When Francis Annesley the first Earl died in 1750 he was succeeded by his son, William who not only laid out a park, a formal walled garden but also built a house.
He may also have been responsible for the building of a complex of farm and stable buildings known as the Grange. Mrs Delany described the Grange buildings in 1758 as follows: ‘three large courts – round the first which is arched around a kind of piazza are houses for all his carriages and over them granaries; the next court are stables and cow houses and over them haylofts, the third court two such barns as I never saw, floored in oak and finished in the most convenient manner for all purposes of winnowing etc and in the court are stables for hay and corn’.
The house built at this time may have been close to the Grange complex and to the lime avenue beside the Grange that was also planted at this time.
Later in the 18th century a new residence (appears on the 1810 estate map) was built just to the north of the lake, a single storey villa and known as Castlewellan Cottage. It was demolished about 1860 once the present castle was built. The site of the cottage is marked today by a boxwood hedge to the west of the present castle.
The early 19th century saw further developments including landscaping and planting of trees. The 2nd Earl was responsible for building a Gothic temple on the site of the present castle – built about 1820 for ‘rest and pleasure, lifting its spheric cone among the mountains with great grandeur’.
The temple appears in the Church of Ireland church on a watercolour by J Howard Burgess 1850 but sadly was demolished soon after in 1855.
To the east of the walled kitchen garden a pleasure ground with terraces, steps and pools was laid out in the 1830s.
The 4th Earl continued to develop the demesne and having decided to build a grand new residence, he commissioned William Burn, the great Scottish architect to undertake the task.
Work on the Scottish baronial style castle built of local granite from Ballymagreehan on an elevated site began in 1856 and was completed in 1858, costing £18,128 and from which are breathtaking views of the Mourne Mountains and the lake.
Meanwhile the 3rd and 4th Earls continued with the planting of exotic trees eg the Wellingtonias, monkey puzzles, etc and added conservatories and vineries.
This was the beginning of a project to create a national arboretum to the extent that by the early 1900s there were over 3,000 different species of rare plants from all over the world. The mild climate in the demesne encouraged trees and shrubs from warmer climes to flourish there. The arboretum is now regarded as one of the finest in Ireland.
The Annesley property at Castlewellan was purchased from Gerald F Annesley by the Forestry Service of the Department of Agriculture and opened as Castlewellan Forest Park in 1967.
Today services at the Park include caravanning and camping sites, horse riding, and walking and mountain bike trails to suit all ages.
The lakeside trail is marked by a number of sculptures created from local materials.
The most recent addition to the Park, funded as a Peace and Reconciliation project, is the Peace Maze which at the time of its opening in 2001 was the largest and longest hedge maze in the world.
The Department of Agriculture leased the Castle to Christian Ministries who run a Christian thriving Christian Conference Centre that provides residential accommodation for churches and other Christian groups who want to grow their Christian faith. For a History of Castlewellan Castle and a description of its interior and facilities see email details below.
Copies of this Short History of Castlewellan Castle can be obtained from the Christian Conference Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org