Braving Storm Ciara, on a blustery photogenic winter’s day, architect John O’Connell and his client Managing Director David Wilson lead a two-to-two private tour of Montalto Estate: The Big House; The Carriage Rooms; and the most recent addition, The Courtyard. It’s an extraordinary tale of the meeting of minds, the combining of talents, a quest for the best and the gradual unveiling and implementation of an ambitious informed vision that has transformed one of the great estates of Ulster into an enlightening major attraction celebrating old and new architecture, art and landscape, history and modernity. And the serving of rather good scones in the café.
Philip Smith has just completed the latest book in the architectural series of the counties of Ulster started by the late Sir Charles Brett. Buildings of South County Down includes Montalto House: “Adding a storey to a house by raising the roof is a relatively common occurrence that can be found on dwellings of all sizes throughout the county and beyond. But the reverse, the creation of an additional floor by lowering the ground level, is a much rarer phenomenon. This, however, is what happened at Montalto, the original mid 18th century mansion assuming its present three storey appearance in 1837, when then owner David Stewart Ker ‘caused to be excavated round the foundation and under the house, thus forming an under-storey which is supported by numerous arches and pillars’. Ker did a quite successful job, and although the relative lack of front ground floor fenestration and a plinth appears somewhat unusual, it is not jarring, and without knowledge of the building’s history one would be hard pressed to discern the subterranean origin of this part of the house.”
The author continues, “Based on the internal detailing, Brett has suggested that William Vitruvius Morrison may have had a hand in the scheme, but evidence recently uncovered by Kevin Mulligan indicates the house remodelling was at least in part the work of Newtownards builder architect Charles Campbell, whose son Charles in September 1849 ‘came by his death in consequence of a fall which he received from a scaffold whilst pinning a wall at Montalto House.’”
Rewind a few decades and Mark Bence-Jones’ threshold work A Guide to Irish Country Houses describes Montalto House as follows, “A large and dignified three storey house of late Georgian aspect; which, in fact was built mid 18th century as a two storey house by Sir John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira; who probably brought the stuccodore who was working for him at Moira House in Dublin to execute the ceiling here; for the ceiling which survives in the room known as the Lady’s Sitting Room is pre 1765 and of the very highest quality, closely resembling the work of Robert West; with birds, grapes, roses and arabesques in high relief. There is also a triple niche of plasterwork at one end of the room; though the central relief of a fox riding in a curricle drawn by a cock is much less sophisticated that the rest of the plasterwork and was probably done by a local man.”
Some more: “In the 1837 ground floor there is an imposing entrance hall, with eight paired Doric columns, flanked by a library and a dining room. A double staircase leads up to the piano nobile, where there is a long gallery running the full width of the house, which may have been the original entrance hall. Also on the piano nobile is the sitting room with the splendid 18th century plasterwork. Montalto was bought circa 1910 by the 5th Earl of Clanwilliam, whose bride refused to live at Gill Hall, the family seat a few miles to the west, because of the ghosts there. In 1952, the ballroom and a service wing at the back were demolished.”
Books aside, back on the tour, David Wilson considers, “You need to stay on top of your game in business. Montalto House was our family home – we still live on the estate. It’s personal. You have to maintain the vision all the time.” John O’Connell explains, “The baseless Doric columns of the entrance hall draw the exterior in – they are also an external feature of the porch. The order is derived from the Temple of Neptune at Paestum. Due to the ground floor originally being a basement it is very subservient to the grandeur upstairs. There are a lot of structural arches supporting ceilings.” A watercolour of the Temple of Neptune over the entrance hall fireplace emphasises the archaeological connection.
Upstairs, John’s in mid flow: “And now we enter a corridor of great grace and elegance.” The walls are lined, like all the internal spaces, with fine art, much of it Irish. David points to a Victorian photograph of the house: “It used to be three times as large as it is now!” The house is still pretty large by most people’s standards. Three enigmatic ladies in ankle length dresses guard the entrance door in the photograph. Upstairs, in the Lady’s Sitting Room which is brightly lit by the canted bay window over the porch, David relates, “the plasterwork reflects the original owners’ great interest in flora and fauna”. John highlights “the simple beauty of curtains and walls being the same colour”. Montalto House can be let as a whole for weddings and parties.
