Thursday, 31 October 2019

Dromoland Castle


This very ancient family claims royal descent, and deduces its pedigree from the celebrated Irish monarch, 
Brian Boru, who ascended the throne in 1002, and fell at the memorable battle of Clontarf, in 1014.

From this prince descended the Kings of Thomond; of which

TURLOGH, King of Munster and principal High King of Ireland, had, with other issue, Dermot, King of Munster, from whom descended, in 1528,

CONNOR O'BRIEN, King of Thomond, who married Anabella, youngest daughter of Ulick De Burgh, 1st Earl of Clanricarde, by whom he left four sons, in minority, at his decease, when the principality was usurped by his brother,

MURROUGH O'BRIEN, who, repairing to England by the advice of the Lord Deputy of Ireland, in 1543, surrendered his royalty to HENRY VIII, and was, in recompense, created Earl of Thomond for life, and BARON INCHIQUIN to his own heirs male.

His lordship wedded Eleanor, daughter of Sir Thomas FitzGerald, Knight, and dying in 1551, left issue,
DERMOT, his successor;
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,

DERMOT, 2nd Baron, who espoused Margaret, daughter of Donough O'Brien, 2nd Earl of Thomond.

He died in 1557, and was succeeded by his son,

MURROUGH McDERMOT, 3rd Baron (c1550-73), who wedded Mabel, daughter of Christopher, 6th Baron Delvin, and had issue,
MURROUGH, his successor;
His lordship was slain by Dermot Reagh O'Shaughnessy in 1573, and was succeeded by his son,

MURROUGH, 4th Baron (1562-97), who wedded Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Cusack, LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND.

His lordship fell from his horse and drowned, in 1597, when fording the River Erne, near Sligo, during the Nine Years War.

He was succeeded by his son,

DERMOT, 5th Baron (1594-1624), who wedded Ellen, eldest daughter of Sir Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald, and had issue,
MURROUGH, of whom we treat;
Honora; Mary; Ann.
His lordship was succeeded by his youngest son,

MURROUGH (1618-74), 6th Baron, who was created, in 1654, EARL OF INCHIQUN.

MURROUGH (1726-1808), 10th Baron, was created, in 1808, MARQUESS OF THOMOND.

Barons Inchiquin (1543; Reverted)

The heir presumptive is the present holder's second cousin Conor John Anthony O'Brien (born 1952).

DROMOLAND CASTLE, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, is considered one of the finest examples of a baronial style castle in Ireland.

According to history, the original castle on the site is said to have dated back to the 11th century, and was more rustic in nature than the existing castle of today, similar in style to Bunratty castle.

Like other castles of the times, it served as a defensive stronghold.

From the time of Morrough O’Brien (the original owner of Dromoland) until the 16th Baron Inchiquin - who still owned the castle in the 1960s - the Inchiquins lived at Dromoland for more than 500 years.

In 1736, a second castle was built in the design of the Queen Anne period with a wing enclosing a central courtyard.

This wing of the castle remains today and is almost a century older than the other sections of the castle.

The present castle was completed in 1826 by the 4th O'Brien Baronet in Gothic style, with four large towers made of a dark blue limestone that was cut from a nearby quarry, and built at great expense for the times.

The Castle is dominated by a tall, round corner tower and a square tower, both of heavily crenellated. There are also smaller towers and a turreted porch.

The windows on the main fronts are rectangular with Gothic tracery.

Inside, a square entrance hall opens into a long, inner hall similar to a gallery, the staircase being at one end; while the main reception rooms are at one side of it.

The rooms have quite austere ceilings with Gothic Tudor-Revival cornices.

The drawing-room was formerly called the Keightley Room since it contained many of the 17th century portraits which were acquired by the O'Brien family through the marriage of Lucius O'Brien MP to Catherine Keightley (whose grandfather was the Earl of Clarendon).

Part of the 18th century garden layout survives, including a gazebo and Doric rotunda.

During the latter portion of the 19th century, the Inchiquin family wealth dwindled due to a series of Land Acts, until Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom in 1921.

Landlords during this time were forced to sell their farmlands, and so the Inchiquins lost their main source of income.

However, they were able to still hold onto Dromoland.

Although the loss of income suffered by the Inchiquins made the Castle difficult to keep, they managed to do so, and the castle was maintained by the personal wealth of the 15th Baron's wife, and afterwards her son, the 16th Baron, until 1948, when they began to take in tourists as paying guests.

Finally, in 1962, the Castle was sold to an American industrialist, Bernard McDonough, whose family were of Irish descent.

Over a period of six months, the castle underwent major renovations and was eventually re-opened as a luxury hotel.

The original style and atmosphere of the castle are said to have been preserved, and the rooms including its stately, baronial country house atmosphere “look very much today, like they did when the Inchiquin family lived there... ".

