Celtic Journeys and Antrim Castle Gardens

Two recent trips followed hot on the heels of each other. I seem to have made several forays into our Celtic fringe so far this year. Two visits to Wales – The Gower and the Ffestiniog Railway and now a couple of weeks in Ireland – North and South – and my second visit to Scotland – Walking The Scottish Borders. I mentioned my forthcoming visit to Ireland last month and referred to the fact that I was opening up My Irish Times again.

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Ancient Ireland [1]

When planning my trip to Ireland in May I checked the Library Catalogue to see what was available and found this :

ancient ireland

I was quite amazed at the amount, variety and quality of ancient monuments to be found, and visited, all over Ireland.

ancient ireland map


Newgrange from road

Newgrange from the approach lane

In order of age the earliest site that I visited, and featuring also at the beginning of the first chapter ‘Ireland Before History: The Stone Age’ is Knowth which, along with its, probably better known, neighbour, Newgrange, is “one of three great burial mounds erected in the ‘sacred landscape’ of the Lower Boyne Valley in Co. Meath.” The two passage-tombs under the great tumulus were probably erected before 2500BC. Around the main mound are several recently reconstructed ‘satellite’ tombs.


Knowth Main Mound


and Satellites

Passage tomb

One of the Passage Tombs

I didn’t have time to visit both mounds as I was travelling between Co. Kildare and Co. Fermanagh but I did manage Knowth and will definitely return to see Newgrange, especially now that I know how the system for visiting works! My Heritage Ireland Card gave me free admittance to the site.

“Please note this is a very busy site and it is important to be at the Centre early in the day to ensure a visit to the monuments, as places on the tours are limited each day. There is no direct access to either Newgrange or Knowth. All access is through the Visitor Centre and by guided tour only.”

I had arrived across country and found the approach lanes surprisingly quiet but on arrival in the crowded car park and on joining the queues at the Visitor Centre I discovered that most people and all coaches arrive via the nearby Motorway. There’s plenty to see in the Centre and then time to catch the timed minibus to Knowth where you get a very full guided tour inside and outside the tumulus.

Tomb 1

tomb 2 tomb 3 tomb 4

We were able to enter the tomb and to climb to the top for a wonderful view towards Newgrange and also The Hill of Tara the ‘most historic place in all Ireland, having played an important mythical and symbolic role in the country from the Stone Age to the 19th century, including the nominal centre of the ‘High Kingship’ of Ireland.’

Surface of Knowth

The Surface on the Top of Knowth

Newgrange from Knowth

Newgrange from Knowth

It’s quite amazing that the carved stones around the base of the mound have been preserved across the centuries.

Sone carvings

Just one example of the stone carvings!

and another

And another

Side of Knowth

Quartz and granite

Quartz from the Wicklow Mountains and Granite from the Mountains of Mourne

I will definitely visit again and get to Newgrange and maybe also the site of the Hill Tara which seems to be very little visited.


‘Family’ Connections in Ireland

WARNING These connections are very tenuous but I found them interesting and hope you do too!

Parnell in Dublin

The Parnell Monument in O’Connell Street, Dublin

Charles Stewart Parnell was dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” despite being a Protestant landowner in Ireland. He was also famous for his ‘scandalous’ affair with the married Kitty O’Shea. Read a resumé of his life and influence in Victorian Ireland here.

My maiden name was Parnell and when my sister-in-law and husband suggested a visit to Avondale House in Co. Wicklow, Parnell’s former home, I was delighted. As far as I am aware there is no family connection.


Surprisingly, Avondale House was open on weekdays in May. I’ve just looked at the website and see that it is now closed until further notice due to work being carried out.

