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Annaghmore House + Stables Sligo

Heir B+B

Annaghmore Sligo River © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sounding like a tongue twister,  Cooney, Collooney and Coolaney are villages in rural County Sligo. There are two major country houses on the edge of Collooney: Markree Castle and Annaghmore House. Until recently Markree was owned by the Cooper family. Charles Cooper rescued the demesne from demise by dereliction, successfully securing the castle’s future as a hotel.

Annaghmore Sligo View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Emerging out of the wooded driveway into the low autumnal glow, that breath before twilight, the stable block at Annaghmore comes into view ahead of the house. The intense assault of this place is immediate, evocative and sensory; it’s another world, a world full of magic things. The stable block is an accomplished symmetrical design. A plaque under the clock facing into the quadrangle declares “1864”. The clock hands don’t move. Like everything at Annaghmore, the stables are serene, unsullied. There are plans to sensitively convert one range into cottages to let.

Annaghmore Sligo Estate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore is the home of the O’Hara family who are relatives of the Coopers. Other O’Hara houses in County Sligo include Newpark in Ballymote and Coopershill in Riverstown. O’Harabrook in Ballymoney, County Antrim, is, as its name suggests, another O’Hara seat. Fortunately for country house fans, Durcan and Nicola O’Hara rent out a bedroom to guests. And what a bedroom! Their half acre room has great windows with dandelion yellow curtains framing the endless countryside. Well, 1,100 acres anyway of estate. The en suite bathroom shares the same panorama.

Annaghmore Sligo Walled Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Time is 20 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time,” explains Durcan, referring to his ancestors’ tradition. A sign in the library, propped against the blood red painted walls, lists the daily agenda for prayers, breakfast, luncheon and dinner, all of course set to Annaghmore Time. But really, it feels like time has stood still in this west of Ireland country house. Mysterious, beautiful.

Annaghmore Sligo Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Railings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Statue © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stable Block © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stables Courtyard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stable © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore House Sligo Bay © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Demolished Wing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Bay © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Rear Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Dog © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stairs © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Dado © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Plasterwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Bedroom Fireplace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Bedroom Wardrobe © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A drawing in the drawing room apparently shows the Georgian house, or an earlier proposed remodelling, which was evidently more modest than today’s sprawling pile. It illustrates a two storey three bay hipped roof main block with ground floor tripartite windows on either side of a columned porch. Two single storey two bay hipped roof wings with round headed windows augment the entrance front. Either way, “It looks much more manageable!” laughs Durcan. The house certainly must have been much more manageable until an ancestor commissioned the distinguished architect James Franklin Fuller to jazz things up.

Annaghmore Sligo Mirror © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The architect was very young. This was possibly his first commission,” he surmises. That could help explain the exuberance of scale. The house was transformed from a villa to a mansion. One of the most interesting interventions is a sweeping staircase lit by a tall stained glass window. The staircase swoops into a bow with an overhead fanlight of leafy plasterwork. The seafoam green painted walls are filled with family portraits. One is of “Reverend Hitchinson Hamilton, Eldest Son of the Very Reverend John Hamilton, Dean of Dromore and Frances his Wife, Daughter of the Right Reverend Bishop Hutchinson, died July 1st 1778”.

Annaghmore Sligo Clock © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“There was an earlier 1600s house,” Durcan continues. “It was between the current house and the stables. All the driveways intersect at that focal point.” His grandfather demolished most of one wing of the fulsome house, leaving behind a ground floor room which is now the games room. Mid 20th century French doors open onto a terrace, a cool heaven undisturbed by the silent falling of the leaves. At night, bats dart and swoop past its great windows.

Annaghmore Sligo Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A conveniently positioned plank acts as a drawbridge for their 20 year old cat to climb over the dry moat that surrounds the basement. Two orphan sheep mow the lawns. Five dogs accompany walks through the 10 acre walled garden. Back in Uncle Charlie’s day, Durcan relates, there were 20,000 acres and a full complement of staff. Uncle Charlie lived the dream. One photograph in a corridor shows the merry bachelor with his pack of hounds; another, his polo team. The dream faded when he died in 1947. The greenhouses and formal planting in the walled garden are a distant memory. But the main rooms of the house are all still fully used and fires are lit throughout, from bursting dawn to some new moon. Translunar paradise.

Annaghmore Sligo Wallpaper Fragment © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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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.