Some Old Country Houses - Story of Belfast

THERE are still to be found about Belfast the remains of some of the old country houses: and we shall find that many have a story attached to them, that comes down to us from the twilight of the shadowy past.

Ballydrain is one of the most interesting. It belonged to—and was probably built by—a family named Stewart. They came from Scotland in the year 1605, and resided for many generations in the house, and they intermarried with many well-known families. The estate was afterwards bought by Mr. Montgomery, whose descendants still live at Ballydrain.

Hospitality was always a striking characteristic of the Irish people, and in the early times people travelled slowly over very bad roads with no light, and there was but poor accommodation for travellers. Inns were a long distance apart, so some benevolent people received travellers and took them into their houses for rest and refreshment. There were many houses of this kind throughout the country. In the year 1675, we find there was a Free House at Ballydrain, where poor travellers could procure food and lodging. A stone is still to be seen, which was built into the wall of the house, with this inscription carved on it.

"A Free House 1675."

One of the Stewart family built Macedon, another built Maryville and Myrtlefield, and also a house called Windsor in the Ballydrain grounds. Maryville on the Malone Road has belonged to the Wilson family for generations. Tradition says it was at Cranmore, beside Maryville, that King William rested when on his way to Belfast, and the tree where his horse was tied is still to be seen. Cranmore was formerly named Orange Grove, and was the residence of a family named Eccles. The jug which King William drank out of and the bed he slept in were for a long time treasured in the house.

Malone House is erected on the site of a very extensive fort, called Castle Cam, or Freeston Castle, but there are no remains of the ancient fort now to be seen. There was also an old Church on the top of the hill in Upper Malone called "Capella de Crookmuck." The trees in the grounds surrounding Malone House are remarkable for their stately beauty and wide-spreading branches. There were several ancient forts in the same neighbourhood, but any history of them cannot now be found. On the left of the road leading to Shaw's Bridge, the foundations of a fort are still seen. There are remains of a third in the grounds near Lismoyne, and yet another was in Friar's Bush graveyard.

Wilmont is also a fine old house; it was built in the year 1740. Purdysburn belonged to the Hill-Wilson family, and was at one time the residence of the Bishop of Down. In the year 1812, it became the property of the well-known Batt family, who built large additions to the house. It now belongs to the Corporation of Belfast, and the beautiful old mansion is used as a Lunatic Asylum. Certainly, if lovely and peaceful surroundings can assist in restoring health and sanity to the mind diseased, such should be found there. Part of the demesne is occupied with the extensive buildings of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, which are in what was once known as the "Fort Field," where there was a very perfect old fort, with trees planted at regular intervals round the moat. In the centre of the fort there is a most curious tree, said to be about eight hundred years old. Perhaps the fort may be opened at some future time; and it would doubtless well repay the trouble of excavation to find a souterrain and unexpected treasure still securely hidden under the ancient holy tree which has guarded the secret for so many long years.

River Scene, Purdysburn, County Down

River Scene, Purdysburn

The grounds belonging to Purdysburn are more beautiful and picturesque than in any other place about Belfast. The old garden was laid out in the form of the "Union Jack," and the design was carried out with all the borders planted with the colours red, white and blue. The wonderful yew-tree hedges are unequalled in the North of Ireland.

The name of Stranmillis has a pleasant origin. It is Irish, from "Struthan—Milis," a sweet stream. The castle at Stronemellis was built in the year 1612, and many people even yet find it pleasant to walk along the banks of the old sweet stream. There was once an old castle of primitive construction in the grounds of Stranmillis.

Belvoir Park has also a most interesting history. It was once the residence of Lord Dungannon, and there is a very old graveyard inside the grounds, where a vault is still to be seen, the burial place of Viscount Dungannon, but not a vestige now remains of the old church. There is a great oak tree yet standing in the grounds, of such an age, that no one can even guess at it, and the remains of an old fort. But the rosery is still famous for its beauty. The roses bloom and flourish and fling their fragrant breath into the pure air, just as freely as in the days of long ago. The estate passed into Sir Thomas Bateson's possession, and his heir was Lord Deramore.

Annadale Hall and Belvoir Park were at one time all one estate. Lord Dungannon built a wall dividing it, and he also built the wall which encloses the Giant's Ring. Annadale received its name from "Anna," the mother of the Duke of Wellington. She was a daughter of Arthur Hill, of Dungannon, and it is said that the great Duke often visited his mother here. A Colonel Arthur Hill was the founder of the Downshire family, and he was a younger son of the Sir Moyses Hill who built Stranmillis. Lord Donegall also lived at Annadale for some time, and tradition says that Lady Blessington was a resident there, and later on she lived at the house now known as the Queen's Hotel, at the corner of York Street, but tradition is not always to be relied on.

View of Lisburn

View of Lisburn

Parkmount, on the Shore Road, was in the year 1666 a lodge or occasional residence of Lord Donegall, and it afterwards passed into possession of Ludfords, Cairns, and McNeills.

Fort William was once a fort seventy feet square, with a deep fosse surrounding it, and it was defended by a bastion at each angle. It was built by William III. in the year 1690.

There was a ruder fort constructed at an earlier date, called Mount Essex. It was built by the Earl of Essex. Abbeylands at Whiteabbey derives its name from the remains of an abbey which was once there, and a few fragments of the old walls are still standing. It was the residence of General Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns.

Belmont is also a very old place. Mr. Will Bateson bought it in the year 1776. It afterwards became the property of Lord Ranfurley, whose name is still seen on some streets in the neighbourhood. Sir Thomas McClure purchased it, and at his death the old house was taken down, and Campbell College was erected there in the year 1894. It is an ideal place for a public school.

Mount Pottinger takes its name from the old family of Pottinger. Sir Henry Pottinger was a great naval officer, and General Pottinger was also a very famous man. Three members of this family won great renown in India, and Sir Henry in China. The oldest name on a Belfast tombstone is that of a Pottinger in the year 1602, and now, except in history, the name is unknown.

Ormiston was built by Mr. Coombe, and, although not one of the old country mansions, it is noted as the residence of Sir Edward Harland, and after his death it passed into the possession of Lord Pirrie.

Hyde Park, on the Antrim Road, belonged to a well-known Belfast family named Hyde, who had extensive cotton print works there.

The modern residences are now too numerous to be mentioned, but they testify in a remarkable manner to the increasing wealth and prosperity of the city.