The original wing is very elegant inside: Guests enter into a two-storey stone lobby (made from the dark blue limestone) that is complete with suits of armour, a large dark wood carved table, elegant rose tapestry covered chairs, and dark red drapes.

On one side, a stone passage and hallway lead to the large, main drawing room of the castle.

The hallway and drawing-room have a high ceiling,deep red and gold wallpapered walls, and is lined with baronial portraits of the barons and former members of the Inchiquin family.

It is said that O'Brien family portraits (on loan) remain on display at the Castle today.
First published in April, 2011.  Thomond arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

No Smoking, Bertie!

Here’s another sublime extract from that master of prose, Sir P G Wodehouse, in his novel, Very Good, Jeeves!:-

“These are deep waters, Jeeves.”

“Precisely, sir.”

“And the ghastly part of it all is that he seems to consider it necessary, in order to keep his job, to treat me like a long-lost leper. Thus killing my only chance of having anything approaching a decent time in this abode of desolation. For do you realize, Jeeves, that my aunt says I mustn’t smoke while I’m here?”

“Indeed, sir?”

“Nor drink.”

“Why is this, sir ?”

“Because she wants me - for some dark and furtive reason which she will not explain - to impress a fellow named [the Right Hon A B] Filmer [MP].”

“Too bad, sir. However, many doctors, I understand, advocate such abstinence as the secret of health. They say it promotes a freer circulation of the blood and insures the arteries against premature hardening.”

“Oh, do they? Well, you can tell them next time you see them that they are silly asses.”

“Very good, sir.”

Lanesborough Lodge


This family is not sprung from any of the ancient Irish houses of Butler; but from George Butler, of Fenny Drayton, in Cambridgeshire, and of Tewin, in Hertfordshire.

This George, living in 1575, son of Edward Butler, was said to be descended from John Butler, living at Waresley, Huntingdonshire, in 1376.

SIR STEPHEN BUTLER, Knight (descended from John Butler, of Waresley, Huntingdonshire, living in 1376), settled in Ireland in the reign of JAMES I, being an undertaker in the plantation of Ulster, and having obtained a grant of 2,000 acres of land in County Cavan, erected a baronial castle of great strength.

He and his co-undertakers of the precinct of Loughtee commenced, according to their agreement, the plantation of a town at Belturbet; and in his time thirty-five houses were erected, all inhabited by British tenants, most of whom were tradesmen, each having a house and garden plot, with four acres of land, and commons for a certain number of cattle.

Sir Stephen married Mary, daughter and co-heir of Gervais Brinsley, of Brinsley, in Nottinghamshire; and dying in 1639, was succeeded by his eldest son,

JAMES BUTLER, of Belturbet; at whose decease, without issue, the estates devolved upon his brother,

STEPHEN BUTLER, MP for Belturbet, 1661-2, who wedded Anne, daughter of Sir James Barry, 1st Baron Barry of Santry, and was succeeded at his decease, in 1662, by his eldest son,

FRANCIS BUTLER (1634-1702), MP for Belturbet [1662-6], 1692-9, who married Judith, daughter of the Rt Hon Sir Theophilus Jones, of Osberstown, County Kildare, and was succeeded at his decease by his eldest son,

THE RT HON THEOPHILUS BUTLER (c1669-1723), of Belturbet, County Cavan, MP for County Cavan, 1703-13, Belturbet, 1713-14, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1715, in the dignity of Baron Newtownbutler, with remainder, in default of male issue, to the male descendants of his father, having previously represented County Cavan in parliament and being called to the Privy Council.

His lordship espoused Emilia, elder daughter and co-heir of James Stopford, of Tara, County Meath; but leaving no issue at his decease, the title devolved upon his brother,

BRINSLEY, 2nd Baron (1670-1735), MP for Kells, 1703-13, Belturbet, 1713-24, Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Colonel of the Battle-axe guards, who was created, in 1728, Viscount Lanesborough.

His lordship married Catherine, daughter and co-heir of Neville Pooley, of the city of Dublin, by whom he had no less than twenty-three children, five only of whom, however, survived infancy, namely,
HUMPHREY, his successor;
Thomas, Governor of Limerick;
Robert, MP, Captain, Battle-axe Guards;
John, MP for Newcastle;
Judith, m to B J Cramer.
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,

HUMPHREY, 2nd Viscount (1700-68), who wedded, in 1726, Mary, daughter and heir of Richard Berry, of Wardenstown, County Westmeath, by whom he had an only son.

