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.