Avondale House, the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) one of the greatest political leaders of Irish history. Set in a magnificent forest park of over 500 acres with tree trails and walks ranging in duration from one to five hours. This beautiful Georgian House designed by James Wyatt and built in 1777 contains fine plasterwork and many original pieces of furniture. The American Room is dedicated to Admiral Charles Stewart – Parnell’s American grandfather who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 war. Visitors are introduced to this wonderful historical house by a specially commissioned audio visual presentation.”

parnell plaque

There were no other visitors but I was able to tour the house, buy postcards and we enjoyed tea and cake outside at the picnic tables. The house and grounds are now owned and managed by Coilte Outdoors (Irish Forestry). We did come across a group of walkers who were enjoying the extensive estate and woodland/forest paths. If ever I’m lucky enough to return to Avondale I’d love to take a hike there.

through the house

Ground Floor Appartments

The house tour begins with a specially commissioned audio visual presentation. Most of the main rooms of the house can be visited and photography is allowed.

dining room

Dining Room

After visiting the ground floor apartments, which are suitably decorated and furnished for the period, the tour continues upstairs where there is some exhibition space and artefacts formerly belonging to Parnell and family.

The American Room was the bedroom in later life of Parnell’s American mother, Delia Tudor Stewart the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 War. Both he and his ship gained the nickname “Old Ironsides”. Delia died as a result of burns which she received after a fire in this room. The Wooton Desk was originally the property of her father.

another avonmore desk

The Wooton Desk

Desk notes

desk files

Wooton Desk Files

There is a well-known (in Ireland, anyway) song about Parnell – The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale.

The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale Charles Stewart Parnell was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin in 1881 for the leading part he played in the Irish Land League. In songs of rebellion or songs that the government might consider seditions, it was common to use a synonym instead of a person’s real name. In this case, Parnell is “The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale“. [source]

parnell family tree

It’s nice to think of this connection with Ireland

My other family connection is more real but it has been hard to find much concrete evidence.

During the War my Dad served in the RAF and for a while, early on in his career, for he spent most of the War in India, was stationed (presumably for training) in Northern Ireland. One of the places he used to talk about was Newtownbutler. Before I went to Ireland and whilst I was staying at the Crom Estate in Co. Fermanagh I tried to find out more about radar stations in the area but with no luck at all. I spoke with two chaps who were interested in finding out about what went on in the area but we were none of us able to shed any light on the situation. This was all we could find (and the date is too late for Dad as he was already on his way to India). Scroll down to two photos labelled Newtownbutler.


I’ll just to divert for a moment here to mention that The Crom Estate played an important role during the Second World War and there was a good exhibition in the National Trust Visitor Centre on the site.

Crom WW2

In the autumn of 1942 American soldiers arrived and used the estate to prepare for D-Day. The officers lived in the Castle and the men in Nissen huts scattered throughout the site. They practised building bayley bridges, marching and manoeuvres.

oak sapling

US forces tree

I visited Newtownbutler itself, tried to find the site of the former radar station which is now private land and not easily accessible and enquired at the Co. Fermanagh Information Bureau in nearby Lisnaskea but all to no avail. The village was really just a couple of streets leading to a crossroads.

newtownbutler st

main street

At the Crossroads in Newtownbutler

Still, I’m happy to have visited somewhere that Dad spent time and he talked about Northern Ireland with great affection. British forces, of course, were not allowed to cross the border into southern Ireland as it was a neutral country at the time.




Northern Irish Gate Lodges

Gate lodge, or gatelodge, seems me to be an Irish term for what we, over here, would just call a Lodge. In amongst the majority of what I could only call dross (although there was one excellent shelf of local (in the sense of Northern Irish) books [see photos below]) in the Library at The Barbican, an Irish Landmark Trust property on the coast of Antrim in Northern Ireland, I found a most interesting book. “The Gate Lodges of Ulster : a gazetteer” by J A K Dean; Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1994. Book The book came about as a result of research carried out by Dean 30 years earlier. Another look at the topic during the early 1990s revealed much demolition and decay had occurred and a comprehensive renewal of study lead to the publication of the gazetteer. I’m wondering whether a similar study has been carried out in the South – a much greater project. Gate lodges had much to teach about developing awareness and ambitions of their patrons, and the changing skills of builders and architects. There’s a huge variety- from vernacular tradition to architectural sophistication yet they had a single simple purpose – to house the gatekeeper and his family. The Gazetteer is a fascinating study of individual gate lodges. Here I’ve abstracted details from the book and added my photos. CC Lodge

