the Queen turn, she will be able to see right through the Courthouse to the old fort where King William stayed.

So, very soon the beautiful drawing-room where the long windows overlook terrace and gardens, will be filled with the brilliance of this Royal occasion. In the turquoise-hung Throne Room, where Her Majesty will receive distinguished guests, the gold lions guard the empty crimson thrones, the little gilt chairs await their occupants, and everywhere there is an air of expectancy.

A small drawing-room leads from the Throne Room and here, if the Queen so wishes, she can rest, for here there is no panoply of State. The intimate photographs of King George VI. of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and other members of the Royal Family, lend to this room an aura of tranquillity. One feels the quiet comer will give its occupants a blessed period of rest.

Just beyond the double doors of this little drawing-room lies the dining-room, where the State dinner will he held. It is here that the thoughts of Mrs. Rushworth, who has been in charge of Lady Wakehurst's kitchen for many years, have been centred, for in her competent hands has been the supervision of the banquet. The gleaming modern kitchen that one enters so surprisingly from a cavernous passage, has been the centre of much ordered activity these last days.

As the company dines in this long room with its fine Sheraton pieces, they will look out across the green lawns to a pleasant garden that is just now ablaze with Summer colour. This is the garden made by the Earl and Countess Granville when they were in residence.

The Royal suite, with its Chinese blue satin hangings and shining dark furniture, overlooks the same garden. These rooms, which will be used by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, lead from a corridor that reminds one of the Dutch interiors so beloved of the Masters. The simple and elegant staircase descends to a hall that is itself elegantly simple.

Their Excellencies the Governor and Lady Wakehurst are very graciously permitting the public to view Throne Room, drawing-room and dining-room on Saturday, July 4, in addition to the wonderful and extensive gardens.

It is hard to believe that Belfast is so close to this peaceful place. Amongst the great limes that border the Linden Walk leading, like the Yew Tree Walk, to the little Temple beyond the lake, all ia quiet. Nothing stirs in the rose garden beyond the terrace save a swallow darting behind the dark yews, across the yellow roses and up beyond the roof. Castle and gardens are ready, as indeed is all Ulster, to welcome our beloved Queen.


Next Week – Killymoon Castle

Belfast Telegraph, 1 July 1953.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Lissan Rectory

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


Lissan Rectory

THE wild roses froth pink and white along the hedge on the road that leads from Cookstown. The scent of new-mown hav drift* from the June meadows and the deep heart of Ireland is quiet with summer stillness. Bush and briar were heavy with the year's green, even the song of the blackbird had a soft and lazy trill, on the afternoon that I took the winding lane to Lissan Rectory.

The drenching sunshine showed this house of Nash's at its best, for, here at Lissan, Nash the light-handed, the careless and the socially successful, chose to design in the Italianate manner.

Not for the Rev. John Staples, far whom the dwelling was built in 1807, a house heavy in the Gothic manner of Killymoon Castle, or ponderously palatial as for George IV at Buckingham Palace but as exquisitely airy and dazzling white villa that is as appropriate in its green Irish setting as it would be under a Mediterranean sky.

Yellow roses caress the slender columns of the high and rounded arches of the loggia in front of the drawing room. Here, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the Rev. John Staples' wife doubtless entertained her friends to tea whilst the hot June sunshine cast those same entrancing lavender shadows along the white walls.

There was wealth at the Rectory in those years, for the Rev. John could afford to spend £1,500 on "chaise-hire." The £1,300 odd that he spent on his lovely rectory was probably well within his means.

What a different picture is presented in the little church where the Rev. John must have preached his Sunday sermon! Here, on a hill that commands a view of half Ireland, all is quiet dignity and simple grace. Here the summer sun distils a rosy light through the chancel window dedicated to that Vicar of Lissan who became Governor of Londonderry in 1689, and died at the Battle of the Boyne.