Onward and sideward – it’s a leisurely walk, at least when a storm isn’t brewing – to The Carriage Rooms. While John has restored Montalto House, finessing its architecture and interiors, The Carriage Rooms is an entirely new building attached to a converted and restored former mill. “In the 1830s the Ker family made a huge agricultural investment in Montalto,” states David. “They had the insight to turn it into a productive estate. The Kers built the mill and stables and powered water to create the lake.” White painted rendered walls distinguish John’s building from the rough stone older block. The Carriage Rooms are tucked in a fold in the landscape and are reached by a completely new avenue lined with plantation trees.
“I didn’t want to prettify this former industrial building,” records John. “It needed a certain robustness. The doors and windows have Crittall metal frames. Timbers frames would not be forceful enough. The stone cast staircase is a great achievement in engineering terms – and architectural terms too! The new upper floor balcony design was inspired by the architecture of the Naples School of Art. Horseshoe shaped insets soften the otherwise simple balustrade.” In contrast the orangery attached to the rear of The Carriage Rooms is a sophisticated symmetrical affair. “It’s where two worlds meet. This gives great validity to the composition,” John observes. Much of the furniture is bespoke: architect Anna Borodyn from John’s office designed a leaf patterned mobile copper bar. A formal garden lies beyond glazed double doors. The Carriage Rooms can be let as a whole for parties and weddings.
Justifiably lower key is the design of The Courtyard, a clachan like cluster of single and double storey buildings containing a café, shop and estate offices. It’s next to the 19th century stable yard. John’s practice partner Colin McCabe was the mastermind behind The Courtyard. Unpainted roughcast walls, casement rather than sash windows, polished concrete floors and most of all large glazed panels framed by functioning sliding shutters lend the complex an altogether different character to The Big House or even The Carriage Rooms. The Courtyard harks back to the Kers’ working estate era. “We wanted to create a sense of place using a magical simple vocabulary,” confirms John, “and not some bogus facsimile”. A catslide roof provides shelter for a barbeque. An unpretentious pergola extends the skeleton of the built form into the garden.
“We have over 10,000 visitors a month and employ 80 people,” beams David. The 160 hectares of gardens and woodlands have entered their prime. A new timber temple – a John O’Connell creation of course – overlooks the lake. Contemporary neoclassicism is alive and very well. The Beautiful. The Sublime. The Picturesque. As redefined for the 21st century. Montalto Estate hits the high note for cultural tourism in Ireland, even mid storm.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Surprisingly Tyrella House isn’t covered by Burke or Brett. Lavender’s Blue gladly fill the gap, plug the hole, step ointo the breach. Surprising, that is, considering it’s a roomy building of historical, architectural and social significance, twice as deep as it’s wide, lumber rooms uncounted, holding court amidst low lying greenery. First glimpse (through a verdurous vista) from the sweeping driveway past the hillside sham fort (every entrance should have one) is of a squarish main block five bays side on, four bays frontal. A neoclassical beauty; architecture’s acme: Augustus’s vision and Maecenas’s taste and Dostoevsky’s nuances set in stone. The house’s character changes when viewed from the garden. The far side, which will be moonlit later, is elongated by a long lower less imposing wing. This arrangement has adapted well to Tyrella’s 21st century modus operandi. The main block is open to paying guests under the gilded parasol of The Hidden Ireland while the owner, David Corbett, lives to the rear. Another of the group’s seaside properties, almost dipping its toes in the water of Woodstown Bay, is the supremely suave Gaultier Lodge, where the owners live most of the year below the guest rooms in a lower ground floor. “Houses in The Hidden Ireland,” explains David, “must be owner occupied.”