His lordship was created, in 1756, EARL OF LANESBOROUGH, and was succeeded by his son,

BRINSLEY, 2nd Earl (1728-79), who wedded, in 1754, Jane, only daughter of Robert, 1st Earl of Belvedere, and had issue,
ROBERT HERBERT, his successor;
Augustus Richard;
Mary; Catherine; Charlotte; Caroline; Sophia.
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,

ROBERT HERBERT, 3rd Earl (1759-1806), who married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Rt Hon David La Touche, by whom he had two sons,
BRINSLEY, his heir;
The titles expired following the decease of the 9th Earl in 1998

LANESBOROUGH LODGE, County Cavan (also known as Quivvy Lodge), stood very close to the border with County Fermanagh.

It was adjacent to Lord Erne's land at Crom estate.

The Lodge was a two-storey Tudor-Revival house of ca 1810, comprising a main block and a lower, two-storey service wing.

It was extended to the rear in 1846.

There were gables, mullioned windows, and a corbelled oriel.

The house is now derelict and ruinous, having been burnt in the 1920s.

The importance and scale of the estate is indicated on historic maps by the related structures that are marked, including a yacht house, boat house, boat slips, a landing place, an engine house, various outbuildings, ice-house, and a walled garden.

Though now ruinous, Lanesborough Lodge retains much of its historic character and form.

I have unearthed this entry from a publication of 1852:
Since this justly admired nobleman and his amiable Countess returned to their estates in Cavan, the tenantry have had one unbroken scene of rejoicing. 
Today a large party, numbering uupwards of 1,000, dined at Lanesborough Lodge, Belturbet, on the invitation of the Earl and Countess. We will give the particulars in our next. 
It is to be regretted that these reunions are not more frequent generally, as they would tend to break down prejudices and unite landlords and tenants in all struggles for their mutual advantage and the benefit of the common weal. 
There is an old estate school on the way to the Lodge and beyond are the remains of a laundry and the steward's house.

The family also owned Inish Rath Island on Upper Lough Erne, County Fermanagh.

The island is located north-west of Crom estate.

The Victorian-Tudor style house on the island (above) was built in 1854 by the Hon Henry Cavendish Butler-Danvers (1811-91), a half-brother of the 5th Earl of Lanesborough.

It was subsequently purchased by the Earl of Erne for use as a hunting lodge.

During the early 20th century, the house was used for boating parties etc.

The island went through continuous change of ownership for about thirty years, when it was bought and sold.

At the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles, in 1982, property prices slumped in this border area.

A group of Hare Krishna monks, led by a German follower, Prithu Das, pooled their resources and took out a bank loan to buy Inish Rath, a perfect setting for a Hare Krishna centre.

The Hare Krishna temple was established in the west wing of the house with a magnificent gold altar at one end of the long room and a life size representation of Swami Prabhupada at the other.

Oriental arches frame the windows and polished pine floors add to the overall feeling of light and space.
SWITHLAND HALL, Leicestershire, was held by the family of Danvers until 1796, but after the death of Sir John Danvers (the last male of his line) it passed to his son-in-law, Augustus Richard Butler, 2nd son of the 2nd Earl of Lanesborough, who adopted the surname of Danvers-Butler. The current hall was partially completed in 1834 and finished in 1852 by the 6th Earl. 
The Lanesboroughs owned the following residences:

Other seats ~ Lanesborough Lodge, County Fermanagh; Swithland Hall, Leicestershire.
Town residence ~ 8 Great Stanhope Street, London.

First published in July, 2013.   Lanesborough arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

West of White Park


GEORGE WEST, of Blessington, County Wicklow, died in 1716, leaving by his wife Jane, with other issue, a son,

JACOB WEST, of Quinsborough, County Wicklow, and Hutton Read, County Kildare, baptized at Blessington, 1703, who married Mary, daughter of Matthew Pretious, of Quinsborough and Purefoy's Place (Clonbollogue), County Kildare, and had issue,
Pretious, settled in London;
John, of Dublin;
MATTHEW, of whom presently.
The youngest son,

MATTHEW WEST (1747-1806), wedded, in 1770, Mary Ann, daughter of Thomas Roan, of Kildare, and had issue,
Jacob West, of Loughlinstown House, Co Dublin;
MATTHEW, of whom presently;
James Lyster, of Fort William, Co Roscommon;
The second son,

MATTHEW WEST (1777-1820), of Ederney, County Fermanagh, and Harcourt Street, Dublin, Alderman of the City of Dublin, High Sheriff of Dublin City, 1810, espoused, in 1802, Maria Louisa, younger daughter of Jean Jasper Joly, of Charlemont Place, County Dublin, and Carton, County Kildare, and had issue,
Charles Matthew (1803-23);
Henry Jasper (1804-29);
WILLIAM JAMES, of whom presently;
Augustus William (Very Rev), Dean of Ardagh;
George White, of Ardenode;
Maria Louisa; Emily Matilda.
The third son,

