We haven’t rested our trotters here for at least three decades. The last time we called by was en route to the Caseys’ rather well known Georgian townhouse in north Dublin. As the blood red sunset descended upon Henrietta Street we knew we would live in that city some day. Moving on: it’s great to see the original 19th century Italianate block of Stameen House, the core of Boyne Valley Hotel, being carefully restored – stonework cleaned, glazing bars reinstated to sash windows, stained glass landing window repaired, and so on – and a new sensitively designed two storey wing elongating the entrance front. We’ll pass on the 20th century extension… Such fun flicking through the original hard copy brochure. David Hicks style brown carpet! Brown wallpaper! Brown haired people whose follicles match the décor! Although it’s nice to see the brown furniture still in use in the main reception rooms. Stameen House owes its current appearance to the Dublin architect William Francis Caldbeck (circa 1824 to 1872). His clients, the Cairnes family (beeresses rather peeresses), eventually sold their home for hotel use in the 20th century. Parp parp! Trains chug along the end of the garden.
On this visit, we change direction from Madame de Pic’s, physically and gastronomically, turning left like on an aeroplane, to enter “May Ooo May” as it’s pronounced. This really is London’s most discreet restaurant. Well, turns out the Chinese Japanese fusion cuisine Mei Ume is worth the jaunt east. They serve the best chive sticked caviar topped prawns in Tower Bridge. “We’ve got to go to the Cointreau bar at Froufrou!” Maud later tempts us back to Paris.
Esteemed architect Fergus Flynn Rogers more or less single handledly turned around Carlingford back in the day. Everywhere you look in the village there’s one of his motifs: a plate glassed Diocletian window here; a sky high metal framed corridor there. He possesses a crucial and unnerving handling of materiality, at once immediate and sympathetic. Between Carlingford and Newry lies the village of Omeath.
Former resident artist Anne Davey Orr explains, “Omeath was the last Irish speaking area on the east coast. It was where people from Falls Road Belfast came for their summer holidays – hence the caravan parks.” Meanwhile, lucky roadside donkeys chomp on apples from a Ballyfin goody bag.
“This is like the set of a James Bond movie!” ponders campaigning model and model campaigner Janice Porter, gazing out towards a beach of sullen ashes overlooked by a landlocked 1830s molten lighthouse and a working coastguards’ row; and set inland, a solitary street of stone mill houses complete with endearing cat colony, and those three conjoined twins of golf club sized semi detached villas (actually built by the London and Northwest Railway Company as holiday accommodation for Greenore Golf Course as part of the railway company’s development of the village) whilst all around swirling pearly white clouds scrape the ground blurring built and natural form. A once aristocratic boat Lady Dundalk, now faded, gently bobs beyond the shore. Greenore is a place of quiet phantoms. A dimly recalled dream sequence. A drenched entrenched landscape. A forlorn foreboding series of plots. It’s also where you can catch the ferry across Carlingford Lough to Greencastle over in County Down. Anyway, we’re off next to the James Bond movie première in London. As William Shakespeare’s character Don Pedro says, “Good morrow to this fair assembly.”
The museum café boasts of having “the best view in Ireland”. It might well but only for at most 364 days a year: for much of today any view can only be measured in metres not kilometres. A swirl of fog and mist and rain blows in from the Atlantic Ocean. There’s far flung and there’s Dunree Head – next stop Malin Head, the most northwesterly tip of Ireland meriting a mention on the Shipping Forecast. And after that, next stop Iceland. Dunree Head juts into Lough Swilly, one of County Donegal’s many waterways.
In Irish “Loch Súilí” means “Lake of Shadows”. It is one of three glacial fjords in Ireland and is flanked on both sides by hilly peninsulae: Fanad to the west, Inishowen to the east. Dunree is in the Parish of Desertegney, Inishowen. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835, record: “Lough Swilly, though not the most frequented, is the best and safest harbour on the north coast of Ireland. It is, from its conflux with the ocean to Ballyraine Bridge, by the ship’s course, about 23 Irish miles and a half long. Mariners allow that it would afford secure anchorage to the whole British Navy. It is encumbered with but few rocks without the tide mark and these, except Swilly Rocks, are out of the ship’s course in and not dangerous. The bottom from the very entrance is clean sand. It holds well and ships may anchor almost anywhere within it, but the most secure anchoring places are Buncrana Castle or off the river in (according to the size of the vessel) from two to eight fathoms, or at Rathmullan.” One of the most significant events in Irish history occurred on the opposite side of the lough at Rathmullan. In 1607, the Flight of the Earls marked the end of the Gaelic order in Ireland and paved the way for the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scottish settlers.
Lough Swilly continued down the ages to be the setting for high drama on the high sea. Fanad Lighthouse was built following the wrecking of HMS Saldanha. In 1911, this Royal Navy frigate struck rocks near Fanad Head, at the northwest tip of Lough Swilly, and ran aground at Ballymastocker Bay. All 250 or so men on board drowned including the 29 year old Captain William Pakenham. Six years later, SS Laurentic, a British ocean liner of the White Star Line built by Harland + Wolff (the greatest shipyard of all time) in 1908, the same year as Titanic, stopped off at Buncrana to allow a number of passengers with yellow fever symptoms to disembark. The Laurentic had been converted to an armed merchant ship at the beginning of World War I. It was bound for Halifax, Canada, and carried 479 naval officers and a secret cargo of gold, payment for munitions from Canada and the United States. She departed Buncrana for Fanad Head amidst a storm. Captain Reginald Norton sailed on regardless, despite the weather and reports of U boat sightings in Lough Swilly earlier that day. The Laurentic struck two German submarine laid mines and sank within the hour. Out of 475 passengers, 121 survived including Captain Norton, many rescued by local fishing trawlers. Over the rest of the 20th century, salvage operations recovered some of the bars of gold but an estimated £2 million worth remains in the watery grave of the wreckage, 40 metres beneath the waves.
