Luggala of the North
Driving uphill out of Newry through Bessbrook suddenly on the righthand side behind a stone wall is a brilliant flash of mustard between the thinning greenery and vibrant orange of late autumn. Aha! It’s Derrymore House, a cottage orné on a grand scale. And a very charming one at that. John Richardson, its last private owner, donated the unfurnished house and its demesne to The National Trust in 1952. In that era of architectural freezing in aspic, a sympathetic three bay extension containing an entrance hall with a central fanlighted doorcase was demolished. The early 19th century extension filled the gap on the north elevation to complete a courtyard. Derrymore was returned to its original late 18th century magnet or long C shape. A purist approach indeed.
The name Derrymore originates from ‘doire’, the Irish for an oak grove, and ‘mór’ which means large. It formed part of the lands owned by the O’Hanlons before being taken over by the Earls of Kilmorey who were based at Mourne Park in Kilkeel. It came into the ownership of Isaac Corry who built the current house in 1776 as his residence, not just a hunting lodge or summer retreat. Architect unknown: possibly John Sutherland who designed the landscaping. Isaac Corry was an MP for Newry for three decades and the last Chancellor of the Irish Parliament before the Act of Union in 1800. Politically, he swung both ways.
There are two canted bay windows: one with 82 small panes; the other, 90. At first glance, this would seem extravagant for Isaac Corry was responsible for introducing the Window Tax in Ireland. But he would have benefitted from a loophole that any window could be considered as one for taxation purposes if it was divided into portions less than a foot (30.5 centimetres) wide. Commercial pressure and building regulations dictating design are not a new phenonomen.
Derrymore is the forerunner to a spate of single storey (or at least just one level over basement) modest country houses erected in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in mid to south Ulster, especially around Rostrevor. A thatched roof draws Derrymore closer to cottage than country house in appearance although not in scale. Hugh Dixon explains in An Introduction to Ulster Architecture, 1973, “Occasionally the two traditions merge into a picturesque, Georgian vernacular style which is Ulster’s alone… undoubtedly the most ambitiously developed example of the type is the house built by Isaac Corry at Derrymore near Newry in County Armagh. Adopting both traditional materials and ‘architectural’ features like quatrefoil windows topped with label mouldings, the building is arranged as a series of small units round an open court.” There is a formality to the elevations, especially the symmetrical southwest facing garden front, at odds with the provincial roof material. A classic cottage orné combo.
Before he died in 2005, Sir Charles Brett, architectural commentator and contributor to Ulster Architect magazine did a U turn on his view of bungalows in Ireland. As Chairman of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, he was a strong advocate of terraced houses. But in his later years, Charlie declared bungalows in many ways to be the rightful Irish vernacular, or at least an inheritor of the traditional cottage form. That is, single storey, rectilinear, narrow, practical.