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Collon House Louth +

For You Have Been Our Refuge

“You will enjoy Collon and the arresting parterre garden,” predicts Ireland’s foremost neoclassicist John O’Connell.

Maurice Craig wrote an article in Country Life, 1949, Some Smaller Irish Houses, “Most of the great houses of Ireland have received some descriptive attention, first from the Irish Georgian Society, and more recently from Country Life. At the other end of the social scale the Irish cottage has interested field geographers and anthropologists such as Dr Estyn Evans (Irish Heritage, 1942). But in between there are, in Ireland as in England, a number of those ‘middling’ houses which are the backbone of vernacular architecture. Social cleavages in the great building age were sharper in Ireland than in England, so that the middle class and its monuments were less numerous than in England. But they existed nonetheless, in both town and country, and their houses are not without distinctive qualities which repay study. Neither ‘big houses nor ‘cabins’, they range from farmhouses to gentlemen farmhouses.”

In the same publication 27 years later, John Cornforth worried in an article Tourism and Irish Country Houses, “With planning and preservation arrangements in town and country still in their infancy, there is nothing to stop a purchaser buying a historic demesne for its land, splitting it up, developing it and abandoning the house.” From earls and girls in pearls to manners and manors, cut to 2022 and the current Architectural Editor of Country Life, Jeremy Musson tells us, “I’m a curious house guest, writing about Irish country houses for a British magazine, Country Life. It’s a personal odyssey. The tall walls, owners with a disarming sense of humour … Irish country houses have a special flavour. I rarely get to bed before midnight! Country Life’s publication of Irish houses is an erratic study. Country Life was established in 1897; Powerscourt House in County Wicklow was published two years later. The magazine’s founder Edward Hudson is reported to have said, ‘Lismore Castle in County Waterford I believe is very photographable.’ Mount Stewart in County Down was featured in 1935.”

Jeremy relates, “Irish houses had far larger numbers of servants than English ones and greater hospitality. The complexity of servants’ basements contrasts with the simplicity of the layout of the main rooms above. Lissadell in County Sligo is a classic example of this arrangement. My first Country Life article was Russborough in County Wicklow. I covered Farmleigh in Dublin in 1999 and Killadoon in County Kildare in 2004. I also wrote up Castle Leslie in County Monaghan in 1999. Sir Jack Leslie loved going to the local disco – he said ‘Dancing shakes up the liver!’ I remember a dinner at Drenagh in County Londonderry. Mid course, cattle invaded the lawn so we all ran outside to chase the cows away!” Somewhere needs a haha. “In 2015 I covered Kilboy House in County Tipperary, probably the most ambitious Irish country house project in recent times. Country Life is the recording angel of the Irish country house and it continues to beguile.”

Another architectural historian, Roger White, shared with us this year, “The aristocracy and gentry in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice novel had limitless leisure hours, filling some of them by visiting country houses.” And that brings us rather nicely to sitting in the music room of Collon House, County Louth. We’re guests of owners John Bentley-Dunne and Michael McMahon. “Collon House is actually three houses around a courtyard which I inherited in 1995,” explains John. “The interiors were Victorianised so we wanted to bring them back to their original Georgian appearance. The restoration took 10 years. We reinserted correct glazing bars and shutters for the windows.”

Collon House is not quite a big house and certainly not a cabin. It’s a large middling size house. “I am not sure why Anthony Foster, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, ended up building a house in this village location in 1740. His son John was the last Speaker of the Irish Commons until its dissolution by The Act of Union in 1800. It is an example of an Irish ‘long house’. The Speaker’s descendants recently came from England to visit the house.” John O’Connell says, “‘Speaker’ Foster built Mount Oriel Temple a few kilometres north of Collon. Its pedimented portico was inspired by The Temple of the Winds. The house had a room with a series of grisaille paintings by Peter de Gree which I believe ended up at Luttrellstown Castle outside Dublin.” Mount Oriel Temple is much altered and under the ownership of Cistercian monks.

“It all started with an overspill at Tankardstown House in neighbouring County Meath,” intrigues John. “The owners asked if we could take some staying guests as they were full. The rest is history.” Canopy Room, Chinese Room, Speaker Foster’s Room, French Room, Massereene Room … there’s accommodation for 22 guests at Collon House. Modern conveniences are discreet: those one metre deep walls and oversized landings come in handy for adding en suite bathrooms.

