The Forde family was originally of Welsh extraction. The County Down branch is more immediately descended from Nicholas Forde, of Dublin, and Dunboyne, County Meath, who married Catherine White, and died in 1605, being succeeded by his fifth son, Mathew.
NICHOLAS FORDE, of Coolgreaney, County Wexford, b 1605, leaving, by his wife, Catherine White, five sons, of whom the second, MATHEW FORDE of Dublin, MP, succeeded to the estates.
Following the death of the 3rd Baron Cromwell in 1607, MATHEW FORDE, who owned an estate near Coolgreaney in County Wexford, purchased all of Cromwell's land for the sum of £8,000 (ca £1.5 million in 2010).
MATHEW FORDE, of Dublin and Coolgreaney, County Wexford, MP, Clerk of the Crown, and Peace, Clerk of Peace and Assize and Clerk of Nisi Prius before the Commissioners of Ulster, purchased the Coolgreany Estate in County Wexford and the Seaforde Estate in County Down, comprising respectively the Manors of Newtowne and Teconnaught, his title to both being confirmed by Patent from CHARLES I in 1637.
Matthew died before 1657, leaving his only son, also NICHOLAS FORDE, of Killyleagh, County Down, leaving male issue, MATHEW FORDE, MP, of Coolgreaney, County Wexford.
His only son, also MATHEW, of Seaforde, County Down, MP for Downpatrick, married, in 1698, Anne, daughter of William Brownlow of Lurgan
More recently the Seaforde estate devolved to Major Thomas William Forde DL (1899-1949), High Sheriff in 1934.
His brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Desmond Charles Forde, who was High Sheriff of County Down in 1950, then succeeded him. He was born in 1906; married, in 1938, the Hon Margaret Bertha Meriel Ward, youngest daughter of the 6th Viscount Bangor OBE PC.
Colonel Forde divorced in 1947, and married for a second time in 1948, Kate Alexandra York, widow of Lieutenant-Colonel George William Panter MBE, of Enniskeen, Newcastle, County Down, and daughter of the late Robert Wood Thompson, of Clooneavin, Warrenpoint, County Down, and died in 1961.
The Seaforde Estate was then inherited by Patrick Mathew Desmond Forde who married Lady Anthea Lowry-Corry, eldest daughter of 7th Earl of Belmore and the present Lord Belmore's sister. Patrick Forde JP DL (1940-2010) was educated at Eton.
Patrick and Lady Anthea's daughter, Emily Louise, married Peter Mackie in 1995. They have three sons: Mathew, Charles and Finnian. Seaforde Gardens and Butterfly House are open to the public.
The Seaforde Estate, beside the village of Seaforde in County Down, is an exceptionally beautiful 18th century designed landscape, incorporating two lakes and fine views of the Mourne Mountains.
The demesne, just over 1,000 acres in extent today, extended to 20,106 acres during the Victorian era.
It is largely walled and has its origin in the late 17th century,when it was called Castle Navan.The present house of 1819-20 is a rather austere but impressive neo-classical, east-facing block of seven bays and three storeys over a basement, the top storey being treated as an attic above a dentil cornice.
There is a five-bay entrance front.
The fan-lighted entrance door was originally under a gracefully curving single-storey portico with coupled Ionic columns; however this gave way to a large, enclosed, pilastered porch with plate-glass windows in the late 18th century. The mansion is faced in sandstone ashlar, and was built for Mathew Forde (1785-1837), possibly to designs of the English architect Peter Frederick Robinson.
Inside, the hall is deep and commodious with fireplaces. The principal staircase has handsome brass balusters in a separate hall at the side. The saloon is bow-fronted and flanked by the dining-room and library, a room of singular beauty.
The present mansion replaced an earlier house, burnt in June 1816, which lay just north of the present stable-yard. In the early 18th century this house was the focus of a formal demesne, with straight avenues aligned on the house running due south and east.
A straight, tree-lined embankment with footpath flanked the east side of the lake (the Upper Lake), depicted in a watercolour by Mrs Delany, dated 1740.
Her illustration shows the surrounding banks of this lake to have been well planted with trees, but it is evident that most of Seaforde’s magnificent naturalised landscaping belongs largely to the later 18th century and was probably the work of the great landscape gardener, John Sutherland.
Its creation involved putting down extensive woodlands, especially to the north; planting clumps, belts and screens; and laying down a network of long, winding drives, including the present entrance drive.
A bog was drained close to the main avenue and a lake [the Lower Lake] was dug in its place. The large walled garden, lying north-east of the house, seems earlier than the landscape park and is probably of mid-18th century date (see below).
The main entrance into the demesne, on axis with the village street, was built in 1833; but in the period 1795-1805, designs for gates and screen in this position had been commissioned by Mathew Forde’s father, also called Mathew (d. 1812) from both Samuel Wooley and Charles Lilly, but these had never been executed.
