Garron Tower is a romantic, though austere, cliff-top Victorian castle of black basalt, built as a summer retreat by Frances, 3rd Marchioness of Londonderry, daughter and heiress of Sir Henry Vane-Tempest, Bt.
Lady Londonderry's mother was the 2nd Countess of Antrim in her own right.
Her daughter, Lady Frances Anne Emily (Fanny) Vane married the 7th Duke of Marlborough and their son, Lord Randolph, was later to become the father of Winston Churchill.
The estate lies midway between Cushendall and Carnlough on the County Antrim coast.
The problems of the Antrim estates were compounded by the failure of the 6th Earl of Antrim to produce a male heir.
Although he was granted a new patent for the earldom, which allowed his daughters to inherit and transmit the title to their children, the inheritance of the estate itself proved much more problematical.
The 6th Earl bequeathed his estates in his will to his three daughters and the resulting litigation lasted more than twenty years.
The Antrim estate itself was eventually divided: Lady Antrim's daughter, Lady Frances, who married the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, received one sixth; the remainder passed to Lady Charlotte, afterwards 3rd Countess of Antrim in her own right (Lady Mark Kerr) and her descendants.
Frances, Lady Londonderry, eventually bequeathed her portion of the estate to her younger son, who had no love for Garron Tower and neglected it.
After his death in 1884, the estate passed to her grandson, Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest KCVO VD JP (1862-1921), who was tragically killed in a train accident in Wales.
After his death the estate, including the building which is now the Londonderry Arms Hotel, passed to his second cousin, Sir Winston Churchill, who owned it until after the 2nd World War.
Being the Prime Minister, Sir Winston had no time for Garron Tower so it was donated to the British Tourist Industry which transformed it into a hotel; it was then devastated by fire and was later turned into a school which it still is today.
The main portion of the estate remained in the hands of the Earls of Antrim.
Upon the death of her mother in 1834, Frances Lady Londonderry inherited a portion of the Antrim Estate, almost 10,000 acres lying mostly between Glenarm and Glenariff.
Following much debate she decided to build a summer residence and in 1848 the foundation stone was laid for Garron Tower.
The principal guest at the opening of the Tower was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Clarendon.
Coinciding with the end of the Famine in 1849, the four Coastguard cottages at 91 Garron Road were built as part of that estate.
Lady Londonderry showed a considerable interest in the day to day administration of her estate, demanding detailed reports from her agents.
She was a relentlessly improving landowner, encouraging agricultural improvement and endowing schools, clothing societies, etc.
The link with Lady Antrim's ancestral seat, Glenarm Castle, a few miles to the south is such that it was suspected Lady Londonderry's intention had been to upstage Glenarm Castle with the erection of Garron Tower.
The house was ready for occupation by 1850.
A new hall, with a projecting rectangular bay facing eastwards, was added to the north of the polygonal tower in 1852, attributed to Lewis Valliamy of London.
A front porch was added in 1854.
The oak doors, which still survive inside, were carved by Austrian craftsmen.
After Lady Londonderry's death in 1865, it remained in the private hands of the family until rented by Henry McNeill of Larne in 1889 and opened as a hotel.
Garron Tower was leased from 1898.
Many of the original contents were sold by public auction in 1911.
The house was badly damaged by accidental fire in 1914; then it was bought by McNeill's firm in 1915.
It was burnt maliciously in 1922; and closed as a hotel in 1939.
From 1941-46, it was occupied by evacuated residents from the Belfast Charitable Society home at Clifton House, Belfast.
The Tower was converted for use as a school for the Catholic diocese of Down and Connor in 1951 to the design of Padraic Gregory, a Belfast architect, whose firm also designed various school buildings, added to the rear from time to time.
The battlemented retaining wall to the terrace walk in the garden, terminating in a circular magazine, was built in 1848 to the design of Campbell.
The cannon on the terrace were reputedly used at the Battle of Waterloo, and originally stood here on their original wheeled carriers.
The gate-lodge was built in 1854; the stable block added in 1860 to the design of Lanyon and Lynn; and the new chapel built in 1956 to the design of Mr Gregory.
The main gateway originally comprised two openwork iron piers with a pair of gates, all cast at the Londonderry foundry in Seaham, County Durham.
Garron has a dominant tower at one end of a lengthy building, polygonal with a square turret.
At the opposite end of the front a short wing projects forwards, ending in a rectangular tower and turret.
With the exception of somewhat prosaic machicolations and crenellations, the walls are quite featureless.
The mansion was enlarged in 1852 with the addition of a hall.
The main front used to be flanked by a terrace with a battery of cannon. Is this still the case today?
Formerly the ornamental and productive gardens were to the west, somewhat protected from sea breezes by the castle, which stood facing south amid severe lawns decorated with urns.
Trees cover the area below the plateau, which drops sharply to the sea.
The grounds are adapted for school use and cultivated areas have disappeared.
There are notable specimens of Eucalyptus Globulus, planted in 1857.
Garron Tower is now a school, St Killian's College.
First published in April, 2010. Londonderry arms courtesy of European Heraldry.