History for the Enthusiast

Ardglass Golf Club Co. Down Northern Ireland has undoubtedly the oldest building in the world to be used as a Club House. The actual Club House is based in an 18th century building built on the remains of ‘the new works’ a series of fortified warehouses built around 1400. Horn Castle directly behind the first medal tee dates from around 1377.  Shelter in the lee of this medieval castle from Ardglass’s frequent "breezes" while waiting to tee off and play one of the most picturesque and interesting links courses in Ireland.

Little is known of the history of Ardglass before the arrival of the Normans. It is probable that the Vikings used the natural harbour on their travels considering the nearness of their bases at Strangford and Carlingford.

The first Norman settlement was probably in the area occupied by the Clubhouse, the hill above it and the harbour. John DeCourcy led a band of Norman adventurers north from Dublin in 1177 and conquered most of counties Down and Antrim.  He certainly used Ardglass, with its harbour accessible at all states of the tide, as a supply port.  One of the earliest stone built castles in the north east of Ireland is Horn Castle which adjoins the present Club House on its seaward side. It was built in the late 14th century. 

The first recorded owner of Ardglass was one Jordan DeSaukeville and under his ownership Ardglass grew to be an important trading centre.  It is recorded that King John stayed with DeSaukeville in 1210 not in the immediate Club House area but in a Norman Motte and Bailey fortification west of the village centre, now occupied by the Isabella Tower.

In the 15th century (1427) Ardglass was owned by one Jenico Dartas or D’Artois the son of Jenico D’Artois, a Gascon, who had accompanied King Richard II on his expedition to Ireland in 1399.  He owned both the manor of Ardglass and that of neighbouring Strangford.  D’Artois’ daughter Alison carried the manors of Ardglass and Strangford to the Fitzgerald family on her marriage to Gerald 8th Earl of Kildare and Lord Deputy of Ireland under King Henry VII. 

In 1513 some Irish chieftans attacked the English in Ireland and Lord Deputy Fitzgerald marched against them and defeated O’Moore and returned to Dublin laden with booty.  King Henry VIII heard of these events and granted to Fitzgerald the customs of the ports of Ardglass and Strangford. One of the Fitzgeralds, Henry (b 1761) married Charlotte Baroness De Ross and Strangford eventually passed to that family.  Ardglass stayed in the possession of the Kildares or their relations until the Golf Club purchased it in 1896.

In the 15th Century Ardglass had an extensive foreign trade and was the base for a commercial London company in the reign of King HenryVI.  A freestone slab with an engraved cross that is believed to be the coat of Arms of the City of London is inserted in the wall of the Club House. It received a charter at this time giving it a portreeve or mayor, a port admiral and revenue officers. The mayor in 1430 was one William Hart.

Parts of the Club House or Ardglass Castle (excluding Horn Castle) and the ruins around it are certainly from the 15th Century.  Behind the protective walls of Horn Castle the London merchants erected a new structure, then known as the ‘New Works.”

The building now known as Ardglass castle, originally called the Newark (New Works) is some 45 yards south of the harbour ...... Originally it comprised a long building of two storeys 215 ft in length and 28th feet wide” 

Archelogial Survey County Down 1966.

The western half of these New Works were incorporated into a house built by Lord Charles Fitzgerald about 1780. He raised part of the old building to three storeys and made it into a home for himself his wife Mary Ann and their children. He joined the navy attaining the rank of Rear Admiral.  He served under Lord Cornwallis and during the wars with the French he became Muster Master General and a Privy Councillor. Lord Charles was created Baron Lecale in 1801.

Another noteworthy Fitzgerald was Lord Edward who joined the revolutionary Society of United Irishmen plotting rebellion aganst England.  He became commander in chief in 1797 but died in prison of a gunshot wound suffered during his arrest in Dublin.  Local legends tell of places where Lord Edward was hidden when on the run from Crown forces but no historical proof exists that he was in or around the ‘golf club’ lands owned by his brother. One of his companions was Samuel Neilson, a fellow revolutionary, who left for the United States and is buried in Poughkeepsie in New York.

Like any old building Ardglass has is share of tales and ghost stories.  Stories tell of the ‘Grey Lady’ passing through areas where previous doors existed. In addition, patrons using the bar have reported hearing snooker balls moving in the deserted snooker room above.  BBC Northern Ireland  filmed one of their series ‘N.I. Greatest Haunts’ in the club and were very impressed.  One factual event was recorded in 1927 when renovations were being made. The body of a young child was discovered in a wall cavity inside the clubhouse and was later buried in a local churchyard, after an inquest had been held in Belfast.

Lord Charles’ wife died young and within two months his only son, a midshipman in the Royal Navy, was killed while boarding a French ‘man of war’. Depressed by these events he sold his Ardglass estates to his stepfather William Ogilive for £26,000.

Oglivie had married Lady Emily the Dowager Duchess of Leinster in France in 1774.  He spent a lot of time in Ardglass and built the town’s first major harbour and the fine buildings in Castle Place.  He donated land for the Catholic Church and built the Church of Ireland between 1812 -1815.  His remains rest in the chancel of this church.

William Oglivie’s daughter Emily married Charles Beauclerk from a branch of the house of St Albans.  (The first Duke of St. Albans was Charles Beauclerk the first child of the romantic laision between Charles II and Nell Gwynn). A son of this marriage, Aubery William, succeded to the property and in turn he willed the property to his son, Aubery deVere Beauclerk in 1854.

The Beaculerks took little interest in the estate and its management was left to agents.  One such agent had the tenants supply many tons of rich top soil to construct the lawns and the sundial which are still evident.  The lawn is now the present putting green.

The last person known to live in Ardglass Castle was Armar Lowry Corry Esq., a solicitor, who was presumably a tennant or the agent.

The building had been unoccupied when the Golf Club signed the tenancy agreement in 1896.  After the bankruptcy of the Beauclerk Estate in 1907 and the auction of 1911 the Golf Club became tenants of the syndicate that purchased the lot comprising Ardglass Castle and the grounds adjoining.

“ Agreement dated 29th July 1896. Made between Aubery deVere Beauclerk  of the one part and Robert Carroll, Alexander Moore and Robert Whiteside  for themselves and others, the members of Ardglass Golf Club, of the other part, whereby the lands known as the Inner Downs or Castle grounds were let to the tenants from year to year from 1st May 1896 at the yearly rent of £10.  Liberty to the tenants to use the Gatelodge  as a caretakers residence and four rooms at the stables as a Club House. The tenants to keep the same in good repair.  The landlord to be at liberty to terminate the letting by giving one months notice in writing to the tenants or their secretary.”

John McGrath



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