15 April 2014
A Dublin-born son of Enniskillen looks
across the town from a hilltop column
From my room in the Belmore Court Hotel in Enniskillen this week, I have had a sweeping view across the town, including Saint Macartin’s Cathedral and up to Fort Hill Park and Cole’s Monument. The column was lit up under the full moon last night [14 April 2014] and can be seen clearly from the cathedral too.
During a sunny morning break, I climbed the winding paths that lead through the trees up to the peak of Fort Hill. There at the top of the hill is the tall column commemorating Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole (1772-1842), who was one of Wellington’s generals and the son of the first Earl of Enniskillen.
At an early stage, this drumlin-like hill was known as Commons Hill or Cow Hill, where the people of Enniskillen were free to graze their cattle and sheep. It was also known as Camomile Hill where, in 1689, the Governor of Enniskillen, Gustav Hamilton, ordered a fort of sods to be raised in Enniskillen, and Fort Hill became an artillery star fort at the end of the 17th century.
In 1836, the area was enclosed and planted with trees. It became a promenade and pleasure ground, and within a decade was a popular public garden with walks.
However, by the 1880s, the park was overgrown and was little used. Thomas Plunkett (1830-1919), Chairman of the Enniskillen Town Commissioners, supervised the landscaping of the park, and the new grounds were officially opened as the Fort Hill Pleasure Grounds on 7 August 1891.
The special areas designed by Plunkett included the Dell, the Fernery, the Fountain, and the Waterfall, and a new entrance and steps were added. The wrought-iron Victorian bandstand, with a clock tower, was built in 1895, while Plunkett was still alive, as a mark of appreciation from the people of Enniskillen.
An inscription reads: “Erected by public subscription in grateful appreciation of the services rendered to the town by Thomas Plunkett, MRIA who during his chairmanship of the Town Commissioners 1882 to 1885 and 1888 to 1894 transformed and beautified these grounds and carried out many other improvements for the promotion of the health and comfort of the community. AD 1895.”
A little above the bandstand, the Cole Monument is a Doric column, topped by a statue of General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, who was one of Wellington’s generals during the Peninsular War (1808-1814). The column was designed by the sculptor Terence Farrell. Work started in 1845, and it was another 12 years before the monument was completed in 1857.
The column is 30 metres (100 feet) high, and inside the column 108 steps lead to the viewing platform at the top. I am told there are magnificent views across Enniskillen and the surrounding countryside from the platform, and a sign at the entrance to the park says it is open to visitors from April. However, it seems to be closed this week for renovation and restoration, and I never got the opportunity to appreciate those panoramic views.
It is interesting how many of Enniskillen’s claimed favourite sons are Dublin-born, including Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Lowry Cole.
Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde both went to school in Portora Royal School, Enniskillen (as did Archbishop Michael Jackson). Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was born was born in Foxrock, Co Dublin, on Good Friday, 13 April 1906. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was born at 21 Westland Row on 16 October 1854. Lowry Cole, the second son of William Willoughby Cole (1736-1803), 1st Earl of Enniskillen, was born in Dublin on 1 May 1772.
Lowry Cole was an army officer in the West Indies, Ireland, Egypt and Sicily before becoming a general. Meanwhile, he was MP for Enniskillen in the Irish House of Commons from 1797 to 1800, and after the Act of Union was MP for Co Fermanagh in the British House of Commons in 1803-1823.
While he was a sitting MP he was also one of Wellington’s generals during the Peninsular War (1808-1814). As colonel of the 27th Foot, he commanded the 4th Division in the Peninsular War under Wellington, and was wounded at the Battle of Albuera and at Salamanca.
Later, he was Governor of Mauritius (1823-1828) and then Governor of the Cape Colony (1828-1833). In the Cape Colony, Cole played a prominent part in social philanthropy and the town of Colesberg in the Cape and Sir Lowry’s Pass near Cape Town are named after him. He died in 1842 at his Hampshire country seat, Highfield Park, which is now an hotel. He is commemorated by a larger-than-life statue on the north side of the cathedral chancel arch, above a fading more humble monument for his father; a similar monument to his brother, the 2nd Earl of Enniskillen, stands in the a marching place on the south side of the chancel arch.
Lowry Cole’s nephew, Bishop Francis Richard Townley Balfour (1846-1924), from Townley Hall, Drogheda, Co Louth, later served as an Anglican missionary with SPG (now Us) in the Cape Colony. He was Archdeacon of Bloemfontein (1901-1906), Archdeacon of Basutoland (1908-1922), and from 1911 the first Anglican bishop to serve in what is now Lesotho. He is buried in the grounds of Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth.
Florence Court outside Enniskillen was the Co Fermanagh home of the Cole family from the late 1750s until 1972. It has been in the care of the National Trust since 1953.
Florence Court, once home to the Cole family, Earls of Enniskillen, is now owned and managed by the National Trust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)