Friday, 10 July 2020

Portballintrae Visit

Seaport Lodge (Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020)

Portballintrae is a pretty village on the north County Antrim coast, within a few miles of the famous Giant's Causeway.

The village of Bushmills is inland, a mile or so from Portballintrae, on the River Bush.

When I was twelve years old, in 1972, we spent a few days at the Beach Hotel, which stood at a picturesque little bay named after the Salmon Rock.

The Beach Hotel, image from a picture postcard

I have happy memories of our times there.

The hotel was demolished several decades ago for a new apartment block called, I think, the Beach Apartments.

Today Portballintrae has one hotel, a boat club, a nine-hole golf club, and a small shop and village hall at the main car-park.

I spent a few days at Portballintrae this week. After breakfast, I usually strolled past the cliffs, with their sand martins dashing in and out, to Seaport Lodge, probably the oldest building in the village, which was built about 1770.

The Lodge is a handsome building, presently being restored by its owner.

The white paint which formerly covered the stone has been stripped away, revealing the fine craftsmanship.

The building work now seems to be focussed on the interior.

Dunseverick Harbour (Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020)

The next morning I drove along the coast to Dunseverick Harbour, a charming haven far from the madding crowd.

A winding, narrow road leads down to it, and the prospect is spectacular.

The National Trust owns part of the coast here, a spot equidistant from Portbraddan and Dunseverick Castle, popular with ramblers.

When I stopped off at the Castle (or its site; only the ruinous gate lodge remains) there were two tents there.

Lamb Cutlets at Ramore (Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020)

In the evening I went to the popular and busy Ramore Harbour restaurant for dinner.

Portrush Harbour from Ramore (Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020)

THE next day I went for a walk from Portballintrae to Runkerry, a distance of about two miles, where the little narrow-gauge railway begins for Bushmills.

Giant's Causeway Railway (Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020)

It wasn't operating on Thursday, though the verges of the railway line have been trimmed and cut very recently, so perhaps it will reopen imminently.

(Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020)

On my way home I paid a visit to Bushmills Garden Centre, where I encountered a young fox.

House of Brownlow

The first member of this family to settle in Ulster was

JOHN BROWNLOW, of Nottingham, who offered himself as an undertaker, at the barony of Oneilland, County Armagh, during the plantation.

His son,

SIR WILLIAM BROWNLOW (1591-1661), of Brownlows Derry, County Armagh, born at Epworth, Derbyshire, settled in Ulster, and was knighted, 1622, by Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland, Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Sir William, High Sheriff of County Armagh, 1623, was granted 1,000 acres of land by JAMES I, close to the southern shore of Lough Neagh.

He married Eleanor, daughter of Sir John O'Doherty, of Londonderry, by whom he had several daughters, the eldest of whom,

LETTICE, married Patrick Chamberlain, of County Louth, and had issue,

ARTHUR CHAMBERLAIN (1645-1711), High Sheriff of County Armagh, 1668-9,  who assumed the arms and name of BROWNLOW.

He wedded Jane, daughter of Sir Standish Hartstonge Bt, of Hereford, and of Bruff, County Limerick.

Mr Brownlow was succeeded by his son and heir,

WILLIAM BROWNLOW (1683-1739), of Lurgan, County Armagh, MP for Armagh County, 1711-39, who married, in 1712, the Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, eldest daughter of James, 6th Earl of Abercorn, and had issue,
WILLIAM, his heir;
Jane; Elizabeth; Anne; Mary; Isabella.
Mr Brownlow was succeeded by his son,

THE RT HON WILLIAM BROWNLOW (1726-94), High Sheriff of County Armagh, 1750, MP for Armagh County, 1753-94, who espoused firstly, in 1754, Judith Letitia, daughter of the Very Rev Charles Meredyth, Dean of Ardfert, of Newtown, County Meath, and had issue,
William, dsp;
CHARLES, his heir;
He married secondly, in 1765, Catherine, third daughter of Roger Hall, of Mount Hall, County Down, and had issue,
Francis (Rev);
Catherine; Elizabeth; Isabella; Frances Letitia; Mary Anne; Selina; Louisa.
Mr Brownlow was succeeded by his eldest surviving son,

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL CHARLES BROWNLOW (1757-1822), of Lurgan, who wedded, in 1785, Caroline, daughter of Benjamin Ashe, of Bath, and had issue,
William (1787-1813);
CHARLES, of whom hereafter;
John (Rev);
Isabella; Anna; Mary.
Colonel Brownlow was succeeded by his eldest surviving son,

CHARLES (1795-1847), who wedded firstly, in 1822, the Lady Mary Bligh, daughter of John, 4th Earl of Darnley, and had issue,
Clara Anne Jane;
Mary Elizabeth.
He espoused secondly, in 1828, Jane, daughter of Roderick Macneill, of Barra, and had issue,
CHARLES, his successor.
Mr Brownlow, High Sheriff of County Armagh, 1834, was elevated to the peerage, in 1839, in the dignity of BARON LURGAN, of Lurgan, County Armagh.

His lordship was succeeded by his son,

CHARLES, 2nd Baron (1831-82), KP,  who married, in 1853, Emily Anne, daughter of John, 3rd Baron Kilmaine, and had issue,
WILLIAM, his successor;
Louisa Helene; Isabella.
His lordship was appointed a Knight of St Patrick in 1864.
  • William George Edward Brownlow, 4th Baron Lurgan (1902–84);
  • John Desmond Cavendish Brownlow, 5th Baron Lurgan (1911–91).
I have written about Brownlow House and the Barons Lurgan here.

