Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)
Source: Altamont Garden Homesite
Originally, Altamont is thought to have been the site of a convent, although there seem to be no existing records to corroborate this. However, the house as it exists today was evidently built upon the remains of an earlier dwelling dating from at least the 16th century; immensely thick walls, paved granite floors and arrow slit windows in the centre basement of the house testify to this.
There is also evidence of a monastic site on adjoining land - the convent at Altamont is believed to have been its 'Sister House'. At this time the estate is thought to have been known as Rose Hill, the name being subsequently changed to Soho and marked thus on a map of 1777 (produced by Taylor & Skinner). The estate eventually came to be called Altamont sometime in the late 18th century, through some connection with the Marquis of Sligo. (Lord) Altamont was a title conferred then on the eldest son.
THE REMAINS of a chapel are still to be seen on the Dark Walk, in the form of a windowed end wall. However, the stained glass herein is believed to date from Victorian times. Other fragments of the chapel have been incorporated into sections of the house - beneath the library and above the front bedroom window of the south wing.
THE MAIN bulk of the house was considerably altered sometime between 1740 and 1750 by either the St. George's or the Doyne's. This latter family was certainly in residence in 1777 when the aforementioned Taylor & Skinner map was produced. At that time, the front of the house faced towards the Slaney river and Wicklow mountains.
The road to the estate initially ran from Carrigslaney, behind the lake, and up to Kilbride. Upon construction of a new road from Carrigslaney to Kilbride circa 1740, the St. George family turned the house back-to-front by breaching the hall wall in the (then) back of the house and building on the porch with its decorative fanlight and the bow-ended wing consisting of dining room, smoking room, two bedrooms and a lift room. They also added elegant plaster work, rebuilt the staircase, enlarged the windows and altered the house in other ways. A new front and back avenue was made in a semi-circle enclosing the park and very handsome entrance gates erected. It was about this time that lines of magnificent beech trees were planted along the front avenue, roadside and Nun's Walk, and specimen limes, beeches and chestnuts planted in the park.
FURTHER alterations were made by new owners, the Borrors, in the 1850's. They added on an extending wing to the north of the house for a library and other rooms and, later in 1871, a butler's pantry with cook's room above to the south end of the house. They were also responsible for having the lake dug out by hand after the Irish Famine to give employment to the local population. Over 100 men with horses and carts spent two years completing this enormous task.
The Broad Walk and terraces leading down to the lake were also laid out at this time and many beds, pools and summerhouses were added, with urns and statuary in appropriate places. Walks were laid through the ancient oak woods and the ice age glen down to the river Slaney. A hundred hand-cut granite steps were laid to negotiate the steep gradient leading up from the river bank, to a walk back through the top of the bluebell wood. The woodland walks and 100 steps are believed to have been designed, or more probably influenced, by William Robinson, the renowned garden designer, who created a taste for the Natural or Wild Garden and is credited with the layout of a number of gardens in the locality.
The Taylor & Skinner Map of 1777 (see below)
IN 1923, Feilding Lecky Watson and his family moved temporarily to Altamont while the drains were being repaired at their home, Lumclone. The Watsons came to Carlow in the 1640's, became Quakers and built Kilconnor, Ballydartin and Lumclone near Fenagh. (See J. O'Toole's book - The Carlow Gentry). They fell in love with the house and garden at Altamont, especially as the soil was better suited to ericaceous plants, and subsequently purchased it.
THEREAFTER, Feilding Lecky Watson began extending his collection of rhododendrons which he had started on his return from Ceylon, from where he was invalided by malaria during World War l. Due to his incapacity, he devoted himself to growing rhododendrons from seed sent back by various expeditions and exchanged seedlings with many well-known gardeners including Sir Frederick Moore, then curator of the National Botanic Garden in Glasnevin.
Feilding and his wife continuously extended and planted up the garden which had become completely overgrown. He is also responsible for erecting the Myshall Gate behind the promontory at the far side of the lake. The gates were a salvaged gift from Myshall House, one time home of the Cornwall Brady's, which was burnt down during The Troubles. (Feilding was a cousin of this family through one of the Brady's marrying a Watson.) The pillars were erected by Feilding and the two granite balls atop them moved from either side of the Archery Lawn (now the lawn by the Azalea Walk.)
FEILDING died in 1943 and, after the war, his youngest daughter Corona returned home and spent many years trying to retrieve his rhododendrons from the jungle that had enveloped them. In about 1950 she planted the Davida and Tulip trees, and the Taxodiums and Cornus Kusa which now make such features. In 1952, with only the assistance of one "strong" man, a flat-bottomed punt and a grappling hood, Corona cleared the lake of lily roots and reeds and continued clearing and planting up until her marriage to Gary North. Upon her marriage in 1966, she and her husband built on to the Keeper's Cottage overlooking the river (Altamont Lodge) and made a new garden there.
During this period, Corona planted a new arboretum and created the Bog Garden, and a walk was completed from the Lodge to the house. In 1983, Corona and Gary North pooled resources with Corona's mother, Mrs. Lecky Watson, in a final bid to return the lake to its former glory. The draining and subsequent mechanical clearing of the lake, necessitating the removal of 4½ feet of mud, roots and reeds over 2½ acres and over 60 fallen trees, was eventually completed in 1985.
UPON the death of her mother in that same year, Corona and Gary North moved back into the big house and resumed the renovation and reclamation of the garden which, once again, had fallen into virtual dereliction. This included the restoration and refurbishment of what are now 'The Stewards House', 'The Granary' and 'The Mews'. The latter, which had been turned into stables in the 1850's, had become so derelict that everyone then thought it should be bulldozed. A new public entrance with a tea garden was created, and a tea room and kitchen were made in part of the Lower Courtyard.
Both of the Coachhouses had to be re-roofed as they had fallen in completely. Corona North also rebuilt the 18th century vinery greenhouse and started the Garden Centre in part of the Walled Garden which first had to be cleared of the jungle it had become. Other works included levelling the lawns and making the Goldfish Pond beside the house, and designing and planting the conifer and shrub beds to either side of this.
LATER, with the help of a FAS Community Employment Scheme, an Art Gallery/Lecture Room was incorporated in another of the old Coachhouses and a Craft Shop established in part of the old kennels. Further alterations were made to provide offices, toilets, a canteen etc. and a new stone bridge was built as a focal point at the upper end of the lake. 1998 saw the completion of a Temple/Folly in the Sunset Field and a Pergola/Wisteria Walk joining the two bridges on the lake.
SADLY, Corona North passed away on the 7th February 1999 after a brave battle against cancer. She is greatly missed by all. Corona North page
More images of Altamount http://www.teachnet.ie/jfarrell/2006D/altamont1.htm
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- © 2001 County Carlow Genealogy IGP