There have been vicars of Lissan since 1440. Not always has June stillness brooded over this place for a tale is told that in 1642 the Vicar was murdered. No more seems to be known than this bald fact, but is it mere coincidence that in this same year Lady Charity Staples and her four children were seized at Lissan House by Neil Oge O’Quinn and taken prisoner.

The known facts are intriguing. Sir Thomas had gone to Cookstown where he had purchased some property the previous week. We conjecture: Did he leave his Lady and their four children, "all his pretty chickens and their dam" in the charge of the good Vicar knowing the rebel O'Quinn was in the district, yet fearing not to complete his business in Cookstown lest Mrs. May return to Dublin and sell her property in another?

And did the good Vicar lose his life in defence of Lady Charity and those four children? Did he, before he died, influence O’Quinn so that eventually Lady Charity and her children were released and were able to join Sir Thomas in Londonderry? Or did the rebels seize the man of God in his own church?

We do not know: and the church and the still meadows that clamour to us so loud of
the evanescence of things material, are silent on these points.


Next week – Hillsborough Castle.

Belfast Telegraph, 24 June 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Southwell Schools, Downpatrick

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

Southwell Schools, Downpatrick

TO the casual traveller Downpatrick must seem a very uninspiring county town. To the pilgrim seeking the essence of Ireland there comes a very different impression.

Beyond the blatant modern shopfronts of the main street is Georgian English street. Its tall windows and elegant doorways with their graceful fanlights speak to us moat eloquently of a more leisurely past.

The cloistered stillness at the far end of the street, where the cathedral stands, is disturbed only by a chaffinch singing in the flowering chestnuts, by the far-off cawing of rooks and the distant noise of traffic. Here a Celtic cross points upwards to the four spires of the square tower, soaring heavenwards in stone song.

There also stands a lonely monument to the memory of a man whose ideas were far in advance of his time — the Southwell schools and almshouses, founded by Edward Southwell in 1733.

A portrait of Mr. Southwell reveals to us a generous good-humoured mouth, strong nose, full, shapely eyes and broad forehead — a kindly countenance, outward sign of an inward grace.

This eighteenth century philanthropist could be firm, however. This is shown in the somewhat acid correspondence which arose between Mr. Southwell and John Trotter, the first Steward, on the one side, and the Dean of Down on the other. Controversy arose because the Steward, upon his employers instructions, had dismissed a schoolmaster without first consulting the Dean.

Relations between church dignitary and landowner were little better some thirty years later, although the union referred to in the following extract from a letter to another Mr. Southwell, written by John Trotter’s son, may have sweetened matters:— "You will smile when I tell you that tho' I dislike this man (the Dean) much, his daughter and I have settled the preliminaries of a bargain for life ... I am determined that I will have the girl, tho' without one shilling — the little I shall have will he a competence for the extent of my own desires, and I will trust her, that she will not add to them."

The almshouses form the long centre portion of the building, the schools and master's and mistress's residences being at either end. Unfortunately the road fronting the facade has been raised, and its full elegance is no longer evident at first glance. Nothing, however, can detract from the beauty of the rosy brickwork, mellow and mossy with age, and the creamy stone which enhances it.

Edward Southwell's conception of a home for his twelve aged and Protestant persons is quite twentieth century, in effect the almshouses form a block of flats. Six little dwellings lie on either side of a high vaulted archway, guarded by commemorative gates.

Each one has a tiny sitting room with a little bedroom leading from it. First there are two small homes, one above the other, then, through an adjacent door, two more dwellings lie on each side of a common staircase, this plan being repeated on the floor above. The old men and women once had a common meeting place in the chapel-like room that lies beneath the tower.

Beyond the cobbled inner courtyard on to which the almshouses face, are small gardens, each with its square, clipped hedge to divide it from its neighbour. Once the
gardens were shaded by a linden walk, but the lime trees have been felled, and now only a few branches, growing here and there amongst the hawthorns, tell tales of past glories.

