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.