Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Belle Isle: V



In 1946, my father began working for Nicholas Henry Archdale Porter at Belle Isle and became the land steward.

I have written elsewhere that my father, Esmond, and mother, Pearl, had a close association with the Belle Isle household, as did my sister Audrey and I; and, in later years, our brother Gerald.

The household at Belle Isle comprised of Nicholas Henry Archdale Porter, Mrs Brunt (Gigi) and her daughters, Miss Brunt (Tiggy) and Mrs Leigh.

Captain Richard Outram Hermon was a frequent visitor, as was Judge Leigh, Mrs Leigh’s husband, who was a judge in Manchester.

Captain Hermon, of Necarne Castle - Dick to those who knew him - was a close friend of the Belle Isle household.

He bought a modern, one-storey house at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, in close view of the Atlantic Ocean and near Lord Mountbatten’s castle, Classiebawn.

The Belle Isle household and Captain Hermon spent several weeks in the house at Mullaghmore each year from 1950 up until the late 1960s.

In the early 1950s, my father Esmond and mother Pearl would drive to Mullaghmore on Sundays, during the time when the Belle Isle household was in residence.

My sister Audrey and I would go, too, in the back seat of the car.

It was with a real sense of adventure that we drove through Enniskillen and out by Lower Lough Erne; past Ely Lodge and the miles of dense woodland on either side of the road.

Coming to the broad and very beautiful expanse of the Lough, as beautiful a view as can be seen anywhere.

My father would put his foot down as we approached the snaps!

These were a series of small hillocks in close succession on the road before Bundoran.

Up and down the car would go at speed, much to our glee.

The sensation was similar to that of a fair ground ride!

Our parents would stop briefly in Bundoran and then we would take the road to Mullaghmore.

When the fairytale castle of Classiebawn appeared on the horizon, we knew we were there.

Captain Hermon’s house was on a hill overlooking the sea: there was a porch and a spacious open hall, and one large reception room contained a dining table, chairs and settees.

The furniture in the reception room was conventional: a dark wooden table and matching chairs; Chintz covered upholstery; bookcases and an open fire.

There were five bedrooms, two bathrooms, cloakrooms, a substantial kitchen and some larders.

However, the bedrooms were a novelty for the 1950s.

The furniture in each room had been painted.

There was a blue room, a green room, a yellow room, a pink room and a white room.

The wardrobes, dressing tables, bedside tables and headboards had all been given this treatment.

The windows were large, and the house light and airy.

It was a happy friendly house, so different to the darker and beautiful Belle Isle stuffed with antiques.

Captain Hermon and Nicholas Henry Archdale Porter had their own rooms.

Mrs Brunt (Gigi) and Miss Brunt (Tiggy) shared a room; and Mrs Leigh had the pink room.

In addition, there were usually six dogs in residence.

Tiggy loved dogs and they all went on holiday from Belle Isle, too.

The dogs at this time were Fred and Susie, white-haired terriers; Foxy and Vixen, Manchester terriers; and Fanny and Feeby, Labradors.

There was also a resident cook for the duration, one of Captain Hermon’s former employees from Necarne Castle.

I recall Tommy McKervey, who waited on table occasionally.

He had been Captain Hermon’s butler at Necarne and was employed by Captain Hermon until his death, in various capacities (Necarne Castle was occupied by the armed forces in the Second World War and was not occupied by Captain Hermon again after the war).

Mullaghmore at this time was very unspoiled.

It was essentially a traditional fishing village with a beautiful old stone harbour and a host of tiny boats.

The village was of lovely old houses around a green, grazed by donkeys.

There was a stone terrace of buildings and one or two shops.

At the side of the harbour was a traditional public house, owned and run by "Peter", a local character full of Irish charm.

There was a convent nearby, a pebble-dashed building with iron gates.

It was quite usual to see nuns out walking in their black and white habits.

The bell of the Angelus would toll out across the sea.

The hills around Mullaghmore were dotted with white-washed, thatched cottages and dry stone walls.

The cliff walk was magnificent, with spectacular views of the Atlantic, pounding away below.

Classiebawn Castle, which had originally belonged to Lord Mountbatten’s wife Edwina, Lady Mountbatten, was a Gothic silhouette in the distance on its steep incline.

At the bottom of the hill on which Captain Hermon’s house stood was a wide and golden beach.

This stretched for miles and hardly a soul was to be seen in those days.

I have memories of the household on the beach: Mr Porter, Mrs Brunt, Tiggy and Vida all walking and playing with Audrey and I.

There are old, faded grey and white photographs of this time and it seems like another world, lost in the mists of time.

There are many memories of cavorting on the beach, swimming in the sea, hiding in the dunes and the fresh clean wind on our faces.

Sundays at Mullaghmore were days of good food, laughter, fun and, of course, sun! Did it rain?

The drive back to Belle Isle was always after nightfall.

My sister and I would curl up in the back seat and go to sleep.

My father would sometimes sing “Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care, the master's gone away”, in high good humour.

There was the stop at the border and customs and finally back to Fermanagh.

My father left Mr Porter’s employment in the late 1950s in order to develop his own farm.

He had inherited part of Corrard from his father.

My brother Gerald was born in December, 1959, and he was brought up on Corrard.

However, my father returned to Belle Isle as Miss Lavinia Baird’s farm manager and my brother Gerald then spent time at Belle Isle, too; and that, too, is another story!

First published in March, 2010.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Just magical.