The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835, record: “Dunree Fort is strikingly situated on the coast of Lough Swilly immediately opposite Knockalla Battery. It stands on a little rocky peninsula whose isthmus is a mass of rocks having a natural arch below, through which t sea flows, and a chasm 25 feet deep by nine feet wide. The fort occupies the whole of this peninsula and is inaccessible except by a drawbridge thrown over the chasm. It is an irregular four sided figure measuring about 650 feet round the inside of the walls and parapets, and presents a fire of nine 24 pounders on traversing carriages, and three others can be mounted in embrasures if required… A company of men and officers can be accommodated in the barracks with all the usual requisites for infantry soldiers, and the fort possesses a fine spring which issues out of the rock. Dunree Fort was built in the years 1812 to 1814 under the superintendence of Captain Spicer, Royal Engineers… Its present garrison is a master gunner and seven artillerymen detached from Buncrana. Mr Edgar of Buncrana contracted for the building of Dunree and the other five forts in Lough Swilly.”
Fort Dunree marks the spot where Wolfe Tone was captured by the British army in 1798 and subsequently sentenced to death. He died a short time after in prison, likely by suicide. Wolfe Tone was a Protestant revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the United Irishmen, a Republican organisation that rebelled against British rule in Ireland. In the 19th century the fort was rebuilt. Control of the fort was transferred to the Irish Free State just before World War II. Fort Dunree Military Museum opened to the public in 1986 and includes a military museum and underground bunkers within the walled enclosure. Timber buildings – the gunners’ canteen, officers’ mess, gymnasium and so on – are scattered across the hillside of Dunree Head, gently crumbling in the wild weather. The museum café “with the best view in Ireland – except for at least one day a year” is going strong.
“Rarely does a wicked soul inhabit a beautiful body and thus external beauty is a true sign of internal goodness.” Baldassare Castiglione 1528. Wilhelmina Blakley is demonstrably one such soul. Blessed with exceptional beauty, she was the life and soul of 20th century Belfast. A true legend.
Bridge Place as The Pig was once known is a Grade II* Listed Building. The Listers state: “An L shaped building which is all that remains of a large mansion built by Sir Arnold Braems in the late 17th century, the remainder having been demolished… between 1704 and 1729. Red brick. Brick pilasters flank each window bay. Bracketed wood eaves cornice. Brick stringcourse. Steeply pitched hipped tiled roof. The north or entrance front has two and a half storeys. Two hipped dormers… Five windows, irregular, with mostly casements with wooden mullions and transoms, some small square leaded panes but two bung sash windows with glazing bars. Some of the windows at the east end are dummies and were probably blocked when sash windows were inserted in the east front. Rusticated stone doorway with keystone. The east front has two storeys, attic and basement. Four windows and two hipped dormers, windows having glazing bars and hung sashes. The interior has unusual carved cornices in two rooms and two painted stone fireplaces.” And what an architectural remainder! The gloriously atmospheric interiors are jazzed up with clubby antiques.
Framed flyers next to the Burlington Patent Cisterns in the timber beamed cellar bathrooms are a reminder of the former life of the house: “Bridge Place Country Club. Dance or drink, and if you wish, dine in this picturesque old manor. You may drink longer with our supper license. Ladies may come unescorted if they wish: many do!” Forthcoming attractions in 1968 included The Christmas Carnival, Boxing Night Ball and a New Year’s Eve Party with guest musicians Spencer Davis and Long John Baldry. The Pig continues this partying tradition for the escorted and the unescorted, revving it up a notch or two. As the Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Pavle Radulović informed us over dinner in Podgorica: “It’s all about knowing how to cater for the needs of high net worth individuals.” We’ve a feeling this isn’t our last fabulous weekend visiting The Pig at Bridge!
Holywood and Cultra, County Down. Brighton and Hove, East Sussex. Margate and Westgate, Kent. Deal and Walmer, Kent. Some coastal towns don’t need a committee to be twinned. Each resort itself is dual aspect with a centre and a front. “You can do things at the seaside that you can’t do in town,” went the old music hall saying. Architecture by the sea can also exhibit a frivolity not found so much inland. The 1927 terrace facing leafy Archery Square, a block back from Walmer seafront, is a case in point. These six two storey with attic houses overlook the rather smart Walmer Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Their white painted brick walls and louvred window shutters appear suitably nautical but it is the roof that turns to pure whimsy. The dormer of each house and the side elevation of the terrace are framed by extravagant Dutch gables. Provençale style red pantiles add a splash of colour to the roof. The architects, Messrs Kieffer and Fleming, are relatively unknown. One other project they did work on is Barrington Hall in Cambridge. They remodelled that house which also has white painted brick walls and Georgian sash windows, but is American Colonial in essence with a columned verandah overlooking the lawn.