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Mount Falcon Sligo + Phantom the Falcon

The First September

The architect James Franklin Fuller sounds like he’d have been good craic at a dinner party. When not bashing out High Victorian melodramatic novels, bragging of his descent from Charlemagne or boasting of his wife’s connections to Napoleon, he was busy embellishing Ireland with a string of rather fetching future tourist attractions. Ashford Castle, Farmleigh, Kylemore Abbey and Park Hotel Kenmare are probably the best known ones.

He also worked on two country houses in the west of Ireland: the design of Mount Falcon and the redesign of Annaghmore. Quite the eclectic, Mr F ensured they’re not wildly similar. The former is asymmetrical and vaguely castellated. The latter is symmetrical and strongly neoclassical. They both have plate glass sash windows and grey stone walls. Fast forward a generation or two: Mount Falcon has had an extension added; Annaghmore, a wing demolished.

Mount Falcon is freeform baronial, an Irish take on a Scottish tradition. All 32 of the bedrooms are available to paying guests (Mount Falcon is now a hotel). Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses calls Annaghmore “late Georgian”.  Esteemed architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell retorts, “It’s lazy to just call Annaghmore ‘late Georgian’. It’s not. The remodelled front elevation is Victorian Greek Revival – the Greek order used is a giveaway.” The house was once joyously named Nymphsfield. Only one of the many bedrooms is available to paying guests (Annaghmore is still a private house).

“A few months after opening my offices I discarded the regulation copying-press and the regulation letter-book,” James Franklin Fuller confessed in his autobiography. “The ‘correct’ thing to do with letters received, was to preserve, docket and to pigeon-hole them… whereas nine out of 10 of them went into my wastepaper basket immediately after receipt . . . I kept no ledgers or books of any sort: I could not see the least necessity for them.” Clearly, admin was beneath him. It’s a wonder that any buildings can be attributed to him, never mind such a variety.

Mount Falcon retains its original internal fittings: cornicing, fireplaces, panelling and even servants’ bells. There are spacious reception rooms but it’s more fun to eat in the intimacy of the square tower: table for two only. Mount Falcon has, aptly, a resident falcon. Phantom is sitting balanced on the back of a chair in the dining room. “Falcons follow a matriarchal pecking order,” explains her falconer. “They respond more respectfully to female humans than males.”

Females play defining roles in the history of Mount Falcon. The house was commissioned by Ultred Knox in honour of his wife Nina Knox-Gore of nearby Belleek Manor. It was completed in 1876. Major and Constance Aldridge bought the estate in 1932 and opened the house as a hunting lodge. Connie was one of the founders of the Blue Book, Ireland’s leading guide to hotels of distinction. In 2002, Mount Falcon was taken over by the current owners, who include the local Maloney family.

Architects Architecture Country Houses

Buncrana Castle Inishowen Donegal + Sir John Vaughan

Notes on a House 

It is one of the most romantically situated country houses in Ireland, picturesquely positioned on a peninsula off a peninsula. Buncrana Castle is perched on the edge of its namesake town, looking serenely across Lough Swilly towards the Atlantic Ocean. The serenity of its setting is matched by the serenity of its architecture. “Indeed this is a building of note,” remarks heritage architect John O’Connell. He in turn refers to the words of the late Dr Maurice Craig, who writes about Buncrana Castle in Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, 1976. John drew many of the floorplans illustrating this seminal book.

Dr Craig describes an architectural characteristic that the house shares with a few others, “The type of small cubical wing, usually lower than the house, which stands advanced from the main block at each end, and overlaps it by the thickness of one wall which is common to both house and wing, has a long history. It resembles the musical device in which the last note of one phase is the first note of the next. In plan, if not in silhouette, it appears as early as Jigginstown (1637), and by the time of Waringstown, County Down, it is fully established. Buncrana, County Donegal, though sharply contrasted in other ways, is an example from the very early 18th century.” He captions a closeup photograph of its façade: “Doorcase with a tablet commemorating the landing of Wolfe Tone at Lough Swilly in 1798.”

Three years earlier, Hugh Dixon’s An Introduction to Ulster Architecture was published: “By contrast with Waringstown House or Berwick Hall, Buncrana Castle, built by Sir John Vaughan between 1716 and 1718, is a competent and assured piece of architectural design; it may indeed be found rather dull because of this. Each window balances another. Each has its own area of wall to occupy, neither too large nor too small. The introduction of a half-basement raises both the height and the importance of the ground floor. The front door is approached by a gentle flight of narrowing steps, and decorated with a moulded frame topped by a curving open pediment. The three central bays are given a discreet prominence by being advanced slightly from the main block, and the monotony of the blank side walls of the wings is relieved by arched niches.”

Mark Bence-Jones summarises ownership history in his 1988 revised tome A Guide to Irish Country Houses, “A very distinguished early 18th century house, built circa 1716 by George Vaughan, close to the shore of Lough Swilly. Two storeys over basement; seven bay centre block with two storey one bay overlapping wings. Doorway with scroll pediment. Panelled interior. Axial approach by a six arched bridge over the river, near which stands an old towerhouse of the O’Dohertys, Lords of Inishowen; and through a curving forecourt. Originally the house was surrounded by elaborate gardens and terraces. By circa 1840, Buncrana belonged to a Mrs Todd; it later became the seat of Alexander Airth Richardson, son of Jonathan Richardson, MP, of Lambeg, and his wife Margaret Airth. It is now falling into decay.”

