Friday, 8 May 2020

Cairndhu House

CAIRNDHU HOUSE, near Larne, County Antrim, was built for Mr Stewart Clark at some stage after 1878.
Mr Clark was a wealthy Scottish textile industrialist. He married Annie (daughter of John Smiley and sister of Sir Hugh Houston Smiley Bt). Their daughter Edith married Sir Thomas Dixon in 1906. 
Cairndhu comprises two storeys and many gables; though it's style is vaguely Oriental, given that it boasts ornate, openwork bargeboards and an elaborate wooden veranda and balcony running for most of the frontage.

The house was later extended, in 1897-8, to the designs of Samuel P Close.

A collection of small buildings were on the site, presumably a farm, which in 1857 was called Seaview, the property of Robert Agnew.

Mr Clark bought Seaview in 1878, and would appear to have rebuilt it rather than remodelled or extended it, as there is now no trace of any earlier buildings.

The architect of the initial phase of Clark's building may have been Mr Close.

Cairndhu was extended by Mr Clark at various times, the last time reportedly being in 1906.

Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon purchased Cairndhu in 1918.

They added the servants' dining hall.

In 1947, the Dixons donated the house and 162 acres of land to the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority. 


SIR THOMAS DIXON, 2nd Baronet, married Edith, youngest daughter of Mr Stewart Clark, of Dundas Castle, South Queensferry, Scotland, and Cairndhu, in 1906, at Dalmeny Church, South Queensferry.

Edith Clark was the sister of Sir John Stewart-Clark, 1st Baronet.

After their marriage, the Dixons lived for varying periods at Graymount House, Hillsborough Castle, Drumadarragh, Luttrelstown, and Lucan, before purchasing Lady Dixon’s childhood summer residence, Cairndhu.

The estate increased in size to nearly 500 acres when the adjoining properties of Droagh (formerly Sir Edward Coey’s estate) and Carnfunnock (William Chaine’s property) were purchased.

The Dixon family held many house and garden parties and entertained public dignitaries with grouse shooting in the Antrim Hills. 

More improvements were made to the house including the servants' dining hall.

The house was beautiful and Cairndhu had a large workforce, with 20 indoors staff, kitchen staff, ladies maids and upstairs staff .

Sir Thomas occupied his time with livestock farming, including a herd of dairy cows.

The farm office, stables and cattle byres were based at Hillhead Farm, now the clubhouse of Cairndhu Golf Club. 

Mr. Frank Brownlow was responsible for looking after the extensive herds of cattle and sheep at Carnfunnock, Cairndhu and hill land at Ballyboley.

He travelled to auctions all over Ireland to purchase cattle for Sir Thomas and managed the farm at Cairndhu. 

The land at Cairndhu was used for grazing cattle, mainly Shorthorns and Galloway cattle, which were bred for beef.

Two or three mornings per week they would inspect the cattle together and if Mr Brownlow pointed out to Sir Thomas that neighbouring farms were for sale, such as Droagh Farm, Sir Thomas would buy them and knock down hedges to have his fields extended for grazing. 

Sir Thomas often had his chauffeur, Sandy Moreland, drive him round the fields in his yellow and black Rolls-Royce to see his cattle, land stewards and head gardeners.

There were twenty-two gardeners and estate workers. 

In 1937, when Carnfunnock was merged with Cairndhu, Mr Brownlow was responsible for the management of the whole estate, which consisted of 500 acres.

In September, 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, Sir Thomas, as Mayor of Larne (1939-41), handed over his Larne residence for use as a War Hospital Supply Depot and organised the YMCA canteen at the harbour. 

Lady Dixon was president of the Ulster Fund and War Hospital Supply Depot for Serving Forces (Larne Depot) with donations requested in October 1939 to purchase necessary materials.

Sir Thomas provided his land, though he and Lady Dixon were able to live independently in Cairndhu without being affected.

The Carnfunnock walled garden grew cabbage, cauliflower and other vegetables that were used in Cairndhu or taken to Lady Dixon’s friends and family. 

In 1940 Lady Dixon gave one of their three Rolls-Royces to be converted into an ambulance for first-aid parties to the Larne A.R.P. Ambulance Service.

In May, 1947, Sir Thomas celebrated his 79th birthday, and the occasion was marked by announcing a generous gift: After forty years at Cairndhu, the Dixons donated their 60-room family home, with 100 acres of the estate, to the Ministry of Health and Local Government for use as a convalescent home and hospital. 