The Brownlow Papers are deposited at PRONI. 

First published in February, 2012.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Craigdun Castle


TORQUIL MacNEILL, chief of the Clan Neill, of Taynish and Gigha, born ca 1380, was constable of Castle Sween, in Knapdale, Argyllshire.

LACHLAN McNEILL, of Terfergus and Losset, Argyllshire, fourth son of Torquil MacNeill, married firstly, Mary McNeill, of Colonsay, and had a large family.

The third son,

NEILL McNEILL, settled in Cushendun, County Antrim, about 1676, and married Rose Stuart, of Garry, in the same county, and was father of

LACHLAN McNEILL, who wedded Jane Macnaghten, of Benvarden, and had several children, of whom the eldest son, 

NEILL McNEILL, of Cushendun, County Antrim, espoused Christian Hamilton, of Londonderry, and was father of

EDMUND McNEILL, of Cushendun, married Elizabeth, daughter of John Hamilton, of Londonderry, and died in 1790.

The eldest son,

EDMUND ALEXANDER McNEILL JP (1787-1879), of Cushendun, County Antrim, married, in 1817, Rose, eldest daughter of Alexander McNeile, and had an only son,

EDMUND McNEILL JP DL (1821-1915), of Craigdun and Cushendun, County Antrim, High Sheriff, 1879, who married, in 1851, Mary, eldest daughter of Alexander Miller, of Ballycastle, and had issue,  

©National Portrait Gallery, London


CRAIGDUN CASTLE, near Cullybackey, County Antrim, is a Victorian-Baronial style house built of basalt, in 1867, by Edward (Eddie) McNeill.

It comprises two storeys with a gabled attic.

There is a substantial five-storey tower with pepper-pot bartizans.

The drawing-room is notable for its Classical plasterwork ceiling.

The house is said to have thirty rooms in total.

Craigdun Castle is believed to have been designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, who was responsible for many of Northern Ireland’s best known Victorian buildings, including Belfast Castle and Ballywalter House.

The Scottish baronial architecture was a fashionable style of the period, incorporating crow step gables and conical turrets and mock defensive features such as crenellations and arrow slits.

The McNeills owned 609 acres in County Antrim during the 19th century.

Although their original seat was Glenmona House, Cushendun, which was increasingly used for holidays, the family tended to reside at Craigdun.

Today Craigdun comprises a more manageable ten acres.

In 1912, the estate was purchased by a Belfast man, John Percy Stott, and it passed to his daughter Doreen on his death in 1949.

Upon the death of her son, Peter Stott-Martin, from Multiple Sclerosis in 1952, she and her husband, Commander Stott-Martin, bequeathed the castle to the National Health Service as a respite care home for MS sufferers.

Much work was carried out during the 1960-80s, including many internal alterations for the installation of a lift in the early 1980s.

The NHS sold the castle in the early 1990s. William and Romayne Baird owned Craigdun for nine years, till it was bought by Andrew Clark in 2002.

Andrew and Julie Clark were married at Craigdun in 2010 and together they restored the building into a comfortable family home, which featured in the final of the BBC House of the Year programme in 2011.

Craigdun Castle itself remained a private family home, though the walled garden and grounds could be hired as a venue for marquee weddings, receptions and photographs.

The gardens are associated in the past with the early 17th century Craigs Castle.

There are fine mature trees in the shelter belts and parkland, including exotics.

A champion parkland sycamore has a circumference of eleven yards at the base.

The walled garden is adjacent to the house and has a circular pavilion, with a conical slated roof, in one corner.

The two gate-lodges have been demolished.

First published in July, 2012.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Fermanagh DLs


The Viscount Brookeborough KG, Lord-Lieutenant of County Fermanagh, has been pleased to appoint:-

Mrs Jennifer Hannah Irvine
County Fermanagh

Mrs Jenifer Alison Johnston
County Fermanagh

Mr Jisbinder Singh Sembhi
County Fermanagh

To be Deputy Lieutenants of the County, their Commissions bearing date, the 29th day of June, 2020.
Lord Lieutenant of the County

Ballymoyer Painting

Anthony Knight, director and trustee of Beleura House and Garden, Australia, has sent me a watercolour of Ballymoyer House, Newtownhamilton, County Armagh.
"In the early 19th century a more imposing house in the classical style, with a stucco façade of three stories and a colonnaded porch, had been added onto the earlier, rougher building, and the two were linked with creaking corridors and staircases.
"The library, the smaller bedrooms, and the servants' hall were in the old section at the back, but the principal bedrooms, drawing room, and dining room were in the grander addition, looking across the lawns and parkland to stands of beech on the hillside."
Comprising some 7,000 acres of low hills, moorland and small tenant farms, Ballymoyer was one of the largest demesnes in County Armagh.

The Synnots had made their money in the linen trade and mining and had always been resident landlords.

Ballymoyer House was later demolished and Brigadier-General Hart-Synnot gave the demesne to the National Trust ca 1938.

I have written about the Synnot family here.

First published in April, 2012.


It has been five years since I visited Northern Ireland’s legendary rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, near Ballintoy, County Antrim.

