The name of Newcastle, County Longford would seem to indicate that the present house, or an earlier one on or near this site, replaced a more ancient building. The earliest information on the place seems to be from 1680 when the lands of its demesne, formerly part of the O’Farrell territory, are recorded as being purchased by Robert Choppyne (or Choppin) who built here ‘a fayre house and a wooden bridge.’ By this date, he had already become High Sheriff of Longford three years earlier and would go on to represent County Longford in the Irish House of Commons in 1692 before dying a year or two later. The Newcastle property was left to his nephew Anthony Sheppard who continued to acquire more land in the area, but not so fortunate when it came to continuing his line: he and his wife had four sons who died young and one who survived to adulthood, only to predecease his father. And while the estate was left to Sheppard’s daughter Mary, who had married Arthur St. Leger, Viscount Doneraille, she also died without heirs not long after. So Newcastle passed to Anthony Sheppard’s widowed sister, Frances Harman (her late husband, Sir Wentworth Harman, had died in 1714 when ‘coming in a dark night from Chapel-Izod, his coach overturning, tumbled down a precipice, and he dies in consequence of the wounds and bruises he received’). For many years, the estate was managed by her younger son, the Rev Cutts Harman, who appeared here some months ago with regard to Castlecor (see A Worthy Recipient « The Irish Aesthete). Once again, the direct line failed and so, on the death of the Rev Harman, Castlecor passed to his nephew, Laurence Harman Parsons, on condition that the latter adopt his uncle’s surname: accordingly, he became Laurence Parsons Harman. He would also, in due course, be created Baron Oxmantown, then Viscount Oxmantown and finally first Earl of Rosse in 1806. His only surviving child was a daughter, Frances, who married Robert King, first Viscount Lorton, of Rockingham, County Roscommon. Their younger son, Laurence Harman King-Harman inherited both the Newcastle and Rockingham estates; on his death in 1875 the two were divided, with Newcastle passing to a younger son, Colonel Wentworth King-Harman. The estate reached its largest extent during this period, running to some 38,616 acres and described in 1900 as ‘a master-piece of smooth and intricate organisation, with walled gardens and glasshouses, its dairy, its laundry, its carpenters, masons and handymen of all estate crafts, the home farm, the gamekeepers and retrievers kennels, its saw-mill and paint shop and deer park for the provision of venison. The place is self-supporting to a much greater degree than most country houses in England.’
The core of Newcastle could date from the late 17th century when Robert Choppyne built his ‘fayre house’ here. However, there is no visible evidence of this building, at least on the exterior where the main facade suggests a classic house from the early-to-mid 18th century of seven bays and two storeys (with perhaps the third added later). Around 1785, soon after Laurence Harman Parsons had inherited the estate, enlargements were made with the construction of slightly projecting wings, single-storey to the east and two-storey to the west. Further alterations took place in the mid-19th century when Newcastle passed into the possession of Laurence Harman King-Harman; the Dutch-style gable over the centre bay probably dates from this period, along with the entrance porch containing a family coat of arms. Internally, the building has undergone many alterations also, so that it is now not easy to detect what is from any particular period. However, there are striking – and now highly coloured – neo-classical Adamesque ceilings in the former drawing and dining rooms, the former featuring a large oval set in a rectangular frame, in which corner panels depict musical instruments. The dining room ceiling is centred on a diamond pattern decorated with urns and scrolling foliage. There is also some extant neo-classical plasterwork on the main staircase.
While the Newcastle estate may have run to more than 38,000 acres in the 1880s, by the time Colonel Wentworth King-Harman died in 1919, various land acts meant that it had shrunk to less than 1,000 acres. His son, Major Alexander King-Harman, sold more land to the Department of Lands in 1934, leaving just the demesne thereafter. Following the major’s death in 1949, Newcastle was inherited by a cousin, Captain Robert Douglas King-Harman, who two years later sold the house and surrounding land for £11,000 to a religious order, the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary. The house was used as a retirement home for nuns and also as a boarding school, but the Missionary Sisters remained for less than two decades, leaving in 1968, after which Newcastle changed hands on a number of occasions and was run as an hotel. Although it is not open to the public at the moment, the property’s current owner, a Hong Kong businessman, applied to the local authority last August for planning permission to create a holiday park on the surrounding land, incorporating 99 mobile homes, together with ‘an area for touring pitches and casual camping spaces’, a reception hut, a playground and separate grass play area. The adjacent woodland accommodates a Centre Parcs holiday resort which also intends to expand its facilities.