A SHORT HISTORY
In the early 1600's the Acheson family came to the Markethill area, and built a very substantial farmhouse near the present town of Markethill. The family came from Monmouthshire and, in fact, the present Earl of Weymes is related to the Achesons who later became the Earls of Gosford. When they came here first they brought with them 13 families, and some of the family names still survive in the area, notably Galbraith, Greer, etc. One of the two forts (or raths) in Gosford Forest was named after the Greer family who farmed the land in that area.
The first dwelling place of the Achesons was burned down; this house was near the town of Markethill which the family were responsible for founding. In 1610 the family were granted the lands of the present estate. They proceeded to build another house using locally procured, hand-made, red brick. This house was named Clonkearney Manor after the townland in which it was built. The path to this site is up near the ponds, but unfortunately only a portion of the red brick foundations is now visible. This house was reputed to have been burned down during the Williamite wars in the mid 1600's. The overgrown ruins of Clonkearney Manor
The original gateway to this dwelling is still standing at the ponds. There is only one other like it in Ireland, (as far as is known) and this can be seen in Caledon, Co. Tyrone. The gatehouse is unusual in that it is divided - on one side of the pathway there is a small building which may have been the kitchen with, possibly, a wooden floor above where maybe the children would have slept. There was a large open fireplace with a fan bellows. This would have been an exceptionally warm dwelling. Across the road was the other part of the house. Maybe this would have been further sleeping quarters. There was also a large open fireplace in this building.
Opposite the path to the manor house there is a stepped pathway leading down along the Drumleck river. Alongside the river are three dogs' graves, possibly lurchers, which were the favourite dogs of the 2nd Earl of Gosford. The names of the dogs were Walter, Quiz, and Hotspur. The earliest grave dates from 1797.
Also in this area is Dean Swift's well. He was the Dean of St. Patrick's in Dublin, and was a family friend of the Achesons. The original manuscripts of some of his writings, with hand-written corrections and notations, can be seen in the Church of Ireland Library, in Armagh City. An appointment can be made with the Librarian to view same. In later years, during the early years of train travel, the well became known as a Holy Well, and train-loads of people used to come to obtain cures from the waters.
There is a large stone-built house still to be seen hear to the Manor house ruins which is known locally as the Laundry House. Apparently laundry from the estate would have been done here. This house may previously have been the Land Steward's house. It is now being used as a holiday base for the Girl Guides.
The first, or Wheel, car park, (named after the water wheel there), had been full of farm buildings until the early 1960's when they had been demolished. All that now remains is the water wheel which had been driven by means of an underground stream from the ponds. The ponds were wet areas which were flooded in the 1700's to provide water for the wheel etc. The old sluice gate can be seen at the ponds. Apparently somewhere in the vicinity of this car park an agricultural school was situated and pupils came from all over Ireland to be educated. This would have been in the early 1800's.
Going through the double gateway at the ponds and turning right, further down this road which had once been the main road to Markethill, there is an ice-house. The Gosford family kept their stores of meat, fish and poultry there. Blocks of ice would have been gathered during the winter months from rivers and streams and taken into the ice-house. The cold, damp atmosphere was ideal for preservation. It is now blocked up but local people talk of a tunnel going from there to the castle. The river goes underground at the ponds not far from here.
On this road further up is an area called Drapier's Hill. Drapier was a nom-de-plume used by Jonathan Swift. It was in this area that the Earl of Gosford had given Swift land to build a house, but it was never built.
The present castle was completed in or around 1850, for the 2nd Earl and cost £100,000. It is built in mock Norman style from Mullaghglass granite obtained from a quarry of the same name near Bessbrook, Newry, Co. Down. There is only one other example of this style in Ireland - at Glenstal Abbey near Limerick. Many master craftsmen of that period worked at the castle, and in fact John Smith, a very famous sculptor of that era who had done all the sculpting for the Custom House in Dublin, also worked at the castle. It was lived in by the family up until 1921, when a sale of the entire contents was held, lasting two or three weeks.The castle and lawns were sold in the 1980's to a Belfast family, and had been used around that time for a short period as a hotel.
The walled garden dates from the early 1800's, and the bricks lining the walls are hand-made and came from a long since closed down brickworks in Edward Street, Newry, Co Down. The garden was laid out in a cruciform shape, very different from its present day style. All kinds of vegetables, fruits, flowers would have been in production. Some of the original pear trees may still be seen growing against the back wall. The glasshouses were disposed of in the 1960's. The car park adjoining the walled garden had been another farmyard. All the stables, byres, piggeries, were demolished and the stones used for the foundations of the car park.
The Gosford family worshipped at the nearby Church of Ireland, at Mullabrack, Markethill. Communion plate presented by the family to the church may be seen there and the pews in which they would have sat are also to be seen. There are wall plaques commemorating the family inside the church. The family tomb is in the adjoining graveyard, the last burial being held in the 1980's. The gamekeeper's house is still standing at the back of the estate (circa 1700), and has been refurbished and is lived in at present. Another gatehouse is inhabited by the Parker family and is in excellent preservation due in no small way to the present occupier, Jack Parker. Coming through from the main entrance is another large house known locally as Sharpe's House, which also dates from the 1700's and has been refurbished and is lived in at present. On the Mullabrack Road, opposite the entrance to the Castle can be seen another fine gatehouse also dating from the 1700's, which is lived in by the Martin family and is in excellent condition.
The Castle was used as a billet for troops in the 2nd World War period when the American troops were stationed here, and during this time German prisoners of war were also held in the castle. The prisoners built the small round tower which had originally been a windmill, and can be seen in the Wheel car park. In more recent times troops were stationed in the Castle during the troubles which began in the late 1960s.
[N.B. If you have any interesting facts or documents concerning Gosford Forest Park, especially relating to the association with Swift or Gosford Castle and the Acheson family, you can get in contact byclicking here
[ Trails | Arboretum | Walled Garden | Castle | Campsite | Swift ]