Journal Volume 5 2006
Tour to Counties Cavan and Fermanagh, March 2005
By Síle Ní Thiarnaigh
Monday 21st March 2005
Monday dawned wet and windy, so that when we arrived at our first stop, Oldbridge, which is about three miles from Drogheda, many members were loath to alight from the comfortable coach to have the Battle of the Boyne re-enacted. However, as soon as our young guide, Aisling, led us to a small sheltered hut and began to talk, we quickly forgot wind and weather. She was adept at demonstrating how blunderbusses worked and how each soldier carried his ammunition. She had samples of the type of carrier bag and explained how many bullets each held. The equipment of William's army was a little superior to that of James's. On display was a lovely saddle with support for the rider's back - presumably an officer's saddle. Our guide reminded us that the horse, in 1690, was the quickest mode of transport. She ran through a few points of the historical facts: there were 26,000 men in James II's army coming up from the south (he had landed in Kinsale) whereas William of Orange had 36,000 men. There were no big losses on the Irish side, though James fled the scene, and each side felt it had won! Schomberg, the great aged general, fell in battle and a simple stone, with just ‘1690’ written on it, marks the spot. The terrain is to-day much the same as it was on that fateful day. Oldbridge House was to be seen in the misty distance and this house, through cross-border arrangements, is soon to become a heritage centre.
We boarded our bus again and I was looking forward to arriving at our hotel, the Slieve Russell in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, by mid-afternoon and getting in out of the rain. I should have known better; after so many years of outings with this society I should have known their enthusiasm for covering ground - literally and metaphorically. Our driver, Ciarán, who had done a school run that morning before starting out with us, kept on driving until we arrived at Enniskillen.
Fermanagh was the last county in Ireland that I visited. That was in 1994 when, with a friend, I skipped a day at the Carleton Summer School in Clogher and we drove to Enniskillen to see Castle Coole. To our disappointment, the great house was closed for restoration. We did not waste our time, however, as instead we took a delightful boat trip to Devenish Island and saw the remains of St. Molaise's monastic settlement and round tower - on a beautiful summer's day.
But to get back to Castle Coole on a wet day in late March 2005, the door of the great house was open this time and an informative guide there to greet us and show us around the house.
Castle Coole is the largest Georgian house in Ireland. It was begun by the Irish Armagh-born architect Francis Johnston (who designed our G.P.O. in Dublin) and when he was discharged early on, the work was completed by James Wyatt. The latter never came to Ireland, but his drawings are extant. The original family name was Corry. This family came to Ulster at the time of the earlier plantations, but were not actually given land. They were business people - later to become political - who actually purchased the land in the late 1500's. In all’ they acquired 70,000 acres in Ireland; this included land in Kilkenny. At first there was no house on the Enniskillen estate and the first one built was a Queen Anne mansion. Later, in the eighteenth century, when Arthur Corry became an earl, he chose to build this large house. He imported Portland stone (though there was plenty of stone available in Fermanagh). Four and a half million sterling was spent recently on renovation, the main portion of the expenditure going towards the restoration of the Portland stone. People came from near and far to see this fine house being built. The Regency furniture in the house was purchased by the second Earl about 1825 and is still in place. It is owned by the present Earl, the eighth, who lives in a small house on the estate, though the great house itself now belongs to the National Trust. The eighth Earl lived in the large house as a child and his mother is still living (March, 2005).