Castle Coole is one of three National Trust managed properties in County Fermanagh and is located on the eastern outskirts of Enniskillen town. Its entrance is on the Dublin Road which rather amusingly, I always think, leads to Belfast!
The other two National Trust properties in County Fermanagh are Florence Court House (my favourite) and Crom Castle/ Estate which I have not visited in the last thirty years.
Castle Coole is a late 18th century (1789-98) neo-classical mansion. It was designed by the must have architect of the day, James Wyatt, who almost certainly never visited the house, preferring to work remotely from his London studio. This may account for the lack of interesting vistas from the actual house itself, though an earlier sacked architect designed the basement and chose the location for the house within the estate.
The house is set within a landscaped wooded park which also has a small lake. This park is a nice spot for a relaxing walk. The Lake walk (just less than 2 kms easy walking), in particular, affords nice views back to the house, decent vistas of the surrounding countryside and ample opportunity to spot a wide array of water birds including mallards, tufted ducks, mute swans, herons, great crested grebes, little grebes, water hens, cootes and kingfishers. That said, I much prefer the grounds at Florence Court (separate review) which is why I rate that property higher overall than Castle Coole – a personal choice, of course.
Castle Coole was, and indeed still remains, the home of the Earls of Belmore.
Entry to the house is available only via a guided tour (one hour) which is very much centred on giving the visitor an upstairs/downstairs look at the building and showing the living conditions of masters and servants in this rather grand residence. While there was a stark contract, I suspect the servants here had a much better lot, most of the time, than rural families living in the area at the time, particularly through the famine years.
I must say that I found the downstairs part of the building (most recently restored) to be the more interesting part though an upstairs bedroom lined with etchings of King George IV also tickled my fancy.
The bedroom had been specifically done up, at some expense, for a planned stopover by the King on his 1821 visit to Ireland. In the end the King, rather a womaniser and all round scoundrel chose to extend his stay with his Irish Mistress, Elizabeth, Lady Conyngham, at Slane Castle, County Meath and bypass Castle Coole altogether. His flirtatious visit to Ireland coincided with the burial of his former wife in London.
The addition of the etchings, which focus on the King’s extramarital liaisons and salacious lifestyle (The Rake’s Progress) was the then Lord Belmore’s way of ‘getting back’ at the King for snubbing him. It is not actually known if the King was ever aware of the etchings – I suspect not. Making him aware might have not have been ‘a career enhancing’ move for a Lord of the day.
George IV’s dalliance with Lady Conyngham did not go unnoticed by a local balladeer who, imagining them in private, wrote:
‘Tis pleasant at seasons to see how they sit,
First cracking their nuts, and then cracking their wit,
Then quaffing their claret – then mingling their lips,
Or tickling the fat about each other’s hips.
George’s zeal for extramarital encounters was not matched with similar enthusiasm on his first sighing of his then soon to be (short term) wife some years earlier. He then exclaimed:
‘Harris, I am not well, fetch me a brandy.’
To be fair, he only agreed to that wedding because Parliament promised to increase his allowance if he did so. He was debt-ridden at the time.
I appear to have digressed.
Downstairs the current Lord Belmore uses but one room today and that is a large wine cellar. For some reason this room is not open to visitors!
Another particularly interesting feature downstairs is a Roman style plunge-bath which I will refer again below.
While a small section of the main house is retained for family use, the current 8th Earl of (Lord) Belmore lives in a more modest house elsewhere on the estate. Family members can occasionally be seen enjoying the grounds of the estate, as visitors do. Grab yourself a photo of Lord Belmore before you go and play “spot the Lord” as you wander the grounds – a good way of keeping the kids quiet, perhaps?
In its heyday Castle Coole Estate hired up to 90 staff. While many of these worked in the house itself many were also engaged to look after the estate and the families fleet of horses and carriages.
The central component of the outbuildings at Castle Coole was the Grand Yard – a large quadrangle designed by Richard Morrison for the 2nd Earl of Belmore in 1817.
The gravel yard is surrounded by stables, coach houses, offices (including one for Lord Belmore himself), and staff living quarters. The stables and coach houses not only accommodated the family’s work horses, coach horses and coaches but also had space available to accommodate visitor’s horses and coaches – Strangers Stables and Coachhouses as they were referred to on plans.
During World War II US army troops were stationed in the Grand Yard and in the 1950s the upper floors were converted for deep litter chicken rearing. Post that the buildings fell into a state of disrepair. The National Trust acquired the Grand Yard in 1989 and since then, with the assistance of Government grants, extensive renovations have been undertaken.
The coach depicted above – The Belmore Omnibus – dates from 1863 and was used to transport the family and friends around Enniskillen until as late as 1949. Since then it has been restored and is now on display in one of the coachhouses off the Grand Yard.
The Grand Yard is deliberately quite separate from Castle Coole house so as to avoid taking from the strict precision of the neo-classical house. The Grand Yard and the house are connected by a tunnel the entrance of which is actually in another smaller Stable Yard just outside the Grand Yard, en route to the house.
This 80 metres long tunnel was used principally by tradesmen, servants and estate staff such that they approached and left the house unseen. The very observant visitor will notice that, large and grand though the house is, there is only one door on it, above ground level. This was obviously for the use of the family and its guests only.
Should you take a tour of the house you will leave it and return to the Stable Yard via the tunnel. In the event that you don’t take a tour you can still walk up towards the house using the tunnel though you will have to retrace your steps as you will not be able to enter the house via this means – still certainly worth the short walk.
Naturally the family could and did also use the tunnel to gain entry to the house via the basement. Earlier I mentioned that there was a Roman style plunge-bath in the basement of the house. This was not for staff use but rather it was used by the gentlemen of the house who would enter the basement via the tunnel and use the bath to freshen up after a hard day’s hunting, before presenting themselves to the ladies upstairs.
You are at liberty to freely wander around the Grand Yard and the adjoining Stable Yard whether or not you chose to go on a tour of the house.
The ticket office for house tours (you will have paid for your grounds entrance at the ticket office, a short distance inside the estate grounds) which also doubles as a small book/souvenir shop is in the corner of the Stable Yard.
Close by the ticket office are toilets and a nice little café. The café is great for morning and afternoon teas or a light lunch.
The ticket office/shop is open the same hours as the house while the café appears to open a bit earlier.
Photography is not permitted inside main house at Castle Coole.
The grounds are open all year round 10-7pm (6pm in winter months)
House, shop and café opening times are variable between March and September so rather than me trying to relay them here please have a look at the website below. Between October and February the house is closed.
There is a separate entry fee for house and grounds. As this dependent on a number of factors please refer to the website for up to date information.
Address: Dublin Road, Enniskillen
Directions: Belfast to Enniskillen road (A4)
Phone: 028 6632 2690
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Enniskillen. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Meet the Bishop at Killadeas – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – “Fare thee well Enniskillen, ………..”