Princess Diana famously quipped “three’s a crowd” but clearly squires of 18th century Ulster disagreed. Tripartite windows were all the rage. Their legacy is a series of glazed triptychs framing views of the countryside. And draughts – ménage à froid. The entrance front of Tyrella has pearly twin sets. Fellow Mournes mansion Ballywillwill House likewise has four. Clady House Dunadry has five; Glenganagh House Ballyholme, six; Drumnabreeze House and Grace Hall Magheralin neighbours, eight; Craigmore House Aghagallon, 10; Crevenagh House Omagh, numberless. Tyrella’s windows are even more special, stretching head to toe, and like Montalto’s, skirt the driveway. Standing in the regal dining room is like “Hardwick Hall more windows than wall”. Soon, silverware will sparkle in the candlelight. Pictures and conversations will merge. Sitting in the princely drawing room is like being immersed in Elizabeth Bowen’s description of her home, “The few large living rooms at Bowen’s Court are, thus, a curious paradox – a great part of their walls being window glass, they are charged with the light, smell and colour of the prevailing weather; at the same time they are very indoors, urbane, hypnotic, not easily left.” Lying on the queen size bed as the internal pale transitory colours of the hour fade, dreams past and future are present. Outside, framed by the curved sashes of the half oriel window, across silent lawns, the tamed headland lies submerged in shadow, the ridge of the Mournes melting into silver drifts of cloud alight with gold, lilac, mauve and pink lining.
The original architect isn’t known but whoever he was, the outcome is a meeting of métier and form, augmented and mellowed through the ages. According to illustrious architect John O’Connell, “This is a very accomplished Georgian box, as they used to say.” Architectural aficionado Nick Sheaff reckons it is “an incredibly elegant country house, and in some ways it reminds me of James Gandon’s Abbeville”. Better known as Charlie Haughey’s old gaf. Charles Plante, the celebrated director of Charles Plante Fine Arts, says, “I love the front dripping with ivy and the chic Regency bow window.” Three arched openings – a window on either side of the entrance door, are framed by a slim Doric portico celebrating the triglyph’s verticality, the architrave’s horizontality and the proportional totality of the order. Not dissimilar really to the central arrangement of Clandeboye’s garden front. “It’s Tuscan Doric,” confirms Country Life contributor Dr Roderick O’Donnell. “Tuscan is rural, countrified, perfectly correct for this type of house. The window proportions are dictated by the portico. That’s particularly attractive.” A stained glass window of the Craig family crest in the study is a leftover from previous owners. Notable family members included the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Sir James “Not an Inch” Craig (1st Viscount Craigavon) and his architect and yacht designer brother Vincent who combined both his skills at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club Ballyholme. The 3rd and last Viscount, Janric Craig, born in 1944, sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. A retired accountant, he has a handy flat on Little Smith Street, Westminster.
Vincent clearly employed his skills closer to home as well. At home. Tyrella features his signature idiosyncratic fenestration. No fewer than four oeils de boeuf grace the garden front. Charles Plante reckons, “The garden front is charming. The bull’s eye window in the gable is really special.” Most extraordinary of all, amidst the blaze of Arts and Crafts stained glass, is the first floor upper casement window which projects at an acute angle to appear permanently ajar. Zany stuff. “Vincent more than likely introduced the ceiling beams and light fitting to the hall,” suggests David. “And he designed the hall fireplace. It’s very Malone Roadsy!” This airy space is painted a deep ochre which Charles Plante calls “John Fowler orange”. Upstairs Free Style panelling looks suspiciously Vincentian. A bit of Cadogan Park here, a bit of Deramore Park there. So does the recently reinstated conservatory. “The conservatory is actually almost entirely new except for the brickwork. It took three years to recreate. The pale green paint inside is the original colour.” Maybe Tyrella House isn’t quite the chunk of Georgiana it first appears to be. “The middle bit behind the new Regency addition,” he explains, “is William and Mary.” The house used to be even bigger. “My father demolished about a third of the house – the cream room, jam room, butler’s pantry, the dark kitchen and so on.”
