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.