Sunday, 2 August 2020

Great Northern Hotel, Rostrevor

Carlingford Lough lies between the Mourne Mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland, and the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, Republic of Ireland.

The famed Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray wrote that
"were such a bay lying upon English shores, it would be a world's wonder; or if on either the Mediterranean or the Baltic, English travellers would flock to it."
Rostrevor, County Down, a small sea-port, and a most beautiful seaside resort, stands at the south base of the Mourne Mountains, on the north shore of the upper part of Carlingford Lough, and on the road from Newry to Kilkeel.

The village is delightfully situated on a gentle acclivity, which rises from a little cove of Carlingford Lough, and commands thrilling views of the woods, mountains and waters of the Lough's basin.

Rostrevor is doubtless one of the most beautiful and picturesque places in Northern Ireland.

The village - or rather in the first instance, the castle - is said to have acquired its name in honour of the marriage of the heiress of Sir Marmaduke Whitechurch to Marcus, 1st Viscount Dungannon, the lady's own name being Rose, and her husband's family name being Trevor; and the castle was, at one time, the seat of the Viscounts Dungannon.

The land was acquired from the Magenises of Iveagh by the Trevors in the early 17th century and was sold to the Rosses ca 1690.

In the 19th century, Rostrevor became a popular seaside resort.

Messrs Norton & Shaw, who operated a horse-and-carriage transport business from the nearby rail-head at Warrenpoint, commissioned a Newry architect, William James Watson, to design a new hotel on the site formerly occupied by the Old Quay Hotel.

The style was to be 'Domestic Gothic', with a 150 foot frontage to Carlingford Lough.

The centre block was to be one storey higher than the wings.

The foundation stone of the new hotel was laid on the 3rd April, 1875, and the building was completed by Alexander Wheelan of Newry almost exactly one year later, in April, 1876 .

Skating Rink Entrance

It opened to the public three months later.

Originally named The Mourne Hotel, it was acquired and re-named by the Great Northern Railway Company.

The Warrenpoint & Rostrevor Tramway company operated a three-foot gauge horsedrawn tramway service between Warrenpoint and Rostrevor from 1877-1915.

There was also a skating-rink attached to the hotel which had been built by the 3rd Earl of Kilmorey.

The rink had a capacity of 2,000.

Skating Rink

During Christmas, 1903, a catastrophic fire broke out at the rink and the adjoining public bar, causing both buildings to be burned down.

Richard Graham informs me about the hotel's more recent history as a UTA (Ulster Transport Authority) hotel in the 50s and 60s:-
"The Great Northern, along with several other former railway hotels (mostly Victorian), such as the Slieve Donard (Newcastle); the Northern Counties (Portrush); the Laharna (Larne); the City Hotel (Londonderry) and the Midland in Belfast were grouped under the new management of the UTA when the original railway companies ceased to exist. 
Although successful commercially (the hotels catered for the tourist market as it was then) UTA had no vested interest in running hotels and put little investment into modernising them for a more demanding market. 
Eventually all the above named six hotels were sold to the Hastings Hotel Group in 1971 for the total price of £440,000 (equivalent to £6.3 million in 2019)! 
Billy Hastings was the only bidder with the nerve and ability to raise the cash in what was now one of the most troubled areas in Western Europe. 
The City Hotel in Derry was the first to be destroyed in 1971, followed by what had now been renamed by Hastings as the Rostrevor Hotel in 1978. 
Hastings had no interest in rebuilding the fire bombed hotels, but held onto the Slieve Donard in Newcastle, even though it threatened to pull the whole group down in the mid 70s when the troubles were at their height. 
Hastings later sold off the Northern Counties in Portrush (to the Fawcett family) and the Laharna in Larne between 1975 and 1980, ending the historic connection between the Great Northern and the other famous properties that had their origins with the railway expansion of Ireland in the 1880s onward." 
Here is the ignominious end to a once great railway hotel.
(Image: Richard Graham)

The hotel was firebombed and destroyed during the Northern Ireland troubles in 1978.
First published in July, 2016.


Anonymous said...

Excellent blog very interesting, Bryan

Nigelim said...

Ditto. Very informative and extremely readable.

Unknown said...

Lovely to see this and remember it well.Also learnt something new about tbe village.