The Castle Coole estate was purchased in 1656 by the Belfast merchant John Corry, grandfather of the first Earl. The estate is named for Lough Coole (from Irish Gaelic cúil, 'seclusion'), a lake surrounded by the Killynure hills. A ráth here and a crannog in Lough Coole itself are reminders that the area has been settled since prehistoric times. Other lakes on the estate include Lough Yoan and Brendrum Lough.
Castle Coole was constructed between 1789 and 1798 as the summer retreat of Armar Lowry-Corry, the 1st Earl Belmore. Lord Belmore was the Member of Parliament for County Tyrone in the former Irish Houses of Parliament in Dublin and a wealthy heir to 70,000 acres (283 km²) of land throughout Ireland, acquired by ancestors with a successful background in merchantry. The income generated by the estates allowed Castle Coole to be constructed at a cost of £57,000 in 1798, equivalent to approximately £20 million today. The siting on the comparatively small 1200 acre (5 km²) estate in County Fermanagh was primarily due to its unspoilt rural location and natural beauty amongst ancient oak woodland and small lakes, yet with proximity to the market town of Enniskillen for the domestic labour necessary for a large mansion. Additionally, several smaller family residences had been built on the Castle Coole estate preceding the mansion, including a dwelling of the King James period (later deliberately destroyed by fire) and a Queen Anne house built in 1709.
Following the passage in 1800 of the Act of Union, the law politically uniting Britain and Ireland, the family moved from their main residence – a small townhouse in Sackville Street, Dublin – to Castle Coole, as the reason for living in Dublin, to be close to the Parliament, no longer applied.
In 1951, the 7th Earl Belmore sold the mansion to the National Trust, prompted by two sets of death duties or inheritance tax when the 5th and 6th Earls Belmore died without issue 18 months apart. However, the contents of the mansion were not sold. The National Trust opens the mansion to visitors during the summer months, and the estate can be visited year-round. Between 1980 and 1988, the mansion was closed to the public while the National Trust undertook restoration work, involving the dismantling of the façade to replace metal connectors holding it in place. To celebrate the re-opening, the Queen Mother was invited to Castle Coole.
Officially described as neo-classical Georgian in architectural style, Castle Coole is unusual in that it was the work of two architects who did not collaborate. Richard Johnston, an Irish architect, was initially commissioned and completed the design of the basement. Johnston however was later dismissed in favour of the more popular and fashionable English architect James Wyatt, who, rather than starting the project afresh, began at the point where Johnston left and completed the mansion design from the ground floor upwards. Wyatt adhered closely to the Georgian ideal of near-perfect symmetry throughout, with an Ionic portico and flanking Doric colonnaded wings. Wyatt also designed some of the major furniture items in the mansion, but furniture of that Georgian period is relatively rare. Much of the furniture was provided later by the second Earl, when the Regency style was in vogue. The finely detailed decorative plasterwork throughout the mansion was entirely the work of the English artist Joseph Rose.
Notable aspects of the mansion include the Portland stone façade, floorings and double-return cantilever staircase. An unused state bedroom, prepared in 1821 for King George IV (who failed to arrive), retains original furnishings and flock wallpaper. A drawing room furnished in a French Empire style, a Grecian staircase hall, and a ladies' workroom furnished in a Chinese style reflect the importance of worldly knowledge and awareness during the Regency period. Family motifs, engraved into Italian marble chimneypieces and adorning the plaster frieze of the Entrance Hall, reflect the first Earl's pride in his ancestral heritage.
Curiously, Castle Coole has no external back door nor a driveway extending completely around the mansion – a deliberate feature by James Wyatt to discourage tradesmen from making surprise visits. An extensive basement, now being conserved and partially open to the public (as of 2008), contains the kitchens, servants' quarters, a Roman style bath and a brewery. The grand entertaining rooms to the mansion's back overlook Lough Coole.
Much of the native oak woodland remains, although a considerable portion of the estate has been historically given over to agriculture and let to local farmers, a practice which continues today. Numerous out-buildings can be found on the estate; those of interest include a 'Grand Yard', a general workplace housing stables, a 'Tallow House' (originally used for candle-making, now a gift shop and reception area), a 'Servants Tunnel' leading ultimately to the basement of the mansion and the only route from which servants could enter and exit the main building, a 'Laundry House', a 'Dairy' and an 'Ice House'. A 'ha-ha', a sunken ditch to control livestock movements without the disturbance on the landscape resulting from a fence or a wall, can be found near the mansion.
The Belmore earldom is named for the nearby Belmore Mountain, 7 miles west of Enniskillen. Corry had hoped to be named Earl of Enniskillen, until this title was given to the Cole family at Florence Court. Though the origins of the Corry side of the family can be found in Belfast, there is more uncertainty with the Lowry side. The Lowrys may originally have been from Dumfries in Scotland.
As a member of the peerage of Ireland, the earl of Belmore had a seat in the Irish House of Lords until it was abolished in 1801 when the kingdom of Ireland was merged into the United Kingdom. The second and fourth earls subsequently sat in the House of Lords at Westminster as representative peers.
At its peak, Castle Coole employed around 90 staff, both indoor and outdoor. The basement of the mansion was entirely the domain of the indoor staff, and accommodation for the outdoor staff was mainly found in the buildings surrounding the Grand Yard. During the early stages in the mansion's history when the main residence of the Belmore family was in Dublin, a caretaker staff of 5-10 servants remained in the mansion when the family were away. This may help explain the excellent condition of the mansion today; continuous occupancy prevented decay and may have helped prevent major disasters, such as fires.
As in many mansions, a hierarchy amongst servants formed. The Head Cook for instance enjoyed a two-room apartment above the warmth of the Kitchens. The Butler too enjoyed a personal apartment. A boot boy on the other hand had communal accommodation with other lower ranking servants.
New in 2006
Castle Coole re-opened to the public for the 2006 season on 17 March. A re-design of the Victorian Bedroom layout now commemorates four years of Australian influence at Castle Coole. Somerset Lowry-Corry, the 4th Earl Belmore, became the Conservative Governor of New South Wales on 8 January 1868 and served until 23 February 1872. At Government House, Sydney, the 4th Earl’s first son was born on 1 May 1870, later to become the 5th Earl Belmore. Lady Belmore found the summer climate of Sydney oppressive and despite frequent retreats to Moss Vale, concern over his wife’s health prompted the Lord Belmore to resign his governorship on 26 June 1871 allowing the Belmore family to return to Castle Coole the following year. Belmore Park, Sydney and Belmore Park, Goulburn testify to New South Wales railway developments brought about by Lord Belmore’s governorship and his own personal popularity in Australia. As the bedroom of the 4th Earl and Countess at Castle Coole both prior to and following their four years in Australia, the Victorian Bedroom commemorates the connection.
Admission to Castle Coole is by guided tour only. Please consult the National Trust's webpage via the external link for opening times in 2013.
- Logainm - Castle Coole - scanned record 2
- "Scheduled Historic Monuments (to 15 October 2012)". NI Environment Agency. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- O'Neill, B (ed). (2002). Irish Castles and Historic Houses. London: Caxton Editions. p. 26.
- Marsen, P (1997) ‘The Belmores at Castle Coole 1740-1913’ Enniskillen: Print Factory (not in print)
- Room, A (1994) ‘A Dictionary of Irish Place Names’ Belfast: Appletree Press. ISBN 0-86281-460-X
- Unpublished material relating to Castle Coole at Castle Coole in possession of the National Trust
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Castle Coole.|
- Castle Coole at the National Trust
- Virtual tour of Castle Coole Northern Ireland - Virtual Visit Northern Ireland