It was at that time, March, 2015, that I lost a dental crown at the car-park when chewing a fruit pastille.

The rope bridge has become a mecca for tourists and travellers alike.

The bridge is made from planks between cables and robust rope handrails.

Salmon fishermen crossed from the cliffs - a sea chasm of 100 feet - to their fishery cottage on Carrick Island.

The bridge was formerly assembled in May and dismantled in September, though it now opens for longer.

On the island the fishing boats were hoisted and lowered by derricks.
Ballintoy and Carrick-a-Rede were granted to Archibald Stewart in 1625 by Randal, 1st Earl of Antrim, for the annual rent of £9. 
This grant included Sheep Island and the isle of Portcampbell.
The National Trust acquired 56 acres of the property in 1967 from Frank Gailey and Iris Bushell.
The prospect is truly spectacular.

The Weighbridge Tearoom serves light lunches and refreshments:

I enjoyed a bowl of piping-hot leek & potato soup, with a thick slice of fresh wheaten bread.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

House of Cromwell

THE RT HON THOMAS CROMWELL, EARL OF ESSEX, KG, Statesman, Chief Minister to HENRY VIII, was attainted and executed in 1540.

His son,

 SIR GREGORY CROMWELL KB (c1514-51), born at Putney, Surrey, was tutored by Richard Southwell and attended Cambridge University.

In 1539, he was summoned to Parliament as Lord Cromwell, servant of HENRY VIII, and in 1540 he was created BARON CROMWELL.

He wedded Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Seymour, sister of Edward, Duke of Somerset, and widow of Sir Anthony Oughtred; by whom he had three sons, of whom the eldest,

HENRY, 2nd Baron (1538-92), summoned to parliament in the reign of ELIZABETH I, wedded Mary, daughter of John, Marquess of Winchester.

His elder son,

EDWARD, 3rd Baron (1559-1607), was with the Earl of Essex in his expedition at sea against the Spaniards, and joined in the insurrection three years afterwards, which cost Lord Essex his head.

The 3rd Baron, however, received an especial pardon in 1601. 

His lordship, having alienated his estates in England by sale, purchased the barony of Lecale in County Down from Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport, or "made an exchange thereof".

He married twice, and, dying in Ulster, was succeeded by his son,

THOMAS, 4th Baron (1594-1653), who was created by CHARLES I, in 1624, Viscount Lecale. 

His lordship was advanced to the dignity of an earldom, in 1645, as EARL OF ARDGLASS.
Lord Ardglass remained firmly attached to the interests of the King during the civil wars, notwithstanding his friendship with the Earl of Essex. 

Ardglass was an important town during the middle ages, which would explain Cromwell's choice of title.

The 1st Earl was commander of the Regiment of Horse in Ireland for CHARLES I during the Civil War; and subsequently made his peace with Parliament, paying £460 for his "delinquency".
The 1st Earl married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Robert Meverell, of Throwleigh, Staffordshire.

He was succeeded by his eldest son, 

WINGFIELD, 2nd Earl (1622-68), who was educated at Stone School in Staffordshire; matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1637/8; was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws at Oxford University in 1642. In 1649, he was taken prisoner in the Royalist cause.

His only son,

THOMAS, 3rd Earl (1653-82), married a daughter of the Most Rev Michael Boyle, Lord Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland; but dying without issue, 1682, the family honours reverted to his uncle,

VERE ESSEX, 4th Earl (1623-87), PC, a son of the 1st Earl, who married, in 1672, Catherine Hamilton.

He died at Bonecastle, County Down, and was buried at Downpatrick Abbey [Down Cathedral].

Lord Ardglass was educated at Stowe School and at Finstock, Oxfordshire.

This nobleman married, though died without male issue, when the titles expired; except the barony of CROMWELL, originating in the writ of 1539, devolved upon his daughter,

ELIZABETH CROMWELL, as Baroness Cromwell, in which rank her ladyship assisted at the funeral of MARY II, and the coronation of Queen Anne.

She wedded the Rt Hon Edward Southwell MP, Principal Secretary of State in Ireland, and had issue, two sons and a daughter, who all died sine prole; and another, a son, Edward Southwell, who, marrying Catherine, daughter of Edward Watson, Viscount Sondes, and sole heiress of her brothers, Lewis and Thomas, Earls of Rockingham.

Her son,

EDWARD SOUTHWELL (1705-55), succeeded to the barony of DE CLIFFORD.

Her ladyship died in 1709, and the barony of CROMWELL is now considered to be vested in the Barons de Clifford.

Dundrum Castle was held by the 1st Earl between 1605-36.

The colours of Downpatrick High School's crest are taken from the arms of Elizabeth, Baroness Cromwell, owner of the Downpatrick estate.

The Earls of Ardglass were landlords of most of the barony of Lecale.

Dr Eileen Black has written about the Southwells here.

The lands of Lecale were held, prior to the Reformation, either by the great religious corporations in Downpatrick or by the descendants of the early English colonists.

The Church lands, having become vested in the Crown, were leased to the Earl of Kildare and, after the expiration of that lease, came into the possession of the Cromwells, Earls of Ardglass.

They still form the Downpatrick estate, except large portions of them that have been sold or leased by the Cromwells or their descendants.