At the time, Lady Dixon said that she was very sorry to be going away from the house that her father built: “It’s too big for us now, though. It was different in the days when we could entertain.”

Sir Thomas died on holiday at the Majestic Hotel, Harrogate, on 10th May, 1950, aged 81.

His body was brought back on the Stranraer steam-boat en route to his last residence, Wilmont House in Dunmurry.

The funeral service was held at Belfast Cathedral before burial at Dundonald Cemetery.

His younger brother Herbert, who had already been elevated to the peerage as 1st Baron Glentoran, succeeded him in the baronetcy.

At the time of Sir Thomas’s death, his effects were valued at over £389,000.

Cairndhu was officially opened as a convalescent hospital in 1950, but funding difficulties meant that, in 1986, it was closed down by the Department of Health and Social Services. 

In 1995, the Lord Rana purchased Cairndhu House and the surrounding gardens from the council.

A public consultation was held in 2018 over plans to develop the site of the derelict mansion into 'retirement village' facilities and a care home.


CAIRNDHU was originally built as a summer residence in 1875 on a beautiful site overlooking the sea, which hitherto had a small amount of planting around a former smaller house called Sea View.

The trees, forming an effective shelter-belt, date from the late 19th century.

The site benefited initially from the shelter-belts of the adjoining property, Carncastle Lodge (now Carnfunnock Country Park).

These adjacent sites are now both administered by Larne Borough Council.

Gardens developed round the house with steeply terraced lawns.

The grounds rise on a steep slope from sea level, east to west.

The productive gardens were to the west side of the house at the most elevated level.

Vestiges of these remain and some dilapidated glass-houses.

There are good specimens of mature trees, shrub planting and lawns.

The northern end is now a golf course.

First published in August, 2010.


Anonymous said...

So who offically owns the house now? I just love it, my partner and i where descussing buying the property, its just fantastic!

Anonymous said...

hi im the founder of NBPRG (North Belfast Paranormal Research Group) and im looking to find the owner of this property as i want to take my team into this building and do one last investigation in there before its sold on. Anyone knowing any info on this building could u email me at cheers.

Anonymous said...

Am very interested to find out the history of this building and if anyone has pictures of its years ago when it was a nice home or even photos of it when it was a hospital... can find lots of it recently but no pics of how it would have looked when it was lived in/used.. my email put subject cairndhu house thanks

J.Robinson said...

I remember going for looks around the outside of this marvellous mansion as a child, and very recently I took my own 4 year old, to tell her about it. I was appalled at the state of the grounds and the building. Such Grandeur going to waste and rotting away. I'd nearly see it refurbished into a hotel, than to watch it wither away to nothing, it actually nearly broke my heart.

Anonymous said...

I worked in this once beautiful building when it was a hospital such a disgraceful sight it is today

Anonymous said...

I have been in constant correspondence with the Department of the Environment of Northern Ireland (Built Heritage Unit) since 2004, and more recently with Alex Attwood, MLA., Minister of the Environment, trying to get repairs (proper repairs) done to Cairndhu. My latest information for anyone interested is that Lord Rana is no longer the owner. The bank has taken over from the previous owner, McKenzie (NI) Ltd which is now so-called bankrupt. If there are any professional people (Solicitor, Architect, Structural Engineer, Electrician, etc...) interested in forming a Trust for restoring Cairndhu House, please do get in touch with Thomas at: Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

McKenzie (NI) Ltd is not bankrupt it is the same company that developed the ASDA site in Larne. If they are the current owners as the previous comment claims then a petition could be drawn up asking them to take the necessary action required to stop the decay of this once fabulous property.

Anonymous said...

For the sake of clarity the property is currently in the hands of a receiver on behalf of AIB following the winding up of the developer Gemini Homes. It has been in the hands of the receiver for 18 months and at present bids are invited. I would advise caution because the property could be bought for a knockdown cost but you will immediately be responsible for all security repairs and insurance and simply to renovate the building to the standard required by Historic buildings could cost up to £3million. In my opinion it is an ideal property to be converted into a good quality hotel

Anonymous said...

Save Cairndhu House on Facebook -

Aerial drone video of Cairndhu House in 2015 -

Cairndhu House to appear in movie Morgan (2016) -

Anonymous said...

How long did u work in it for?

Anonymous said...

I have Been around a few time and Would love to see photos in side of the house before it got closed down

Unknown said...

My name is Ian HUtchinson and I lived in the house next to hospital .