Thursday, 28 January 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Clandeboye House

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


Clandeboye House

Down mansion has link with Nelson and Trafalgar

THE autumn winds blow softly around Clandeboye, and the great trees in the demesne are still heavily green. Only on the house itself do the glowing reds of the embracing creeper reveal in their richness the year's decay.

The fortunes of the various owners of the Clandeboye lands have risen and fallen through the centuries. Throughout those troublous days when de Courcys fought de Laceys, Clandeboye belonged to the O’Neill clan.

Con O'Neill forfeited his inheritance to James Hamilton, schoolmaster and secret agent In the time of Ehrabelh I. His grandson, the first Earl of Clanbrassil, married, contrary to his mother's wishes, Lady Alice Moore, daughter of the Earl of Drogheda.

It was said of Lady Alice, at tho Court of Charles II. that "she thinks to trip up Nell Gwynn's heels."

Whatever her success, or lack of it, with King Charles, her husband was sufficiently dominated by her to make her his heiress, much against the advice of his kinsfolk. Events proved their misgivings justified, for three months after the signing of the will, the infatuated husband died in most mysterious circumstances. The will was disputed and the properly divided.

Eventually the Clandeboye lands passed through marriage, into the hands of John Blackwood, grandson of a Bangor merchant. John Blackwood's bride was Sophia Hamilton who had inherited the Clandeboye lands, along with half of the town and castle of Killyleagh.

Plain John Blackwood became Sir John in 1763. He was the father of eleven children, seven of whom were sons. His fourth son, Henry, entered the Navy and as Capt Blackwood commanded the 36-gun frigate "Penelope" in the Napoleonic Wars. The "Penelope,” under his command gave chase to the 80-gun French ship, "Guillaume Telle," and by clever seamanship crippled and held her until the English Fleet arrived when the French admiral commanding the "Guillaume Telle” surrendered.

Later, Capt. Blackwood commanded the frigate "Euryalus” while the English fleet was off Trafalgar. The log of this ship was printed by the Navy Records Society as containing "a complete history of the Battle of Trafalgar."

It was aboard the “Euryalus" that the body of Nelson was borne to England for burial.

Some time after the Clandeboye lands passed into the Blackwood family, the small two-storied house that stood thereon had low wings added on either side. In 1800, James, Lord Dufferin, raised and enlarged the house and his wife laid out the gardens.

The first Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, later to become Viceroy of India, changed the entrance, added several rooms, cut down the encroaching trees to enable the surrounding hills to be seen from the house, and created the 60-acre Clandeboye lake which to-day supplies the people of Bangor with water.


Next week: Florida Manor, Co Down.

Belfast Telegraph
, 30 September 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Clifton House (Belfast Charitable Institute)

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


Clifton House (Belfast Charitable Institute)

Where Belfast’s hospitals had their beginning

PASSING through the scrolled gates of Clifton House, one leaves behind the roar of traffic and town and enters a quiet backwater of life. Tall green hedges form a background for the vivid flowers bordering the driveway, and also guard stretches of velvety turf, most pleasant to look upon from the windows of the quiet sitting rooms.

Clifton House is Belfast's oldest public building, having been erected in 1772, and it has all the dignity of line, and the mellow charm of the Georgian period. Its wide and welcoming doorway leads into a spacious reception hall whose very furnishing tells tales of the building's origin. Here are half-moon tables of the Sheraton period, flanked by a gracefully elegant sideboard, and chairs which a collector of antiques would eye enviably.

The House was founded by the Belfast Charitable Institute, which came into being in 1752. On August 25 of that year, Margetson Saunders and other residents of the city met to consider a proper way to raise a sum for the building of a Poor House and Hospital and a new church, in or near the town of Belfast

These citizens decided to issue 100,000 lottery tickets at half-a-guinea each, the chances thereof to depend on the Dublin lottery. This did not prove a very good way of raising money, and many of the tickets were unsold. One of them, framed hangs on the wall of the Board Room at Clifton House. There was a further issue of lottery tickets a year later, this time on a London lottery, and money gradually rolled into the great iron-bound box which had been purchased to hold the funds.

