Monday, 21 July 2008

Lamentable Institutional Vandalism

The old Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture has had a shameful history of what could be termed institutional vandalism which, nowadays, would be unacceptable. I refer, namely, to several historic country houses which the Ministry acquired about fifty years ago with their parkland.

Tollymore Park, near Newcastle in County Down, was the Province's first forest park; and it came with its fine mansion-house which stood on the site of the present car-park. It was the seat of the Earls of Roden. The house was demolished in 1952.

Belvoir Park, near Belfast, was another fine demesne with a stately home dating to the mid-c18. It was originally the seat of the Viscount Dungannon; then the Lord Deramore. The house was, at one time, considered as the official residence of His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland; sadly, however, the estate was deemed too large for that purpose and the Ministry of Agriculture took it over. The house was demolished in 1961. The site is now a car-park.

Castle Archdale in County Fermanagh, a fine country estate with a noble manor-house which was built in 1773 was, yet again, acquired by you-know-who; the derelict mansion was allowed to rot until it, too, was demolished in 1970.

Here we have three prime examples. The Ministry acquired these historic houses as part of the country estates; the Ministry wilfully neglected them. They didn't know what to do with them; they certainly didn't want to spend any funds to maintain the houses, as was their responsibility. So they let them fall into more disrepair until the opportunity arose to have them condemned.

At least we can be thankful that the beautiful parkland remains and is well-kept. Had the Ministry been more proactive and imaginative, the aforementioned houses could have been utilized for other purposes - Gosford Castle, County Armagh, has been transformed into apartments for example.

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