"Victorian architecture has come into its own. Yet one has to admit that there are good and bad Victorian houses. A good was usually built by a man of taste, it has an attractive setting; and it has been allowed to keep its original character within. Blessingbourne close to Fivemiletown on the Tyrone, Fermanagh borders has all these things.
The pleasant grey stone house with its gables and mullions faces one of those small loughs that are such a feature of this part of the country.
On either side is sloping parkland. Across the lough are trees, some of which will unfortunately be cut down to make way for a new bypass road. Beyond the trees are distant hills. The inside of the house has the air of warmth and varied interest that one associates with the Victorian age at its best.
Man of Taste
The builder of Blessingbourne was a man of taste. He was Hugh De Fellenberg Montgomery, grandfather of Captain Peter Montgomery. Blessingbourne originally belonged to the Armars and came to the Montgomerys in the eighteenth century when Elizabeth Armar married Hugh Montgomery, of Derrygonnelly Castle in Fermanagh. The Montgomerys of Derrygonnelly, like the Montgomerys of Grey Abbey in Co. Down, were descended from the Lairds of Braidstane in Ayrshire, a branch of the family of the Earls of Eglinton.
About 1618, George Montgomery, bishop of Clogher and Meath and brother of the first Viscount Ardes, granted land in Fermanagh to his kinsman, Hugh Montgomery; whose grandson married the Derrygonnelly heiress. Derrygonnelly was burnt in the middle of the eighteenth century; and as there was then no house at Blessingbourne, the family rented Castle Hume on Lough Erne.
The first Montgomery to live at Blessingbourne was another Hugh, who was born in 1779 and known for some reason as “Colonel Eclipse”. His portrait, which he gave to his old school, Eton, shows him to have been very handsome. Yet he was unlucky in love. He was jilted by Anna Maria Dashwood, who married Lord Ely; he was also an unsuccessful suitor for the hand of Annabella Milbanke, shortly before her marriage to Byron.
After these disappointments he vowed he would never marry and built himself a bachelor retreat at Blessingbourne, a romantic thatched cottage. He also built the charming little gate-lodge. But his bachelorhood ended after a few years, for he married a Spanish girl and had a son. His son’s godmother was Lady Byron, who remained a close friend and was greatly attached to his sister Mary.
Mary Montgomery is often mentioned in Lady Byron’s letters as “MM”.
Lady Byron was also the godmother of her old suitor’s grandson, who built the present house.
Artist – Architect
Hugh De Fellenberg Montgomery was born in 1844, the year that his father died. When he came of age he was rich, with estates in Tyrone and Fermanagh. He was also good-looking, cultured and able. He began building his new house soon after his marriage. It was finished in 1874. The architect was Pepys Cockerell, son of the well known architect Charles Robert Cockerell. Pepys Cockerell was as much an artist as an architect. This gave him an aesthetic sense which many of the more down-to-earth Victorian architects lacked. The style which he used at Blessingbourne is Elizabethan; but unlike so much Victorian Elizabethan, it is not overloaded with ornament.
Such ornament as there is has restraint: caps on the chimneys, small finials on the gables, curved and scrolled pediments over some of the windows and the Montgomery coat-of-arms over the garden door. The original design included a belfry and a portecochere at the end of the entrance front, but these were never built.
One enters now through a door beneath the inscription Deus nobis haec otia fecit. Pepys Cockerell also designed the Rectory in Fivemiletown and the very pleasant and practical village school, which is unfortunately no longer used.
The inside of Blessingbourne is comfortable, with great character. The hall has a staircase separated by a screen of wooden arches. Through windows and a glass door one looks across an inner hall to the lough. The inner hall has bookshelves, an ebony overmantel and the original crimson dado. The chimneypiece, like others in the house, is of carved stone in a Tudor design: flanked by a niche for logs. The drawingroom is bright, with large windows on two sides and a bow. It is hung with watercolours, including some Arabian scenes by Lady Anne Blunt, the wife of Wilfred Scawen Blunt, who was lady Byron’s granddaughter. There is also a Grecian scene by Edward Lear.
The chimneypiece has two log niches and is decorated with Elizabethan strapwork and pilasters. An elegant boat-shaped object in red and gold is a ranat, a Thai version of a xylophone; Captain Montgomery, whose great interest was music, bought it while on a visit to Thailand. An original William Morris paper of blue and green grapes and foliage is the background to the pictures in the diningroom. There is a Morland, a self-portrait by Rembrandt’s son Titus, a copy of the well-known portrait of Cromwell with his page, a portrait of the Dutch statesman Jan De Witt, a portrait of Pope Julius II and a copy of a Rembrandt portrait by Pepys Cockerell. There are Chippendale chairs and a very fine bow-fronted sideboard.
The library has white bookcases and another Morris paper in blue. Over the chimneypiece is a romantic landscape by Hondius. A bedroom contains pictures by modern Irish artists: AE, Paul Henry, Derek Hill and Cherith Boyd.
The house is full of pleasant things: albums and portfolios, prints and drawing, Williams de Morgan tiles. Among the china is some by the original Josiah Wedgwood, an ancestor of the family. There is a great deal of beaten copper, made in Fivemiletown at a copper-working class which was started by Captain Montgomery’s grandmother.
North and South
Hugh De Fellenberg Montgomery died in 1924. All his life he worked for Ireland; he is remembered as “the Father of the Northern Ireland Senate”. His second son, who took the additional name of Massingberd when his wife inherited Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire, became a fieldmarshal and Chief of the Imperial General Staff. His eldest son, Captain Montgomery’s father, was also a soldier and retired as a major-general. He founded the Irish Association, to bring North and South closer together. Blessingbourne, in the North but with the South only just beyond the hills that can be seen from its windows as one looks across the lough, is the perfect meeting place for Irishmen of all kinds. "
... And Blessingbourne Today
Blessingbourne has played host to many notables over the years including a recent royal visit. The house has recently undergone a beautifully sympathetic refurbishment. Take a guided walk around the impressive exterior of this Victorian Manor House, listening to wonderful stories of its past. This historical yet intimate family home and estate will be colourfully brought to life by Colleen and Nicholas Lowry, the present owners.