Gate Lodge at Castle Coole – Weir’s Bridge Lodge

Built c1880 i.e. after the Weir’s Bridge was built to carry the Enniskillen-Florence Court-Belcoo line of the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway. It’s a fine building in the Lombardie style [sic]. Built from the highest quality ashlar sandstone with immaculately carved detailing. Single-storey on a T-plan. It has a raised stepped platform to form a “porte-cochere” with semi-circular headed arches. CC twins

Gate Lodges – Castle Coole Twin Lodges

These were even recorded as being dilapidated in 1834. They not even mentioned on OS maps until 1857. Now they’re presented as Georgian Gothick. Built so close together a family carriage could hardly pass through. The chimney stacks have now been lost. Armar Lowry-Corry (1st earl of Belmore) the builder died in 1802 and his son Somerset had an energetic building programme for 40 years. He built up a lasting relationship with architect Sir Richard Morrison. CC single

Single gate Lodge at Castle Coole

Crom GL

Gate Lodge at Crom

The main entrance lodge at Crom was built in 1838 by Edward Blore, architect. Blore was responsible for many other buildings on the Crom Estate. It’s an irregular Tudor picturesque cottage on one and a half storeys. Dean’s book also contains interior plans. It has two main gables and pretty serrated bargeboards plus finialed hipknobs. On Wikipedia I found that a Hip-knob, in architecture, is the finial on the hip of a roof, between the barge-boards of a gable. The small gabled hall/porch has the only remaining lattice panes. GL Springhill

Gate Lodge at Springhill

The Gate Lodge at the National Trust property Springhill in County Londonderry is now the secondhand bookshop. It stands at the original main entrance (which is now now the exit) and was built not long after George Lenox-Conyngham succeeded to the property in 1788. It is the sole survivor of a pair of Georgian Gothick porters’ lodges. Their gables faced each other across the avenue entrance. It is a simple rectangular two roomed structure, has steeply pitched gables with a wide door opening and a minuscule lancet opening above to light a bed loft. Well Read

The Well Read Bookshop

Glenarm Barbican

The Glenarm Barbican

Built in 1824, the Barbican’s architect was William Vitruvius Morrison. Dean writes : “Beloved of photographers and Victorian illustrators for its dramatic architecture and romantic setting. Approached across a two-arched bridge spanning the Glenarm River the Barbican is a three-storey castellated gatehouse. An ancient sandstone coat of arms was inserted.” This had originally graced the front of the castle when it had been built by the first earl in 1636, while the other side of The Barbican was also given a commemorative plaque: THIS GATEWAY WAS BUILT AND THE CASTLE RESTORED BY EDMUND M’DONNELL, ESQUIRE, AND HIS WIFE ANNE KATHERINE, IN HER OWN RIGHT COUNTESS OF ANTRIM AND VISCOUNTESS DUNLUCE A.D. 1825. Attached to one side is the two-storey porter’s accommodation – one up and one down.

barbican rear

Rear of the Barbican

Books 3

Books 2

Books 1

Books 4

The Barbican Bookshelf

Crom Estate Walk

One of my favourite kinds of walk is on well marked paths around estates such as Fountains Abbey, Endsleigh, Astley Castle and Hackfall with an interesting variety of landscapes and views and ‘eye-catcher’ structures to add to the interest.