Tyrella was the seat of Reverend George Hamilton and his wife Ann Matilda (daughter of the 5th Earl of Macclesfield) at the close of the 18th century. Rural legend has it that the Reverend used the stones from the old local church to rebuild the house in 1800. Arthur Hill Montgomery bought the estate in 1831 aged 36. Six years later, Samuel Lewis records in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, “Tyrella House, the handsome residence of A H Montgomery Esq, is beautifully situated in a richly planted demesne of 300 acres, commanding extensive views over the bay, with the noble range of the Mourne Mountains in the background, and containing within its limits the size and cemetery of the ancient parish church.” Arthur was the fourth son of Hugh Montgomery of Greyabbey House down the road. Bill Montgomery, a great-great-something-great-grandson of Hugh, still resides at Greyabbey with his wife Daphne. Their daughter is the actress Flora Montgomery who’s married to the owner of 1 Lombard Street restaurant. “I hate to disappoint you,” David says on the subject of ghosts. “All the people have sold the house and went on to do something else. Spent money on it, changed hands. I don’t miss ghosts, wouldn’t want one.”
Descendants of the last owners, the Robert Neill and Sons Ltd dynasty, recall early 20th century life at Tyrella, in a Lavender’s Blue exclusive. Coline Grover says, “I lived in the house with my grandparents, and relatives various, from 1940 until they sold it in 1949, and moved with them to Old Forge House in Malone, south Belfast. Tyrella House was wonderful with a swing house underneath the nursery wing. It was incorporated into the property and had two marks on the ceiling where if you went high enough your feet touched the ceiling! And there was a rock garden with a two storey playhouse called Spider House.” Coline’s cousin-in-law Ian Elliott adds, “The Georgian house had a boudoir and some lovely Arts and Crafts additions – and that fabulous view to the Mournes. It was bought by the Neill family – brothers Jack, Samuel and William – as part of their businesses (coal, construction, farming etc) in the 1920s after the 1st World War. They already owned East Downshire Fuels in Dundrum as well as Neill’s Coal in Bangor, Kingsberry Coal and Bloomfield Farm (where the shopping centre is now). The family circle elected Billy Neill to live and farm there with his wife Vera. She was formerly Phelps from Kent, a direct descendant of Jane Lane who helped Charles II escape from the Battle of Worcester in the 1640s. They raised their three children (including Berry) there. The Corbetts (whiskey distillers from Banbridge) have owned it since 1949.” Coline’s brother Guthrie Barrett concurs that “Billy Neill sold Tyrella in 1949”.
“I haven’t been back to Tyrella House since 1949,” says nonagenarian Beresford Neill, otherwise known as Uncle Berry. He lives in Malone now. “A most wonderful childhood. Absolutely beautiful. Tyrella was completely and utterly the back of beyond. For goodness sake, it was completely feudal. There were no neighbours. We had our own entrance into the church next door and our own pew.” Berry’s on a roll: “My father got married in February 1917. He bought the estate: 300 acres; a 3.5 acre walled garden; 48 rooms.” Althorp has 90 rooms. Although what constitutes a room is a moot point. Lumber rooms, anyone? “There was no electricity. In 1906 a gas heating machine was installed. It had huge pipes and a great big cage in the kitchen. There was no telephone until 1933. How mama coped I don’t know. We’d a cook, housemaid and three gardeners. There were three bathrooms – one for staff, two for the family. We always had dogs – mostly Labradors. There was a large wood to the side of the house and a rock garden. The rocks were transported in 1890 from Scrabo to Tullymurry by train, then by horse and cart. It was a tremendous effort!”
Berry reminisces, “In 1944 I enlisted as a private soldier in the Rifle Brigade. It’s now called the Rifles. It was a very swish regiment. After the War I got transferred to Ballykinler Camp. I spent the whole of 1946 there. I’d a marvellous time! I could walk over the fields from Tyrella to Ballykinler in 10 minutes.” Life wasn’t uneventful, even at isolated Tyrella. “We had the most enormous beech tree but a storm split it down the middle. It was sawn up by a gardener of course but a stump remained. One quiet Sunday afternoon I decided to blow up the remains of the tree. I thought I was the last word in explosives! I got seven anti-tank mines, made a fuse, and set them off. Bang! The birds stopped singing. Silence. Then… tinkle tinkle. The windows shattered. Sheer bloody stupidity! I should’ve opened the windows first!”
