Friday, 8 April 2016

Killynether House: I


I first discovered Killynether Wood in December, 2007.

It really is a beautiful spot. Deep in the woods there is a sea of bluebells in May each year.

Killynether Wood lies on a hill overlooked by Scrabo Tower, that august landmark and memorial to the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry.

The nearest town is Newtownards in County Down; the Woods are roughly between Comber and Newtownards.

I had no idea, until I was told, that there used to be a large country house here, called Killynether House.

Killynether was the second property acquired by the National Trust since it became established in Northern Ireland

The owner in 1937 was Jessie Helen Weir ( b 1856).

She donated her property that year, including 42 acres of mixed woodland and an endowment of £2,000, to the Trust.

I believe that the house was built in 1858.

In 1907 Killynether House was described in the street directory as Killynether Castle, the owner being Arthur James Weir (b 1863); though in a directory of 1886 the occupier was none other than James Brownlow, a local magistrate; and shortly thereafter Brownlow resigned as Lord Londonderry's land agent.

Andrew Cowan, another local magistrate, also occupied Killynether at one stage.

Killynether and the surrounding land formed part of the Londonderry Estates; and we also know that James Brownlow was Lord Londonderry's land agent in 1886; and that there was a Cowan Inheritance in the 17th century.

This was a Victorian, Tudor-Gothic mansion with a mullioned roof and various towers.

This, at least, we can deduce from old photographs.

The house was already being used as a youth hostel in 1937, so the Trust agreed that the YHA tenancy should continue.

At the start of the Second World War, the House and grounds were requisitioned by the Army; and the tenure of the Estate, including those austere but functional Nissen huts, was not actually released by the Ministry of Defence till the 31st May, 1949.

The concrete bases of the huts remained, despite considerable pleas from the Trust to the MoD about this.

The NI committee of the National Trust was concerned that the property should be utilized to its full potential following the army's departure, so an umbrella group representing the YHA, Federation of Boys' Clubs, Civil Service Social Service Society and National Council of YMCAs was formed and the Trust granted them a short lease for their activities.

In June, 1947, Killynether House was still found to be in reasonably good condition.

About five years later, in 1952, the youth hostel grouping's tenure expired, though the YHA was permitted to remain until November, 1953.

Regrettably, dry rot had begun to take hold of the house; nevertheless some remedial repairs were undertaken.

At this stage the Trust wished to find suitable private tenants for the property though, sadly, during a period when the house was empty, it succumbed to inevitable vandalism.

Eventually a tenant was found in September, 1955.

The perennial problems associated with dry rot persisted and Killynether House became uninhabitable to such an extent that, by 1966, the matter came to a head and the National Trust felt that regrettably they had no option other than to demolish the old house.

First published in May, 2009.

10 comments :

Anonymous said...

Always so sad to see these magnificent houses demolished.

Just found your blog and have enjoyed visiting.

Gavin Bamford said...

I think the house was still up in the mid 70's. Gavin.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my queries about Killynether Castle, having seen the present estate last weekend from Scrabo. I remember hearing about it when it was a YHANI youth hostel, in the days when hostellers were permitted only to use bicycles. The Mournes was well covered: Silent Valley, Bloody Bridge, Slievenaman and Leitrim Lodge. The present Killynether Castle looks opulent, with a grand, electronic gate entrance (firmly closed), a pond with a fountain and what looks to be a well-preserved part of the old castle. Who or what is in residence, I wonder? Barry

Anonymous said...

Hi Timothy,i believe the mans name is Trevor Kells,and yes you are right,he produces small sachets of sauces at the jubilee road newtownards.His mothers recipe i believe.He built the place after Sidney Mullin died and the place was levelled.I used to know Sidney through a farmer that died in 2010.Sam Hamilton.

Michael said...

Trevor Kells.

Anonymous said...

Trevor kells is correct of rich sauces jubilee rd.

nikmcv said...

Hi there, I am currently doing a project on the history of Killynether House and the photo featured here is the only one I can find. I was wondering where you have sourced it from, as I would like to gain rights to reproduce it.

Timothy Belmont said...

Hello Anon, I don't kmow who took the photo, though it was obviously taken 80 or 90 years ago.

Alas, I've no idea who owns it or if it even has copyrights.

Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the photo at Killynether Castle is as old as 80-90 years. It looks uncannily like my grandparents, my dad and his brother and sisters. My grandparents were caretakers for a time whilst it was a YMCA.As my dad is now 82 it could well be them. My grandparents were James and Annie Ferguson.

Anonymous said...

The Current Killyneather House is not where the original was sited, where the new house sits was once part of an old farm with the farmhouse closer to where the right hand pond/lake in the front is now. The Original Killyneather house was situated around where the upper level of the current car park for the forest is now. Still such a pity grand old houses like this were ever allowed to be demolished, so much history lost.