Despite looking as though it belongs in the Loire Valley, Killyleagh Castle rises close to the south-western shore of Strangford Lough, County Down. The oldest part of the building was constructed in the late 12th century by the Norman knight John de Courcy and this subsequently passed into the control of the O’Neill family. However in the early 17th century Killyleagh was given by James I to a Scottish supporter, James Hamilton whose descendants have lived here ever since: much of its present form dates from c.1666 when the castle was rebuilt by James Hamilton’s grandson, Henry Hamilton, second Earl of Clanbrassil. A complex family dispute towards the end of the 17th century led the castle remaining in possession of the Hamiltons while the bawn wall and gatehouse passed to their relatives the Blackwoods. The two portions of the site were only reunited in 1860 when Frederick Temple Blackwood, future first Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, handed over his share to Archibald Rowan-Hamilton. By then the latter had employed Charles Lanyon to redesign the castle, including the addition of turrets on the two towers.
‘For some days past I have been sending all sorts of household goods and stores for Mount Panther, and propose leaving this on Tuesday next. D.D. [Dean Delany] is finishing alterations in his garden and giving directions for what is to be done in his absence. I am preserving, pickling, and papering and giving directions to my maids; and I have just spruced up a little apartment for you, come when you please.’
Mrs Delany writing to her brother Bernard Granville, 15th July 1750.
‘I know my dearest sister wishes to hear if I am safe at my journey’s end: thank God we are! We arrived a little fatigued last night: but a good night’s rest has refreshed us, and we are both very well. We had intended staying some days with Mrs Forde in our neighbourhood, not thinking we would find our habitation so fit for our reception as it is; but as there were so many things to settle, which could not very well be done with D.D. and my directing them, we thought it best to rest here [Mount Panther]…You who have had the experience of such affairs, can figure to yourself my present bustle – trunks, hampers, unpacking, hay flying all over the house; everybody scrambling for their things, asking a thousand questions such as “Where is this to be put?” “What shall we do for such and such a thing?” However, the hurry is pretty well over, the dust subsides, the clamours cease and I am hurried away to dress. I am really surprised at Smith’s [the Delany’s housekeeper] thorough cleverness in going through her work. She has got everything almost in as much order as if she had been here a week.’
Mrs Delany to her sister Anne Dewes, 21st July 1750.
‘And now to tell you a little of Mount Panther. To begin then: last Sunday dined at Downpatrick (after church). Mr and Mrs and Miss Leonargan, Mr Brereton, curate at Down, Mr Trotter, agent to Mr Southwell, dined with us; went to church again at 4 o’clock, went home at 5, two hours on the road, and visits to Lady Anne Annesley and Mrs Bayley and their husbands made half an hour; tired, supped, talked over the company of the day: went to bed before eleven; up next morn early, routed about the house, found many repairs wanting; sent for smith, carpenter and cowper [old spelling of cooper, repairer of barrels and casks]; catching showers; peeped now and then into the garden – excellent gooseberries, currants, potatoes, and all the garden stuff: fine salmon, lobster, trout, crabs, every day at the door…’
Mrs Delany to her sister Anne Dewes, 28th July 1750.
The extraordinary Shrigley Monument, County Down. This stands close to the site of what was once a vast mill and village developed by entrepreneur John Martin. In 1870 the local people decided to acknowledge Martin’s contribution to the area’s prosperity by erecting a monument in his honour. Following a public competition, the prize for its design was won by the young Belfast-born architect Timothy Hevey. Erected in 1871, the monument has a square base, originally with a drinking fountain at the centre and with a lamp on each corner. An octagonal arcade climbs up to a square tower supported by flying buttresses which used to feature a clock. The latter has long since gone, along with greater part of the formerly adjacent factory and the Victorian village. And the monument is in parlous condition, testament to truth of the Irish adage Eaten Bread is Soon Forgotten.