By 1767 there was £1,614 2s in the box, and plans began to go forward. The site was to be "on the North-West side of the road leading to Carrickfergus." On August 1, 1771, the foundation stone was laid by Stewart Banks, Sovereign of Belfast.

When, at last, the House opened, it had seven beds for the sick, four double beds for the poor, four single beds for vagrants.

Those seven beds for the sick were the beginning of Belfast's hospitals

In many ways the founders of the Institute made themselves responsible for tasks which today are undertaken by the local government. At the end of the eighteenth century many beggars roamed the streets, some of them genuinely distressed, others little better than strolling criminals who terrorised the community.

As a deterrent to the latter, the Founders decided to have a place fitted up at Clifton House as a "black hole," and the blocked up window still exists. Later, the Beadle, attended by two of the ablest inhabitants of the House, patrolled the town twice a week to apprehend any strolling beggar. The Beadle and his attendants carried staves, and wore scarlet-collared cloaks, being known to the citisen* as the "Bang-beggars."

The Institute opened its doors to children in 1776. appointing a Master and Mistress to undertake their education in the "3 R's," and in some occupation that would help them earn their livelihood.

Of the many methods used to raise money for the charity, perhaps the most outstanding were the performances by Sarah Siddons, given at her own request. A small portrait of the "Divine Sarah" hangs in the Board Room.

The Founders' undertaking to supply the city with piped water, and the guarding of the burying ground against body snatchers are other noteworthy incidents in the Institute's long history. Mementos of these episodes, too, stand in the Board Room – the hollowed tree trunks which were the first water pipes, and the old flintlocks with which the guards were armed.

To-day, Clifton House is a haven for 144 old folk, who whilst they are largely self-supporting in a financial sense, are unable to live alone. Under the Institute's hospitable roof is a centenarian, and next year, all being well, two more of Clifton House residents will see their 100th birthday.


Next Week – Clandeboye.

Belfast Telegraph
, 23 September 1953.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – Carrickfergus Castle

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


Carrickfergus Castle

The Captains and the Kings have gone

IN those days whose history is blurred to vision, when London was merely a Celtic settlement in a clearing of the primeval forest, there was habitation around the place we know as Carrickfergus.

Tradition has it that King Fergus came here to drink the waters of that well now guarded in the square keep of the Castle, and, when he was drowned in a storm off the rocky promontory, his name was given to the place — Carrickfergus, Rock of Fergus.

Centuries afterwards John de Courcy chose to establish a colony here, having been granted the lands of Ulster when Henry II joined England and Ireland. Among the families that clustered about the Castle at the close of the twelfth century were Sendalls, Russells, Whites, Bensons, Jordans, Copelands and Savages - names we still hear in Ulster and whose bearers can trace their ancestry through the intervening centuries.

There was no peace for Ireland in the two decades that followed the colony's establishment De Courcys fought de Laceys and the Irish chieftains fought both. When, in the 13th century, there was a general uprising, King John himself journeyed to Ireland to subdue, among others. Hugh de Lacey.

King John stayed at Carrickfergus, and the chapel where he worshipped still stands, its arched windows giving an ecclesiastical air to the lofty barrenness of this room beside the portcullis.

From Carrickfergus King John wrote in 1210: "And when we were at Cracfergus, that castle being now taken, a certain friend and relation of ours from Galweya, named Duncan de Karge, informed us that he had taken prisoners Matilda and her daughter the wife of the son of Roger Mortimer), and William the Younger and his wife and two sons. But Hugh de Lacey and Reginald du Breosa had escaped."

Matilda offered 4,000 marks for her husband’s life, but notwithstanding this offer, and a curious gift of 400 cows and one bull, all white save for red ears, she and her family were taken in chains, to Windsor, where they perished of hunger.

The Castle of Carrickfergus has held other prisoners, among them Con O'Neill, who, at the beginning of the 17th Century, was Irish overlord of the Ards peninsula. Con O'Neill and his family at Christmas, 1603, had a grand debauch at Castlereagh.

