Fermanagh’s finest . . .

The National Trust manages three properties in Co. Fermanagh in the southwest of Northern Ireland: Castle Coole; Florence Court; and Crom. Florence Court is the Trust’s furthest west property in the United Kingdom. We took in all three on our recent tour of National Trust properties in Northern Ireland, but not on the same day.

Castle Coole and Florence Court and  are elegant 18th century mansions, just a few miles apart near Enniskillen. Crom is a little further south, on the east shore of Upper Lough Erne, close to the border with the Irish Republic (map).

Interior photography is not permitted inside Castle Coole and Florence Court. The interior images included in this blog post are provided courtesy of, and used with permission, from the National Trust, to which I am most grateful. Access to both houses is through a guided tour.

Castle Coole was built by Armar Lowry-Corry, 1st Earl Belmore between 1789 and 1798. He was the grandson of Belfast merchant John Corry who had purchased the estate in 1656. A fine Queen Anne house used to stand on the estate, to the north of the present mansion. The current and 8th Earl still lives in a cottage on the estate, and the family still has access to the south wing. It became the property of the National Trust in 1951 (from the 7th Earl), although the family still own most if not all the contents.

Castle Coole is a very grand, somewhat austere, Neo-Classical mansion with Portland stone façades, built to impress. It appears to have just been placed in the middle of a parkland. Nothing to soften the exterior. But that belies a delight for the eyes inside.

The rear of the house, from the north at the site of the Queen Anne house

There are no formal gardens at all close by. Irish architect Richard Johnston was originally commissioned to design Castle Coole, but got no further than the basement, after which renowned English architect James Wyatt was handed the brief to redesign and complete the building. He also designed some extremely elegant interiors, especially the Saloon, and the furniture to fill it. In fact, the Saloon is one of the most elegant rooms I have seen in my many visits to National Trust properties, and it’s a pity that I’m unable to share any images here.

The entrance hall has four massive scagliola columns, and beyond an impressive double cantilevered staircase, there is another saloon on the first floor, also with scagliola columns.

There is an impressive State Bedroom, decorated in a deep red, on the first floor that was prepared in 1821 for the expected visit to Castle Coole by King George IV. He never got much further north than the outskirts of Dublin, having encountered one of his many ‘lady friends’ there. Obviously he must have found a visit to Castle Coole (and the long journey that would have entailed) less attractive than the charms of M’Lady. Apparently the bedroom has never used on a regular basis subsequently.

All around the outside of the building is an underground passage way, that permitted servants to move about unseen from the residents above. This passage connects, through an impressively wide tunnel (wide enough to accommodate a carriage and four, apparently) to a large stable yard to the north east. Supplies for the house, coal in particular, could be brought right up to the house and stored for easy access in underground storage rooms.

Florence Court sits well in its landscape, the estate nestling below Benaughlin Mountain in the Cuilcagh Mountain range, that straddles the border between C. Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and Co. Cavan in the Republic.

Home to the Earls of Enniskillen, the exact architectural history of Florence Court is somewhat of a mystery. Its central structure is flanked by two pavilions connected by colonnaded passages.

Like at Castle Coole, there is an underground passage that allowed servants to move around without being seen.

The decor of the rooms is defined by stucco plasterwork of the highest quality. When a major fire gutted the entrance hall and rooms immediately above in 1955, the National Trust was faced with a major challenge to repair the damage to the same standard. It is remarkable what they achieved. It’s somewhat ironic that Florence Court had no electricity supply until 1954, and it was an electrical fault that caused the fire! Fortunately, the fire itself did little damage to the rooms either side of the central section, apart from water damage that, at one point, threatened to bring down the ceiling in the drawing room. This was quickly rectified by the judicious drilling of several holes (two of which can still be seen) to allow the water to drain. What is also remarkable is how many of the original pieces of furniture, paintings and other objets d’art were saved. In the entrance hall, there is a rather fine bust of King William III. His travelling trunk is also in the hall, and that of his wife, Mary II, is on display in one of the bedrooms. The nose of the bust has clearly been damaged. Apparently, in the haste to remove artefacts from the burning building, King Billy was unceremoniously thrown on to the lawn outside, and the end of his nose broke off. The butler found it a few days later and glued it back on!

The outbuildings include a laundry with the highest ceilings I think I’ve seen in such a room, just appropriate for hanging out the drying linen.

There are extensive trails to explore throughout the estate, with views of the surrounding mountains. Because of the weather, and wanting to take an early tour of the house in the afternoon, we only took a short walk. There is a working water-wheel-driven sawmill, as well as a smithy in the grounds.

A large walled garden was developed by Charlotte, wife of the 4th Earl in the 1880s. The National Trust is working hard, and with results already, to restore this garden to its former glory.

Florence Court is well worth a visit. It had been high on my list of Trust properties in Northern Ireland. We had to dodge some pretty serious showers (as we did throughout our week in Northern Ireland), but we enjoyed about four hours walking around the estate, and taking the house tour. We learned that the title went to Andrew John Galbraith Cole in Kenya, who became the 7th earl in 1989, and who still resides in Kenya on his 40,000 acre estate!

There is privately-owned castle (not open to the public) on the Crom Estate, home to the Creighton (or Chrichton) family, Earls of Erne, built in 1820. The family acquired the estate in 1609, and there is also a ruined castle on the estate, on the shore of Upper Lough Erne. The estate is managed by the National Trust.

Leaving Florence Court by mid-afternoon, we reached the Visitor Centre by about 4 pm, and apart from two other couples we were the only visitors. The Visitor Centre closed at 5 pm. In any case, we wanted to take the short walk (less than a mile) to the ruins to take in a view of the lough, and the Creighton Tower on Gad Island, about half a mile offshore. Near the ruins are some impressive yew trees said to be about 1000 years old.

Following this visit, and closer to 6 pm, we headed back to our base on Mid-Ulster, via Co. Monaghan in the Republic and along one road, the A3/N54, that almost imperceptibly crisscrosses the border in just a few miles, and will be a complex situation to resolve during the Brexit talks.

 

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