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.
Old tombstones embedded into the external walls of St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. A stone plaque over the building’s main entrance carries the date 1637, when the original church on this site was built. However in 1832 the old structure was deemed unsafe and so a new one erected on the site, with work finishing a decade later: originally a parish church, it was rededicated as a cathedral in 1923. These older stones were presumably rescued during the 19th century rebuild and then set into the wall.
The extraordinary first-floor gallery at Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. Designed by Edward Blore, the present house dates from the mid-1830s to replace an earlier castle destroyed by fire: ironically sections of this one suffered the same fate soon after completion and had to be reconstructed. The core of the castle is given over to an inner hall that features a bifurcating staircase composed of wood and plaster and in late-Perpendicular style. It rises to the generous gallery screened by a run of arches at either end, the whole lit by an immense octagonal roof lantern.
The remains of Balfour Castle, County Fermanagh. In 1618/19 the surveyor Captain Nicholas Pynnar noted that the Scottish settler James Balfour, first Lord Glenawley had ‘laid the foundation of a bawne of lime and stone 70 ft square, of which the two sides are raised 15 ft high. There is also a castle of the same length, of which the one half is built two stories high and is to be three stories and a half high.’ Because of Balfour’s origins, the castle was built very much in the Scottish style of a fortified house, necessary because it was damaged during both the Confederacy Wars of the 1640s and the Williamite wars later in the same century. However, it remained occupied until 1803 until destroyed by arson, the person responsible believed to have been a member of the Maguire clan which had once owned all the land in this part of the country. Balfour Castle has remained a ruin ever since and now looks over a graveyard on one side and a housing estate on the other.
Florence Court, County Fermanagh was discussed here a couple of weeks ago (see Unravelling the Mysteries, May 15th 2017). Prior to moving to that part of the country, the Cole family lived further north-east on the island of Enniskillen. The castle there is believed to have been originally built in the early 15th century by Hugh Maguire but this, together with surrounding lands was granted in 1607 to Sir William Cole. A few years later a report stated that there was ‘a fair house begun upon the foundations of the old castle with other convenient houses for store and munition.’ The portion shown here, called the Watergate, likely dates from that period. After the Coles moved to Florence Court the castle became a military barracks; today it houses a museum.
Described over a century ago as the finest early Georgian house in this part of the country, Florence Court, County Fermanagh epitomizes the challenges facing anyone who tries to understand the evolution of the Irish architecture. In particular, it raises the two key questions that come up time and again in this field? When was it built? And who was responsible for the design? In the case of Florence Court, the answer to the first question appears to be that the building was developed over a period of time and to the second that a number of parties were involved. But, as will be made apparent, precise dates and names remain maddeningly elusive.
Florence Court was built for the Cole family, the first of whom, Sir William Cole was a professional soldier who arrived in Ireland in 1601 and having acquired large tracts of land in Fermanagh, based himself in Enniskillen Castle. Successive generations of Coles prospered and by the early 18th century it was clear a proper country estate was required, especially as John Cole – who appears to have been responsible for initiating the construction of Florence Court – served as a member of parliament for the area. The house’s name derives from that of the same John Cole’s wife, a Cornish heiress called Florence Wrey. Their son, also John Cole, was raised to the peerage in 1760 as Lord Mountflorence, and in turn his elder son William Willoughby Cole was created first Viscount Enniskillen in 1776 and finally Earl of Enniskillen in 1789. The house remained in the family’s ownership until 1953 when it passed into the care of the National Trust. Two years later a fire badly damaged the property, which was subsequently restored. It is possible that material relating to the building’s evolution was lost on that occasion, since no documentation on the subject survives. Hence when it comes to dates and architects, conjecture must take the place of knowledge.
An anonymous manuscript dating from 1718 makes reference to a ‘very costly and sumptuous building’ which John Cole was then building at Florence Court. However, it is not known how much of this work was accomplished before his death in 1726. His son, the future Lord Mountflorence is likely to have been responsible for overseeing the construction of the present central block. A demesne map drawn up the year after his death in 1767 includes an elevation of the house’s façade which on the top floor had a large framed oculus window on the top floor. This feature is frequently found in buildings designed by Richard Castle, giving rise to speculation that he was responsible for Florence Court. It is possible such was the case, since in the late 1720s Castle was drawing up designs for Castle Hume on the other side of Enniskillen (for more on this, see A Glimpse of the Past, August 22nd 2016).
Furthermore, in discussions of the house’s evolution it has been noted that Castle subsequently went on to design Hazlewood, County Sligo the owner of which, Owen Wynne, was associated with John Cole in the development of a road between Enniskillen and Sligo. At least some of the interiors of the main house do look to be early 18th century (the ground floor library is a particularly curious room, featuring stylistic elements from a number of different periods). But here, as was so often the case, aspiration exceeded income and the Florence Court of c.1730 was internally a relatively plain affair.
In August 1758 Mrs Delany met the future first Earl of Enniskillen freshly returned from a Grand Tour and observed ‘Mr Cole ((£5,000 a year and just come from abroad), a pretty, well-behaved young man’. While his annual income is likely to have exaggerated, nevertheless the Coles did come into sufficient funds to embark on a further programme of work at Florence Court. Some of this seems to have derived from a legacy following the death without direct heirs of Sir Arthur Cole, Lord Ranelagh but more likely the greater part of the money was received thanks to the periodic sale of two seats in the House of Commons for the borough of Enniskillen which the Coles then controlled: each of these could have raised as much as £1,500-£2,000 at each election. Whatever the source, fresh supplies of money meant first the interiors of the main reception rooms, the staircase and the first-floor ‘Venetian Room’ and then at a slightly later date single storey wings concluding in pavilions were added on either side of the house. On the basis of similarities with Castletown Cox, County Kilkenny and Kilshannig, County Cork these external additions have long been attributed to the architect and engineer Davis Ducart; once again, no documentary evidence exists to tie him directly to the work so one must depend on informed guesswork. The façade was presumably altered at the same time: note how the top-floor oculus shown in the 1767 drawing has gone, replaced by a pedimented niche that complements those immediately below. The alterations it has undergone means that as an object of study Florence Court is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. It tantalizes with hints but never reveals the whole story. Perhaps one day more information will turn up but for the present speculation and surmise must suffice.