Ca 1825 Peter Frederick Robinson produced at least six different entrance design proposals.
The design eventually selected was a Greek-Revival sandstone composition, comprising a central carriage arch, surmounted by a pediment and flanked by flat arch pedestrian gates and quadrant wings.
He also designed the chaste Grecian gate lodge to the rere; this is also of sandstone, symmetrical in design and original in form. At this time Forde employed Robinson to rebuild parts of the village (once called Naghan), apparently including the well- known almshouses.
Robinson may have been involved in building the tunnel and re- modelling part of the stable-yard offices of ca.1720 to the south-east of the house. The architect, John Lynn, was commissioned to build the Ballynahinch or North gate lodge and screen in the late 1820s, a small three-bay single-storey Classical house with hipped roof and arch-headed openings.
In January 1839 the ‘Big Wind’ caused considerable damage to the demesne woods, with a reported loss of 60,000 trees.
Two years earlier, the Rev William Brownlow Forde (1786-1856) had succeeded to the property on his brother’s death.
He decided that the Lecale Hunt, founded at Seaforde in 1768, should cease being run as a private family pack and become subscription based; however, he allowed the hunt to continue housing its harriers at Seaforde and for this purpose the Mr Forde, in 1841, built a huntsman’s house and a hexagonal kennel block with hipped roof - one of the most remarkable buildings of its kind in Ulster.
The Lecale Hunt was disbanded in 1887 owing to a lack of hares, but the kennels continued to be used by the East Down Hunt. The nearby ‘Pheasantry’ gate lodge, a picturesque 1½-storey dwelling, was built a few years later and served as a gamekeeper’s house.
From the late 1850s Colonel William Brownlow Forde, the clergyman’s son, embarked on major improvements to the demesne.
He added the east range to the stable yard ca.1865; and also built an imposing farm-yard complex, known as the Lower Farm Yard, on a new site at the west edge of the park in 1858-59, together with a nearby gate lodge which replaced an earlier lodge across the road.
The latter is a single-storey, three-bay house, possibly the work of the Belfast architect, William Moore.
An identical lodge, again replacing an earlier lodge on the opposite side of the road, was built at the eastern, or Downpatrick, gate of the demesne on the Newcastle Road in about 1861-2, though its large carriage piers date to ca.1800.
During the 1860s a small farm field on the south of the demesne were swept away to allow the park to expand up to the road.
Nearby, a whole terrace of village houses was demolished, so that the grounds of the agent’s residence, ‘The Lodge’, which historically was part of the demesne, could expand to the main street. This residence, a late Georgian villa of one storey over a basement, was also remodelled and enlarged ca 1860.
There was further demesne ‘rationalisation’ in the 1860s to the north-west, where the hazel bank farm was brought into the demesne and its fields removed.
Late Victorian and Edwardian garden improvements at Seaforde include the creation of a rock garden ca.1902 near the sluice of the Lower Lake; in recent decades this area in woodland has been cut back, replanted and redesigned, notably with an attractive iron bridge added.
The late Victorian period witnessed a remodelling and enlargement of the imposing glass- house on the south-facing dividing wall to the garden.
The northern section of this garden, whose northern wall is curved, was historically always devoted to kitchen provisions; but the lower, southern section became a fully ornamental garden by late Victorian times and boasted a large formal ornamental layout with lawns, urns and formal beds.
There had been a south-facing glass-house here from at least the 1830s, but this was re- modelled substantially some time later, perhaps in the 1860s, and given a large central section, which itself was enlarged in the late 19th century.
The garden and its glass-houses had become derelict by the 1960s, but in the 1970s the present owners embarked on a major clearance, removing the glass-house ruins, and creating a new garden in which Irish yew and urns from a former generation are incorporated.
There is now a large hornbeam maze with an arbour and statue of Diana in the centre; while a Mogul-style tower (built 1992), a Gothic arbour, a small herb garden and a colony of Echium pininana now occupy the glass-house site.
Flanking floral borders contain the National Collection of Eucryphias. The northern section of the garden contains a commercial nursery, established after the Fordes acquired the remaining stock of the famous Slieve Donard Nursery.
The Butterfly House here, built in 1988, houses a good collection of tree ferns and tropical plants. Outside the walled garden, on the south side, there is ‘The Pheasantry’, a verdant and secluded undulating grassy area that began life as a pleasure ground in late Victorian times.
It now incorporates a pond, high exotic trees and shrubs, including recent introductions collected in the wild by the late Patrick Forde.
Among the plants here are an enormous Rhododendron arboretum, a superb Crimean pine (Pinus nigra caramanica) and a good collection of azaleas.
The walled garden, butterfly house and ‘pheasantry’ grounds are open to the public at specified times; the rest of the demesne and the house are private.
First published in June, 2010.