Friday, 6 January 2017

Tobar Mhuire

JAMES CLELAND OWNED 3,544 ACRES OF LAND IN COUNTY DOWN


The family of RUTHVEN were scions of the Earls of Gowrie.

In 1600, Lord Gowrie and his brother were accused of treason, and duly (or unduly) executed by JAMES VI of Scotland.

Their cousin, Alexander Ruthven, fled to Durham and took his wife's name of TROTTER.

During the 17th century, descendants of the Ruthvens removed to Ulster, where they settled at Downpatrick, County Down.

The Ruthvens were merchants at first, though eventually became agents for the Southwells.

EDWARD TROTTER moved to Crossgar, at that time known as Everogue's Bridge.

In 1777, on the death of his father, the Rev Edward Trotter,

EDWARD SOUTHWELL RUTHVEN (1773-1836) inherited the lands at Crossgar, County Down.

He reverted to the original family name of Ruthven in 1801.

In 1813, he developed the land adjacent to the River Glasswater and built a dwelling, which he named Crossgar House.
This gentleman was MP for Downpatrick, 1807-8 and 1830, his patron being the 3rd Marchioness of Downshire, who contributed £16,000 towards his election expenses. 
In 1832, having been elected to a Dublin seat, Mr Trotter sold Crossgar House to a Downpatrick merchant, William Thompson, for £20,000. 
Mr Thompson's nephew, James Cleland JP (d 1875) inherited his estate in 1862.
About 1864, Crossgar House was rebuilt.

Three years later, it was renamed Tobar Mhuire (after an old well near by).

The estate had shrunk to almost 100 acres by 1920, when it was once again put up for sale.

The next owner was William McCalla, a shipping agent from Belfast.

Tobar Mhuire was occupied during the 2nd World War by the army.

A Mr McDowell purchased the house after the war and, a short time later, it was bought by Lieutenant-Colonel A W A  Llewellyn-Palmer DSO MC, North Irish Horse, who sold it in 1950.

The new owners were The Passionists, a religious order.


Tobar Mhuire was built in 1864 by James Cleland, who possessed the townland of Crossgar.

It stands on the site Crossgar House, a low, sprawling, one and half to two storey residence, probably built ca 1780s by former landlord, Edward Ruthven.

Mr Ruthven sold Crossgar House to William Thompson, a merchant from Downpatrick, during the 1820s, who developed the village itself and built the market house.

The new landlord does not appear to have lived at Crossgar House, however, for in 1835 it was occupied by a Mrs Hamilton; and in 1845 by a clergyman called Maguire.

Following Mr Thompson’s death in 1862, Crossgar passed to his nephew, James Cleland.

Almost immediately, Mr Cleland demolished the old house and erected the present residence with its extensive outbuildings.

He renamed the new house after a well to the south-west of the building itself, referred to locally as Mary’s Well, or Tobar Mhuire.

Either Cleland or his son, John (who inherited the estate on his father’s death in 1875), redirected the main drive to the new house, moving it further to the south and adding a new gate lodge.

The walled garden to the north-east was laid out around this time also.

The Clelands remained at Tobar Mhuire until ca 1930, when the house was acquired by William McCalla, a Belfast shipping agent.

Between 1942-45 it was occupied by Allied troops, and thereafter sold to a Mr McDowell of Downpatrick.

Shortly afterwards Mr McDowell sold it to Lieutenant-Colonel Llewwllen Palmer who, in 1950, sold it to The Passionist Order, for use as monastery/retreat house.

The original gate lodge to the north stood until at least 1932.

TOBAR MHUIRE is encircled by trees, shelter belts having been established before 1834.

There are formal lawns and bedding, created during the late 19th century.

Exotic trees planted in the same era remain. A lake has gone.

The walled garden has been adapted as a display area for wildlife.

There is a fine, restored, late 19th century glasshouse in the walled area for wildlife, taking up the whole of the east wall, with bothies at the back converted for public use.

The Ulster Wildlife Trust has a 30-year lease from 1986 on the walled garden area.

First published in January, 2013.

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