County Fermanagh is located in the southwest corner of Northern Ireland. A large county, it accounts for some 13% of Northern Ireland’s landmass. Around a third is covered by lakes and waterways, and it is bordered by striking limestone mountains which are popular amongst cavers and walkers alike.
Dotted amongst the striking landscape are a number of historic sites, such as the ancient monastery complex on Devenish Island and the famous Castle Coole, which is widely regarded as one of the finest neo-classical country houses in Northern Ireland. The town Enniskillen is also notable for its 15th-century castle which now houses a museum about the county’s military past.
Here’s our pick of 7 of the most significant historic sites in County Fermanagh.
1. Castle Coole
One of the finest neo-classical country houses in Ireland, Castle Coole was once the site of a castle which burnt down during the Irish war with James II. Castle Coole was lived in by the Earls of Belmore, and was first commissioned by the first Earl of Belmore from 1707 as a brick building with sash windows and tall chimneys, signalling a period of peace and industry in Ulster after a turbulent history. It was later furnished with fine neoclassical interiors, furniture and Regency furnishings.
By the time the 7th Earl inherited Castle Coole in 1949, taxes and the expense of maintaining the house led to the house and 70 acres of land being given to the National Trust. Today, the castle and the grounds are a popular attraction.
2. Enniskillen Castle Museums
A castle has existed on the site since 1428, when it was built by Hugh Maguire. It was later besieged and fell in 1594, and finally fell to the Irish in 1595, before being retaken by the crown in 1602. It was extensively remodelled in around 1609 and later remodelled as a ‘Castle Barracks’ in response to a threat of French invasion in 1796. They were used as barracks by other regiments, then became home of the North Irish Horse, a Territorial Army unit, from 1939, before being decommissioned in 1950.
Enniskillen is the only town in Great Britain and Ireland to give its name to two regiments, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, which are now part of the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Dragoon Guards respectively. The Inniskillings Museum galleries, housed in the castle, display a rich collection of personal treasures and battlefield weapons, army vehicles and other items such as medals, uniforms, art and regimental silver.
3. Portora Castle
Situated in Enniskillen, Portora Castle guards a former crossing point where the river joins the Lough Erne. Built in 1613 by Sir William Cole, it once consisted of a 3 storey house across the breadth of the fortified castle which was defended by four circular towers. The house was involved in various military conflicts and was occupied by the Cole family until 1764. It was eventually severely damaged by boys from Portora School playing with homemade explosives in 1859 before being further damaged by the great gale of 1894.
Today, the picturesque ruins of the castle are free to access and are a popular attraction.
4. Florence Court
Located against the wild mountain backdrop of Benaughlin and the Cuilcagh Mountains, the stunning 18th century Florence Court was named after the wife of Sir John Cole. The present Palladian style house was probably built by Sir John Cole’s son, 1st Lord Mount Florence. It is widely regarded as one of the most important Georgian houses in Ireland and is home to a fascinating collection of Irish furniture and features some of the finest Rococo plasterwork in Ireland.
Disaster struck Florence Court when the main building was almost entirely gutted by fire in 1955. Nonetheless, the rest of the house has been painstakingly restored by the National Trust, and is on display alongside family pictures and historic items. The gardens are also famous for being the home of the Irish Yew, now a feature of gardens around the world. The original tree, discovered in around 1760, can be seen in the grounds.
5. Devenish Island
Devenish is an L-shaped island located at the south end of Lower Lough Erne, close to Enniskillen. It is one of a chain of monasteries in the area, and was once an important port of call during early Christian Ireland’s major highways. First founded in the 6th century, it became a large parish stretching across both sides of the Lough, attracting parishioners and pilgrims until the 1600s as a place of worship, scholarship and burial that was only accessible by water.
Today, the majority of remains on the island date from the 12th, 13th and 15th centuries. Today, it can be reached by water and makes for a fascinating visit. Tours can be provided.
6. Castle Archdale
Situated on the shores of Lough Erne Lower, Castle Archdale was once owned by the Archdale family, who arrived in 1614 during the Plantation of Ulster. It was destroyed during the Williamite Wars, and in the 18th century, a mansion was built.
All that remains today is a large cobbled courtyard that houses an information centre and tearoom, while the ruins of the castle itself are located in an old part of the park. Castle Archdale is also home to an exhibition visitor centre titled ‘Castle Archdale at War’, which explains the role Castle Archdale played during World War Two as the most westerly flying-boat station.
7. Crom Estate
Owned and managed by the National Trust, Crom Estate is a nature reserve situated along the shores of Upper Lough Erne. Crom was originally built by a Scottish planter in the early 17th century. The castle was later twice invaded by Jacobites before being burnt down in the early 1760s, of which the ruins still remain. In 1840, a neo-Tudor castle was built, and remains the property of the Earl of Erne.
The estate was given to the National Trust by the 6th Earl of Erne in 1987, and is now a popular attraction for the castle ruins and surrounding stunning natural beauty. Some of the trees are so ancient that physical access is prohibited or restricted.