Deceptively sumptuous in Co. Armagh . . . women and children first

Walter MacGeough Bond

Built by Walter MacGeough Bond in the 1820s along the banks of the River Blackwater in Co. Armagh, The Argory was the fourth National Trust property we visited during our recent tour of Northern Ireland.

The estate was in the family since the 1740s. The family name was originally just MacGeough, but Bond (the maiden name of the grandmother of Walter) was added by Royal Licence in 1824. Walter was the fourth child of Joshua McGeough of Drumshill. Because of particular restrictions in his father’s will, Walter did not inherit Drumsill House (now a hotel), so invested in expanding his estate at The Argory. It remained the family home until 1979, and its interiors have remained unchanged since 1900.

The main entrance on the west front

The east front entrance, used increasingly as there was better coach access

The hallway from the west entrance catches one’s attention immediately. There is a spiral cantilever staircase, one of the finest examples I think I have ever seen. A large stove dominates the floor space; electricity was a late introduction to The Argory.

Off the hall is the dining room, and a very fashionable drawing room off to the other side, with several pieces of outstanding furniture, including Italian marble top tables.

Upstairs, the landing is dominated by an organ.

In one of the bedrooms, a story about the second owner Ralph (Walter’s second son), also known as Captain Shelton, is captured in a painting (a copy of the ca. 1892 original by Thomas Hemy) of the sinking of HMS Birkenhead, a troopship that foundered off the coast of South Africa in February 1852. You can see it on the wall to the left of the bed.

Captain Shelton was on board – and survived. He is depicted as the officer on the right hand side carrying two small children. On the other side of the deck the troops line up in a disciplined way, allowing the women and children into the life boats, the first instance of ‘women and children first’ enshrined in what became known as ‘the Birkenhead Drill‘. Only 193 (out of almost 650 persons on board) were saved.

The Argory is a beautiful house, quite understated on the outside, but a feast for the eyes awaits within. We enjoyed our visit, having combined it with a visit to Springhill House earlier that same day. National Trust volunteer Rosheen was an excellent guide.


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