In 2002, Howley Harrington Architects won an RIAI award for the repair of Buncrana Castle’s complex roof. The practice’s scholarship was praised by the Institute. Over to James Howley, “The castle has been described by several historians as having been built in 1718, probably because of the date stone that survives above the entrance door. During our survey we discovered that the building was much older, probably dating from the early 17th century, with a significant programme of alteration and extension in 1718. The triple stack roof from 1718 is not only one of the oldest surviving roofs in the country, but many of its large section timber members were reused floor beams, complete with joist sockets, salvaged from an earlier house. Quite remarkably the original roof covering, consisting of pegged stone slates, was intact, though in a very poor state of repair. The stone slates were quarried locally and the individual slates were graded from eaves to ridge, and in addition to the pegs were bedded in lime and sand. Another remarkable feature of this roof is that apart from the stone capped front ridge, all other ridges to the main roof and flankers were made of lime and sand. Although this roof had been leaking for over 40 years, during which time inappropriate and ineffective cement and bitumen repairs had been carried out, it had survived for an astonishing 280 years.”

The architect continues, “It became immediately apparent that the roof structure was of great cultural significance and had to be retained and repaired, and that the very beautiful grey-green stone slates should be salvaged and reused at least on the principal east facing roof and flankers. A programme of extensive repair and replacement was carried out to the roof structure, where approximately 10 percent of the rafters and 70 percent of the main structural members including purlins ridge and valley beams were saved. The rainwater disposal system was replaced in cast iron and many new sliding sash widows were installed. The building, described as ‘derelict’ in the 1970s and 80s, is now dry, and ventilated, its future secured. The varied colours and textures of the stone faced roofs are extremely beautiful and the only example of stone slate roofing we know of on a major building in Ireland.”

A flick through the entries in A Guide to Irish Country Houses shows two more examples of houses with the “small cubical wing” identified by Dr Maurice Craig. Castle Cor, County Cork, and Cahir-Guillamore, County Limerick, both have single bay projecting attachments. Like Buncrana Castle, or at least like its rebuilding as so recently identified by James Howley, these two houses are early 18th century. But Buncrana Castle, in style and location, really is unique. Dr Craig clearly enjoyed musical metaphors and to borrow his tone, the building’s designer realised to fruition that harmony is the result of good counterpoint.

Architects Country Houses Hotels

The Titanic + Enniskeen House Hotel Newcastle Down

Pink Panter

Enniskeen House Hotel 1991 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Halfway up the forested Shimna Valley, close to the Tollymore estate which is forever haunted by the wandering Blue Lady, and just beyond the seaside resort of Newcastle is Northern Ireland’s most charming hotel. Discreet yet assured. Spa-free. Anti-ostentatious. Bling where art thou? Hotels should be about three things: food, place and people. Easy. Not golf courses. Enniskeen House Hotel scores top marks in all classes. It knows its French fried onions. It’s perfect for admiring the great outdoors from the great indoors. And the staff are a delight.

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • 1895 three storey house is built in typical very late Victorian style with a proliferation of randomly placed gables, dormers, bays and a turret. More of the turret later. Might be by William Batt who designed the mildly Romanesque Ballynafeigh Orange Hall and the roughly Italianate Clifton Street Orange Hall and the loosely eclectic Monaghan Orange Hall and the vaguely gothic Portaferry Orange Hall. Client is Virginia born Robert Wallace Murray, tobacco and rope magnate.
  • 1899 architectural practice Hobart Heron is founded.
  • 1905 Murray’s Erinmore tobacco politically-not-so-correct slogan is launched, ‘Don’t stop smoking because tax on tobacco has increased. It is your duty to the State to keep on smoking.’
  • 1911 Titanic sets sail with officers puffing on Murray’s Erinmore tobacco and guests eating off Liddell linen tablecloths.
  • 1913 Mr Liddell buys Enniskeen House.
  • 1930 Colonel Panter becomes owner, breathing new life into the interior. Hobart Heron reconfigures the main hall and adds panelling to the reception rooms.
  • 1940 Lindsay family take up residence but after three years widowed Mrs L moves out to a bungalow nearby.
  • 1958 Esme Porter purchases the down-at-heel house and gets busy sensitively converting it to a 12 bedroom hotel.
  • 1961 Colonel’s daughter Eveleigh Finola Margaret Panter marries Major William Stephen Brownlow.
  • 1966 Enniskeen House Hotel is now fully established and ready for the next half century of hospitality.
  • 1974 modern but sympathetic single storey porch and bathroom wing is added to the entrance front. Traces of tracery lend a suitably vague gothic air to the doorway and windows. The building is now an intriguing blend of 1890s, 1930s and 1970s styles. Welcome to informal retro.
  • 1978 A Guide to Irish Country Houses by Mark Bence-Jones is published but no mention of the elusive Enniskeen.
  • 1983 Esme’s son Ian Porter takes over the running of the hotel and the gardens of dewy multicoloured perfumed rhododendrons falling down to the Shimna River are restored.
  • 1994 Kimmitt Dean gives Enniskeen a mention in his publication on gatelodges, ‘To a faintly Scots Baronial roughcast pile, a contrasting Picturesque | Neoclassical stuccoed gatelodge.’
  • 2016 Hobart Heron continues to thrive as an architectural practice in Belfast.
  • 2016 Lavender’s Blue come to stay in the octagonal turret room, admiring the view through 12 panes of original liquidy glass, and have a rollicking good time.

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Porch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Side © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Turret Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Erinmore Tobacco © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shimna Valley © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle River Trail © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Flowers © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley