Friday 13 November 2020

 Belleek Gate
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

In this decade, James Franklin Fuller was extremely prolific and was elected to a Fellowship by the Royal Institute of British Architects. When one looks at the gate lodge at Belleek, elements can be seen that are common not only to the gate lodge at Ashford but also elements of the castle situated beyond the gates in Cong. One can see familiar details when one compares the towers of Belleek Lodge and the towers found at Ashford Castle. Belleek Manor once had gate lodges at Castle Road and Killala Road, where gates were used to control access to the demesne or the private lands of the estate. These extended to pleasure grounds around the manor, the walled garden, the stables, outbuildings and even private family burial grounds. The main gates had an associated lodge, where the person ( and their family) resided that were tasked with opening and closing the gate. Impressive castellated gate lodges such as the one at Castle Road in Ballina were built to impress many and express the dominance in the community of the family that lived beyond. Like the grand houses of the upper classes, the designs of these gates lodges also followed the architectural fashion that was prevalent at the time. The gate lodge on Castle Road had accommodation at ground floor level with further rooms on the upper floor accessed by a stair accommodated in the tower. Interestingly all the windows in these rooms are on the inner fa├žade of the gate lodge looking back towards Belleek Manor, keeping an eye out for the master approaching.  From an examination of the some elements that remain on the entrance gate today there appear to be a number of metal brackets that possibly supported a wire which was attached to a bell, that alerted the lodge keeper that someone was outside the gate. There are also the clasps and sockets found on the inner reveal of the arch of the entrance gate that the metal frame of the recovered gates would have been attached to.

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)
Copyright ICHC

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
     Copyright ICHC
The wooden gates of the main lodge at Belleek were recently recovered from the riverbed of the River Moy. Messer’s Fagan & Sons, Great Brunswick Street in Dublin furnished gates for the main lodge at Ashford Castle which were based on designs prepared by James Franklin Fuller, the architect. Therefore, it is quite possible that Fagan’s also supplied the gates for Belleek, however it should be noted the gates currently found at Ashford are iron. In recent weeks, the original gates of Belleek Gate in Ballina, Co. Mayo have been recovered from their watery slumber on the bed of the River Moy, a project pioneered by Paul Carabine and the committee of Ballina Community Clean up. In the 1950’s, these gates were used to create a jetty on the river but were lost during a storm and sank to the riverbed. After their recent recovery, samples of the timber were sent to Queen’s University in Belfast to identify the species and origin of the timber. The tests revealed that the timber is Scots Pine: Pinus Sylvestris imported from Scandinavia or Russia in the 1870’s which may indicate that they were made further afield than Ballina. It is also quite possible for an estate such as Belleek, which was largely self-sufficient at this time, that the gates could also have been made by local craftsmen. The estate at one time employed over seventy people who tended to the kitchen garden, the sawmill, estate lands and a large kennel of hounds kept for hunting. The recovered gates comprise of a metal frame which the outer timber elements are bolted to. Traces of the original paint are visible, one area has a patch of red paint still remaining. From viewing the pair of gates recovered, one can appreciate the detail and scale of these relics. One gate is better preserved than the other having been shielded by the worst excesses of time and tide on the riverbed. The committee involved in their recovery now hope to restore and reinstate the gates back at Belleek Arch, an initial step in the process to eventually restore the whole structure.
The gates that once hung at the lodge at Belleek,
which have recently been recovered from the River Moy
     Copyright ICHC
Sir Charles James Knox Gore, 2nd Baronet of Belleek Manor, died on the 22nd December 1890, unmarried with a personal estate valued at £70,339 2s 2d. As Sir Charles had died with no male heirs, the title of Baronet died with him, having only been awarded to his father twenty-two years earlier. The estate at Belleek Manor and its land near Ballina, was entailed under the terms of Charles's fathers will, and was thus divided between his older sisters. In the 1870's the Knox Gore estate extended to over 22,000 acres of land in Mayo with a further 8,500 in Sligo which was mainly inherited by Charles’s sister Matilda. Charles upheld the family tradition and is buried in the grounds of the manor house near the river with his dog Phizzie, where modest headstones mark both their graves. Matilda married Major General William Boyd Saunders of Torquay who adopted his wife’s additional surnames to ensure their continuance to the next generation. In 1896, tickets of admission had to be acquired to enter past the main gates on Castle Road. The wooden gates of the lodge, now recovered, ensured that the demesne of Belleek remained private and secure for the Knox Gore family. These tickets which could only be obtained by letter to Major Saunders Knox Gore and used for limited access on certain days throughout the year. 
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 washed, 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.
     Copyright ICHC
By 1961, the condition of the gate lodge had become so precarious that it now concerned the members of the Urban District Council. ‘It is a scandal and a great source of reflection on the town that this fine structure was ever allowed into a dilapidated condition’ said Mr. Jack Clarke. Again Mr. Marshall Doran, the owner of Belleek Manor, put forward his offer to purchase the lodge and the adjoining land still held by the council. Mr. Doran was now in the process of converting the manor into a hotel and was concerned about the ‘fine parkland’ being developed in the vicinity of the main entrance. He stated that ‘There must be many Ballina people who would like to see this not built over and preserved in perpetuity for the town and its sporting activities’. The opinion was expressed by the council members that they should maintain ownership of the building however they would consider leasing it. The Town Clerk decided the best thing would be to permit the owner of Belleek Manor to put up a sign on the entrance gate and charge him a rental for it. The town council did not want to lease the gate lodge as there were ‘legal snags involved’.  The purchase of the land by Doran was thought by the U.D.C. to have some merit as it was a way of ‘getting out of Belleek’ which they had seen as a liability. The U.D.C. decided that they would not allow the land to fall into private hands as then they would have no control over its future development. Mr. Doran’s sole interest was to preserve the land as parkland.  By 1983, Marshall Doran enquired again to use the gate lodge and submitted a request with Ballina UDC. If the request was granted, he intended to maintain the lodge lawns, erect flag poles and provide flood lighting. He wished to use the lodge to erect advance signage for the hotel at Belleek Manor. He was clear that it would not be used for residential purposes but possibly as a museum to display artifacts he had acquired. The U.D.C. again ruled out the sale of the lodge but agreed to investigate the possibility of leasing it however this proposal was not realised.
The interior of the lodge at Belleek is long gone since it was vacated in the 1950's
     Copyright ICHC

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.

     Copyright ICHC