History of Bellinter Country House
1750-1892 A COUNTRY SEAT
Bellinter Country House Hotel Navan was designed in 1750 by the leading Irish architect of the day, Richard Castle, as a country seat for wealthy landowner John Preston.
The Preston family, who made their fortune as Dublin merchants, built up considerable landholdings in County Meath in the 1650's by buying land from Cromwellian adventurers. Bellinter (or Ballinter as it was originally known) was one of several significant estates to be formed in the area by the family during the 18th Century.
Probably Castle's last country house commission before his death in 1751, Bellinter House is classically composed in the Palladian style. Houses such as this were designed for wealthy men who left the city in the summer and played at country gentlemen.
However, Bellinter was both a retreat and a functioning estate house. The main floor was the area to which the public was admitted, with the first floor being for real family life. The basements were for domestic work. Of the two side wings, one contained the servants' quarters and the kitchens, while the other contained the stables. The stables had oat lofts overhead and a crusher house. One gate at one end of the house led to the stable yard, while the other led to the farmyard.
The estate, which originally included about 600 acres of grazing land and parklands, is situated on the banks of the River Boyne down/upstream from the impressive Stone Age megalithic tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth and within sight of the ancient Hill of Tara, where the Celtic High Kings of Ireland had their palaces.
The grounds were perfect for the country gentleman's pursuits of hunting, shooting and fishing. In 1770, John Preston's grandson, Lord Tara, formed a private pack of hounds on the estate that hunted under the name "Bellinter Hounds" and the house became famous for its lavish hunt balls.
1892-1950 A FADING ARISTOCRACY
Bellinter remained under the ownership of the Preston family until 1892, when it was bequeathed to family friend Gustavas "Gussy" Briscoe.
Gussy was one the most colourful owners of Bellinter House and, after wining and dining extremely well one evening, he road his horse up the spiral staircase to win a wager. The horse refused to come back down and spent three weeks in the attic before a beam and pulley could be erected to lower the unfortunate animal back to ground level.
Gussy shared the Prestons' passion for hunting and maintained the tradition of a pack of hounds at the estate, now known as the "Tara Harriers". Shoots were also held on the estate a couple of times a year - with a rich source of game including rabbits, pheasants and duck. Fishing was also good - Gussy once caught nine salmon before breakfast.
In 1907 Gussy's son, Cecil Henry Briscoe, inherited the estate.
1955-2005 FROM FAMILY HOME TO RELIGIOUS RETREAT
George Briscoe, Gussy's grandson, sold the property to Yorkshire businessman William Holdsworth in 1955, hoping it would be maintained as a family home. However, Holdsworth in turn sold the estate to the Irish Land Commission. The Commission subdivided Bellinter's land into farms of 50 acres or less and abandoned the house itself. The house with its remaining 12 acres of land were purchased in 1965 by the Sisters of Sion, a religious order dedicated to the improvement of relations between Jews and Christians.
At this stage the house needed extensive repairs and to finance work, the Sisters turned to commercial growing of carnations and tomatoes. Once the house was in order, the Sisters ran it as a retreat and conference centre.
Since 2003 the House has been in private ownership.
HOUSE AND ARCHITECTURE
Bellinter House is a magnificent example of an eighteenth century Palladian style Georgian mansion with a five-bay central block with projecting wings and connecting colonnades.
It was designed by the renowned German architect Richard Castle or Cassels, who designed not only many of the country's most significant country seats but also the Irish Parliament, Leinster House. Cassels was considered to be the leading country house architect of his day and his legacy to Ireland was a distinctive type of Palladianism characterized by restrained but grand external facades married with flamboyant Baroque interiors. Bellinter House was his last commission before he died in 1751.
The entrance hall in Bellinter has a majestic fireplace with a bacchantic mask carved from local Ardbracken stone while the upstairs landing has elaborate plasterwork with Doric and Corinthian half columns and a wonderful oval lantern which floods the area with light.
Bellinter House has been determined by the Irish Government Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as a building that is intrinsically of significant architectural interest for the purpose of section 482 of the TCA 1997.
Access to the building and grounds is afforded daily, 363 days of the year, and there is no admission charge.