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.
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 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 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.
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.
“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”.
“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.
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.