Friday, 5 July 2013

Castlewellan Castle, Castlewellan, Co. Down

Located some thirty or so miles south of Belfast, the historic town of Castlewellan (in Irish Caisleán Uidihilín- Uidililín's castle) sits in the shadows of the famous Mourne Mountains. The town owes much of its history to Annesley family. Of English decent the family established themselves in the area in the  1740s, purchasing a standing castle from the Magennis family. Presumably they used the castle as their principle dwelling place until the mid-nineteenth century century, when the present castle was erected. In the meantime the family had made considerable improvements to Castlewellan, erecting two noble squares at opposite ends of the town. In 1789, Francis Charles was created first Earl Annesley. The castle we see today was built for the fourth earl, William Richard. The earl, who also served as an MP for an English constituency, ordered work to commence for his new castle in the early 1850s. He selected the Scot William Burn as architect. In Ireland Burn had been well-known for the magnificent Muckross House in Killarney, Co. Kerry but had an impressive reputation as was of the leading proponents of the Scots Baronial style, a style which he went on to employ at Castlewellan.

Built at the considerable sum of just over £18,000 the castle was completed by 1859. Essentially a large four storey rectangular shaped tower house, the family motto virtutis amore (from the love of valour) is proudly displayed over the castle's main entrance. It remained in the hands of the Annesley's until the 1960s, when it passed to the Northern Irish Department of Agriculture. In 1973 it was badly damaged by a terrorist bomb while in the following year it was purchased by a Christian organisation who turned it into a retreat and conference centre. It continues to act as such to this day.

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