Report by Sandra Millsopp
Bangor Historical Society members enjoyed a varied and interesting spring outing on 10 May 2014. The first stop was at Brownlow House in Lurgan. After morning coffee we were taken on a tour of the house which was built in 1833 for the Brownlow family. It was designed by William Henry Playfair in the Elizabethan style. Scottish sandstone was brought by barge to Lough Neagh and then by horse and cart to the site. It was eventually sold and later purchased by the local Orange Lodge.
In 1996 a fire damaged much of the house and millions have been spent on restoration, although the work has not been completed. Among the rooms we viewed was the Octagon room with cameos above the doors. During the Second World War the army used the house and we were shown the room used by General Eisenhower. The famous greyhound Master McGrath belonged to Lord Lurgan, head of the Brownlow family.
Our next stop was in Dungannon at the Hill of the O’Neill & Ranfurly House visitor centre. This is housed in the old bank building dating from 1854 and now known as Ranfurly House. After lunch we were given a tour of the Flight of the Earls and Plantation of Ulster exhibition. This tells the story of the O’Neills and the Nine Years War which was followed by the Flight of the Earls in 1607. Further displays tell the story of the plantation and the difficulties faced by the new settlers.
We were then taken out onto the hill itself with its views of all nine counties of Ulster. Unfortunately it was rather a dull day and we were unable to see them all. The hill was once the stronghold of the O’Neills. During the troubles it was an army base, but in 2006 it was handed back to the local council. A team from Channel 4’s Time Team programme carried out an excavation there in 2007 and found the walls of the O’Neill castle. Two ruined towers still stand on the site, but they date from a mansion house built in 1792 by Thomas Knox Harrington, a banker. The house fell into disrepair after he went bankrupt in 1816 and moved to France.
We then travelled south into Armagh to Markethill through villages decorated for the Giro d’Italia. Pink bicycles were much in evidence! Our destination was Mullaghbrack House, a private home. It was originally built in 1829 by the Rev. Samuel Blacker, rector of St. John’s Church of Ireland in Mullaghbrack. The house has been sold several times and now belongs to the Kerr family. It is a three storey Georgian style building which Colin Kerr and his wife Rosaleen have renovated. We had a most interesting tour of the house including the hall, with its beautiful staircase, the dining room and kitchen.