“We don’t usually open to paying guests in November,” signs David, due to ignorant comments about temperature levels inside the house midwinter. Some people really don’t get it, do they? First of all, welcome to Northern Ireland. The clue is in the first part of the Province’s name. Mind you, Huntington Castle in the south of Ireland suffers from the same issue. Secondly, if you want over-insulated overheated rooms check into a hotel. Don’t stay in an Irish country house. They don’t do double glazing or underfloor heating. But they do have lashings of character, history and art; uncompromised aesthetics; and endlessly entertaining hosts. What about open fires in marble surrounds? De rigeur. Like those other majestic Hidden Ireland gems, Hilton Park and Temple House, heavy curtains and concertina shutters in Tyrella’s guest bedrooms put to sleep any worries of chilly discomfort. A newly installed biomass boiler also helps. “I’ve still kept the 1906 boiler with its original instruction manual. It’s beautiful – like a beast of a furnace on the Titanic.”
And bags at dawn. Peering over the bedroom landing, the oval staircase resembles a gargantuan pencil sharpening, a bannister bordered carpeted curlicue, a variation on the Fibonacci spiral. Downstairs, breakfast is laid out country house style – buffet on the sideboard. “I do recommend Lindy Dufferin’s Greek Style Yoghurt,” says David. Distinguished historian Dr Frances Sands announced recently at 20 St James’s Square: “Breakfast was the only meal of the day you served yourself. That’s why there is side furniture in the breakfast room. If there is no separate breakfast room, really then the dining room should be referred to as the eating room. There was a huge fear of odour in Georgian times. The eating room would’ve had no curtains, carpet or silk wall hangings. Seating would’ve been leather.” The dining room or should it be eating room was once the billiard room according to the host of Tyrella House.
It is impossible to leave Tyrella without mentioning the beach. The Mountains of Mourne thrillingly tower over miles of unspoiled golden strand between Clough and Killough (interchangeable townlets after a G+T). “It is no secret that Northern Ireland is home to some of the world’s greatest writers,” brags the local tourist board, “Lavender’s Blue,Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Louis MacNeice and of course, C S Lewis.” This part of County Down was C S Lewis’s childhood holiday destination and provided literary fodder for Narnia: “I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards, which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge.” Coline Grover concludes, “Tyrella Beach never changes of course.”
Credits Guthrie Barrett, David Corbett, Ian Elliott, Coline Grover, Berry Neill
At the turn of the 21st century Edenderry Church of Ireland published a short history of its parish in the Diocese of Derry. Or Derry-Londonderry-Derry. The authors were Sue Darling and David Harrow. Back then Mrs Darling was châtelaine of Crevenagh House on the outskirts of Omagh County Tyrone. Not long afterwards she sold the seat and the furniture in it, innit.
Darling Harrow, ‘In 1656, John Corry purchased the manor of Castle Coole from Henry and Gartrid St Leger. His great granddaughter, Sarah Corry, in 1733, married Galbraith Corry, son of Robert Lowry and, about the year 1764, assumed the name Corry in addition to that of Lowry. From this union are descended the Earls of Belmore, and, most if not all, the townlands of the parish passed to the Belmore family. In 1852 and 1853, the following townlands were sold to the Encumbered Estates Court: Arvalee, Aghagallon, Cranny, Crevenagh, Edenderry, Galbally, Garvaghy, Lisahoppin, Recarson and Tattykeel.’
Townland and Country
P McAleer in Townland Names of County Tyrone and their Meanings, 1936, writes that Crevenagh means ‘A branchy place’. It still is. Like most Irish townlands, the name has had a few variations: Cravana, Cravanagh, Cravena, Cravnagh, Creevanagh before landing on Crevenagh.
Crevenagh House was the seat of the Auchinleck family. David Eccles Auchinleck was born on 16 October 1797 and died on 3 March 1849. He was the youngest son of the Reverend Alexander Auchinleck and Jane Eccles of Rossory, County Fermanagh. In the early 19th century David bought land at Crevenagh from Lord BelmontBelmore to build a home. Later he bought more land from the good Lord to build a church, Edenderry Church. Said church was consecrated two years before David’s death.
On 16 January 1837 David’s eldest son Thomas Auchinleck was born. He married Jane Loxdale from Liverpool. Thomas died on 1 February 1893, leaving Jane a widow at Crevenagh House for the next 24 years. Their son David married Madaline Scott of Dungannon. He was killed in action at Ypres in 1914 while serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. His widow stayed with her mother-in-law until she died in 1921 and then on her own until her death in 1948.
