Ballina , Co. Mayo
The surviving gate lodge of Belleek Castle is found on the aptly named Castle Road in Ballina, Co. Mayo. It is one of the most distinctive and recognisable features of the once great demesne of the Knox-Gore family that existed beyond. Few may know that this gate served as an architectural prototype for the main gate of one of the most famous castles in the world, Ashford Castle. Recently the recovery of the original timber gates of this stately entrance has awoken renewed local interest in preserving the rich architectural heritage of our town. Originally this entrance was not intended to be located on Castle Road but situated closer to the town centre in a similar fashion to Adare Manor in Limerick. It will also be a surprise to many that this architectural treasure came close to being demolished at a time when its value was not recognised.
The main gate at Belleek, also known locally as the Belleek Arch and the Tower Gate, was the prototype for the grand main gate at Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo. Both were designed by the same prolific architect, James Franklin Fuller, who was favoured by the upper classes such as the Guinness’s. The main gate at Belleek was built in the early 1870’s which preceded the construction of the main gate at Ashford Castle, constructed around 1880. Fuller carried out alot of work for the Knox family in County Mayo in the 1870’s. In 1871, he was involved with the construction of Mount Falcon for Utred Knox and in 1872 and he also carried out a number of projects for the Knox-Gore’s of Belleek Manor. For them he designed this new gateway to the manor 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. It is known from the tender drawings signed for the construction of nearby Mount Falcon, that Fuller’s builder of choice was a Meath man by the name of Henry Sharpe. As Sharpe was involved with the construction of Mount Falcon, it is possible that he also built Belleek Gate. Sharpe worked with Fuller on numerous projects and operated from Bective Street in Kells, Co. Meath. He was obviously successful, for when he passed away in 1905, he was listed as living at 12 Ailesbury Rd., Dublin which is now the Polish Embassy. It is also recorded that the construction of the main gate at Belleek was supervised by Mr. Pery of Coolcronan.
|The inner facade of Belleek Lodge, note the number of windows, Copyright ICHC|
|Fuller was the architect for both Ashford Castle and Belleek Lodge,|
Note the similarities between the tower of Ashford (above) and the tower of Belleek ( Below)
The house beyond the main gates was known as Belleek Manor, once Belleek Abbey and is now known as Belleek Castle. Located on the banks of the river Moy, it was home to a branch of the Knox family, a Mayo dynasty who could all trace their roots back to Rappa Castle near Crossmolina. The family held many grand properties and extensive estates that extended across the county. Francis Arthur Knox-Gore inherited the property at Belleek at the age of fifteen, so improvements to the estate did not occur until 1837 with the completion of the Tudor Gothic mansion that sits at the centre of the demesne. Costing in the region of £10,000, its riverside location proved useful for the transportation of materials for its construction. Stone for the new mansion was ferried from a nearby quarry in Moyne, located further down the River Moy. It is quite possible that this same location was used to supply stone for the construction of the gate lodge in the 1870’s. When Sir Francis Arthur Knox-Gore of Belleek Manor was planning his estate at Belleek, it is said that he wished to have his main entrance gate opening on to one of the main streets of Ballina. Unfortunately, there was one field standing in the way of this ambition which belonged to Lord Arran. He refused to co-operate and was said to be jealous of Sir Arthur and his grand intentions. As a result, the proposed avenue was never completed, and the main gate was eventually relocated to its present position on Castle Road to replace an earlier structure. The gate lodge at Belleek was built to replace an arched access on the site which is known to have dated from before 1837. This gate lodge was replaced by his son, Sir Charles James Knox- Gore, the second and last Baronet who succeeded to the estate in 1873. The second entrance was located along the Killala road, where the entrance to the Coca Cola factory is found today. It was demolished a number of decades ago but the iron gates, known as the black gates, still survive in a park nearer the town of Ballina.
