The Lanesborough Arms Hotel opened in Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh 200 years ago, in 1820 and is testament to the prosperity of the area at the time. No longer, however. Of five bays and three storeys with a free-standing Tuscan porch, it closed for business some time ago: a fire believed to have been started deliberately caused major damage in 2016. Today the building is in poor shape, and reflects the decline seen in many small towns across the island of Ireland even before the start of the present pandemic.
A gate giving access to the walled garden on Inisherk Island, part of the estate at Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. This dates from the 1830s, when the present house was built for the Crichton family. The artist and landscape designer William Sawrey Gilpin laid out the demesne here during this period, so presumably he was responsible for the walled garden also. Running to some three acres, one side – that facing south as customary – was devoted to heated green houses where exotic fruits like peaches and pineapples were grown.
At the centre of the garden stood a palm house that rose 30 feet; it has gone, but the remains of the lily pond that once occupied the centre of the building still remains (albeit bereft of lilies, or even water). The walls on all sides are of brick (more often they are of stone, except on the south side where brick was used because it better retained heat) and have undergone some repair. The best surviving feature are the handsome wrought-iron gates survive on the north and east sides of the garden.
Seen from the bridge across Upper Lough Erne to Inisherk Island, this is the hexagonal summer house at Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. According to an 1830s Ordnance Survey map, it stands on the site of an older schoolhouse, but that in turn may have been adapted from an 18th century building, the two-storey hexagonal building designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce ‘For Mr Creighton to be built on a Sunk Island in Lough Hern’, of which an undated drawing survives. In its present incarnation, the summer house dates from the second half of the 19th century.
Born in Dublin in 1798, Richard Turner inherited the family ironworks which he developed to manufacture the glasshouses for which he became renowned: among the best-known examples of his work are the Palm Houses in Kew and Belfast Botanic Gardens, and the Curvilinear Range at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. His earliest commission in this area was for a conservatory at Colebrooke, County Fermanagh, believed to date from 1833. Like a giant skeleton the frame still survives but unfortunately almost all the glass has been lost, and while the present owners of the estate would much like to undertake a restoration, the cost of doing so is too prohibitive.
The handsome 18th century stable yard at Castle Archdale, County Fermanagh. Dating from the early 1770s, the house here was built to replace an older one which had in turn superseded a plantation castle badly damaged in 1689. Of six bays and three storeys over basement, and the largest Palladian house in Fermanagh, Castle Archdale stood on high ground overlooking the shores of Lower Lough Erne. In 1942 the building was requisitioned by the RAF and thereafter never returned to being a private residence: left to fall into ruin, it was demolished in 1970. The stable yard, which stood directly behind, is all that remains to testify to the house’s former presence. It is now used as offices and the grounds of Castle Archdale used as a caravan park.
The entrance front of Castle Coole, County Fermanagh. The house was designed by James Wyatt, who took over from Richard Johnston (brother of the better-known Francis Johnston), and built between 1789 and 1798 at a cost of £57,000 for Armar Lowry-Corry, first Earl of Belmore. Wyatt never visited the site, but sent over a number of craftsmen from London to supervise the building work, not least the neo-classical exteriors clad in Portland stone (the garden façade is below). Ownership of the property was transferred to the National Trust in 1951.
The ruins of old Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. Located on the shore of Upper Lough Erne, this was built in 1610 by Scottish settler Michael Balfour: nine years later it was described by Nicholas Pynnar as ‘a house set of lime and stone’ situated inside ‘a bawn of lime and stone being 60 feet square, 12 feet high with two flankers.’ In 1655 Crom was acquired by the Crichton family who lived here until 1764 when the building was gutted by fire. Following the construction of the present Crom Castle elsewhere on the estate in the 1830s, this ruin was embellished by the addition of long walls concluding in circular flankers on either side of the main block. During the following decade the Crichton Tower, a folly on little Gad Island (seen below) was likewise built as a romantic eye-catcher.
The history of the 17th century Ulster Plantations is as contested as the land onto which settlers from Scotland moved during the same period. Prior to 1600 the northern region of Ireland had been least subject to control by the English government and accordingly most liable to resist efforts by the latter to impose its authority. The Nine Years’ War (1594-1603) which had been largely driven by the Ulster chiefs Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell would end with their defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and a treaty agreed at Mellifont two years later. Then in 1607 came what is known as the Flight of the Earls when both the O’Neill and O’Donnell chiefs left Ireland for mainland Europe with some of their followers and never returned. A turning point had been reached.
Even before this date, groups of Scottish adventurers, most notably James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery, had begun arriving in Ulster and settling on lands in Counties Down and Antrim. From 1609 onwards a more formal, government-sponsored settlement of Ulster began. James Stuart, who had assumed the throne of England in 1603 as James I had already long been King of Scotland (as James VI) and needed to reward supporters in his native country now that he was no longer resident there. The simultaneous desire to ensure there would be little or no further trouble in Ulster led to the plantation of Ulster. Unlike the indigenous Irish who were Gaelic-speaking and Roman Catholic, the planters were obliged to speak English and be of the Protestant faith (a large number of the Scots were Presbyterian). It is estimated that over 500,000 acres were officially granted to settlers but the figure was likely much higher. Obviously they were not welcome and many decades of unrest followed as the new arrivals fought to hold onto the land they had either been granted or seized. For this reason, the residences they built were heavily fortified.