From the miniature gardens one can see the Grove of which John Wesley wrote in his Journal on June 13, 1778:— "I took my stand in the middle of the Grove the people standing before me on the gradually rising ground, which formed a beautiful theatre; the sun just glimmered through the trees, but did not hinder me at all. It was a glorious opportunity. The whole congregation seemed to drink into one spirit."

The trees are larger and more beautiful than ever; the natural theatre is as lovely: we lack nothing, here in the shadow of the cathedral, save the glorious spirit of those who once trod these paths.


Next week — Lissan Rectory, Co. Londonderry.

Belfast Telegraph,  17 June 1953.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Clogher Palace

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

Clogher Palace

PASSING through Clogher I had the feeling that, somewhere in the flowering Tyrone countryside, I had left behind all the mundane things of to-day, and had found instead, all the charm of 18th century Ireland.

The square-towered Cathedral on the hill, the gracious palace standing next to it, the gay, yellow washed cottages with their many-paned windows and the half-doors from which one steps directly into the road  all these things worked a magic around me, and I should have felt little surprise if the modern chariot in which my journey had begun had changed, quite suddenly, into a phaeton drawn by a fat pony.

The Italianate splendour of the present Palace at Clogher, with colonnaded loggia and
imposing entrance, is in great contrast to the jolly cottages that confront it from across the street.

The edifice itself is as lordly as the names of the Bishops who saw the start and the finish of its erection. Begun during the tenure of Lord John George Beresford, it was completed in 1823 whilst Lord Robert Ponsonby Tottenham Loft us held the Bishopric.

One feels that the Palace this splendour replaced had possibly an appearance more in keeping with its surroundings. Mrs. Delaney wrote of that Palace:

"The house is large, and makes a good showish figure; there is a great loss of room due to ill-contrivance within doors. It is situated on the side of a hill so steep that part of the front next the street is underground. From that to the garden is 50 steps The garden is pretty; there is a fine, large sloping green walk to a large basin of water on which sail most graciously four beautiful swans."

Alas, the pretty garden is sadly reduced; the fine large basin of water" is now separated from it by more than one meadow.

Another of Ireland's writers to visit this place was Dean Swift. He was an intimate friend of Bishop Ashe, who held the office in 1697, and of the Bishop's brothers Dillon (Dilly of the "Journal") and Tom. The Dean had a name for this trio, he called them The Three Ashes."

According to Sheridan, son of Swift's great friend, it was this same Bishop Ashe whom Swift asked to discover the cause of his Stella's obvious unhappiness. Upon learning from the Bishop that Stella was distressed at the slander heaped on her because of her affection for him. Swift consented to marriage, stipulating that the ceremony was to be kept secret and they were to live apart as before.

There must be something in the Clogher air that is conducive to letters, for two of Ireland's writers were born in the district; William Carlton who wrote in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe, was born at Trillick in 1794, and Rose Cavanagh, whose poem, "The Black water" was praised by Yeats, was born at Clogher in 1859.

Before the might of the pen descended upon Clogher, however, the sword had held sway, for some of its Bishops had been known as "The Fighting Bishops of Clogher." Of these the most famous was John Leslie, who took up arms in the Royalist cause. He made his peace later with the Commonwealth to the tune of a grant of some 120 a year.

Now this Palace that stands upon ground that has seen so much of Irish history no longer belongs to the Protestant Church. By the Irish Church Temporalities Act it was sold to the Rev. John Gray. His descendants in turn sold it to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher; to-day it is a convent, and in that garden where the lovely Mrs. Delaney walked, one sees, fenced off in a secluded corner, the pathetic graves of those women who have died within these walls.


Next week — Southwell Schools, Downpatrick.

Belfast Telegraph,  10 June 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Jonathan Swift’s Cottage, Kilroot

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

Jonathan Swift’s Cottage, Kilroot

DOWN a country lane that divides two fields and alongside Kilroot railway station stands a curious oval thatched cottage, surely a prototype of the fairy tale gingerbread house. To this quaint dwelling place came Jonathan Swift in 1694 when he was twenty-seven years old, and it was here, towards the end of his service at Kilroot. that he finished his "Tale of a Tub."