THE REV WILLIAM JAMES WEST (1809-59), of Harcourt Street, Dublin, Ederney, County Fermanagh, Balix and Legcloghfin, County Tyrone, Rector of Delgany, County Wicklow, married, in 1838, Elmina, daughter and co-heir of Alexander Erskine, of Balhall, Forfarshire, and Longhaven, Aberdeenshire, and had issue,
William Alexander Erskine WEST-ERSKINE, of Ederney, and Hindmarsh Island, Australia;
AUGUSTUS GEORGE, of whom we treat;
Henry Matthew (Rev);
Alexander, of Balhall;
Frederick John, of Glenelg, S Australia;
Arthur FitzGerald, died in infancy;
Alfred Edward;
Elmina Eliza; Amelia Louisa (Nina).
The second son,

AUGUSTUS GEORGE WEST (1841-1911), of White Park, near Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, and of Balix and Legcloghfin, County Tyrone, Lieutenant, 76th Regiment, wedded, in 1867, Sara (of White Park), fourth daughter of the Rev Canon Richard Booth Eyre, of Eyre Court, County Galway, and had issue,
ERSKINE EYRE, his heir;
Augustus William, of Leixlip House, Co Kildare;
Dudley Alexander, of Salisbury, Rhodesia;
Richard Annesley, VC DSO MC;
Adeline Elizabeth; Sara Elmina Erskine; Georgiana Geraldine de Blaisy.
The eldest son,

ERSKINE EYRE WEST (1868-1950), Barrister, of the King's Inns, Dublin, Captain, Londonderry Royal Garrison Artillery, espoused, in 1899, Annette Eileen Maude, elder daughter of Cuthbert Henry Cooke Huddart, of Shoyswell Manor, Etchingham, East Sussex, and Brynkir, Carnarvonshire, and had issue
AUGUSTUS CUTHBERT ERSKINE (1900-68), married with issue;
Dudley Somerset Erskine, b 1904.

The Ulster historian Gordon Lucy has written about Richard Annesley West VC DSO MC.

I am seeking images and information abut White Park, near Brookeborough, County Fermanagh.

Monday, 28 October 2019

1st Earl of Lauderdale


This very ancient and distinguished family of Scotland has been settled at Thirlestane, Berwickshire, for more than six centuries.

Its earliest ancestor was Sir Richard de Matulant (as the name was formerly written), who gave divers lands to the abbey of Dryburgh in the reign of ALEXANDER III, King of Scotland.

It was ennobled in the person of

SIR JOHN MAITLAND, Knight, created Lord Maitland of Thirlestane in 1590.

His lordship died five years afterwards, and was succeeded by his only son,

JOHN, 2nd Lord, who was created, in 1616, Viscount Lauderdale; and, in 1624, advanced to the dignities of Viscount Maitland and EARL OF LAUDERDALE.

His lordship wedded Isabella, daughter of Alexander, Earl of Dunfermline, and had issue, two sons and a daughter.

He died in 1645, and was succeeded by his son,

JOHN, 2nd Earl, KG, who, having distinguished himself by his zealous and active exertions in the royal cause during the civil wars, was, after the Restoration, installed a Knight of the Garter, and appointed High Commissioner of Scotland.

His lordship was created, in 1672, Marquess of March and DUKE OF LAUDERDALE; and enrolled amongst the peers of England, 1674, as Baron Petersham, and Earl of Guildford, in Surrey.

His Grace dying, however, without male issue, in 1682, those honours expired, but his hereditary titles devolved upon his brother,

CHARLES, 3rd Earl, who married Elizabeth, daughter and sole heiress of Richard Lauder, of Hutton, by whom he had issue Richard, John, and Charles, successive Earls of Lauderdale, besides three other sons and two daughters.

His lordship died in 1691, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

RICHARD, 4th Earl, PC, privy counsellor, General of The Mint, and Lord Justice General, 1681-84.

His lordship was outlawed in 1694, for his adhesion to the fortunes of JAMES II; and dying in Paris, without issue, in 1695, the peerage devolved upon his brother,

JOHN, 5th Earl, one of the Lords of Session, under the title of Lord Ravelrig, who wedded the Lady Margaret Cunningham, only child of Alexander, 10th Earl of Glencairn, and heir of line of that ancient family, and had issue, the eldest surviving son,

CHARLES, 6th Earl, who married the Lady Elizabeth Ogilvy, daughter of James, Earl of Findlater and Seafield, Lord Chancellor of Scotland, by whom he had, with other issue, his eldest son,

JAMES (1718-89), 7th Earl, Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army, who married, in 1749, Mary, daughter and co-heir of Sir Thomas Lombe, alderman of the city of London, and had issue,

JAMES (1759-1839), 8th Earl, KT.

THIRLESTANE CASTLE sits in extensive parklands near Lauder in the Borders of Scotland.

The site is aptly named Castle Hill, as it stands upon raised ground.

However, the raised land is within Lauderdale, the valley of the Leader Water.