Occupying a raised site above the west banks of Lower Lough Erne, Monea Castle, County Fermanagh stands on land previously been owned by the Maguires and confiscated from them by the crown authorities. The castle was built for a Scottish-born cleric, Malcolm Hamilton who first served as Rector of Devenish before being appointed Chancellor of Down in 1612. Eleven years later he was consecrated Archbishop of Cashel where he died and was buried in 1629. Considered the finest surviving settler castle of the period, Monea was begun in 1616 and finished some two years later: a bawn wall was added in 1622. Although essentially a rectangular tower house, the building reflects the Scottish origins of its original owner, with crow-step gables and projecting turrets similar to those found in his country during the same period. As was typical at the time, the ground floor was used for storage and utilitarian purposes, with accommodation on the two upper levels, including a great hall on the first floor. The defensive character of Monea proved necessary because in 1641 during the Confederate Wars the castle was attacked by the Maguires who killed a number of its occupants. It was subsequently returned to the family and in the later 18th century owned by Malcolm Hamilton’s grandson, the Swedish-born soldier Gustav Hamilton who served as Governor of Enniskillen during the Williamite Wars. It was later sold by his heirs and fell victim to fire in the 18th century, remaining a ruin ever since.
Located on the north-west shores of Lower Lough Erne some seven miles from Monea, Tully Castle was built Scottish settler Sir John Hume between 1611 and 1613. According to the survey of Ulster counties conducted by Nicholas Pynnar in 1618/19, Tully was composed of ‘a bawn of lime and stone, 100 ft square, 14 ft high having four flankers for defence’ and inside ‘a fair strong castle, 50 ft long and 21 ft broad.’ As with Monea, the Scottish influence is apparent in Tully’s design, not least in the steep gable ends of the castle. And once more the upper floors were used for accommodation and entertaining, the ground floor for storage and defence. Unfortunately it proved of no avail in 1641 when, like Monea, this castle was attacked by the Maguires. At the time, Sir John’s son George was away so the latter’s wife Mary was left to guard Tully, into which the residents of an adjacent settler village had crowded. Greatly outnumbered, Lady Hume negotiated a surrender that was supposed to include the safe passage of all those inside the building once it, and all arms, had been handed over to the Maguires. In the event, while she and her family were permitted to leave, everyone else (said to have been 15 men, and sixty women and children) was kept inside and massacred, after which the castle was set on fire. Like Monea, it has been a ruin ever since.
‘That old kitchen stove, how my memory clings,
As my thoughts turn back to the savory things
That emerged from its oven, its pots and kettles
When my mother was matron of those relishing victuals.
With what a rattle and clatter and din,
The table was loaded with the brightest of tin.
The fire was given a punch and a poke,
And the quaint stone chimney, how it would smoke!
The embers on the hearth would sparkle and glow
As if for the occasion they were anxious to go
Enthused, as it were, by my mother’s desire,
For she trusted completely on that old stove fire.’
From That Old Kitchen Stove by David Harold Judd (1901). Pictures of the former gate lodge at Magheramenagh Castle, County Fermanagh.
In Ireland today the name John B Keane is usually associated with a Kerry author of popular stage dramas. In the 19th century however, it would be more likely taken to refer to a successful architect. The date of John Benjamin Keane’s birth is unknown but by 1819-20 he was working as an assistant to Richard Morrison. In 1823 he was listed in Wilson’s Dublin Directory as practising under his own name and for the next two decades enjoyed a busy career. Among his most notable commissions was the design of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, recently restored after a disastrous fire in 2009, and Queen’s College in Galway (now NUI Galway) in 1845. Keane’s winning design for the latter was described at the time as being ‘ a magnificent edifice in the style of Henry the Eight’s time.’ In addition to such public properties, he also designed a number of private residences, including Magheramenagh Castle, County Fermanagh.
Magheramenagh belonged to a branch of the Johnston family, large numbers of whom had moved from Scotland to this part of the country in the early 17th century. Successive generations lived in the same area of Fermanagh, the estate being inherited in 1833 by James Johnston who five years later married Cecilia, daughter of Thomas Newcomen Edgeworth of County Longford. It would appear that around this time he commissioned from Keane the design of a home for his new bride. The building was much in the style then fashionable, a loose interpretation of Tudor Gothic indicated by the presence of blind gables, polygonal turrets, castellations and finials. Of two storeys other (than a three-floor square tower in the north-east corner) and all faced in crisp limestone, the main entrance was to the north, the southern front looking down on the river Erne. A large conservatory occupied much of the eastern end of the building while the service wing stood to the west, an enfilade of four reception rooms occupying the space between.
Ultimately neither Magheramenagh nor its architect had a happy ending. Keane’s career was wrecked by alcoholism, he fell into debt and was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Gaol (a debtor’s prison off Dublin’s south quays: it was demolished in 1975) before dying in 1859. Meanwhile James Johnston had died in 1873 and Magheramenagh passed to his son Robert. He in turn died just nine years later, leaving the estate to his son James Cecil Johnston, then aged less than two. James Cecil would be killed at Gallipoli in August 1915, Magheramenagh then occupied by his widow and two young daughters. Unable to manage, they left the property in 1921 and it was bought as a residence for the local Roman Catholic priest: the following May the house was briefly taken over by the members of the British armed forces. Reverting back to the parish, thereafter it remained in use as a presbytery until the 1950s when abandoned and unroofed. Afterwards a large part of the house was demolished: it can be seen what now remains on the site.