The story of Castle Ward, County Down is well-known. Wonderfully sited on a rise above Strangford Lough the house dates from the mid-1760s when an older residence was replaced by something more à la mode. The problem was that Bernard Ward and his wife Lady Anne (née Bligh) had very different ideas about what they wanted. Mr Ward (created Baron Bangor in 1770, and then Viscount Bangor in 1781) preferred the classical style, whereas his wife fancied Gothick. As Mrs Delany wrote around this time, ‘Mr Ward is building a fine house, but the scene about is so uncommonly fine it is a pity it should not be judiciously laid out. He wants taste, and Lady Anne is so whimsical that I doubt her judgment. If they do not do too much they can’t spoil the place, for it hath every advantage from nature that can be desired.’ Ultimately a compromise was reached whereby Mr Ward had his way on the entrance front, and Lady Anne hers on the side overlooking Strangford Lough. Internally the same division was agreed so that the ground floor rooms are quaintly split between the two decorative styles. The architect responsible for organising this curious arrangement is unknown, although it has been proposed that, like the stone used for the exterior, he came from Bath or else Bristol (the names of both James Bridges and Thomas Paty have been mentioned). Nevertheless the arrangement was not enough to hold the Ward marriage together and soon after Castle Ward was finished Lady Anne, who complained of being bullied, decamped first to Dublin and later to Bath where she died in 1789, eight years after her husband.
It may be that the Wards’ differences extended beyond just architecture. In an article published in 2000, Professor Sean Connolly discussed the relationship that existed between Lady Anne and an older woman, Letitia Bushe. Born in County Kilkenny in the first decade of the 18th century, Letty Bushe was a gentlewoman of modest means whose life was spent either in rented rooms in Dublin or staying with friends in the country. A talented amateur watercolourist, she was also known for the brilliance of her conversation (as well as her good looks before these were marred by smallpox). Among her closest friends was the aforementioned Mrs Delany who, when still Mrs Pendarves and visiting Dublin in November 1731 wrote to her sister, ‘I eloped for an hour or two to make a visit to a young lady who is just recovered of the small-pox. I think I never saw a prettier creature than she was before that malicious distemper seized her – a gay, good-humoured, innocent girl, without the least conceit of her beauty; her father has been dead about six months, a worthless man that has left a very uncertain fortune; she paints delightfully.’ The two women remained friends and regular correspondents until Letty Bushe’s death in 1757. But for a period she had a closer and much more intense relationship with Lady Anne. It appears they met in 1739, when the latter was just twenty-one and Miss Bushe in her mid-thirties. On July 31st 1740 she wrote to her younger friend, ‘This Day twelvemonth was the Day I first stay’d with you, the night of which you may remember pass’d very oddly. I cannot forget how I pity’d you, & how by that soft road you led me on to love you. I feared many things for you, & my compasion by degrees rose into esteem.’ Later again she would write of ‘two whole years of thoughts, tenderness, stuff and nonsense’. All of which indicates this was more than just a standard friendship.
Professor Connolly chronicles the relationship’s ups and downs, in part caused by Lady Anne’s regular visits to England where her father, John Bligh, first Earl of Darnley, had extensive estates. Letty Bushe suffered agonies in her absence. In the spring of 1740 Lady Anne crossed the Irish Sea, and by August of that year Miss Bushe was confessing, ‘About the time you left Ireland, I hardly slept at nights, and such a wizened pale old hag I grew.’ This appears not to have been an exaggeration because Mrs Ann Preston, with whom Letty Bushe was then staying in County Meath, in turn wrote to Lady Anne, ‘What has your Ladyship said to poor Miss Bushe? For since your last letter she has neither eat, drank, slept or spoke one chearfull sentence. In short she is so very unlike herself that I scarce know her. I beg you will say something to her to raise her spirits.’ The following month Miss Bushe wrote to her inamorata, ‘You make some of the sweetest moments of my life in reflection, & were it not for bitter absence I think you wou’d do so in reality. Tho I live & eat & sleep & laugh, yet I am often surprized at my self, well knowing I seldom am without your Idea, & the cruel sence of being separated from you.’ So it went on for several years, even after the marriage of Lady Anne in September 1742 to Robert Hawkins Magill of Gill Hall, County Down (he died less than three years later). We can only guess at the tone and content of Lady Anne’s letters because it appears that at some date she made off with her side of the correspondence and destroyed it. But she preserved the letters received from Letty Bushe and they provide both an insight into their relationship and a possible explanation for the failure of her marriage to Mr Ward. Despite the couple having three sons and four daughters prior to her departure for Dublin, it was perhaps more than just his architectural judgement she found disagreeable.