Matters of the Heart
On the demise of Mrs Auchinleck (Aunt Mado to all) her nephew Colonel Ralph Darling inherited Crevenagh House. He got hitched to Moira Moriarty of Edenderry. In 1953 the Colonel and Mrs Darling threw a Coronation Party for the young people of Edenderry Parish. Ralph died five years later.
Gerald Ralph Auchinleck Darling inherited Crevenagh House from his father. Although he continued his career as a barrister in London, Gerald considered Crevenagh his home, returning there as often as possible. In 1954 he married Susan Hobbs from Perth (nope not Scotland). They had two children, Fiona and Patrick. Gerald retired from London in 1990 six years before his death.
Gerald was a cousin of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, 1884 to 1981 (The Auk to all). The Auk was a frequent visitor to Crevenagh House. The Field Marshal is commemorated in Edenderry Church: ‘The plaque, the design of which is identical to the memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral, was erected beside others to members of the Auchinleck family, most of whom were killed in action.’
Crevenagh House is an architectural delight. Pure joy. Tight and bipartite and tripartite and quadripartite windows shimmer against cut stone walls that dramatically darken in the dripping Irish rain. Crimson coloured window frames and doors resemble the red rimmed eyes of an aging beauty peering across an unsettling landscape, weeping as time goes by. The charming formal symmetrical entrance front gives way to quasi symmetrical side elevations before finally wild abandon bleeds across the asymmetrical rear elevation.
Wine Dark Sea of Homer
A perky pepperpot gatehouse signposts the main entrance to the estate. The house is approached via a gently curving driveway up the hillside. To the left, views of it romantically unfold. Unusually, Crevenagh is twice as deep as it’s wide thanks to one owner ambitiously fattening the size of the original block. Over to Mark Bence-Jones,
‘A two storey house built circa 1820 by D E Auchinleck, great uncle of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck. Three bay entrance front with Wyatt windows in both storeys and projecting porch. Three bay side with central Wyatt window in both storeys. A slightly lower two storey range was subsequently added by D E Auchinleck’s son, Major Thomas Auchinleck, behind the original block and parallel with it; its end, which has a single storey bow, forming a continuation of the side elevation, to which it is joined by a short single storey link. The principal rooms in the main block have good plasterwork ceilings, and the hall has a mosaic floor depicting the Seven Ages of Man. There are doors made of mahogany from the family plantations in Demerara.’
Lot 1a Crevenagh House (two hectares): ‘A tree lined avenue leads from the public highway to the house which faces south and west over its own grounds. The Georgian house, built circa 1820 for the Auchinlecks, is a fine example of a period residence, set in rolling lawns and woodland. The house has remained in the same family ownership since it was built.
There is a self contained and separately accessed staff or guest accommodation to the rear of the house. To the south of the stable block there is a south facing walled garden of approximately one hectare surrounded by a brick wall, stone faced on the exterior. The southern boundary is formed by a pond.’
Lots and Lots
Lot 1(b) Stable Block (0.1 hectares): ‘The stables are located within the grounds of Crevenagh House and provide an opportunity to purchase and develop attractive stable buildings and a yard for residential purposes. Planning permission was granted on 26 October 1999 for conversion into three residential units.’
Going Going Gone
Lot 2 Hill Field (four hectares): ‘An area of south sloping pasture land divided into two fields. The fields are zoned for housing within Omagh development limits: Omagh Area Plan, 1987 to 2002. A planning application has not been submitted and prospective purchasers should rely on their own inquiries of the Planning Authority.’
Lot 3 Orchard Field (3.6 hectares): ‘This area of approximately four hectares lies to the east of Crevenagh House and is bordered by woodland. The south facing lands are not presently allocated for development but there may be longer term potential.’
Until the End of Time
Lot 4 The Holm (3.9 hectares): ‘This field, with access from Crevenagh road under the old railway bridge, is bordered by the Drumragh River. The lands are presently used for agricultural and recreational purposes. Parts of this Lot will be affected by the new road throughpass but a portion of the remainder may have some development potential, subject to planning approval.’