The estates held by the descendants of the early English colonists were almost all confiscated under the Act of Settlement, after the termination of the civil wars of 1641.
Throwley Old Hall, Staffordshire, was a seat of the Cromwells through marriage. Elizabeth, the last of the Meverells, married Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister, responsible for the disillusion of the monasteries. A descendant of them was Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector.
The writer and poet Charles Cotton married into the Cromwell family in 1669 – his 2nd wife Mary was a widow of Wingfield Cromwell. He spent time fishing the local river with his great friend Izaak Newton and building his famous fishing lodge on the River Dove.
Following the Cromwells the house passed to the last Baron de Clifford, Edward Southwell, who sold to Sir Samuel Crompton in 1790, who let the property to the reputable Phillips family.
Several members of the family are interred at Down Cathedral. The 1st Earl held Dundrum Castle between 1605-36.

Ardglass arms courtesy of European Heraldry.   First published in February, 2012.

Beech Hill House


CORNET JOHN KENNEDY (1615-80), of Ballymagowan, near Clogher, County Tyrone, descended from James Kennedy, seventh son of Gilbert, 2nd Earl of Cassilis, went to Ulster in 1641 with the Scottish Army and acquired considerable church lands near Clogher.

He married Janet, daughter of Thomas Stewart, of Galston, and had issue,
HORACE, his heir;
James, of Ballymagowan.
The elder son,

CAPTAIN HORACE KENNEDY (1648-1714), settled at Derry, 1667.

Captain Kennedy, Sheriff during the celebrated siege, was attainted by JAMES II's parliament; and twice, by act of Parliament, appointed a Commissioner for Poll Tax for the county.

He wedded Katherine, daughter of Captain Gervais Squire, of Donoughmore, Commissioner for the Peace in County Londonderry, 1677, and had issue, an eldest son,

GERVAIS KENNEDY (1675-1721), who espoused Jane, daughter of William Maxwell, of County Tyrone, and left to the guardianship of his wife's aunt, Mrs Tomkins, of Prehen, two daughters and one son,

WILLIAM KENNEDY (1713-83), who married Easter, daughter and heir of George Crookshank, and had issue,
Maxwell Kennedy (Rev), dsp 1782;
John Pitt (Rev), Rector of Donagh;
The second son,

GEORGE CROOKSHANK KENNEDY (1752-1819), assumed by sign manual the name of SKIPTON in 1801, and succeeded his cousin and brother-in-law in the Beechhill estate.

Mr Kennedy-Skipton, a Deputy Governor of County Londonderry, married Sarah, third daughter of Conolly McCausland, of Fruit Hill, and had issue (with five daughters),
CONOLLY McCAUSLAND (1778-1854), dsp;
GEORGE, his successor;
The third son,

DR GEORGE KENNEDY-SKIPTON (1782-1847), married firstly, in 1814, Mary, daughter of the Rev Dr Henry Stacy, and had issue (with two daughters),
George Henry (1815-47);
HENRY STACY, his heir;
Thomas Kennedy (1820-24);
Conolly (1822-23);
Daniel Pitt.
The eldest surviving son,

HENRY STACY KENNEDY-SKIPTON, of Beech Hill, married Elizabeth, daughter of C Stewart, and had issue,

DR ALEXANDER KENNEDY-SKIPTON, of the Casino, the fifth son, who married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of James McCrea, of Derry, by Frances, his wife, daughter of William Law, of Dunmore.

Dr Skipton died in 1858, leaving two sons, the younger of whom,

GEORGE ALEXANDER KENNEDY-SKIPTON JP, of The Casino, County Londonderry, was High Sheriff in 1863.
About 1784 the Earl-Bishop, the Rt Rev Frederick Hervey, had a two-storey summer residence (known as The Casino) built next to his gardens on the site of the future Lumen Christi College's buildings. 
The Casino was purportedly designed by the Milanese architect Placido Columbani, who had supervised the construction of contemporary structures on the Earl-Bishop’s estate at Downhill. 
Calley remarks that The Casino (now demolished) was ‘a stuccoed building 50 feet in length of Ionic temple form with matching bows on its north east and south west elevations.’ 
The Earl-Bishop made little use of The Casino on Bishop Street and by the mid-19th century it formed the centrepiece of a small park that was owned by the Skipton family. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, Francis Kelly (1812-89), acquired the plot of land and The Casino from the Skipton family in 1869.
Mr Kennedy-Skipton sold Beech Hill in 1875 and died unmarried in 1906.


In CLIFFE'S History of Ireland, it is mentioned, that in the reign of ELIZABETH I, Captain Skipton was sent to Ulster to command a fort in County Donegal.

He afterwards purchased considerable property in the neighbouring county of Londonderry.

ALEXANDER SKIPTON was appointed one of the Corporation, in the new charter given by CHARLES II to the city of Londonderry.

He purchased, about 1617, the lands of Ballyshasky, of the Ballymullins, now Learmount and others, in County Londonderry, and built a mansion house on the first named.

Mr Skipton was murdered by the O'Cahans in 1624, and left, with two daughters, a son and heir,

CAPTAIN THOMAS SKIPTON, Mayor of Londonderry, 1670, who styled himself, in his will, "of Skipton Hall", who married Charity, daughter of Sir Thomas Staples Bt, of Lissan, and died in 1685, leaving two sons and a daughter.