The land has been in the ownership of the Maitland family since 1587, and Thirlestane has served as the seat of the Earls of Lauderdale.

John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale (1616-82), one of the most important Scottish figures of the late 17th century, was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland in 1660, a position carrying unrivalled power and influence.

He employed the architect Sir William Bruce to transform the castle into a residence suitable for conducting the affairs of state.

Between 1670-76, the substantial alterations included the addition of the two front towers and the grand staircase, in addition to extensive internal modifications creating lavish staterooms with magnificent plasterwork ceilings.

Captain Gerald Maitland-Carew inherited the castle in 1972 from his maternal grandmother, Ethel, Countess of Lauderdale, wife of the 15th Earl.

At this time, the castle was in a serious state of disrepair, requiring extensive renovation.

In 1984, the castle was gifted to a charitable trust established to ensure its preservation, and major repairs were carried out, assisted by financial grants awarded by the Historic Buildings Council and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

In addition to the grounds, the castle itself and its interiors, Thirlestane is noted for fine collections of paintings, furniture, porcelain and an historic toy collection.

The castle is normally open to visitors from April until September, however was not open during the 2013 season due to another outbreak of dry rot which is being treated.

First published in November, 2013.  Duke of Lauderdale's arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

The Ross Memoirs: II



The first mobilized squadron of the North Irish Horse sailed in the transport Architect to Havre on the 17th August, 1914.

Among the officer were Major Lord Cole, afterwards Earl of Enniskillen, Captain Sir Emerson Herdman, Lord Jocelyn, later Earl of Roden, Lieutenants David Kerr, T Hughes, and Ronald Ross.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald Ross MC

Another squadron followed shortly afterwards commanded by Major Lord Massereene, and included R A West, who obtained a VC, but was killed subsequently.

Several ex-service officers managed to get out with them, such as Major Barry, RHA (son of my old friend Lord Justice Barry), who did great service.

A heroic youth, Kenneth Greer, son of T M Greer DL, County Antrim, also contrived to embark with them, who was destined to fall while serving in the Irish Guards, after he had done deeds of reckless courage in France.

I do not propose to narrate the history of this contingent, although afterwards, with Ronald [2nd Baronet] I visited the line of the great retreat of the Old Contemptibles from Mons, and nearly all the battlefields on which he had been engaged.

Sir Ronald Ross Bt MC

He went through the whole war to the end; was awarded the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre, and was an infantry brigade major, serving with the 36th (Ulster) Division at the time of the Armistice.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Cloyne Palace

THE bishopric of CLOYNE was established in the 6th century.

It was united to Cork for almost two hundred years.

This diocese lies entirely within County Cork, extending east and west nearly 63 miles in length, by a breadth of 29.

CLOYNE PALACE, County Cork, was built in 1718 for the Right Rev Charles Crow, Lord Bishop of Cloyne, 1702-26.

The last Bishop to reside at the palace was the Right Rev Dr John Mortimer Brinkley, who died in 1835.

The see of Cloyne subsequently became united with that of Cork and Ross.

The former episcopal residence is irregular in plan and elevation, having been altered by several Bishops.

It underwent a number of alterations and additions over several hundred years, giving it today a unique appearance with a multiplicity of roofs.

The remarkable west elevation, used as the front, conceals a notable double-height single-storey space.

It retains many notable early features, including timber sliding sash windows.

There are outbuildings, gates, and a gate lodge, which provide added interest and context.

The palace and demesne were leased by the Church of Ireland, in 1836, to Mr H Allen.

First published in October, 2015.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Ards by Wayfarer

Route clockwise from Cultra to Newtownards



The Ards Peninsula, a long limb of fertile land extending south along the coast of County Down, was a backdrop to my Ulster childhood.

The whole county is pebbled with low hills of glacial moraine called drumlins, which also account for the many islands and drying pladdies [small islets] of Strangford Lough, the UK’s largest sea inlet and a place of soft and tranquil beauty.

On the east coast of Ards is the North Channel of the Irish Sea from where Scotland and the Isle of Man are easily visible.

My cousin fishes prawn out of Portagovie and I’d often cycle down and round, visiting the fishermen and maybe crossing over to Strangford on the ferry that plies the fast flung tides of the Narrows at the mouth of the Lough.

In June 2014 I fulfilled a long held ambition to sail round the peninsula from Belfast Lough, down the east coast (visiting my bemused relations), up through the Narrows, and north into Strangford as far as the shallow draft of a Wayfarer would allow.

I took the water on the slipway of the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club at Cultra on the southern shores of Belfast Lough, opposite the brooding basalt of the Antrim Plateau.