Crom Map

Despite the rain this afternoon I set out on such a walk here at The Crom Estate in Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The estate comprises almost 2,000 acres of woodland, wetlands, farmland and parkland on the shores of Upper Lough Erne. According to the map leaflet it was laid out in 1838 and is one of the best preserved and most extensive landscapes designed by William Gilpin in the British Isles. Its unique character rests upon the scale and relationship of water, wetland, woods and parkland with its veteran trees. The Great Yew Tree is located at the Old Castle ruins and was nominated as one of 50 Great British Trees for the Queens Jubilee Year 2002.

old yew

The Ancient Yews in the Castle Ruins

There are many fine buildings on the estate walk. Crom Old Castle was built on the shore by Michael Balfour, Laird of Mountwhinney in 1610. It withstood two sieges in 1689 but was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1764. The yew trees within the ruins are reputed to be the oldest in Ireland.

approaching the old castle

Approaching the Castle Ruins

lough erne

The Crichton Tower was built on Gad Island in 1848. Its architect is unknown.

The Boathouse is a complex structure with decorated bargeboards and battlements designed in 1841 by Edward Blore. For many years it was the Lough Erne Yacht Club and the social centre for the Victorian houses in the area.


The Boathouse


Boathouse Jetty

The Summer House was built around 1880 out of the structure of an old school house on the site. It was built for Lady Florence who used it as a picturesque retreat. Rustic inside, it had a woven straw mat, a cupboard above the fireplace with cups and other teatime items, a round table and chairs and a box for firewood. The original boathouse of the demesne, later made into a folly, lies below the summer house.


The Summer House

summer house view

View from The Summer House

A white iron bridge connects the mainland with Inisherk (Inis means island in Irish) and a track leads straight across to another small jetty. There are two cottages – Bridge and Gamekeeper’s – and the remains of a Walled Garden.

garden gate

Gate to The Walled Garden

The Garden was completed in 1833 and included a hot house, potting sheds and a propagating house, built in later years. The Garden remained in use until the 1950s. Lately the Trust has carried out extensive repairs to the walls including the rebuilding of a large section of south wall.

extensive garden

The extensive Walled Garden

Returning over the bridge a track through woodland brought me to the Stable Yard (now NT Offices) and The Riding School (apparently never used as such as it was commandeered by the US Air Force for D-Day preparations/training).


Oak Sapling Commemorating the USAF Presence

“This oak tree was planted on 6th June 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the United States forces stationed here in WWII”

ice house

Nearby are The Turf House, also designed by Blore and built with an adjacent pier in 1840 for peat fuel to be originally unloaded here for the castle later in the century a sawmill was established, and an Ice House.

in turf house

Inside the Turf House today

From the Stable Yard area the track continues through woodland after which I joined a grassy path alongside the Deer Park fencing with views of Crom Castle itself which is still a private residence and not open to the public.

crom castle

Crom Castle and Deer Park

And so back to dear Alder Cottage to dry off after a fascinating two hour walk.

Alder Cottage

Alder Cottage

Milady goes to the Emerald Isle

For the month of May I’ll be away; mostly in Ireland but I’m driving to South Wales first and combining my trip with a visit to a dear friend in Powys.

My Itinerary :

1st – 5th May in Wales

5th May Ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare

6th to 11th May staying at Cappoquin, near Lismore, Co. Waterford

11th to 14th May staying with family in Co. Kildare

14th to 18th May volunteer helper at Ballymaloe Lit Fest, Co. Cork

18th to 26th May back in Co.Kildare

26th to 29th May at National Trust, Crom Estate, Co. Fermanagh

29th to 31st May at Glenarm on the Antrim coast

31st May Returning home from Belfast to Liverpool (actually, Birkenhead)

I had initially applied to ‘Workaway’ as I did in Switzerland two years ago but out of nine applications only four responded. Of those that did respond one has invited me to visit and another put me in touch with the Ballymaloe Festival.