The second son,

THOMAS SKIPTON, married, in 1638, Charity, daughter of Sir Thomas Staples Bt, of Lissan, County Tyrone, and was father of

 (1642-1704), attainted by JAMES II's parliament, married Jane, daughter of Edward Cary, of Dungiven, by Sarah, his wife, daughter of Sir Tristram Beresford Bt, and was father of

 who built the mansion of Beech Hill in 1717.

He wedded, in 1712, Eleanor, daughter of Colonel John Forward, of Castle Forward, grandfather to the Earl of Wicklow, and was father of

THE REV ALEXANDER SKIPTON, Rector successively of Magilligan and Bovagh, who espoused, in 1745, Isabella, sister to William Kennedy, Alderman of Londonderry, and died in 1793, having had but one son,

THOMAS SKIPTON, of Beech Hill, who married, in 1776, Elizabeth, second daughter of Conolly McCausland, of Fruit Hill, by the heiress of the Gages of Alagilligan; but dsp 1802, bequeathed his property to his cousin and brother-in-law,

GEORGE CROOKSHANK KENNEDY, son of William Kennedy, by Easter his wife, daughter of Alderman George Crookshank, by Elizabeth Pitt his wife, and grandson of Gervaise Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy, on succeeding to the estate of his cousin, assumed, in compliance with the latter's will, the surname and arms of SKIPTON, in 1802.

He married, in 1777, Sarah, another daughter of Conolly McCausland, if Fruit Hill, and sister of Elizabeth, wife of his cousin Thomas, and had issue,
GEORGE, succeeded his brother;
Easter; Elizabeth; Sarah; Theodosia.
Mr Kennedy died in 1819, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

CONOLLY McCAUSLAND SKIPTON DL (1778-), of Beech Hill, Captain, Derry Militia, High Sheriff of Londondery, 1814, Mayor of Londonderry, 1828-9, who wedded, in 1812, Catherine, only child on John Spotswood, of Bellaghy, County Londonderry, who dsp and was succeeded by his brother, GEORGE.

The first house to stand on the richly-wooded Ardmore site was built in 1622 and was known as Ballyshaskey.

It was commissioned by Alexander Skipton, who was killed in a land ownership dispute with a local family.

His son, Captain Thomas Skipton, took up residence in 1638.

However, in a period of rebellion three years later, Thomas and his wife Charity were forced to flee under cover of darkness, narrowly escaping with their lives.

Their home was burned to the ground.

Seemingly undeterred by these disasters, in 1661 Captain Skipton built a new house which he called Skipton Hall.

It stood on the opposite side of the brook to the original building.

The family remained there until the siege of Derry, when a retreating army reduced Skipton Hall to ashes. 

Thomas’s son and heir, Captain Alexander Skipton, continued to live on the estate, in an out-house, until his death in 1704.

Captain Thomas Skipton built the present mansion house in 1739 and, because of the large number of surrounding trees, named it Beechhill.

Two generations later, Thomas Skipton added a wing stretching out towards the brook and made some significant changes to the gardens.

When he died the estate passed on to his cousin, George Crookshank Kennedy, who immediately changed his name to Kennedy-Skipton and continued a programme of improvements.

He planted a substantial number of new trees and much  improved the layout and appearance of the grounds which he believed  would give people much pleasure.

An impressive porch was added to the  front of the house and also the big room that is situated over it and which is known as The Library.

A change in ownership came in 1872, when Beech Hill was bought by the  wealthy Nicholsons of Newbuildings.

At this time, the estate comprised 1,169 acres.

The Nicholsons made a number of internal changes to the house during their tenancy but, in general, it remained  their simple family home.

In 1942, the United States Marines occupied Beech Hill.

They had been sent to protect Derry's war-time military installations.

In 1989, Beech Hill was bought by present owners, Patricia (Patsy) O’Kane, MBE, and her brother, Seamus Donnelly.

They undertook two years of refurbishment.

Beech Hill country house hotel opened for the first time in 1991. 

In 1998, the former US President, Bill Clinton, arrived.

By 2000, Beech Hill had become so popular that twenty-two bedrooms were inadequate, hence a new wing created ten more rooms and suites.

In 2011, restoration work costing almost £500,000 was completed.

It included new sash windows, extensive re-roofing and external and interior redecoration.

Atkinson wrote of Beech Hill in 1833:
‘… full grown timber, richly planted glen, an excellent garden, walled in and in full bearing, and sanded walks for the accommodation of the passenger through its richly
wooded lawns …’
The house is still surrounded by mature trees, with a lime and beech avenue and woodland walks. The raised portion to the north-west of the house.

The shape of the demesne has changed little: There are terraced lawns near the house and a series of ponds on descending ground, controlled by sluices.

Overflow car parks are amongst trees.

First published in July, 2012.

Monday, 6 July 2020

1st Viscount Strangford

The family of SMYTHE is descended from an ancient family which was long seated at Corsham, in Wiltshire, whose arms were azure, an escutcheon argent, surrounded by six lions rampant or, as appeared by a seal then 200 years old, exhibited to the heralds at the visitation of Wiltshire, 1620, which coat was allowed to the younger branches.

JOHN SMYTHE, of Corsham, Wiltshire, living during the reign of HENRY VIII, married Joan, daughter of Robert Brouncker, of Melksham.

He died in 1538, leaving issue,
THOMAS, of whom presently;
Ann; Jane; Elizabeth.
The second son,

THOMAS SMYTHE (1522-91), left Corsham and seated himself at Osterhanger, Kent.

