John and Denise met us at Sligo railway station and drove us to Enniskillen and their home.
Next day we went to Florence Court, a Georgian National Trust property a bit SW of the town, once the home of the Earls of Enniskillen – a family called Cole from Devon, who arrived in 1612 and lived at Enniskillen Castle for 3 generations before building this house between 1756 and 1764.
Although he was against the idea, the fifth Earl had electricity installed in 1952, after being badgered by the rest of the family. It was an electrical fault that caused the fire in 1955 that destroyed some of the decorative plaster ceilings (and much more, but the rest was rebuilt). I bet the Earl went about muttering ‘I told you it was a bad idea’ for months after. It is fortunate that the Earl gave the property to the National Trust the year before, because it was the Trust which discovered that there was no house insurance, and put it in place when it took over the property (the Coles continued to live there).
On the first floor landing there is a Coronation chair, the very one used by the Earl when he attended Liz 2’s first big event. Its here because guests were offered the opportunity to buy their chairs for 13 guineas. So flogging off the furniture from the Olympic village has a royal pedigree.
Recently the BBC has been filming a new TV drama based on the Blandings Castle stories by P G Wodehouse, and Florence Court provided settings for the butlers quarters and the rose garden. An Alice in Wonderland-ish event occurred when the Beeb had to fasten hundreds of rose flowers to the bare early spring rose bushes before filming. The result surprised many members of the public visiting the gardens immediately afterwards.
I was delighted to find both an Ice House and an Hydraulic Ram in the grounds. I don’tknow when the ice house fell into disuse, but it could have been used into the 1950’s, when electric refrigerators could have been used, though I doubt they’d have had the staff to collect enough ice from winter lakes after WWII. The hydraulic ram took water piped from the millpond, and through its ingeneous design, used the flow of each 8 gallons to pump one gallon into tanks in the roof of Florence Court. It was in operation until mains water was installed in 1964. A noticeboard beside the Ram building explains it is called a ram bcause it makes a noise like two rams head-butting each other. believe me, this is not true. It is called an hydraulic ram because water pressure is used to force water uphill via a mechanical ramming action, which makes a very rapid, metallic and persistent clack-clack-clack noise.
You can see an animation of how a Hydraulic ram works here.
All around Florence Court are forested hills. About 20 kms to the north there is a forest drive which eventaully arrives at a viewpoint high above Lower Lough Erne, where Jon took our photo:
Behind us is a low long island on the far side of the lake. It is Boa Island where we went a few years ago to see strange carved two-faced figures.
This time we stayed on the south shore and visited the ruins of a fortified house called Tully Castle.
As we arrived a strange young man appeared and started talking about the building. He turned out to be an employee of the organisation that manages such things (English Heritage in England) and had hoped to lock up at 4.30pm, but seemed happy to answer questions and talk. This is one of many fortified dwellings built by incomers encouraged by the English to colonise this wild place in the early 17th century. Lands taken from the local chiefs (Maguires) was given to Scottish settlers. Sadly, a group led by the usurped Maguires attacked the house on Christmas Eve 1641, and burnt it down after locking 69 people, mainly women and children, inside. It has not been occupied since.
The box hedges in the grounds are mainly in fine condition, but one (on the left) is very battered and ragged. I asked if it was disease that led to such a poor state. No, said our guide, just bad cutting.
Next day we passed Florence Court again on our way to the Marble Arch Caves, where we joined a group which included screaming children to travel underground by boat and foot. Jon and I spent a lot of time at the back of the strung out group, where we heard very little of the guide’s words because of intervening screaming children.
I did hear about the first folk to explore the system. It was in 1859 that a French speliologist and a Dublin naturalist were drawn here because of tales of rivers disappearing underground. Their explorations were stopped at a sump, where the passage disappeared underwater. The next section was opened up by a group of Yorkshire cavers who visited in 1935, and cleared a rock fall allowing dry passage to more passages.