A few miles to the west is the city of Belfast, its skyline dominated by Samson and Goliath, the two colossal gantry cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

The local clubmen were very welcoming and the usual banter was struck up,
“is there any particular reason why you are doing this?”, “you are not going on your own are you?”, “did you ever consider going by car?”, “I hope the Coast Guard have been alerted?”
Especial thanks to Gary who, between banter attacks, stocked me up on local knowledge.

For instance at Donaghadee Sound the tide flows south for only three hours.

By 11:30 I could think of no further excuse for not setting sail.

I could feel some tension in my guts but, as Gary said “you need a bit of fear to remind you you are alive”.

Setting Sail from Cultra, Southern Edge of Antrim Plateau behind (Photo: Noel Thompson)

My first port of call was Donaghadee, a small town with two big piers.

A colleague in Bristol was reared in these parts and I called her up seeking recommendations for a good ice-cream.

The sun was splitting the skies and I felt a bit freakish wandering amongst the day trippers in a dry suit.

All day there was a fairly thick bank of cloud sitting inland – a common and favourable pattern for the coastal cruiser.

With northerly winds blowing for the whole trip this was a lee shore and I decided to depart under motor and hoist the sail off shore.

The wind had freshened and I made a good call to reef before heading due south.

Ah - the sheer joy of running before the wind on a sunny day, the feel of the boat as she lifts on the wave, twists slightly and speeds into the trough, the sound of water chortling at the transom, landmarks quickly distancing to windward.

I made six knots to Portavogie – a little less when I furled the genoa which was finding it hard to set on the run. 

Selfie with Ice-cream from “The Cabin”: Donaghadee’s Famous Lighthouse Behind

Portavogie has a working fishing fleet and most of the boats were in.

How different and exciting it is to arrive somewhere from the sea!

I threaded my way, again under engine, into the inner harbour and tied alongside one of these hard worn wooden craft.

Cousin Roy was there duly bemused, and soon I was in the bosom of my fisher folk family, the victim of much banter, freshly baked sponge and an impromptu bagpipe recital.

The knot on the end of my rudder downhaul had pulled through the wood (I think because the joint is too stiff and my efforts too vigorous) and this was quickly repaired.

These people are made of stern stuff. The working day for a Portavogie fisherman is 18 hours.

Margins are tight with £1000 a week on diesel, competition from bigger vessels with “expendable” foreign crews and an unsympathetic Northern Ireland Fisheries Board (Roy was banned from fishing for ten days for accidentally landing 0.5Kg over his quota for cod).

The fish we eat are hard won.

Yet there is a still a glint, a passion.

I think they’d rather die than sit at a desk.

The next morning I headed off south again, bound for Strangford Lough.

350 million tonnes of water pass through the Narrows with each set of the tide.

The stream runs at 8 knots at springs and so all transits are determined by the tides which run a full three hours behind those at the coast.

I needed to enter the Narrows around 4.30pm so went cliff sniffing in pursuit of a nice sandy beach with an offshore wind.

Along the way I caught a first magical glimpse of the Mountains of Mourne.

South Bay is not named on the charts but on the hearts of all those lucky enough to have discovered it. 

Just shy of Ballyquintin Point at the tip of the peninsula, this was the perfect cove to tuck a Wayfarer whilst I basked in the sun, had a snooze and climbed a hill marked Tara on the chart – an ancient fort which local legend says is inhabited by a bunch of musical fairies.

Our Neolithic ancestors had rare taste in real estate.

From Tara you can see the whole of Ards up to Belfast and south to those sinuous mountains as they sweep down to the sea.

South Bay near Ballyquintin Point with Osprey Parked at the High Water Line

A bit of tension in the guts again as I approached the Narrows.

Just to complicate matters and kill a bit more time I decided to sail past the entrance to the lough and south to round Gunn Island.

Ulster has few coastal islands (Rathlin being the most famous).

This then involved me in a long and sporty beat back north against wind and tide.

Having run the Severn Bridges already this year, I was less frightened of fast tidal stream than I might have otherwise been.

The danger of the Narrows is on the ebb where huge standing waves develop at the mouth especially in winds E to SW.

I tried to be encouraged by the pilot’s advice to “enjoy the whirlpools”.

Caused by some underwater pinnacles there is a large one called “Routen Wheel” which you are advised to avoid but which I think I may have sailed straight across – less whirlpool, more giant jacuzzi.

As with the Severn, I was surprised how well the boat kept its course in the turbulence.

Near the end of the Narrows, where the stream is fastest, is a tower from which are suspended two huge electricity turbines.

I tacked in front of this but slightly traumatised myself by getting pulled down by the current much faster than anticipated.

I missed the structure by 20m but 100m would have been better.

The sight of the tide heaping up against the tower gave me the willies.

How different it was to be spat out into the gentle waters of Strangford (Norse, strong fjord).

No waves, land all around, the beautiful Mournes beckoning in the haze.

