To the waters and the wild…
The West Wing of Crom Castle has recently been opened to the public and Roslyn Dee finds its elegantly dramatic setting beside Lough Erne is perfect for a wedding or celebratory occasion
From our vantage point out on the water, history is all around us. Noel Johnston, our ‘guide’ for our tour of the lake, is actually much more than that; he grew up here at Crom, on this magnificent 2,000-acre estate that sits resplendent on the shores of Upper Lough Erne, just outside Newtownbutler in Co Fermanagh. Now as the early morning mist lifts slowly to reveal more clearly the stunning landscape all around us, Noel navigates the little boat this way and that, pointing out all the landmarks – the old schoolhouse, attended in its time by the children of the estate workers (including Noel’s mother, Violet, who is still here, overseeing the smooth running of the castle), the little summerhouse and the aged yews in the grounds of the original castle, destroyed by fire in 1764. Then, on another of the islands, there’s the church where all of his sisters were married, now enjoying something of an ecclesiastical revival as couples from outside the estate – and the country- choose to wed here, ferried across the water for their nuptials in this most romantic of settings.
Noel is the manager of the West Wing, the part of Crom Castle that has recently become available to rent for parties of up to a dozen people. Connected to the castle proper (where the current Lord Erne and his wife live) but with its own entrance and a pervading sense of privacy, it is a beautiful part of the estate, and furnished exquisitely. From the splendour and comfort of the primrose-yellow drawing room you have access to a private terrace and to the gardens. Meanwhile at the other end of the wing there’s the enormous dining room/kitchen, close by is a snug of a TV room and, on the same floor, two spacious bedrooms. Upstairs are four more bedrooms (one a four-poster job, as befits this kind of premises), all of them, like the two downstairs, with their own en suites. And then there’s the conservatory, a huge edifice, perfect for a wedding or a celebratory occasion, and again, with direct access to the gardens.
You can cook for yourself in the West Wing if that is your thing, or, if you’d rather have meals provided then that option comes with the tempting culinary talents of Cynthia, Noel’s sister, who is something of a whiz in the kitchen here, and also at Belle Isle, Fermanagh’s renowned cookery school.
This part of the Crom estate is still in the hands of Lord Erne and his family while the rest of it is now managed by the National Trust, complete with cottages to rent and an informative Visitors’ Centre.
Stay in the West Wing, however, and the rest of the world seems a million miles away. It’s the kind of place that is tailor-made for a small family celebration – a wedding, an anniversary perhaps or a ‘special’ birthday. In late July it is sunlit and picture-postcard beautiful. In winter, with fires burning and the lake outside in more fearsome frame of mind, you can only imagine the drama of the setting.