Let’s call the whole thing off . . .

Thus end verses in the 1937 song penned by George and Ira Gershwin. And that’s what I was humming to myself after a recent visit to the National Trust’s Castle Ward, on the shore of Strangford Lough in Co. Down, Northern Ireland (map). It was built in the 1760s for Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor. However, the Ward family (originally from Cheshire) owned the estate since the 16th century, and an Old Castle (from about 1590) still stands north of the house.

The 1st Viscount and his good lady, Lady Ann Bligh, had very different tastes. It’s a wonder they went on to create a dynasty. But they did, having four sons and four daughters.

Bernard and Ann didn’t see eye to eye on all things architectural. As you drive up to Castle Ward (from the west) you see a typical Neo-Classical 18th century mansion, epitomised by its symmetry. Walk round to the east side, with its views over Strangford Lough, and you are faced with something quite different: 18th century Gothic. What an unexpected surprise, and a dramatic contrast. Certainly an interesting combination.

Neo-Classical and Georgian Gothic side by side, back to front

The view of Strangford Lough from the Gothic, east-facing side of Castle Ward

But the Bangor husband and wife differences were not restricted to the house’s exterior. It is almost perfectly divided down the center, Neo-Classical decor on one side, Gothic on the other. Quite extraordinary!

Ward’s son Nicholas succeeded as the 2nd Viscount, but having been declared insane, he died in 1827, unmarried and childless. The title passed to his nephew Edward. The current Viscount Bangor, the 8th, lives in London with his wife, Royal biographer Sarah Bradford, but they have an apartment at Castle Ward for their use. Castle Ward passed to the National Trust after 1950 when the 6th Viscount died, and the estate was accepted in lieu of death duties.

Entering through a Victorian porch on the south end, there is a staircase on the right leading to bedrooms on the first floor.

Just off this entrance is Lady Ann’s boudoir, with its flamboyant ceiling based apparently on that in Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Passing through Boudoir into the Drawing Room, one encounters a room full of the Ward treasures, paintings, objets d’art, and furniture.

Further on, a study has paintings of the various Viscounts. The 5th Viscount (d. 1911) I think it was, had been a keen sailor, and desired to be buried at sea. It’s said that immediately after the funeral the Dowager Viscountess had his body consigned to Strangford Lough from the end of the family jetty. At least this is what National Trust volunteer guide George told us. You can see George in the photos above describing a beautiful tea chest.

On the west side of the house (the Neo-Classical side), there is a grand entrance hall, and off that a fine dining room.

From the Library, there is a ‘secret’ door to passages and a stairwell that would have been used by the servants to come and go without being seen.

Several bedrooms are open on the first floor. The Viscountess’s bedroom has original 18th century wallpaper, and there’s a wonderfully decorated screen in front of the fire.

The estate is extensive at Castle Ward, with walks down to the Old Castle, the farmyard, and along Lough (estate map).

Close to the house and stable yard is a Victorian sunken garden and a rockery.

We also discovered that Castle Ward is one of the locations for ‘Game of Thrones’. And I suspect that many of the tourists we saw that day had come to Castle Ward for that purpose rather than taking in the beauty of the house itself.

On our way to Castle Ward, we stopped at Rowallane Garden (map) and had a very enjoyable wander through its natural and formal parts over almost 90 minutes. It’s certainly a haven of tranquility. And we discovered that Rowallane Garden is the headquarters of the National Trust in Northern Ireland. Rowallane Garden was laid out by the Rev. John Moore in the 1860s, and developed further by his nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore after 1903.

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