I’m hoping to post daily again as I did in 2013 (although I may not have internet access each day) : so if you’re interested sign up to follow me here : My Irish Times : Round Ireland with a Book Box. The subtitle is from Tony Hawks’s book : Round Ireland with a Fridge. But I won’t be hitching – I’m taking my car – and I won’t have a fridge. I thought about saying ‘with a cool box’ but as I wrote this to a friend I thought, no, I’m more likely to have a box of books than a cool box of food.

Leeds Dublin

As Seen at Leeds City Station

Go to Belfast – “Get here early and enjoy it before the rest of the world arrives”*

Well, we only touched the tip of the iceberg on our visit to Belfast. Our day was divided into three – time to look around the centre unaccompanied, a bus tour with a Blue Guide and the Titanic Experience – Belfast’s all new, all singing, all dancing visitor attraction!

Our coach dropped us off bright and early in the centre of Belfast on Great Victoria Street. We crossed the road and went to peer in the windows of the beautifully preserved Crown Liquor Saloon. This pub, right opposite the most bombed hotel in the world – The Europa Hotel – is now owned by the National Trust. In fact it was the first pub that the NT ever took over in 1978.

Of course, the pub wasn’t due to open until 11.30 by which time we would be well into our city tour but we were lucky enough to catch an employee who very kindly showed us into the side door for a quick look round and gave us each a leaflet on the history of the bar. Dating back to 1826 it was originally called The Railway Tavern but in 1885 the son of the then owner, being a student of architecture, decided to brighten up the old family bar. It was mainly due to skilled Italian craftsmen employed elsewhere in the city who supplemented their incomes by moonlighting at The Crown and who made it the prize gem of Victoriana that it still is today.

We decided to stay around the centre of Belfast in the area around Donegall Square in the middle of which is the City Hall. We discovered on the guided tour that it is possible to book a tour of the building, that it houses a decent cafe called Bobbin and that there is a  Titanic Memorial Garden  in its grounds.

Then we came across a real treasure. 17 Donegall Square North is the address of the soon to be 225 years old Linen Hall Library. Founded in 1788 it’s a subscription library like The Leeds Library but it’s doors are open to the public.

You have to subscribe as a member if you wish to borrow books. It houses a very nice cafe and has exhibition space. The current exhibition is called ‘Troubled Images’ :

“All 70 political posters from our ‘Troubled Images’ exhibition, documenting the years of the Northern Ireland conflict, have been hung five storeys high in our Vertical Gallery.
The exhibition has travelled throughout the world to inform and educate the general public about the turbulent years of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’. It’s now ‘home’ again and available for all to see.”

Trouble Images in the Vertical Exhibition Space

An Oasis of Calm in the busy City Centre

We re-joined our coach at 11 and enjoyed a 90 minute guided tour of Belfast learning many facts about the city and seeing The Queen’s University, the Grand Opera House, the (leaning!) Albert Memorial Clock, the River Lagan which forms the boundary between County Down and County Antrim, St Anne’s Cathedral, the Botanic Gardens, the Falls Road and, most significantly, Stormont, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and its surrounding parkland.

Approach Avenue to Stormont

“And as the smart ship grew       

In stature, grace, and hue,

In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.”
Thomas Hardy ‘Convergence of the Twain’
Our destination for the afternoon was the brand new, recently opened Titanic Experience. This fine visitor attraction was extremely well done with lots of variety and as much or as little information as you require but quite frankly I felt that I was suffering from Titanic overload after all the hoo-ha and media coverage that it has received over the last few months. It will be give a huge boost to the city which can only be good news and I wish Belfast well and all who sail her!

*Lonely Planet, 2012

Forty Shades of Green – Irish Gardens in the Springtime, 2

The Argory

The gardens at the Argory stretch down to the River Blackwater which forms the county boundary between Co. Armagh and Co. Tyrone. The gravel and tarmac paths and driveways provide a variety of walks. Before our guided tour of the house we chose the Lime Tree Walk along an avenue of pollarded lime trees underplanted by spring flowers, past the Argory Oak Plantation and returning up the main drive to the house.