This gentleman was farmer of the customs, or customer, in the reign of ELIZABETH I, by which he amassed considerable wealth.

He wedded Alice, daughter and heiress of Sir Andrew Judde, by whom he acquired the manor of Ashford; and left, with other issue,
JOHN, his heir;
Thomas (Sir), Ambassador to Russia, 1604.
The eldest son,

SIR JOHN SMYTHE (1557-1608), Knight, of Osterhanger and Ashford, espoused, in 1578, Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Fineux, of Hawhouse, Kent (son of Sir John Fineux), and had issue,
THOMAS, his heir;
Katherine; Elizabeth.
His only son,

SIR THOMAS SMYTHE KB (1599-1635), of Ostenhanger, and of Ashford, Kent, having inherited a considerable fortune from his father, "being a person of distinguished merit and opulent fortune", was appointed a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of CHARLES I, in 1625-6.

Sir Thomas was elevated to the peerage, in 1628, in the dignity of VISCOUNT STRANGFORD, of Strangford, County Down.

He married, about 1621, the Lady Barbara Sydney, daughter of Robert, 1st Earl of Leicester KG, and niece of the ever-memorable Sir Philip Sydney, and had issue,
PHILIP, his successor;
Barbara; Elizabeth; Philippa; Dorothy.
His lordship was succeeded by his only son,

PHILIP, 2nd Viscount, (1634-1708), who wedded firstly, in 1650, his cousin, the Lady Isabella Sydney, daughter of Robert, 2nd Earl of Leicester, by which lady he had issue, a daughter, Diana; and secondly, Mary, daughter of George Porter, groom of the bedchamber to CHARLES I, by whom he had issue,
ENDYMION, his successor;
Elizabeth; Olivia; Katherine Clare.
His lordship was succeeded by his only son,

ENDYMION, 3rd Viscount, who married, ca 1710, Anne Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Monsieur Jean Largot ca 1710.

He died in 1724, and was succeeded by his only son,

PHILIP, 4th Viscount (1715-87), Dean of Derry, who espoused, in 1741, Mary, daughter of Anthony Jephson MP, of Mallow, County Cork; and was succeeded by his only son,

LIONEL, 5th Viscount (1753-1801), who entered early in life into the Army, and distinguished himself in North America.

He subsequently took holy orders and became a clergyman of the established church.

His lordship married, in 1779, Maria Eliza, eldest daughter of Frederick Philips, of Philipsburg, New York, and had issue,
PERCY CLINTON SYDNEY, his successor;
Eliza Maria Sydney.
His lordship was succeeded by his only son, 

PERCY CLINTON SYDNEY, 6th Viscount (1780-1855), GCB GCH PC, and Baron Penshurst, of Penshurst, Kent, who wedded, in 1817, Ellen, youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Burke Bt, of Marble Hill, and had issue,
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,

GEORGE AUGUSTUS FREDERICK PERCY SYDNEY, 7th Viscount (1818-57), MP for Canterbury, 1841-52, who wedded, in 1857, Margaret Cunningham, daughter of John Lennox Kincaid Lennox, though the marriage was without issue.

7th Viscount Strangford. Photo Credit: The National Trust

His lordship was succeeded in the family honours by his brother,

PERCY ELLEN ALGERNON FREDERICK WILLIAM SYDNEY, 8th Viscount (1825-69), who espoused, in 1862, Emily Anne, daughter of Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort KCB.

The 8th Viscount died without issue, in 1869, when the title expired.
A Selection from the Writings of Viscount Strangford on Political, Geographical and Social Subjects was edited by his widow and published in 1869. His Original Letters and Papers upon Philology and Kindred Subjects were also edited by Lady Strangford (1878).


Before moving to Ashford, John Smythe had made a fortune importing wine from Spain into the port of Bristol.

John’s son, Customer Thomas Smythe, was a major financial player in England.

Customer Smythe developed the very first stock company to spread risk and advance exploration with the Moscovy Company to find a northern route to East Asia above Russia.

He became Lord of the Manor of Ashford, Kent.

When Customer Smythe died, his eldest son, John, managed their vast holdings and investments in the various exploration companies.

Customer Smythe also invested in the profitable Drake voyages with a kinsman, Admiral William Wynter, one of the first English admirals.

The Smythes previously purchased or built a very large mansion on Philpot Street, adjacent to Fenchurch Street, London, from where they managed their various investments, and were front and centre in the various investments that later followed such as the Levant Company, Bermuda Company, The Virginia Company of London, and The North West Company.

The Smythes were also involved as Undertakers during the Plantation of Ulster.

John Smythe, the eldest son of Customer Smythe, was managing the family fortune and he resided at Ashford Manor and/or their other estate at Westenhanger.

In 1603, Robert Sydney was Lord Chamberlain for the household of Queen Anne of Denmark, consort of JAMES I.

Robert Mansell of Mount Desert (E), who was knighted at Cadiz where a brother of Thomas Smythe was killed, married a Lady in Waiting to Queen Anne.

The bride was the daughter of John Roper of Kent. Captain William Roper of the Eastern Shore had married the sister of Captain William Eppes, and the Ropers held land at Ivychurch.

Robert Sydney’s daughter married the nephew of Robert Mansell, and another of Sydney’s daughters, Barbara, married the son of the elder son, John Smythe of Ashford.