Evening light down the length of the Temple Water at Castle Ward, County Down. Although the main house overlooks Strangford Lough, in the 18th century it was judged necessary to have a man-made lake, its vista closed with a view of the 15th century tower house known as Audley’s Castle. The lake’s name comes from a pedimented Doric Temple built on a rise to the immediate north of the water: the building’s design is believed to have been an adaptation of a patternbook plate by Robert Morris showing Palladio’s Il Redentore in Venice. It appears in a watercolour painted by Mrs Delany in 1762 so both the temple and the lake had been completed by that date.
Hillsborough Castle, County Down has long been misnamed since there is nothing castle-like about its appearance. The core of the house dates from the 18th century when it was built for the Hill family who were created Marquesses of Downshire. Owners of some 1115,000 acres in Ireland, it was said the Hills could travel from Larne in County Antrim to Blessington, County Wicklow without ever losing sight of their land. At Hillsborough, it appears there was a house on the site by c.1760 but this was enlarged in the mid-1790s for the second marquess to designs of Robert Brettingham. Further additions were made in the late 1820s for the third marquess who employed a local architect, Thomas Duff of Newry. It was at this time that the pedimented portico with four giant Ionic columns was added on the garden facade. This had hitherto been the entrance front, but that was now moved to face the main square of Hillsborough town. Hillsborough Castle remained in the ownership of the Hills until 1922 when sold by the sixth marquess to the British government. The house then served as a residence first for successive governors of Northern Ireland and then for Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland. Since 2014 Hillsborough Castle has been managed by Historic Royal Palaces.
Over the past three years, both the house and grounds at Hillsborough have benefitted from considerable, and ongoing, attention. The gardens run to almost 100 acres and originally incorporated the main road to nearby Moira which ran in front of the Ionic portico and followed the line of the Yew Walk. However here as elsewhere the desire for privacy led the family to enclose this part of their land and lay it out for their own pleasure with the development of water features, ornamental bridges, the Doric Lady Alice’s Temple and a rusticated ice house.
When the scheme of improvements was initiated at Hillsborough in 2014, landscape designer Catherine FitzGerald, eldest daughter of the late Knight of Glin, was appointed to oversee a revitalisation of the gardens. Collaborating with her regular business partner, landscape architect Mark Lutyens, she drew up a master-plan which is being gradually implemented. So far the most notable feature introduced has been the re-working of the terrace outside the drawing room: here a harsh gravel surface has been replaced with reclaimed stone intermingled with diverse planting. Immediately beyond, the Jubilee Parterre has similarly been softened, while thousands of bulbs were planted on either side of the Yew Walk. This is very much a project in progress with much more yet to be done, as is also the case inside the house where extensive refurbishment is likewise underway. The intention is that in the years ahead, Hillsborough will receive in the region of 200,000 visitors, thereby generating revenue that can in turn be used for further developments: an excellent enterprise that merits being emulated elsewhere in Ireland.
The ubiquity of older buildings in Irish towns and villages suffering from insufficient maintenance. Here two fine houses, both probably early 19th century, in Greyabbey, County Down. Above is 88-90 Main Street, below 2 Church Street, the latter closing the long vista down Main Street and therefore sited at a critical point in the village. Both excellent properties that once held commercial premises, both now looking as though facing an uncertain future.