Castle Coole is one of the greatest neo-classical country houses in Ireland. Home to the Earls of Belmore, it was commissioned and built to impress by the first Earl of Belmore by Amar Lowry Corry, 1st Earl Belmore (1740-1802) and furnished largely by Somerset Lowry Corry, 2nd Earl (1774-1841).

Castle Coole boasts some of the finest neoclassical architecture, interiors, furniture and Regency furnishings in Ireland. Original drawings by the architects, the building records, inventories and invoices recording the daily work of the joiners, plasterers and painters in the 1790s and the furnishing of the house 1807 to 1821 helped guide the restoration of Castle Coole in the 1980s.  This combination of place, collection and archival record must be unique in Ireland where so many records and collections have been dispersed.

John Corry, a merchant from Scotland, bought land in Fermanagh in 1655 that had previously belonged to one of the participants in the Ulster Plantation.  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 was built in c. 1707 - 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. 

Through marriages and connections, the combined estates of the Lowry, Corry and Armar families were all inherited by Armar Lowry Corry in 1779. Amar, MP for Tyrone, was raised to the peerage as Lord Belmore in 1780 (and earl in 1797) and began to plan a new house, more suited to contemporary taste and his position in society.  Architect Richard Johnston from Dublin was employed in 1789 but Belmore switched to James Wyatt, then at the height of his career and particularly skilled in the neoclassical style.  Wyatt never visited the site, sending all his drawings from England. Much of the building work was carried out by skilled Irish builders and craftsmen and some of the furniture designed by Wyatt was made by the Irish joiners, including a great mahogany sideboard, and a large wine cooler for the dining room.  The house is faced with Portland limestone from England; specialist plasterers under Joseph Rose created the decoration to the ceilings and walls; marble chimneypieces were commissioned from Richard Westmacott and Domenico Bartoli created scagliola columns and pilasters.

The ground floor of the central block contains the principal receptions rooms. The wings and first floor bedrooms were the family’s private quarters.  The vast basement contains service rooms with separate areas governed by Housekeeper, Butler and Cook, who could come and go via a large service tunnel that connected the basement to the service yards. 

The 2nd Earl had campaigned fiercely against the Act of Union of 1800 which led to the abolition of the independent Irish parliament.  He lost his parliamentary seat, only becoming a representative peer in the British House of Lords in 1819.  In the meantime, he concentrated on the furnishing of Castle Coole, commissioning John and Nathaniel Preston of Dublin to supply complete rooms of furniture from 1807 onwards. Inspired no doubt by the interiors he saw in London where he had a house, Castle Coole was as lavishly furnished as the greatest Regency interiors. 

To add to the splendour the Second Earl of Belmore commissioned furniture from Preston’s of Dublin in 1807, in lavish French Empire style. Preston’s also made the most extravagant piece of furniture in the house, the State bed, which was commissioned for the visit of George IV in 1821, although in the end he never visited Castle Coole meaning the ornate decoration has stayed in perfect condition.

Perhaps to escape creditors, Somerset took his family away for a 4-year tour of the Mediterranean in 1816, visiting Malta, Egypt and the Holy Land.  He acquired a paid position as Governor of Jamaica in 1828 finding himself in the middle of a highly volatile situation.  Leading up to the abolition of slavery, the British government 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 declared, and the leaders executed.  Belmore was blamed for mis-handling 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, Somerset (1835-1913), rescued the family’s finances by selling land, reducing the estate to some 20,000 acres, enabling a partial redecoration of Castle Coole. In 1867 Somerset was appointed Governor General of New South Wales, where he supported the development of the railways.  The 5th Earl never married but lived on modestly at Castle Coole with five unmarried siblings.  By the time the 7th Earl inherited in 1949; the burden of taxes and the  expense of maintaining the house led to the house and 70 acres of land being transferred to the National Trust with a grant from the Ulster Land Fund, the contents remaining on loan. 

The present 8th Earl lives nearby and continues to take an active interest in the house and demesne. 

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Founded: 18th century
Category: Palaces, manors and town halls in United Kingdom

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4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Gayle Josephine Scarratt (4 months ago)
Once again at the coffee shop. Took my dad today, he's a celiac and they have the most wonderful Raspberry and White chocolate tray gluten free bakes. So nice I get one every visit and I'm not even a celiac.
Grant Silliss (5 months ago)
The tour of the house took just over an hour, and was led by an excellent guide who shared a stream of interesting information. There is also a lovely walk around a lake.
adrian mulvey (8 months ago)
**National Trust meets Downtown Shabby** I was very disappointed by my visit to Castle Coole Estate. The house was in a poor state of repair, with some rooms looking very run down and shabby. The fabrics were worn and faded, and some of the furniture was sparse and imposes uninviting. But invites taking your money no problem. Not the sign of a wealthy estate I've come across to expect. One room was very dark. I felt I could have done with a flashlight to look around. Mostly, everything is roped off, and the house has restricted access for paid visitors. There are very few places for people with disabilities to sit down and catch a breath. They're roped off, too! The only room that impressed me was the rotunda, which had some beautiful gold decorations and an Irish harp. Possibly why the National Trust tour guide books have been withdrawn from sale to National Trust members and visitors? The staff were mainly very rude and unwelcoming, especially when they told me that I was not allowed to take any photographs inside the house. There was no sign anywhere that said this, and I felt like they were violating my rights as a visitor. Despite this house being used in local television programmes and locally infamous. They also did not explain anything about the history or significance of the house and just rushed me through the tour. After an hour, I was never so glad to leave. The time really dragged. We were constantly watched as a group around the house as if we were being treated as commoners and potential thieves. The only nice women I found around the estate was a receptionist and an elderly voluntary lady in the library shop. The courtyard was a mess, with peeling paint and weeds everywhere. The café was a joke. Just garden tables and chairs outside with what looked like an ice cream van. Tbh, I've seen better stalls at Nutts Corner Sunday Market. The gardens were nonexistent, just a field of overgrown grass and cows. Contrary to the map in the outside overlooking. The lake walk I paid for is possibly the my shortest in recent memory. I felt like I wasted my time and money at this place, and I would not recommend it to anyone. It is a shame that the National Trust and its current inhabited residents do not take better care of this historic estate.
Rick T. Wilson (9 months ago)
Worth the visit. The gardens are “natural” but the insides of the house are incredible. Well with the admission. Your groups are small so make a reservation. You won’t be disappointed.
Gill Entwistle (11 months ago)
Great day out. We did the house tour, the Easter Egg Trail and are our lunch in the tea rooms. The tea rooms were closed but there was a coffee cart selling food and drinks.
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