We join our distinguished fellow guests from Richmond, Virginia, for a candlelit and evening sunlit dinner of Irish country house portions and Irish country house hotel standard in the dining room. Starter is seafood cocktail wrapped in smoked salmon in seafood sauce followed by pea and coriander soup. Limoncello with lemon shavings forms the palate cleanser. When in Rome! Smoked salmon, butter mash, baby tomatoes, baby carrots and broccoli are something of the national tricolour on a plate. Lemon continues as a theme with sorbet pudding. Michael serves; John is busy in the kitchen. Coffee and chocolates are enjoyed in the music room across the staircase hall and garden hall lobby. Just in time to look out across the sunken parterre garden. Box edged flowerbeds are filled with asters, delphinium, helenium and phlox. The planting is so complementary to the tulips and hosta surrounding the fountain in the courtyard.

We enjoyed Collon and the arresting parterre garden.

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No.3 Wine Bar + Restaurant Collon Louth

You Have Given Us the Heritage

It’s Ireland’s most fulfilling crossroads. All worldly and spiritual needs are catered for where Kells Road and Main Street crisscross with Ardee Street and Church Street. No box goes unticked. Afternoon wine? Donegan’s Pub to the north of the crossroads. Evening wine? No.3 Wine Bar to the south. Dinner with wine? No.3 Restaurant, still south. Nightcap wine and four poster bed? Collon House to the northeast. Sunday morning service? Collon Church of Ireland to the southwest.

Donegan’s arrived on the Collon scene in 1870 as a pub and grocery shop. Not an unusual combination a century and a half ago – often there was an undertaker’s added into the mix to make such establishments one stop shops so to speak (“a stiff drink” takes on a whole new double entendre in rural Ireland). The fire is lit, the racing is on the telly, and the craic is almighty. A 20 paned tripartite window frames glorious bursts of sunshine one minute and torrential downpours of rain the next.

Mother and son team Martina and Wayne Fitzpatrick established No.3 Wine Bar and restaurant a mere seven years ago and have been racking up national, province and county level plaudits ever since: 11 awards and seven recommendations to date. You can eat and drink outdoors, indoors ground floor or mezzanine. The menu is illustrated in Gatsbyesque style. Jay Gatsby, sorry the dapper Wayne Fitzpatrick, explains, “We grow our own organic fruit and vegetables on site in our kitchen garden. Silverskin onions, beetroot, gooseberries and blueberries are just some of our home produce.” The Jazz Age is alive and kicking in No.3 although thankfully there’s no prohibition. Just plenty of fanciable flappers.

Ah, Collon House: that’s somewhere to write home about.

And so to church. Or maybe not, as Collon Church of Ireland is currently closed for restoration. The Foster family, local landed gentry who lived on the other side of the crossroads in Collon House, built the first Anglican church in 1764 before the current building replaced it half a century later. The impressive Tudor Gothic church was designed by the incumbent priest Daniel Augustus Beaufort. Not bad going for an amateur architect. He also published a Memoir of Ireland, a sort of academic 19th century Lonely Planet guide. And he was a founder of the Royal Irish Academy. Quite the multihyphenate life. The Reverend Beaufort’s father was a French Huguenot refugee who became Pastor of the Huguenot Church in Spitalfields, London. That building, known as Hanbury Hall, is now the Church Hall of Christ Church Spitalfields. A circularity of Anglicanism is at play. Daniel Augustus Beaufort sure knew a thing or two about creating a catchy silhouette.

“‘Wine makes me feel all tingly, doesn’t it you?’ chattered Miss Masters gaily,” writes Frances Scott Fitzgerald in O Russet Witch, his 1922 Tale of the Jazz Age. “‘I love you too, Merlin,’ she answered simply. ‘Shall we have another bottle of wine?’ ‘Yes,’ he cried, his heart beating at a great rate. ‘Do you mean –’ ‘To drink to our engagement,’ she interrupted bravely. ‘May it be a short one!’ ‘No!’ he almost shouted, bringing his fist fiercely down upon the table. ‘May it last forever!’ ‘What?’ ‘I mean – oh I see what you mean. You’re right. May it be a short one.’”