There’s a choice of other walks if you have time including a one hour walk to the furthest reaches of the estate which passes the Argory Mosses a peat bog and significant nature reserve where rare plants are growing. A pleasure garden near the house was deemed an essential requisite by eighteenth century country house owners and there are pleasure grounds at The Argory but like the one hour walk I’m saving them for my next visit!

The Blackwater River from The Argory

A two kilometre path developed by the National Trust and The Rivers Agency follows the river bank of the Blackwater. I’m sure there must be a great variety of birds, plants and wildlife on this gentle riverside stroll.

Formal Garden at the Front of the House

Rowallane Garden

Our final visit of the holiday was back in County Down and only about 20 minutes drive from our hotel. After visiting the Argory in the morning we spent the afternoon at Rowallane Garden. There is a house at Rowallane and workmen appeared to working on it, plastering and decorating but it has not been opened to the public. The garden though has been under the stewardship of the National Trust since 1956. The main visitor amenities are centred on a courtyard – shop, refreshments, a potter.

Rowallane – Approach to the Courtyard and The Folly

The garden was created in the mid 1860s by the Reverend John Moore and further developed by his nephew Hugh Armytage Moore from 1903. We picnicked in the shade of the gazebo inside the Walled Garden, smelled the heady herbs here too and I took the longer Farmyard Trail out onto meadows and up a hill to gain a spectacular view of the Mountains of Mourne in the distance.

Rowallane has the remains of Pleasure Grounds, too. There is bandstand which has been restored by the Trust but very sadly recently had all the lead stripped from its roof.

The Walled Garden

The Herb Garden

The Bandstand

Forty Shades of Green – Irish Gardens in the Springtime, 1

If you visit a National Trust House then you are almost certain to visit a beautiful garden as well. This was certainly the case on my recent trip to Northern Ireland. And we had a third garden just thrown in for good measure! I’m no gardener nor connoisseur of plants or trees but I do enjoy the peace and relaxed atmosphere of gardens. I’m also fascinated by the other features of gardens – follies and lakes and water features and topiary – all those eccentric features of an English, or in this case, British garden.

Mount Stewart

Topiary Harp

As I wrote in the previous diary entry: Located on the shores of Strangford Lough Mount Stewart stands in beautiful grounds enjoying a microclimate of its own which supports a lush and green garden of trees and exotic plants. Edith, Lady Londonderry (1878-1959) wife of the seventh marquess was the major force behind the garden design that we see today. She gave the gardens to the National Trust in 1957. The garden is divided up into smaller specialised areas. The Shamrock Garden where the topiary harp (above) stands in pride of place amongst other topiary features that tell a story related to the house. Here is a description from the National Trust :

“One Irish symbol holds another at its heart in the Shamrock Garden at Mount Stewart. A hedge of Irish yew in the shape of a shamrock encloses a topiary Irish harp. Originally 30 topiary figures crowned the top of the shamrock hedge. Today there are eight, reinstated in the 1990s in Irish yew. Up to 4ft in height, they are a varied troupe of two royal crowns, a sailing boat, stags, the goddess Diana, the devil and two creatures from Celtic mythology.”

We enjoyed a walk around the beautiful lake and along the Drive where the rhododendrons were in full bloom.

The most interesting feature however was the octagonal folly – The Temple of the Winds – built by the first Marquess of Londonderry and which stands in a fine position on a small hill. It’s a short walk beyond the entrance and car park, but well worth the effort to see the building and the view.

The Temple may be visited on weekend afternoons and is also a romantic wedding venue.

The Gardens at Mount Stewart are classed amongst the very best in the country if not in the world.

Mount Stewart is one of the most spectacular and idiosyncratic gardens of Western Europe and universally renowned for the ‘extraordinary scope of its plant collections and the originality of its features, which give it world-class status’ – excerpt from Mount Stewart’s listing on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage tentative list.” (National Trust website)

The red squirrels love it here too!

