The Balm of Gilead
Landed and Grounded
Writer Gervase Jackson-Stops observed in 1979, “A narrow by-road climbs up out of the broad vale of Omagh with its maze of small green fields and hedges to reveal a wholly different scene spread out on the other side of the ridge: a narrower valley entirely clothed in woods, with belts of grazing in between, sunlight reflected on a lake far below, perhaps a glimpse of curling smoke, a pediment and chimneys among the trees near the shore. Parkland is too tame an English word; here if ever, the Irish ‘demesne comes into its own.”
Little has changed at Baronscourt in the intervening decades. Time stands still on the County Tyrone estate, or, at least, moves, very, very, slowly. The main avenue gently meanders down through the valley before coming to a temporary halt outside the Agent’s House. This single storey Palladian villa erected in the 1740s by build-architect James Martin – outer Omagh’s grandest bungalow? – isn’t all it seems. Records suggest it once had an upper floor which was ignominiously lopped off when the current big house was built. The apparent piece of contemporary art on the lawn in front of the Agent’s House isn’t all it seems either. It’s actually the anchor of the ship the 4th Earl of Abercorn, ancestor of the owner of Baronscourt, fled on to France with James II after the Battle of the Boyne.