If you are passing through the midlands of Ireland, a hidden gem well worth a visit is Newcastle Woods and Newcastle House in county Longford.
Newcastle House is an old Manor house built in the 18th Century (from about 1710, with alternations up to 1860), located in Ballymahon, County Longford. It was the main residence of the King-Harman landlords. The forest beside Newcastle house is called Newcastle Woods and use to be part of the Newcastle estate, it was sold by the King-Harman family in 1934 to the Irish Forestry and is now owned and maintained by Coillte, it is open to the public, all year round and there are four different walks you can do, the Access for All walk, the River Inny Walk, the Church Walk and the Wandering Walk. Source: Coillte Outdoors
How to get to Newcastle, Ballymahon, Longford
Directions to Newcastle Woods and Newcastle House:
M6/Athlone/South direction: Coming from Athlone, County Westmeath, drive 24 kilometres on the N55 to Ballymahon Village, turn left onto the main street, over the River Inny and on the right hand side, between the River Inn Bar and St Catherine’s church, there is a narrow side road. Follow this small windy road, for about 2 kilometres to a T junction beside Newcastle bridge. Newcastle Woods is on the left (you will see the entrance to the carpark opposite the T junction) and if you take a right and drive over Newcastle bridge, for another 500 metres, you will find the entrance to Newcastle House on the left.
M4/Edgeworthstown/North direction: Coming from Edgeworthstown, County Longford, drive 15 Kilometres, about 2 kilometres from Ballymahon on the left hand side you will see a sign for Cooney’s Hotel, take the left here and drive onto to the Newcastle road for 1 kilometre, the entrance to Newcastle Woods will be on your left. Continue over the Newcastle narrow bridge for another 500 metres for the entrance to Newcastle House.
History of Newcastle House
According to this piece from the Longford.ie website, “Newcastle House was originally established c1680. A Robert Choppayne is credited with building the centre block.
During the 17th century, a Scotsman named Anthony Sheppard purchased the estate. Following Anthony’s death in 1725, his sister Frances became his heir. Frances Sheppard married Wentworth Harman and the estate remained the seat of the Harman family throughout the 18th century. Late in the 18th century the house was enlarged and altered by the addition of a single story east wing and a two-story west wing by Lawrence Harman-King Harman.
The house remained in the family until Col. King-Harman’s death in 1949, when it was sold to the Holy Rosary Sisters. They, in turn, sold the building to a Nicholas Kindersley.”
I’m not sure how long Nicholas Kindersley kept the house but the next reference I can find to the ownership of the house is in around 2001.
In the Noughties, Newcastle House was bought by a retired New York Fire Department Firefighter called Joe Donovan. Joe who had worked at the Twin Towers on the day of the 9/11 attacks, bought the property to renovate it, along with wife Suze Donovan, they restored the House. Source: Independent.ie
I think they operated it as a Guest house and hired out Newcastle House for occasional functions.
By 2012, the Donovan’s decided to move back to New York and Newcastle House was sold to its current owner, a Hong Kong based business man named Mr. Hau Yan Lee. Mr. Yan Lee has big plans for Newcastle House, going on this Longford Leader article. There are plans to renovate the main courtyard buildings into 40 guest rooms and to convert the existing derelict back courtyard buildings into cafe/tea rooms, outhouses to Guest Apartments and upgrading the House to become a Hotel with swimming pool and a gym. You can check out the Newcastle website here.
Also, Center Parcs have leased part of the forests around Newcastle woods and will be opening a new Irish Center Parcs in Newcastle woods, which is due to open in 2019.
Also, since 2012, the Newcastle Summer Music Festival, called NewCfest, has taken place on the grounds of Newcastle House.
A Hot Air Balloon festival has also regularly taken place on the grounds of Newcastle House over the last few years.
When Newcastle House is re-opened to the public, I’m looking forward to re-visiting it and seeing the renovations.