The Irish Country House – Mount Stewart and The Argory

During recent years I have read several books on the theme of The Irish Country House. Titles include We Are Besieged by Barbara Fitzgerald (1946), Troubles by J. G. Farrell (1970), Two Days in Aragon by Mollie Keane (1941), The Dower House by Annabel Davis-Goff (1998). Although written at different times the general themes involve Anglo-Irish families during the first half of the twentieth century, their homes and their vulnerability during the times of trouble. Often the family itself is divided in its loyalties.

I was looking forward to visiting a couple of fine examples of Irish country houses on my Just Go! holiday last week.

Mount Stewart

Located on the shores of Strangford Lough Mount Stewart stands in beautiful grounds enjoying a microclimate of its own which supports a lush and green garden of trees and exotic plants. The house was built in the eighteenth century and has been the home of the Marquesses of Londonderry (the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family) over many generations. Robert, Viscount Castlereagh, the 2nd Marquess of Londonderry made a name in politics in the early nineteenth century and was leader of the House of Commons. Edith, Lady Londonderry (1878-1959) wife of the seventh marquess was the major force behind the garden design that we see today. She gave the gardens to the National Trust in 1957 but the house itself was not bequeathed until 1977.

We had a fascinating tour of the house which is currently undergoing renovations but is open to the public in spite of this. I loved the library with its shelves and shelves of books – many looking not so very old at all – some members of the family still use the house and many of its rooms. But on closer inspection what looked like shelves right up to the windows are actually trompe l’oeil painted shutters.

It’s hardly surprising to find evidence here of a love of the ‘sport of kings’. Horse racing has for a long time been popular in Ireland and with the aristocracy but to see the huge painting of Hambletonian by George Stubbs hanging above the staircase comes as quite a surprise.

 There’s another racing picture in the house, also reproduced in the above link to Thoroughbred Heritage. It’s a painting of the Hambletonian/Diamond Match run at Newmarket in 1799. We were told the story of the race by our guide. The version we heard differed somewhat from that of the Thoroughbred Heritage story.

 The Argory

Later in the week our journey took us well into central Ireland and to a less grand but equally interesting house – The Argory. Argory means Hill of the Garden and to my mind it was more the kind of Irish country house that I have in mind when reading those novels I mentioned above.  Again we were given a warm welcome to the house  and a small group tour by one of the local volunteers.

The Argory Door Knocker

The Welcoming Argory Porch

Taken on by the National Trust in 1979 not much has changed in the house since 1900. To quote my guidebook ” the eclectic interior still evokes the family’s tastes and interests”. These include a large selection of Waterford crystal and a fantastically ornate  organ on the first floor. Click here to view the Argory Organ Gallery and other virtual views of the house.

Despite it’s inland location there’s a nautical connection here. Captain Shelton, the 2nd owner of The Argory, was aboard the H.M.S Birkenhead when it sank off the coast of Africa in February 1852. One of the most documented maritime disasters before the Titanic, it was also the first ever liner to exercise the phrase ‘Women and Children First!’ We were told how the Captain survived swimming the two miles to land in his mackintosh which protected him from sharks and the cold.

These actions later to be known as The Birkenhead Drill were immortalised later by Rudyard Kipling in his poem ” Soldier an’ sailor too” (1896)

To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you’ve cover to ‘and, an’ leave an’ likin’ to shout;
But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An’ they done it, the Jollies — ‘Er Majesty’s Jollies — soldier an’ sailor too!
Their work was done when it ‘adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an’ you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin’ in ‘eaps an’ bein’ mopped by the screw,
So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, soldier an’ sailor too

One excellent feature of National Trust properties these days is that they almost all now have secondhand bookshops. My eyes lit up in Blackwater Books at the Argory. They had a section just labelled ‘Old Books’. Here’s the selection that I came away with :