|The Entrance Front of Belleek Manor, Ballina, Co. Mayo|
|The gates that once hung at the lodge at Belleek, |
which have recently been recovered from the River Moy
|The sale of the contents of Belleek Manor in 1942|
During the famine, the Knox Gores were benevolent landlords and in the 1920s the manor was unharmed during the worst excesses of the ‘The Troubles’. Attitudes began to change toward the residents of Belleek Manor in the 1930’s. In 1938, it was reported in the press that two or three years previously, Colonel Saunders Knox Gore had offered the estate to the Land Commission, but they had not chosen not to purchase the estate for division. This had angered members of the local community who had wanted the estate divided and resulted in several cattle drives, where livestock were driven off the lands of the Belleek Estate. The demesne lands at this time extended to over 1,000 acres and this land was leased for grazing. In 1942, the sale of the contents of Belleek Manor took place at the instruction of Col. Saunders Knox-Gore. It is noted that the sale included the contents of the Dining Room, Study, Front Hall, Library, Boudoir, Drawing Room, 10 bedrooms, Servant Rooms and Kitchen. It is also recorded that admission was by catalogue only which were offered for sale at the entrance lodge to the manor. Traps would operate from Knox’s Street to the manor on the date of the sale. In the same year, the manor house and its lands of 415 acres, 105 in pasture and 275 in lawns and plantations, were eventually purchased by the Beckett family. They had the intention of converting the estate into an equestrian focused business. The Beckett’s restored the manor but due to an unfortunate death in the family, their proposed scheme was never realised.
In 1948, Dr. Noel Browne, Minister for Health visited Belleek and in the following year, it was being discussed about the possibility of Belleek Manor being acquired by the state. However, it was said that he was ‘not strong about it’. Members of the Urban District Council at the time wanted the state to press ahead with the purchase of Belleek in the belief that it would bring business to the town. At the same meeting, a resolution was passed to ask the government minister to amend his decision and acquire Belleek in the interests of the county. By 1950, the estate had been sold to the Land Commission and in 1955, the issue of acquiring part of the Belleek for public use, still rumbled on. The Land Commission proposed the sale of 20 acres of Belleek for the sum of £1,400.00 so the land could be used as a public park. The offer had an expiration period of one month and the Urban District Council would be responsible for putting up fences and maintenance. Members of the Urban District Council felt that the price was inflated and would not be achievable on the open market. It was also the belief at the time that the Land Commission knew the Urban District Council could not accept the offer because of high rates. Previously in 1946, the Land Commission were prepared to accept an offer of £421 10s for 72 acres of land.
In the 1950’s the manor was purchased for use as a sanatorium by the County Council, while the Land Commission and the Department of Forestry purchased most of the land that made up the estate. The interior of the castle was whitewashed, and the reception rooms now housed female patients who were suffering with tuberculosis. Several years later the manor was abandoned as a sanatorium and was briefly used as a barracks. The manor now faced an uncertain future as the County Council considered removing the roof to avoid rates and demolishing the remaining walls. By 1957, Belleek Manor was described as derelict with only 23 acres of land. There was an effort at this time to turn the manor into a nursing home, but this notion failed. It was hoped that an American millionaire might purchase Belleek and restore it in a similar fashion to what had occurred at Muckross House in Killarney. It is recorded that the main gate on Castle Road was continuously lived in until it was vacated in 1959, its condition having possibly deteriorated.
In 1961, it was reported that Ballina Urban District Council refused to sell the main entrance gate lodge on Castle Road to Mr. Marshal Doran, a hotelier from Jersey who had recently purchased Belleek Manor, which he intended to convert into a hotel. It was argued by members of the council that the gate lodge was located beside the town park and formed its main entrance so it was thought that it should remain in the ownership of the council. The main tower of the gate lodge with its battlements is what first attracted Mr. Doran to purchase the manor. At the time of purchasing the Belleek property, Mr. Doran had hoped to acquire the main gate on Castle Road but when the sale matured, it was discovered that the transaction did not include the entrance structure. Many on the U.D.C. believed at this time that the lodge, having become derelict, should be demolished and its cut stone sold. For many, then and even today, structures such as this grandiose gate lodge were seen as symbols of oppression and exclusivity. For some their loss would not be mourned.
|In recent years the lodge at Belleek has been illuminated |
which shows off the true magesty of the structure.
|The interior of the lodge at Belleek is long gone since it was vacated in the 1950's|
The structure of this lodge has stood the test of time and in recent years it has been impressively illuminated at night. The most pressing issue threating its future is increased traffic flowing through its arch each day and the unchecked growth of ivy. Belleek Arch is a superb addition to the architectural heritage of the town and should be valued as such. Efforts are now being made to restore this structure and develop it for public use. Despite the residential development of the area surround the lodge in recent decades, no efforts have been made to reroute the public road and protect this structure from possible damage from traffic. Rerouting traffic would allow the structure to be developed, possibly in connection with the Landmark Trust or possibly become the museum that Marshall Doran had proposed decades before.
|Brackets and sockets that once held the main gates in place are still evident |
on the structure. It is hoped that the main gates now recovered will return to
their original position.