The second day of our holiday was forecast to be wet with rain most of the day – and that transpired to be correct. We’d planned the holiday around visiting National Trust properties and there were a number south of our hotel, within an hour or so drive away. Checking the NT handbook we found that some of them had very restrictive opening times so we narrowed the list down to a couple of properties both of which were only open in the afternoon. But we’d had a long day on Monday so we took advantage of a lie in and a late breakfast before setting off to the Argory, a Georgian country house near Dungannon, County Armagh at the south of Lough Neagh.
We arrived just as the reception and café, located in the former stables and domestic services complex behind the house, were opening, so we booked our ticket for the first Guided Tour of the house and grabbed ourselves a brew.
The house was built in the 1820s for the MacGeough Bond family, wealthy landowners in County Armagh, who were originally settlers granted land as part of the Ulster plantations. It’s neo-Classical two storey house with an octagonal pavilion to the north.
It stands above the east bank of the River Blackwater, which which forms the boundary between the counties of Armagh and Tyrone and there’s a view of the river from the house, through the tree, looking over the front lawn.
The house was designed by Dublin architects, Arthur and John Williamson. Their design was not entirely successful. The guide book (which covers a number of properties in the area) tells us
“the squat, oddly proportioned west portico ….. is either charmingly naïve or downright clumsy, depending on your point of view”
I think I’d agree with the latter view. The proportions just aren’t right, the portico is too shallow, I’m not so keen on the rather “flat” fan light and the lintel is just too big. I did, however, like the detailing around the fist floor window above the portico.
The guided tour was very good and informative (the guide had lived for a while in Adlington, just a few miles down the road from where we live!)
The house was donated to the Trust by W. A. N. MacGeough Bond who was unmarried and childless. It was opened to the public two years later following a major restoration. He continued to live in the north wing until he died in 1986, and is buried in the grounds. Much of the original furniture still remains – the last owner became something of a recluse and left things as they were after his mother died.
The house was originally lit by candlelight and oil lamps and then fitted with acetylene gas lighting in 1906 – the acetylene manufactured on site and light fittings designed for candles adapted to burn the gas. Electric lighting was never installed and the Trust has largely left it that way.
(Picture source National Trust)
One of the curious items on display was this barrel organ located at the top of the stairs in the first floor lobby.
(picture source – National Trust)
It had been originally intended to build a chapel in the grounds fell through and so the lobby was used by the family for morning and evening prayers. So the organ was installed here.
The guide also told us about the Birkenhead disaster when the so named troop ship was wrecked off the coast of South Africa in 1852. The the second owner of the house Captain Ralph Shelton was one of the troops on board the ship and reputedly to showed considerable courage, rescuing two children. He was one of the few survivors, managing to swim ashore through shark infested waters, attributing this to the fact that he kept his clothes. The tunic he wore, which he believed helped to save his life, is displayed in the house as is this engraving of the disaster, from a painting by by Thomas M Hemy, which shows Captain Shelton.
(picture source – National Trust)
As the rain had eased off, except for some occasional showers, we took a walk around the grounds.
and followed the path through the woods down to the river