I headed now on a single tack to East Down Yacht Club and picked up an empty mooring.

Here I had my first attempt at erecting a boat tent. Dave Barker’s (UKWA) instructions were superb (first instructions I have actually read in a long time) and the Ralph Roberts under boat bungee system inspired.

However, no sooner had I got it up than I took it straight down again.

Firstly I felt strangely nauseous in the slight swell, secondly I felt deprived of the wonderful views all around and thirdly I knew there was a dry night ahead and no call for a roof.

I don’t think I could have been happier, tucking into a hot meal, listening to the varied and urgent calls of the birds and reflecting on all that had happened that day.

I could still read a book at 10.30pm and settled to an acceptable sleep – sunglasses making a good barrier to the sun rising at 4.30am.

Perhaps I was lonely because I did put on Radio 4 over breakfast and spent the morning doing the sorts of seamanship drills I never find time for at home: MOB, coming out of irons, taking a mooring buoy and rowing in close quarters.

I did an experiment to check the fuel consumption of my 3.3HP Mercury 2-stroke.

It used around 300ml of petrol in 10 minutes at full throttle.

With a tank of 1.4litres that gives me about 45 minutes in one fill.

Accounting for tides, the boat under power has a top end of 6 knots.

With 7 litres stored I have an engine range of about 28 miles.

Before leaving East Down I was regaled with tales of their Wayfarer exploits (there are 20+ at the club) including a man in a boat called Blunderbuss who shot the Narrows only for the wind to vanish.

The poor bugger rowed to the Isle of Man in ten hours.
Another day of sun and wind.

I parked myself in the middle of the fairway and hove-to for half an hour of watery bliss, listening to music through Bluetooth headphones and figuring how lucky I was to be alive.

Though it doesn’t pay to get complacent.

A few years ago near that spot I was feeling very pleased with myself as we reached parallel with a yacht in full sail.

I commented glibly to my crew that according to the chart we were currently sailing over an island and just as the words were spoken we ran aground on a pladdy.

The yacht bobbed demurely on toward Portaferry where I now headed to check out a permanent aquatic exhibition called “Exploris”.

Having held a dog fish, stroked a ray and got up close and personal with cod, I headed back north with the tide toward my destination at the head of the lough.

The wind freshened and I had a long solitary beat to shelter on a mooring near Sketrick Island.  
Big Skies over Strangford with the Mountains of Mourne in the Background
On the next and final day of the cruise I wanted to do something that none of the clubmen I met had tried, to sail up the Comber River and haul out the boat at a small slip described by a canoeist on a paddling website.

The river lies at the head of a huge mudflat 2m over chart datum.

On my way north I balanced the boat by standing on the side deck and leaning back on the shroud.

This felt Vikingly and lent a good view of the sea bed and any lurking rocks.

Note that I benefit from having an extra-long tiller extension.

First the centreboard and then the rudder was up but with a rising tide I was not too worried about grounding.

Again the excitement of approaching an unknown shore, constantly checking the chart and scanning the land for the inconspicuous emergence of a river.

Soon I was in a totally different environment surrounded by reeds and swans breaking into flight to stay ahead of my slow progress against the wind.

There was one tense moment as I passed under some telegraph wires with about 8 foot of clearance.

Eventually I arrived at the slip way of the “Comber Cruising Club”, which ranks alongside the Chepstow and District Yacht Club as the UK’s most basic sailing facility.

The slip was deeply clarted in mud and, more importantly, the access gate heavily padlocked with no contact details to be found.

So, my sail of 89 NM around the Ards Peninsula ended instead at the Newtownards Sailing Club and the strong back of my long-suffering brother.

What a luxury to have been saved the practical hassle of a hitch back to the start, one of the less fun bits of a typical Wayfarer outing.
High Tide on the Mud-bound Slipway of Comber Cruising Club, Comber River Behind
The trip was covered by Imray C69 (which covers the whole North Channel) and Admiralty 2156 which covers Strangford in greater detail.

Navigation was generally easy by sight and local knowledge.

Save yourself £25 and buy the Irish Cruising Club’s hardback guide to the East and North Coasts in the 1990 edition – very little had changed except phone numbers.

I used Navionics software on an iPhone to check my speed over ground and to verify distances.

A newly acquired reefing system for the genoa jib ( worked a treat and several times saved the need for a second tuck in the mainsail.

I doubt I’m the only single-hander to spend long hours studying his rig and thinking of (or plainly inventing) things to fix on return to shore.

I love to sail alone and in company in equal measure, particularly on sea passages: solitude is accompanied by total immersion in the physical act of sailing, a heightening of the senses and a clearing of the mental decks.

Yes, and a variable amount of fear.

I’d take solace in the transitory company of a song.

With a careful eye on tide and weather I would commend this trip to any wayfarer with some sea experience.

