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.
- 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.