His name was also Thomas, and he held the title Viscount Strangford.

First published in January, 2011.   Strangford arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Quintin Castle

QUINTIN CASTLE is located on the Ards Peninsula, about 2½ miles east of Portaferry,  County Down.

It is one of the very few inhabited Anglo-Norman castles in Ulster.

The original castle was built by John de Courcy in 1184.

In the later middle ages the castle was held by the Smiths, a dependent family of the Savages.

In the mid-1600s, Sir James Montgomery, a relation of the Savages, purchased the castle and the surrounding lands from Dualtagh Smith.

Sir James and his son William renovated the castle, adding a large house to it as well as a walled courtyard.

At some period after an interlude in the 1650s, when a Cromwellian officer held Quintin, the Montgomerys sold the castle to George Ross, a member of an influential local family who held lands at Kearney.

Ross never lived at the castle, which remained in its mid-17th century form until the 1850s, when one of his descendants, Elizabeth Calvert, set about remodelling it.

Entrance Front of Quintin Castle. Image: Robert John Welch (1859-1936)

Quintin Castle was, by that time, a ruinous structure, much of whose stone, according to the OS Memoirs, had been taken by local people.
This remodelling included the raising in height of the central keep, the construction of drawing and dining rooms and the general decoration to the entire building, as well as rebuilding the courtyard walls, gates and outer towers.
In 1897, the estate was sold by the Land Commission.

The house, however, remained with the descendants of the Calverts, one of whom, Magdalen King-Hall, became a writer whose many works included The Wicked Lady, a story of highwaymen and women, which later became a successful film.

The King-Halls sold the castle in the 1920s and Quintin passed though a series of owners, one of whom, James O'Hara, ran the building as a nursing home during the 1980s.

It may have been at this stage that that the secondary entrance in the front facade was added, perhaps to provide easier access for some of the elderly residents.

The central keep was raised; a walkway constructed within the battlements; a drawing-room which opened into the inner gardens; and a dining-room constructed on the lowest floor of the great tower. 

Most of the grounds were also enclosed by a massive stone wall.

In the 1870s the estate comprised 1,007 acres.

Quintin Castle was extensively refurbished by the builders McGimpsey and Kane, changing hands most recently in 2006.

It underwent a further restoration ca 2006, when it was bought by the property developer, Paul Neill.

In 2011, one bank moved against him taking control of two of his retail parks in Bangor over a £37m debt. Mr Neill was subsequently declared bankrupt.

Consequently, the Irish government's National Asset Management Agency (Nama) repossessed the castle in 2012.

In June, 2013, Quintin Castle was sold (asking £1.65m with 22 acres) to the Tayto Group (owned by the Hutchinson family's Manderley Food Group).

In July, 2016, the new owners applied for planning permission to convert the castle into an eight-bedroom "boutique hotel", with permission to utilize the courtyard for functions such as weddings.


The original demesne is now split up, but the house retains stone-walled terrace gardens, which were depicted as being fully planted up.

The walled garden is in separate ownership.

There is medieval-style gateway leading into the grounds of ca 1855, and a tall octagonal rubble-constructed folly tower within the grounds.

First published in January, 2011.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Hillsborough Forest

Hillsborough Fort. Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020

Hillsborough, County Down, is undoubtedly one of the pleasantest and most interesting villages in Northern Ireland.

It has been ages since I last paid Hillsborough Forest a visit, so I wasn't disappointed today.

Hillsborough Forest Lake. Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020

The Fort, former home of the Hills, Earls of Hillsborough and Marquesses of Downshire, stands overlooking the lake in the forest.

It seems to be in good order, and the old stone steps leading down through the undergrowth towards the parish church can still be seen.

The church and fort are adjacent to each other.

It was a joy to see so many young families with their toddlers and children enjoying the forest walks and the swans, geese, and ducks feeding at the edge of the lake.

Today I walked around its circumference, then out through the gates, via Park Lane, to the Square; and down the main street to the junction where the parish church can be seen from its long avenue.

Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020

The statue of Arthur, 4th Marquess of Downshire, KP, faces the church directly from across the road.

The town-houses on the hilly main street, with their courtyards and mews, are simply charming; as are the little artisan shops and gastro-bars.

Image: Timothy Ferres, 2020

At the top of the main street, on the Square, stands the old court-house, which itself stands opposite the main entrance to Hillsborough Castle, former home of the Downshires, then the Governors of Northern Ireland, Royalty, and Secretaries of State.

The May Baronetcy

The family of MAY, anciently De May, traces its descent to John de May, who came to England with WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR, and, for his services, obtained considerable grants of land in the counties of Kent and Sussex.

His descendants were seated for many generations at Kennington, in Kent; and subsequently at Wadhurst, and other places, in Sussex.

From William May, second son of Thomas May, of Wadhurst, descended

SIR HUMPHREY MAY (1573-1630), Vice-Chamberlain to JAMES I and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; and also

SIR THOMAS MAY, of Mayfield, Sussex, whose eldest son, Thomas May, a celebrated poet, died unmarried, and whose second son,

EDWARD MAY, settled at Mayfield, County Waterford, and married Margaret, daughter of Arthur O'Donnelly, of Castle Caulfield, County Tyrone; the grandson of which marriage,

EDWARD MAY (c1672-1729), of Mayfield, MP for County Waterford, 1715-29, wedded Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress (with her sister, Anne, Countess of Tyrone), of Andrew Richards, of County Kilkenny.