Though the land has changed so much, the sea and much of the immediate coast is the same as it ever was.

This voyage was one of connecting back to my own past and that of generations of visitors to these hallowed shores.

Trevor Thompson, 1st July, 2014.

Friday, 25 October 2019

The Ross Memoirs: I



ON one occasion, we met an American gentleman, who had formerly been a Foreign Secretary to the United States Government.

In those days, Americans were much more aggressive than they are now; he deprecated all our institutions and exalted those of his own country.

I enjoyed myself very much in contradicting and arguing with him.

After dinner one evening he said: "Are you connected with the miscreant General Ross-of-Bladensburg, who burnt down our capital, Washington, in 1814?"

Out of mischief, I resolved to borrow the rights of my friend, Sir John Ross-of-Bladensburg KCB, for the occasion.

Admitting that I was, I added:

"If you go on as you are doing, we are determined to go over and do it again."

Magheramenagh Castle


This family was originally from Scotland.

WALTER ROE JOHNSTONE, of Mawlick, County Fermanagh, High Sheriff of County Fermanagh, 1679, attainted in 1689, had five sons,
Francis, of Limerick;
James, of Magheramena, dsp 1731;
HUGH, of whom hereafter;
Edward, of Leitrim.
The fourth son,

THE REV HUGH JOHNSTON, of Templecarn, County Fermanagh, made his will in 1691, and left a son,

FRANCIS JOHNSTON, of Magheramenagh, High Sheriff of County Fermanagh, 1731-2, who died in 1737, leaving, by Frances his wife,
JOHN, of whom we treat;
Mary; Grace; Lettice.
The fifth son,

CAPTAIN JOHN JOHNSTON, left by Anne his wife (married in 1756) two sons, of whom

ROBERT JOHNSTON QC, wedded, in 1806, Letitia, daughter of Sir William Richardson Bt, of Castle Hill, County Tyrone; and had issue,
JAMES, his heir;
Anna Maria, m, 1827, G Knox, of Prehen;
Harriette, m H Daniel, of Auburn;
Letitia Mary, m, 1835, J L Macartney.
Mr Johnston died in 1833, and was succeeded by his only son,

JAMES JOHNSTON JP DL (1817-73), of Magheramenagh Castle, County Fermanagh, High Sheriff of County Fermanagh, 1841, who married, in 1838, Cecilia, daughter of Thomas Newcomen Edgeworth, of Kilshrewly, County Longford, and had issue,
Letitia Marian; Rosetta.
Mr Johnston was succeeded by his only son,

ROBERT EDGEWORTH JOHNSTON (1842-), of Glencore House, High Sheriff, 1877, who wedded, in 1873, Edythe Grace, daughter of John Reynolds Dickson, of Woodville and Tullaghan House, County Leitrim, and had, with other issue,

JAMES CECIL JOHNSTON (1880-1915), of Magheramenagh Castle and Glencore House, County Fermanagh, High Sheriff of County Fermanagh, 1910, who married, in 1903, Violet Myrtle, daughter of S A Walker Waters, Assistant Inspector-General, Royal Irish Constabulary, and had issue, two daughters,
Marjorie Helen, b 1911.
Captain Johnston, Adjutant, Royal Irish Fuliliers, Deputy Ranger of The Curragh of Kildare, 1910, Master of the Horse to His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Aberdeen, 1910, was killed in action during the 1st World War.

His elder daughter,

MYRTLE JOHNSTON (1909-), a novelist, was born at Dublin and educated privately at Magheramena Castle.

The family moved to Bournemouth in 1921.

She published Hanging Johnny (1927), followed by Relentless (1930), The Maiden (1930), and A Robin Redbreast in a Cage (1950), amongst others.

MAGHERAMENAGH CASTLE, near Belleek, County Fermanagh, was a Tudor-Gothic house of ashlar, built between 1835-40.

It comprised two storeys, blind gables, and polygonal turrets with finials; a square battlemented tower at one corner; tall Gothic windows; quatrefoil decoration.

There was a single-storey battlemented wing terminating in a low round turret at the other end of the house.

It faced the River Erne to the south.

The entrance was to the north; and a conservatory to the east.

A small kitchen court faced westwards.

Click to Enlarge

The main façades were quite irregular, with big octagonal turrets and haphazard breaks from room to room.

A corridor running east to west connected the five principal rooms on the south front.

The house was constructed with cut stone.

A covered passage led westwards from the house to the 18th century stable-court and offices.

The Johnstons seem to have abandoned Magheramenagh and Ulster in 1921, following the untimely death of Captain Johnston and the establishment of Northern Ireland.

Thereafter, Magheramenagh Castle became a parochial house.

It was unroofed and partly demolished in the 1950s.

The estate lies between Belleek and Castle Caldwell.

First published in November, 2013.