Dissatisfied with his life at Moor Park as Sir William Temple's protege, his curious moral sense had made him feel justified in taking Holy Orders. Other employment had been offered to him in the form of a clerkship with the Master of the Rolls in Ireland, and thus the Church was not merely a last resort.

Swift had met King William the Third at Moor Park; the King had promised future favours, and when the prebend of Kilroot, in the Diocese of Connor, became available, the Lord Lieutenant exercised the Royal Patronage and bestowed the prebend upon Jonathan Swift by letters patent.

Beside Belfast Lough, among the dour fisher folk of Kilroot, Jonathan Swift, later to benefit the Irish in so many ways and to become the first settler to think of himself as Anglo-Irish, spent two bitter winters.

There were few adherents of the Church of Ireland in Kilroot, the fisher folk being mainly Presbyterian, and Jonathan Swift's church was usually empty. The unhappy young minister, nicknamed “the mad parson" by the Kilroot folk, would walk the shores of the Lough, his gown flapping in the wind, skimming stones into the sea.

Picture the scene as the wild-eyed young man carried great boulders into church followed by the wondering fisherfolk, then imagine their bewilderment when, having achieved a hearing Jonathan Swift locked the doors and delivered to his unwilling congregation a short and scathing sermon.

His sojourn at Kilroot was not one of unrelieved grimness. He had the attention of families like the Dobbs of Castle Dobbs, and, in Carrickfergus itself of the Clements and of Lord and Lady Donegall. Moreover his near neighbour was a Mr. Waring, a friend of his Trinity days, nephew of the Rev. Roger Waring, rector of Donaghcloney (Waringstown), where Swift's Uncle Adam had a house. Jonathan Swift met and fell in love with Mr. Waring's sister, Jane, whom he promptly re-christened Varina Valina, with a small income of her own, proved to be a rather calculating little flirt who put a number of difficulties in the way of marriage with Swift; she “enjoyed" ill-health; she feared poverty on the £90 a year that made up the stipend of the livings of Kilroot, Templecorran and Ballynure. Indeed, her prevarication quite cured her admirer of love, for he never again forgot himself in passion.

Their correspondence continued spasmodically after Swift's return to Moor Park; then, when Swift came back to Ireland to take his seat in St. Patrick’s Cathedral with an income now of some £200 a year, Varina wrote with greater ardour. Now it was Varina who was anxious for marriage, but a cold and angry letter from Swift, setting out his requirements from a wife and his own shortcomings as a husband, finished the correspondence.

Varina never married, and the next year Stella, now nineteen, came from Moor Park to Ireland — Stella whom Swift is reputed later to have married secretly in the Bishop of Clogher’s garden.


Next week — Clougher Palace.

Belfast Telegraph,  3 June 1953.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Storied Homes of Ulster – Dobbins Castle

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

Dobbins Castle, Carrickfergus

Of all the castles that McSkimmin listed in his history of Carrickfergus, Dobbin's is the most easily recognisable. To-day it is an hotel, but its low-ceilinged rooms and warren- like passages retain most of their sixteenth century character. Not many years ago, during alterations to the place, a cavernous fireplace, large enough to roast an ox, was discovered. The great oak beam that forms the chimney-piece of this monstrous hearth, is blackened by the heat of many fires. Adjacent to the fireplace is a cupboard behind which a secret passage runs to one of the bedrooms. This was, doubtless, a way of escape in more troublous times.

The name of Dobbin figures largely in the annals of Carrickfergus. Several of the family became mayors of the town. It seems that as early as the seventeenth century the castle was kept as an inn, although the Dobbins were of good and ancient family.