Mr May was succeeded by his son,

JAMES MAY, MP for County Waterford, 1725-34, who espoused Letitia, daughter of William, 1st Viscount Duncannon.

Mr May, dying ca 1734, left with a daughter, Elizabeth Richards, wife of Thomas Carew, of Ballinamona, and granddaughter of Thomas Carew, of that place, a son and successor,

JAMES MAY (c1724-1811), of Mayfield, MP for County Waterford, 1759-97, who was created a baronet in 1763, designated of Mayfield, County Waterford.

Sir James married Ann, daughter of Thomas Moore, of Marlfield, and niece of Stephen, Earl Mount Cashell, and had issue,
JAMES EDWARD, his heir;
HUMPHREY, 3rd Baronet;
Thomas, dsp;
Charles, died unmarried;
Mary Tottenham.
He was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR (JAMES) EDWARD MAY, 2nd Baronet (1751-1814), MP for Belfast, 1801-14, who married firstly, in 1773, Eliza Lind née Bagg, of St George, Holborn, Middlesex; and secondly, ca 1809, Elizabeth, daughter of Francis Lumley, of Passage, County Waterford.

He had two illegitimate daughters and two illegitimate sons,
Stephen Edward;
Edward Sylvester (Rev), Vicar of Belfast, 1809;
Anna, m George, 2nd Marquess of Donegall;
Elizabeth, m Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Verner.
The eldest son, Sir Stephen Edward May (1781-1845), JP DL, of 1, Donegall Place, following his father's death in 1814, believing himself to be the rightful successor to his father's baronetcy, styled himself "Sir Stephen May Bt". Sir Stephen, MP for Belfast, 1814-16, received the honour of Knighthood, in 1816, from Charles, 1st Earl Whitworth, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
Sir Edward, erstwhile Collector of the Revenue of the port of Waterford, was succeeded in that lucrative and important office by his younger brother,

SIR HUMPHREY MAY, 3rd Baronet, who wedded, in 1784, Jane, daughter of the Rev James Grueber, and had issue, an only child, GEORGE STEPHEN.

Sir Humphrey died ca 1819 in France, and was succeeded by his son and heir,

SIR GEORGE STEPHEN MAY, 4th Baronet (1764-1834).
Sir Humphrey had married Jane Grueber in 1784. She survived him, but apparently would not continue to reside at Maypark; hence, in Ramsey’s Waterford Chronicle of 1819, an advertisement appeared that Maypark was to be let on such terms and for such a period as might be agreed upon or the interest would be sold.
The baronetcy expired in 1834 following the decease of Sir George Stephen May, 4th and last Baronet.


In 1795, George, 2nd Marquess of Donegall, married Anna, daughter of Sir Edward, described as "a moneylender who also ran a gaming house"

He managed to get Lord Donegall - then styled Lord Chichester - released from a debtors' prison in 1795 and offered his daughter Anna in marriage, an obligation which his lordship felt obliged to accept.

The couple came to Belfast in 1802 to escape his debtors and brought the May family with them.

Anna (May), 2nd Marchioness of Donegall, had been under-age at the time of her marriage and should have had the permission of the courts in 1795 but this had not been sought; so, as a consequence, the marriage was declared unlawful. 

Edward Street in Belfast was named after Sir Edward May; as was Great Edward Street, May Street and May's Market.

Sir Edward pioneered the reclamation of land from the edges of Belfast Lough; however, more infamously, he was regarded as the man who desecrated the graves of those buried at St George's graveyard at High Street and Ann Street in order to sell the land for the development of Church Street and Ann Street in Belfast. 
May's Dock in Belfast was also named after Sir (James) Edward May, brother of Lady Donegall.

Sir Edward reclaimed the land to form May's Dock from the original bed of the river and the high water line was where Great Edward Street now continues into Cromac Street.
The principal seat of the Mays was once Maypark House in County Waterford, now a nursing home. 

Maypark House was built in 1783-84 and named after Humphrey May, who gave his name to Mayfield (near Portlaw) and was MP for Waterford from 1757-97. 

The house was evidently built around the time that Sir Humphrey married Jane Grueber.

Sir Humphrey died approximately seven years after the death of his father, Sir Edward.

Lady May, after the death of her husband and father-in-law, obviously decided to move out of Maypark.

Wherever Lady May was moving to, she had no use for her furniture.

It is not clear, from research, whether of not Sir Humphrey and Lady May had been living in France at the time of Sir Humphrey’s death.

There is no record of a "Jane May" of Waterford to be found after approximately 1820. 

It would appear that she may have moved away from Waterford after her husband’s death.

It is probable that Lord Waterford bought the place for, in the Waterford Chronicle of 9th June, 1827, there was an advertisement announcing "the sale of Lady May’s furniture of Maypark....”

Maypark is listed as being in the occupancy of George Meara in the Slater’s Directory of 1846.

The property consisted of house, offices and land with a total area over 46 acres.

It was valued at £181.

The house appears on the 1840 Ordnance Survey Map with a farm.

The area down to the river is identified as a rough area, possibly marshland.

Some areas are heavily planted.

In the 1909-10 Thom’s directory a Herbert Gough is listed as resident at Maypark.

The house was converted to a private hospital sometime after 1910 and before 1938.

First published in January, 2011.