The National Trust is a charity that operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their mandate is to protect special places and make them available to everyone. From their website: "We protect and open to the public over 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments. But it doesn’t stop there. We also look after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves, villages - for ever, for everyone."
One of the ways the National Trust garners funds to operate these places of historical interest and fulfill their mandate at the same time, is to open the Castle for Weddings. With our guide, Special Events Manager Kate McAloon, we got to tour 3 of these venues while we were in Fermanagh: Castle Coole, Florence Court and Crom Estate.
300 years or so ago, when the aristocracy built their giant castles, there were no labour laws, industry professions or even electricity. Those who rented and worked the lands had no other opportunities. Castles were completely self-sufficient and the people who worked at them were happy to have employment and a roof over their heads. If one married well and used their thousands of acres properly, maintaining a castle was not a problem.
Today, it costs more to run a Castle (heat, clean, maintain) each year, than it cost to build it many years ago. For example, it costs about £100 000 to heat a typical castle for the year. Many families have had to find alternate uses for their Castles in order to maintain them, many people have abandoned them, divided their lands and others turn them over to the National Trust.
When we visited Castle Coole, I was struck by the amount of people strolling along the castle grounds and around the lake. It was so nice to see and what a beautiful place for the public to enjoy!
This castle is a very grand and formidable property. It is an 18th century Neo-Classical structure and has a sumptuous regency interior. This is not a place that gives you the warm-fuzzies, but my oh my, does it impress!
For weddings you can use the Hall and the Breakfast Room in the main house, the back entrance and terrace or set up a Marquis on their extensive back lawn. While you are having photos around the gorgeous grounds, your guests can go on a tour of the amazing castle, see "the bedroom that was never slept in" created for King George IV, and find out about the workings of "below stairs" touring the extensive (and VERY interesting) basement and underground tunnel.
Unlike the castle their son-in-law built (Castle Coole), Florence Court has a more homey and romantic feeling to it, making it the perfect choice for weddings. The interior has the most ornate and beautiful plaster work I have seen. Everytime I looked out a window, I felt as though I was on the set of a Jane Austen novel, and if you know me, you know she is my absolute favourite author, so it was a great experience.
Civil Weddings can take place in front of the grand staircase and receptions can take place inside in the Pavillion Room, the Colonel's Room or outside under a marquis. The extensive and manicured grounds make a perfect photo backdrop.
Not to be confused with Crom Castle which is still owned and maintained by the Earl of Erne and his son, the Viscount of Cricton, Crom Estate refers to the 2000 acres and several outbuildings which the Earl gave to the National Trust in the 1970's. Crom Estate is such a beautiful and tranquil place, the ancient woods and islands are home to many rare species (and more than a few faeries). One visit to the Crom Estate and you will never want to leave, so luckily there are self-catering cottages (the former staff quarters) available for rent.
For more information about the National Trust and the properties it takes care of, please visit their website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Photos are a compilation from our trip and the National Trust website.