History of Castle Coole
Castle Coole is one of the greatest Neo-classical country houses in Ireland. Built to impress in the 1790s, it boasted some of the finest architecture, interiors and furnishings in the country. It was home to the Earls of Belmore and no expense was spared on this palace in its beautiful parkland setting.
John Corry bought the estate. Some years later, John’s son James supported William of Orange in his Irish war with James II, during which the old castle at Coole was burnt down.
A replacement home was built – not a fortified castle but a brick building with sash windows and tall chimneys, signalling a period of peace and prosperity in Ulster after years of unrest.
Over time, through marriages and connections, the Corry family combined estates with the Lowry and Armar families, amounting to over 70,000 acres by 1779.
The family was raised in the peerage as Lord Belmore.
Armar Lowry Corry, Lord Belmore, began to plan a new house more suited to contemporary tastes and his position in society.
Architect Richard Johnston from Dublin was employed to design the new house. Belmore then switched to architect James Wyatt who was at the height of his career and particularly skilled in the Neo-classical style. Wyatt never visited the site, and sent all his drawings from England.
Much of the building work was carried out by skilled Irish builders and craftsmen. Some of the furniture designed by Wyatt was also made by Irish joiners, including a great mahogany sideboard and a large wine cooler for the dining room.
The house was faced with Portland limestone from England and specialist plasterers under Joseph Rose created the decoration to the ceilings and walls. Marble chimney pieces were created by Richard Westmacott and Domenico Bartoli made the scagliola columns and pilasters.
The house was completed; the old house accidentally burnt to the ground. Lord Belmore was made Earl of Belmore.
Somerset, 2nd Earl of Belmore, commissioned John and Nathaniel Preston of Dublin to supply complete rooms of furniture from 1807 onwards. Inspired by the interiors he saw in London where he also had a house, Castle Coole was as lavishly furnished as the greatest Regency interiors of the time.
Preston also supplied the most extravagant piece of furniture in the house, the State Bed, which was commissioned for the visit of the Prince Regent, later George IV. In the end, the King never visited Castle Coole and the bed was rarely used, meaning the ornate decoration has stayed in near perfect condition.
Perhaps to escape creditors and reduce outgoings, Somerset took his family away for a four-year tour of the Mediterranean, visiting Malta, Egypt and the Holy Land.
The 2nd Earl acquired a paid position as Governor of Jamaica, finding himself in the middle of a highly volatile situation. Leading up to the abolition of slavery, the British government had sought to improve the living conditions of the enslaved people, but this was resented by the plantation owners who dominated the local assembly. Belmore’s attempts at moderation were not welcomed by either side.
In December 1831 many of the enslaved people rebelled, martial law was declared, and the leaders were executed. Belmore was blamed for mishandling the situation and recalled to London. His conduct was subsequently vindicated, but it must have been a bitter end to his posting.
The 4th Earl rescued the family’s finances by selling land and reducing the estate to some 20,000 acres, enabling the partial redecoration of Castle Coole. In 1867 he was appointed Governor General of New South Wales, where he supported the development of the railways.
The 5th Earl never married but lived modestly at Castle Coole with five unmarried siblings.
By the time the 7th Earl inherited the estate, the burden of taxes and the expense of maintaining the house led to Castle Coole being sold to the government, who transferred it to the National Trust along with a grant from the Ulster Land Fund. The contents remained on loan from the family.
Castle Coole was restored by the National Trust. Original architectural drawings, building records, inventories and invoices recording the daily work of the joiners, plasterers and painters in the 1790s as well as the furnishing of the house helped to guide the restoration.
The current Earl lives nearby and continues to take an active interest in the house and estate at Castle Coole.
Step inside one of the finest neo-classical houses in Ireland, experience the ornate interiors and explore the extensive servant’s’ world below stairs.
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