History of Derrymore

Derrymore House

The elegant thatched house at Derrymore in Bessbrook sits at the heart of a late 18th century landscape park and dense woodland less than 2 miles from Newry. Providing a sanctuary for wildlife and a valued place to walk, play and relax, it has local significance to Newry and Bessbrook and is associated with important moments in Irish and British history.

The history of Derrymore

The name Derrymore is derived from 'doire', the Irish for an oak grove and 'mór', meaning large.  Derrymore was the home of Isaac Corry (1753-1813), MP for Newry from 1776.   He commissioned John Sutherland (1745-1826), the leading landscape gardener of the day, to carry out improvements to the land.  Sutherland enhanced the existing woodland by planting thousands more trees. Oak, chestnut, pine and beech trees now dominate the woodlands, which contain some very fine mature specimens.

The house

The picturesque thatched house was built for Corry, in the style of a 'cottage orné', which gives it a rather romantic feel.  It is surprisingly large inside with reception and bedrooms on the ground floor, and service rooms in the basement. 

Derrymore House, Bessbrook
Derrymore House, Bessbrook
Derrymore House, Bessbrook

The story of Isaac Corry

Isaac Corry was Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer in 1800, when the Act of Union with Britain was passed.  It followed a time of extreme political unrest.   The Act removed parliamentary control from Dublin to London, a highly contentious move.  Many who supported the union were seen as betraying Ireland in the interests of economics and trade, while others saw it as an economic and political necessity.  As MP for Newry and supporter of the linen industry, Corry was keen to ensure solid trade links.  The Act was also meant to deliver Catholic Emancipation, but to the dismay of many, including Corry, this part of the Act was not ratified. 

Corry sold Derrymore in 1810 and retired to his Dublin house, where he died in 1813.  After passing through several hands, Derrymore was bought by John Grubb Richardson (1815-1890), owner of the Bessbrook linen works and village and a member of the Society of Friends.  

Ulster linen industry

By the mid-19th century the linen industry had become a major part of the Ulster economy.  Industrialisation brought in ever more sophisticated engineering.  The Craigmore Viaduct, visible from Derrymore demesne, opened in 1852, creating a major transport link between Dublin and Belfast.  The linen business at Bessbrook grew from a small mill, with weaving carried out on looms in people’s own cottages (piece work), into an impressive series of flax, spinning and weaving mills, spear-heading new developments in damask weaving, and established a world-wide reputation for Richardson Linens.

A birds eye view
Derrymore aerial view
A birds eye view

John G. Richardson invested heavily in Bessbrook, creating a model village around the large mill, run on Quaker principles of mutual respect between managers and workers. Good housing, religious tolerance, playing fields and schools helped create a thriving and settled community.  No public house ensured that there was no need for a police station, nor for a pawnshop. 

John G. Richardson let Derrymore house to tenants and built The Woodhouse for his own family in the northern part of the demesne.  He created informal gardens through the rocky woodland, making use of the granite rock from local quarries, enhanced the walled garden and built entrance lodges.

1940 to present

In 1940, soldiers of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry arrived in Bessbrook as a defence against German invasion of Northern Ireland from across the Irish border. In 1943, the troops were replaced by the US Army Quartermaster Depot Q111-D until August 1944. 

After the war, John S.W. Richardson, a descendant of John G Richardson, offered Derrymore House to the National Trust.  In the 1970s the “Troubles” impacted Bessbrook and Derrymore.  The mill was turned into a major base for the British Army and was known as the busiest military heliport in Europe. Corry’s association with the Act of Union led to bombs being planted at Derrymore house on several occasions between 1972 and 1979; one firebomb damaged the house.  The caretaker, Mr Edmund Baillie and his two sisters lived in the house and luckily were unhurt, but their safety and the survival of the house were largely due to Mr Baillie’s personal courage in moving some of the bombs away from the building.  The Trust was forced to close the house and remove the contents for safe keeping; it opened again in the late 1980s.  In 1985 John Richardson generously bequeathed the rest of Derrymore demesne to the National Trust, including The Woodhouse, walled garden and various lodges.

A Harmonious Future

The National Trust has worked with a number of partners to enhance access to Derrymore Demesne with a focus on local visitors, providing better footpaths, parking, toilet facilities and a children’s play area to ensure that everyone can enjoy the beauty of Derrymore in harmony with nature and wildlife and its historic past.

Winding paths wander around the parkland
Derrymore paths
Winding paths wander around the parkland

This project has been part funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and European Union in conjunction with Mourne, Gullion and Lecale Rural Development Partnership, in cooperation with Moorehall Estate, Co. Mayo, under Priority 6 (LEADER) of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014–2020; the National Lottery through Sport Northern Ireland and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

The local community group ‘Friends of Derrymore’, was integral to the partnership that led to the development of this project.