Having emptied the wine cellars, Con sent his servitors to Belfast for replenishments. However, on the return journey the O'Neill servants were waylaid near Knock Church by English soldiers, and lost the fresh supplies of wine. Their master, heaping scorn upon them for being beaten by the English, sent them again to Belfast. This time the O'Neill servants beat the English, and killed several of the soldiers. For his part in the affray O'Neill was confined in Carrickfergus Castle.

Con O’Neill had a resourceful wife, however. This good lady hired a boat from Bangor and brought for the prisoner two cheeses, the centres of which had been hollowed out and filled with cords. On the next fine night Con let himself down from the Castle and escaped in the waiting boat to Bangor, where he hid himself in the church steeple.

To-day only the feet of curious tourists sound over the cobbles of the ancient Castle that for eight hundred years has kept watch over Belfast Lough, but inside the battered walls there lies a happier dwelling place.

Against one of the inner walls that front the cobbled courtyard a long low house has been built for the caretaker and his wife. Within this minuscule dwelling is a shining brilliance that contrasts strangely with the crumbling castle. Jewel-bright brasses wink from the sparkling dresser, the shining old-fashioned stive gleams with an ebony lustre, and all about the tiny home is the clean, sharp tang of the sea. The captain and the Kings have gone but the people yet remain.


Newt week: The Charitable Institution, Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph
, 16 September 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Stormont Castle

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


Stormont Castle

Estate that was built up field by field

JOHN Cleland's monogram can still be seen on the shields held by the snarling gryphons that guard the doors of Stormont Castle. The Castle is excellently preserved, since the lofty reception rooms are used by the Prime Minister and by the Cabinet, but the monogram and the ornate memorial to Samuel Jackson Cleland that nearly over-shadows Dundonald Church are almost all that remain to remind us of the family around whom legends of misdeeds have grown.

About four years before hia death in 1834, John Cleland, Rector of Newtownards, tutor to the young Lord Castlereagh and sometime agent for Lord Londonderry, built a large plain house on the Stormont estate he had acquired.


During the time when he was agent for the Stewart estate he resided at Newtownards, and it was there that he laid the foundations of his fortune. It is said that he refused to take banknotes from the tenants, demanding payment of rents in gold. As that commodity was scarce, he constituted himself moneychanger, charging as much as 5s in the pound for changing notes.

He thus amassed a large amount of money, and with it he purchased, field by field and farm by farm, the wide estate of Stormont.

Cleland must have been the most hated man in County Down, for in addition to his illicit discounting, he was a fierce and persistent magistrate, hounding most cruelly those against whom even the breath of suspicion blew.

We can read in "Ulster Life" of 1796, whet James Porter thought of him, for in that book he is portrayed as "Noodledrum." It was Cleland who was largely responsible for the hanging of James Porter of Greyabbey, and for the cruelty, injustice and severity meted out to the Presbyterian minister of Portaferry.

In 1797 this magistrate, Cleland, burned out M'Cormick’s Inn at Newtownards, and had the unhappy landlord imprisoned because some of his customers had been overheard in treasonable talk! The house of a Dr. Jackson was raided, robbed and burned because the doctor was suspect.


At the Spring Assizes in Down in the same year, Cleland had so interfered with the jury panel that was to try political prisoners that he was most bitterly attacked by the defending counsel, John Philpot Curran.

Lord Castlereagh, his former pupil, wrote thus of his teacher: "Cleland richly deserves to be tossed in a blanket . . . I will take a corner." Later he wrote to relate an attack on Cleland's life:

"Cleland very incautiously went out last night and was attacked by some villain who owed him ill-will. In the dark he snapped a pistol at Cleland which misfired and Cleland fired two shots without effect at him."

Samuel Jackson Cleland, who succeeded to the estate, enjoyed his father's ill-gotten gains for a short time only. In 1842, whilst he was abusing some workmen who were not proceeding sufficiently speedily with the demolition of a wall that obscured his view, he was killed when the wall in question collapsed on him.

The memorial that stands hard by Dundonald Church was erected to Samuel’s memory by his wife, and it was she who later added towers and turrets to the large plain house that John Cleland built at Stormont.


Next week: Carrickfergus Castle.

Belfast Telegraph
, 9 September 1953.