Architecture People

Dunree Head + Fort Dunree Donegal

Whistling Down the Wind

The museum café boasts of having “the best view in Ireland”. It might well but only for at most 364 days a year: for much of today any view can only be measured in metres not kilometres. A swirl of fog and mist and rain blows in from the Atlantic Ocean. There’s far flung and there’s Dunree Head – next stop Malin Head, the most northwesterly tip of Ireland meriting a mention on the Shipping Forecast. And after that, next stop Iceland. Dunree Head juts into Lough Swilly, one of County Donegal’s many waterways.

In Irish “Loch Súilí” means “Lake of Shadows”. It is one of three glacial fjords in Ireland and is flanked on both sides by hilly peninsulae: Fanad to the west, Inishowen to the east. Dunree is in the Parish of Desertegney, Inishowen. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835, record: “Lough Swilly, though not the most frequented, is the best and safest harbour on the north coast of Ireland. It is, from its conflux with the ocean to Ballyraine Bridge, by the ship’s course, about 23 Irish miles and a half long. Mariners allow that it would afford secure anchorage to the whole British Navy. It is encumbered with but few rocks without the tide mark and these, except Swilly Rocks, are out of the ship’s course in and not dangerous. The bottom from the very entrance is clean sand. It holds well and ships may anchor almost anywhere within it, but the most secure anchoring places are Buncrana Castle or off the river in (according to the size of the vessel) from two to eight fathoms, or at Rathmullan.” One of the most significant events in Irish history occurred on the opposite side of the lough at Rathmullan. In 1607, the Flight of the Earls marked the end of the Gaelic order in Ireland and paved the way for the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scottish settlers.

Lough Swilly continued down the ages to be the setting for high drama on the high sea. Fanad Lighthouse was built following the wrecking of HMS Saldanha. In 1911, this Royal Navy frigate struck rocks near Fanad Head, at the northwest tip of Lough Swilly, and ran aground at Ballymastocker Bay. All 250 or so men on board drowned including the 29 year old Captain William Pakenham. Six years later, SS Laurentic, a British ocean liner of the White Star Line built by Harland + Wolff (the greatest shipyard of all time) in 1908, the same year as Titanic, stopped off at Buncrana to allow a number of passengers with yellow fever symptoms to disembark. The Laurentic had been converted to an armed merchant ship at the beginning of World War I. It was bound for Halifax, Canada, and carried 479 naval officers and a secret cargo of gold, payment for munitions from Canada and the United States. She departed Buncrana for Fanad Head amidst a storm. Captain Reginald Norton sailed on regardless, despite the weather and reports of U boat sightings in Lough Swilly earlier that day. The Laurentic struck two German submarine laid mines and sank within the hour. Out of 475 passengers, 121 survived including Captain Norton, many rescued by local fishing trawlers. Over the rest of the 20th century, salvage operations recovered some of the bars of gold but an estimated £2 million worth remains in the watery grave of the wreckage, 40 metres beneath the waves.

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835, record: “Dunree Fort is strikingly situated on the coast of Lough Swilly immediately opposite Knockalla Battery. It stands on a little rocky peninsula whose isthmus is a mass of rocks having a natural arch below, through which t sea flows, and a chasm 25 feet deep by nine feet wide. The fort occupies the whole of this peninsula and is inaccessible except by a drawbridge thrown over the chasm. It is an irregular four sided figure measuring about 650 feet round the inside of the walls and parapets, and presents a fire of nine 24 pounders on traversing carriages, and three others can be mounted in embrasures if required… A company of men and officers can be accommodated in the barracks with all the usual requisites for infantry soldiers, and the fort possesses a fine spring which issues out of the rock. Dunree Fort was built in the years 1812 to 1814 under the superintendence of Captain Spicer, Royal Engineers… Its present garrison is a master gunner and seven artillerymen detached from Buncrana. Mr Edgar of Buncrana contracted for the building of Dunree and the other five forts in Lough Swilly.”

Fort Dunree marks the spot where Wolfe Tone was captured by the British army in 1798 and subsequently sentenced to death. He died a short time after in prison, likely by suicide. Wolfe Tone was a Protestant revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the United Irishmen, a Republican organisation that rebelled against British rule in Ireland. In the 19th century the fort was rebuilt. Control of the fort was transferred to the Irish Free State just before World War II. Fort Dunree Military Museum opened to the public in 1986 and includes a military museum and underground bunkers within the walled enclosure. Timber buildings – the gunners’ canteen, officers’ mess, gymnasium and so on – are scattered across the hillside of Dunree Head, gently crumbling in the wild weather. The museum café “with the best view in Ireland – except for at least one day a year” is going strong.

Architecture Hotels Luxury

Titanic Hotel Belfast + Harland + Wolff

Ships in the Night

Harland + Wolff’s former headquarters was at the heart of Belfast’s shipyard. That’s where 1,000 ships including many of the world’s most famous ocean liners were designed and built. A Who’s Who of the seas: Canberra, HMS Belfast, Majestic, Oceanic, Olympic, Teutonic. Oh, and Titanic. The birthplace of many a “floating hotel” is now a hotel itself. Puns there are aplenty in its publicity: anchor down | maid in summer | monthly sail | slip into spring. Anyone for an iced tea on the rocks? Ok, maybe that’s a bit far.

The original red brick building, constructed in stages from 1886 to 1922, has been augmented by contemporary extensions in a contrasting yet complementary style. Robinson McIlwaine Architects added a new top bedroom storey, a five storey bedroom wing, and infill glazed pavilions between the ground floor projections. Titanic had 416 First Class, 162 Second Class and 262 Third Class bedrooms. Titanic Hotel has 120 first class bedrooms: four metre high ceilings and monochromatic tiled wet rooms. Industrial chic.

The Typists’ Room is now the hotel reception. The offices lining the Queen’s Road elevation – Lord Pirrie’sMr Quin’s, Mr Morrison’s, the Secretary’s, the Chairman’s and so on – have become meeting rooms. The Telephone Exchange, which received the first communication of Titanic hitting an iceberg, has been switched to a sitting room. The Stores Department has been converted to a bar. The barrel vaulted double height twin Drawing Offices flanking the Typists’ Room have become the principal lounge and dining room respectively. Upstairs, the Estimating Department is now a lounge while the Progress Department has been split into two bedrooms. The synonymous hotel and museum are cheek by jowl, gable by bow.

Titanic Quarter is great for a wee dander but mind you don’t get foundered.”

“Keep yer eyes peeled for the dock.”

“For a long time this place was Dunderin Inn.”

“Wait a ye see they’ve kept the windies of the oul building.”

“You can have a quare geg in the Drawing Room.”

“C’mon to get fed and watered in the Wolff Grill.”

“If you’ve hapes of money and all dolled up head for afternoon tea in the Presentation Room.”

“Get blootered in the Harland Bar.”

Architects Country Houses Hotels

The Titanic + Enniskeen House Hotel Newcastle Down

Pink Panter

Enniskeen House Hotel 1991 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • 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.

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Porch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Side © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Turret Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Erinmore Tobacco © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shimna Valley © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle River Trail © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Flowers © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Enniskeen Hotel Newcastle Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley