Sunday, 20 July 2014

 Granville's Folly

Errew Grange, Cossmolina, Co. Mayo

The house known as Errew Grange is located outside the town of Crossmolina in County Mayo on the West Coast of Ireland. Perched high on a hill, the building enjoys the duel aspect of overlooking Lough Conn in one direction and a full vista of Nephin Mountain in the other. When one stands on the site that Errew Grange now occupies and surveys its surroundings, it is easy to understand why Granville Knox decided to build a home here. The architect, James Franklin Fuller, who designed Errew Grange also designed a similar building located nearby. Another grand house known as Mount Falcon shares a number of exterior features in common with Errew Grange, such as a prominent corner tower. As the original interior of Errew Grange was lost in a fire, we must look to Mount Falcon to see what the original interior of Errew Grange would have looked like.

Errew Grange was constructed in 1872 by Granville Knox using the funds of his wealthy 
heiress wife. No expense was spared during itsconstruction which led to Granville being 
declared bankrupt before it was completed.   Copyright- The National Library of Ireland
 After the gas leak and fire in 1949, the house stood as a ruin for a number of years before
its restoration began in the 1970s. Today the house is divided into a number of apartments 
that enjoy spectacular views of the nearby Lough Conn.  Copyright- Photo by David Hicks
Granville Henry Knox was born in June 1840; he was the son of James Annesley and Mary Mina Knox of Netley Park near Crossmolina in County Mayo. In July 1862, Granville married Ellen, daughter of Richard Frederick Farrer. His new wife was a wealthy heiress and Granville used her funds to establish himself locally as an up and coming gentleman. He purchased lands at Errew in the parish of Crossmolina in the West of Ireland from Charles O'Donnell and by 1876 he owned 1,182 acres in County Mayo and 1,128 acres in County Sligo. In 1872, he started to erect a mansion in Errew and the contract price was settled at the princely sum of £5,000. Skilled workmen were brought from England and no expense was spared in turning Granville’s dreams in to a reality.

The architect of Mount Falcon and Errew Grange, James Franklin Fuller

During construction of his mansion, he proceeded to spend his wife’s fortune at a phenomenal rate. Materials were brought from Dublin, by rail, to Ballina and then brought by horse and cart to Errew. Granville’s mansion was built with freestone on the inside and cut limestone on the outer face, all the stone was brought from County West Meath for five shillings a ton. This robust construction is probably one of the reasons why the ruins of the house survived the fire in 1949 to be restored in later years. Granville’s extravagance and the numerous changes that were made during the construction meant that the final cost of the build far exceeded the £5,000 originally quoted. In fact some reports at the time estimated the amount to build the house at around £10,000 which was double the original estimate. The completed Victorian Gothic house now sat on a peninsula jutting out into Lough Conn, rather similar in architectural style to Mount Falcon situated on the opposite side of Ballina. The architect who designed both of these houses for the influential Knox family was James Franklin Fuller. He was the favorite architect of the gentry at this time and during his career he completed many well known commissions such as Kylemore Abbey and extensions to Ashford Castle
After the departure of Granville Knox the, house was converted in to ‘The Lough Conn Hotel’ 
which was operated by Maurice Fitzgerald. He had hoped to attract English fishermen 
to the beauties of the locality but it is questionable whether the business was a success. 
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

Today Errew Grange has been restored and extended; its attic storey now includes 
numerous dormer windows which detract from the beauty of the original building 
which was designed by James Franklin Fuller.
Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks
During the 1870s, Fuller carried out a lot of work for the Knox family in County Mayo. In 1871, he was involved with the construction of Mount Falcon for Utred Knox and in 1872; he also carried out work for the Knox’s of Belleek Castle near Ballina. For them he designed a new gateway to the castle and an impressive monument over the grave of Arthur Knox-Gore who died in 1873. It was during this period in the 1870s that he was also involved with the design and construction of Errew Grange for Granville Knox.

Mount Falcon in Ballina and Errew Grange in Crossmolina, Co. Mayo were designed by 
James Franklin Fuller who was the fashionable architect of the day. The original architectural 
drawings of Mount Falcon have survived and were found by the current owner Alan Maloney 
in the attic of the house after he purchased it.       Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks

 Fullers original architectural drawings are now displayed in the bar of Mount Falcon 
which now run as a successful country house hotel
Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks

One of the original Mount Falcon drawings is signed by the architect 
James Franklin Fuller and the client Utred Knox.
Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks
By the time the house was complete; Granville had spent his wife’s fortune and was heavily over extended financially.  As a result, neither he nor his family could afford to live in the large house and Errew Grange remained empty, a monument to one man’s self indulgence. Members of the Knox Family who had lent money or guaranteed loans were now pursued for Granville’s debts. They christened the house ‘Knox’s Folly’ and eventually Granville was declared bankrupt and ended up in the Encumbered Estates Court. On July 10, 1886 the Sheriff’s bailiff took control of the property and Granville Knox was last seen on his way to the train station in Ballina to emigrate to Nova Scotia where he died in 1894.  Afterwards he sent for his family and it is believed that they enjoyed more success in their adopted homeland having possibly learned hard lessons in Errew. In May 1891, Maurice J. Fitzgerald proposed to rent Errew Grange for £55 a year from the Land Court and open it as a hotel to attract fishermen from England. It was argued by a local landowner, Paget Bourke, that a rent of £120 should be imposed as there were forty acres of prime land attached to the building. Paget was informed by the Judge that it was better that the house be rented for £55 a year, then for the building to lie empty for ten years. In 1893, Errew Grange now entered a new stage in its life when an advertisement appeared for winter shooting at the Lough Conn Hotel. The proposed endeavor must not have been a success as a Maurice J. Fitzgerald of the Lough Conn Hotel, Errew, Crossmolina was judged bankrupt on November 29, 1895. What ever happened after the 1895 bankruptcy, by the time of the 1901 census, Maurice J. Fitzgerald is still in residence and in his position as hotel proprietor. There were eight persons occupying the hotel which included Maurice, his wife Joan, his daughters Alice and Geraldine together with four servants. The house is listed as having twenty-five rooms, fifteen windows across its entrance front and only four outbuildings.

Mount Falcon was built by Utred Knox so he could demonstrate his love for his future 
wife Nina Gore of nearby Belleek Castle. The house was commissioned in 1871 and took
 five years to build. Mount Falcon is now one of the leading Irish Country House Hotels 
which is now operated by Alan Maloney to an exceptional standard.
Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks

The tower and bay window to the side of Mount Falcon bear a striking 
resemblance to Errew Grange. The plaques on either side of the tower
 record the date of completion of the house in 1876 and the crest of 
the Knox family.
Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks

The wonderful interior of Mount Falcon retains all its original
 features and gives an insight into what the original interior of
 Errew Grange would have looked like.
Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks
In 1905, a court case was heard relating to the former Granville Knox estate and the mansion at its core. The case involved a decision being put before the court in regard to who was fully entitled to purchase Errew Grange, which was still tenanted by Maurice Fitzgerald. The rest of the Granville Knox estate had been sold to tenants over the years but the part containing Errew Grange and 80 acres was left out. From my reading of the situation both Maurice J. Fitzgerald and Paget Bourke wished to buy the property. Mr. Fitzgerald had been using the residence as a hotel and he had spent a lot of money on its improvement. His solicitor argued, unsuccessfully, that Maurice J. Fitzgerald as tenant should have been allowed to purchase the property at a lower price of £1,100. The judge found in Paget Bourke’s favour and he was allowed purchase the property for the higher amount of £3,000. After this decision Maurice J. Fitzgerald closed his hotel as by time of the 1911 census there is no mention of him or his enterprise at Errew. In the 1911 census there is a building listed that bears a similar description to Errew Grange which is now occupied by John Watters and the owner is listed as Harry Bourke, a solicitor based in Ballina. Harry or H.C. Bourke, as he was known, inherited the house from his father Paget Bourke. The house must been empty at the time of the census as there is no return for John Watter and no details relating to the interior of the house are recorded.


A beautiful stained glass fanlight over the entrance to Errew Grange
Accreditation- Photo by David Hicks
Another phase in the history of Errew Grange commenced when three sisters from a French order of nuns arrived in Mayo in 1912. After they had received permission from the local Bishop, they began to search for a house that would be suitable for use as a school. They leased Errew Grange from H.C. Bourke and the sisters were soon joined by other members of their order. In November of that year they opened their school at Errew with twelve day pupils and four boarders. By 1916 the number of students had increased dramatically and the school moved to a larger property called Gortnor Abbey nearer to the town of Crossmolina. I am pleased to say that this school is still in existence and has recently celebrated one hundred years since it was established at Errew Grange. After the departure of the school, the house was later leased to Mary (Molly) Canavan who continued to run it as a hotel attracting fishermen to the nearby Lough Conn. The hotel was described as a sanctuary, as loud boisterous talk would not find place among the finely furnished reception rooms. In 1948 disaster struck when Michael Gibbons, a servant, inspected a gas leak with a match. There was a terrible explosion, leaving the hotel a blaze in minutes. Neighbours and locals helped rescue what they could and fight the conflagration but the loss was enormous. Due to the prominent position of Errew Grange on the hill above the lake, the fire could be seen for miles around. Within hours the hotel and its contents were reduced to blackened walls and ash. For many years the ruins of Granville Knox’s dream home stood on top of the hill, open to the elements. In later years when the land was divided by the land comission and the burnt out shell came in to the ownership of a local family. In January 1978, they began to restore the house and over the following years they succeeded in re-roofing the entire building. In November 1997 a new owner sought permission to convert Errew Grange into apartments and a full restoration of the interior of the building was instigated. In the year 2000, fourteen luxury apartments were offered for sale seeking offers in the region of £130,000 to £205,000.









5 comments:

  1. James Franklin Fuller was my great great grandfather. I am very pleased to see that you have written up on Errew Grange. You may remember we corresponded about it exactly two years ago.

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  2. I passed by Errew Grange yesterday on my way to find the abbey and was very curious about it. I found out its name via Google maps and really enjoyed reading the story of it's history. Thanks for the posting.

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    1. Hi Chris, Im glad you enjoyed this, I actually have been in touch with relatives of Granville Knox and I keep meaning to update this with information as regards what happened to him after he left Ireland.

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  3. I looked at this fantastic building today and wondered who owns it now and what is it used for? such a shame a beautiful house is unoccupied!

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  4. My sister Delia used to live when at one time.. Found memories this house brought as well as a few scary ones..

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