Bellamont House

Jan 6, 2021

Bellamont House is situated in the Bellamont Estate which starts right at the end of Cootehill town and runs along the Dartrey Forest and the Dromore River. Bellamont House was built between 1725 and 1730 for Thomas Coote, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. The house was designed by his nephew Lovett Pearce and is regarded to be one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in Ireland. Pearce’s other works include the former Houses of Parliament.

Though closed to the public, Bellamont House, the outhouses and boat house are visible from the Dromore River and nearby walks.

The magnificent Bellamont House (reached on foot from an entrance opposite the Garda Station) reflects the lavish lifestyle of the lorded gentry in 17th and 18th century Ireland. The large spacious green in front of Bellamont House witnessed many large anti-home Rule meetings in the 1860’s. Successive Cootes , who later bore the British title ‘Earl of Bellamont’ represented Cavan in Parliament and were pivotal figures in the promotion of the linen industry in this part of Cavan. Like many other landlords, their fortunes declined after the famine, the land war, and the land acts. The last in the line of the Cootes of Bellamont Forest, Richard Coote, sold the estate in 1874 for £250,000 to Mr Dorman Smith. A local Anglican clergy man, Rev Randal McCollum, clearly upset at the demise of the Coote dynasty, remarked: 

Where no mental culture has taken place in early youth the Irish Lord is an imbecile for life, and for want of useful employ betakes himself to the class and the turf, to gambling and tippling and all kinds of frivolity and dissipation.” 

The new owner of Bellamont House Major Edward Patrick Smith was a prominent officer in the British Army. However his son Brigadier Eric Dorman O Gorman was to become one of the best known and arguably the most controversial generals in World War ll. Eric was born in Bellamont in 1895. He was a young British army officer in World War l attaining the rank of Adjutant. In 1942 he held the rank of Major General and was a Deputy Chief of General staff. He took charge of the eight army in North Africa, and he later claimed that he organised the plans against Rommel and that Montgomery merely supervised them. His importance was noted by the German propagandist Lord Haw Haw who broadcast nightly propaganda news into Britain and Ireland. In these broadcasts he referred to the Cootehill General as ‘he who would be better at home cutting the rushes on his Bellamont estate”.

Following the war Sir Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, implied that Brigadier Eric Smith had been to blame for the disasters at El Alamein in 1942. Smith sued Churchill and forced a retraction which Churchill was made to insert as a footnote in his book “Hinge of Faith” published in 1953. Smith returned to Cootehill and Bellamont Forest in retirement and changed his name to the Gaelic form O’Gowan. He became involved in nationalist politics and campaigned for the removal of the border in Ireland. He trained local young men in military tactics in Bellamont Forest. Brigadier Eric Dorman O’Gowan was buried just outside Cootehill in Kilcrow cemetery on 14th May 1969.

The town of Cootehill developed as a market town and the linen trade brought prosperity. The streets still retain the plantation layout with a long and wide main street (Market Street). It was along this street that the principal public buildings were erected. The Church of Ireland at the end of Market Street dominated the streetscape and was built in 1819. Alongside it, AIB Bank (now a private residence again) was once the townhouse of the Cootes built at the end of the 1700s. The courthouse opposite was built in 1831 and the fine Georgian House alongside the White Horse Hotel was the birthplace of John Charles McQuaid (1895 – 1973) Archbishop of Dublin from 1940 until 1972 who was highly influential on many aspects of Irish life in this period. 

Flax was grown, harvested and scotched on the farms in the locality. From around 1750 a substantial linen industry grew up in the area, with linen mills powered by the Annalee River growing up in the neighbouring country side. Weavers spun the yarn in their homes and the linen was then sold in Cootehill at special linen markets. In 1803 Cootehill has an annual turnover of £114,000 (approx. €7.5m) for the sale of brown linen, by far the largest in Cavan/Monaghan and second only to the markets of the Lagan Valley around Belfast. 

The Coote family greatly encouraged the linen industry and Cootehill’s importance as a centre for linen attracted great numbers of linen merchants from the Belfast region into Cootehill. This influx had the effect of attracting a great variety of religious groups to the town. Unusually for a town of its size, Cootehill had at one stage eight different denominations, each with their own church. The Catholic community had a church on the ancient burial ground in Church Street as early as the 7th century. Following the Cromwellian Settlements and the growth of the town, this church was closed and a new one was not erected until 1826 behind what is now St Michaels Hall. The present church was erected on Station Road in 1930. The Anglican or Church of Ireland church opened on Market Street in 1819. The linen trade was mostly controlled by Presbyterians, and their church on Bridge Street opened in 1728. Four more Christian communities built churches in the town. A Moravian settlement opened their church in 1755 beside the old bridge on the Belturbet Road. A group of Seceders established off Bridge Street in 1787. The Society of Friends or Quakers settled in Cootehill  in the 1700s and opened a meeting house in 1807 in Church Street. Their Graveyard remains in Drumnaveil North. The Methodist Church in Bridge Street opened in 1797 and primitive Methodists established in Cavan Street in 1856. The Methodist Church in Bridge Street is now the meeting house of Cootehill Masonic Order. The Masonic Order or Freemasons were closely identified with the linen trade and have had a lodge in the town since 1792. 

The decline of the linen industry from 1820 onwards and constant subdivision of land allied to a large increase in population led to great poverty and eventually famine in Ireland in this region. The population of Cootehill fell by 14% from 1841 to 1854 and the entire parish of Drumgoon, Cootehill and rural hinterland lost 43% of its population in the same period. An ordnance survey report of the period records: “Drumgoon Parish presents a more wretched and desolate appearance than appears in any other parish of the surrounding district.”

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