William Dobbin, who was mayor in 1576, 1580, and 1583, was a friend of that gallant Elizabethan, Sir Moyses Hill, founder of the Downshire family. Sir Moyses, a man of ancient lineage but no fortune, came to Ireland to serve under the Earl of Essex, and having proved himself a most able soldier was made governor of Olderfleet Castle. Around 1600 he was a frequent visitor to Dobbin's Castle, and there he met and fell in love with Anne, William Dobbin's beautiful daughter, then only twenty. This hard bitten soldier of over forty made such an impression on the lovely Anne that she married him, and for several years they lived at Dobbin's Castle. Anne proved to be a good wife and mother, both to her own son, Arthur, and to her little stepson. Peter.

It is interesting to trace the thread that links the Downshire family with this little pre-Elizabethan house in Carrickfergus, High Street. Sir Moyses had built himself a fortified manor in County Down, which he called Hill's Court. The locals re-named it the Hall of the Hills — now Hillhall, and it was to Hillhall that Sir Moyses brought Anne and his two young sons. In his thirty or so years of marriage with Anne he made the Hall of the Hills a happy well managed place. The forty thousand acres were well farmed, the tenants prospered, and the old baronial customs of a yule log at Christmas and a Maypole in the Spring were kept

Let us trace this linking thread a little further, for it takes us to the very heart of Ulster.

When Sir Moyses died, full of years and grace, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Peter, Anne's stepson. Peter rebuilt the old stronghold of the Magenisses, founded a town on the mound that formed the villages, and originated Hillsborough. Peter did not live very long and was succeeded by his only son, Francis. As Francis died without issue, the estate passed to Anne Dobbin's son, Arthur, the child that was born within a year of the marriage of the Carrickfergus beauty to the Elizabethan warrior.


Next week — Derrymore House, Newry.

Belfast Telegraph, 20 May, 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Derrymore House

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

Derrymore House

ALTHOUGH built at a time of great classical influence Derrymore House, Co. Armagh, remains obstinately Irish, showing none of the Attic style. It is a quaint, one-storied dwelling built of granite although this is discovered only where the warm amber plaster has been chipped away.

The thick, gnarled stems of wistaria, planted long ago, have crept up the walls and embedded themselves in the shabby thatch that sits upon the house like a beloved and battered hat. A red rose brushes gently against the panes of the long, Georgian windows — the same windows through which Chancellor Corry and Lord Castlereagh might have been seen as they thrashed out the details of the 1801 Act of Union.

Derrymore means "great oak," these lands were probably at one time part of the primeval forest. It seems that for centuries there has been a house at Derrymore, for there are records that a Henry M'Shane O'Neill was living hereabouts very early in the 17th century as life tenant of the lands of Camlough.

The present house was built by Sir Isaac Corry, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Irish Parliament before the Act of Union. The story of the origination of the Act in this very house, of the special Dublin road made for Chancellor Corry, and of the Chancellor's duel with Grattan are too well known to be repeated here.

The dwelling is built round three sides of a square, the room known as the Chancellor's room, being at one time the entrance. As the Corrys became more powerful a more imposing entrance, complete with pillared portico, was made at the opposite end.

About the middle of the 19th century Derrymore passed into the hands of James Richardson, a member of the Society of Friends who had built a model village round a factory at nearby Bessbrook. Mr. Richardson believed wholeheartedly in total abstinence, and had built his model village to demonstrate his theory that when strong drink is absent there is need for no great force of police, and that there is as little use for the pawnshop and the moneylender as for the publican.

It is interesting to note that another great Quaker, Mr. Cadbury, visited Bessbrook before building his own model village of Bourneville.

To-day Derrymore House has been given to the National Trust and much work is being done to restore it to its original beauty. Workmen are busy in a patient re-building of the places that time’s fell hand has decayed. A new thatch of Norfolk reeds is to replace Derrymore’s present battered hat. When all is ready, this historic house will be open to view, complete with the furniture of the period. — Fina.

Next week:— Dean Swift's House, Kilroot.

Belfast Telegraph, 27 May 1953.

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.