Northern Ireland, Castle Ward

By the time we had finished wandering in and photographing Rowallane’s gardens we were in much need of a hot ‘cuppa’ but… the garden cafe was closed. It was about to be moved from the stables to the newly renovated house.  So we headed south to find the nearby Butterfly Sanctuary and its cafe.

Male Peacock on a mission!

We were greeted by a couple of peacocks. “Get out of my way”, he seemed to say.  He was a bird on a mission.

Pea hen

And yes, he was in pursuit of this beautiful lady – a pea hen.

Peacock feathers

The peacock’s feathers made for a lovely piece of natural abstract art.  Who said blue with green should never be seen?   My art lecturer when I was at Teachers College, that’s who!  Maybe she’d never seen a peacock.

Hot Chocolate – Irish Style

Tearing ourselves away from our fascination with the peacocks, we found the small cafe.  It was run by a very friendly young lady who enjoys the ‘craic’, the Irish version of enjoying a conversation. We ordered tea and scones… cherry scones were the offering of the day. They were awful! Made with glace cherries. Do not try.

I had changed my tea order to a small hot chocolate. Imagine my surprise when this work of art was delivered! As I sat stunned, staring at this vision of sugar gone crazy, she said, “This is how we like our hot chocolate in Ireland. You can either drink it or climb it.”  Lesson learned re hot chocolate!

It had begun to rain again by the time we extricated ourselves from the lady and her cafe. The butterflies would have gone into hiding and we didn’t particularly like the thought of wandering in gardens in the rain again.  So we drove on through DownPatrick.  All roads in County Down lead to DownPatrick, the main centre. We could have stopped to see St Patrick’s grave, or the Cathedral, or a steam railway museum. But none of those were on our list of things we most wanted to do after our wonderful morning at Rowallane.  So we drove on back towards Strangford Lough.

A road sign caught our attention just as the sun emerged from behind a curtain of clouds.  It pointed the way to Castle Ward, another National Trust property. A visit to a castle could be just the thing to do on a wet day.  So we turned down a long drive through this 332 hectare (820 acre) property with its promise of walks and views over Strangford Lough, and its eccentric Manor House which is open to the public much of the time, but, as we were to learn, not all of the time.

View over Strangford Lough from Castle Ward

Yes – the sun came out as we began to walk up towards the house. What a lovely view looking down over the waters with blue sky above.

Front view of Castle Ward – the Classic Palladian style side.

Castle Ward was built in the 1760s by the first Lord Bangor, Bernhard Ward, and his wife Anne. It was built of Bath stone brought to Ireland in one of Lord Bangor’s own ships. The big problem for their architect was that this Lord and Lady couldn’t agree on the style for this building.  Lord Bangor wanted classical Palladian style. Lady Bangor wanted the newly fashionable style, neo-Gothick. There was no compromise so, with semi-octagonal bays at each end joining the two ‘faces of the house’, this most eccentric house was a built.

The side that faces the driveway (above) was built in the classic Palladian style with columns supporting a triangular pediment… his half.

The Georgian Gothick side of the house   (Photo courtesy Wikepedia)

The side that faces Strangford Lough, and that view, was built in Georgian Gothick style with pointed windows, battlements and finials…. her half.

The difference in style continues throughout the interior of the house with the divide down the centre. Although the house has stood the test of time, the marriage of Lord and Lady Bangor did not. The couple separated, not surprisingly perhaps!  By 1827 all the furnishings had been dispersed. In 1950, the house was presented to the National Trust, in lieu of death duties after the death of the 6th Viscount Bangor. It has been restored and refurnished in both styles. Unfortunately for us, on the day of our visit, the house was closed and so we did not experience the inside of this eccentric mansion.

A footnote to the Castle Ward story: On 10 February 1973 – Leonard O’Hanlon (23) and Vivienne Fitzsimmons (17), both members of theProvisional IRA,  were killed in a premature bomb explosion in the grounds of Castle Ward estate. Thankfully those times appear to be over and Northern Ireland is enjoying a time of relative peace from ‘the troubles.’

The sunken garden at Castle Ward

The sun shone, briefly, so although we missed out on seeing inside the house, we were able to walk in the garden, at least until the rain returned.  We read that back in 1902, this Sunken Garden had been a formal ‘parterre’, an elaborate design of 61 garden beds filled with flowers – colourful floral artistry. There was little or no grass at all then. Now it’s  a simple design, mainly lawn, in the centre of which is a circular ‘lily pond’ with a statue of Neptune brandishing his trident.


Castle Ward has nothing like the walled gardens at Rowallane, but there were a few interesting plants such as this Alstromeria to brighten an otherwise ‘green garden’.  Known as the Princess Lily or the Peruvian Lily, these flowers are delightful with their streaked petals and compact growth. They can grow to 2 feet tall and there are dwarf cultivars as well. We have a dwarf  Alstroemeria in this colour in our garden in Canberra. I made a mental note to add some more varieties this summer… there are so many colours available now.


These cheerful yellow Alstroemeria would bring a splash of sunshine to any garden, no matter what the weather. I do know that these larger forms can ‘get away’ in the garden and become rather weed like. But we’ve had no problem with the dwarf variety and they grow well in pots.

Blue flower

And if the  yellow Alstroemeria brought the feeling of sunshine, theses lovely blue flowers brought the blue of a clear summer’s sky. I don’t know the name of this flower. Any suggestions?


Fuchsias are a familiar sight in Irish gardens and along country roadsides. In this garden, fuchsia is grown as a hedge along the path from the house down to some out-buildings. They hide the buildings and provide colour at the same time.  They are such beautiful ‘ballerinas’.

Herb Robert

The tiny flowers of the common, weedy wildflower, Herb Robert, can be found almost anywhere there is a stone wall in Ireland.  It always fascinates me to take a close-up look into flowers and these flowers, not much bigger than my little fingernail, deserved a closer look – exquisite in their simplicity of form!

Beautifully ‘sculptured’ mushroom caps

Mushrooms and fungi usually reward a closer look, also.  I had to splash through very soggy grass to photograph these beauties.

Portaferry seen across the Lough from Castle Ward

Portaferry is the village on the other side of Strangford Lough. We would get a closer look at that on our way to our next garden, Mount Stewart. But before that , with rain falling once more, we made our way back to the village of Strangford.  There, at The Cuan Inn (our home away from home) we had a much needed hot shower and a rest before enjoying a wonderful birthday lobster dinner in the company of new found friends.

On the ferry

Next morning, again in drizzle, we took the ferry across Strangford Lough from Strangford to Portaferry… our hire car the middle one.

The house on the point at Strangford

You really have to be out on the water to see homes like this one.

Looking back at Strangford village

It was pleasant looking back at Strangford from the water – a very different view of this lovely village.

Portaferry – from the ferry.

Portaferry has a mixture of architecture.  It would be a good place to explore more. Perhaps next time I’m in Northern Ireland!

(There are more notes on Strangford and Portaferry in an earlier journal entry.)

Portaferry with the old look-out tower on the hill behind

Safely across the turbulent waters of the mouth of Strangford Lough, we disembarked at Portaferry for the drive to our next destination, another National Trust property, Mount Stewart House and Gardens… and that will be the subject of my next journal entry.   J

Photography  © JT of jtdytravels

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