Visiting Newtownards, Northern Ireland, With Its Scrabo Tower: A French Emperor Commemorating a Victorian Marquess
A grand memorial in every sense
Near Northern Ireland's Newtownards, County Down, on Scrabo Hill at the edge of the Ards Peninsula, is a massive memorial, which is grand in every sense: architecturally, by geographical location and by historical association.
First the people part: Charles Stewart (1778-1854), 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, was a nobleman, soldier and a lot besides; among his various claims to fame were roles as varied as Adjutant-General to the Duke of Wellington, Ambassador to Vienna, Minister to Berlin and, last, but certainly not least, Lord of the Bedchamber to Kings George III & IV (1).
It was thus that those who revered his memory wished to erect a memorial by subscription: heading the subscribers' list was Emperor Napoleon III of France. However, it may be noted also that during the Irish Famine he was counted among one of the landowners who sought to alleviate his tenants' suffering, and it is thus that he was held in respect by many of these.
Thus, Scrabo Tower came into being. The chosen site, Scrabo Hill, had apparently contained the burial chamber of a Gaelic chieftain, many centuries previously, located during excavations for the building of the tower. Later, a monastic settlement under the Dominican order was based at the Hill, in existence until the 16th century. The architect for the tower was Sir Charles Lanyon (2), with the assistance of W H Lynn. It was completed in 1857 and has long been regarded as one of Northern Ireland's most visible landmarks.
It works the other way, too. From the Tower, on a clear day, are visible the coast of Scotland and the Isle of Man.
The tower is now surrounded by a country park, both of which are open to the public. The tower, containing 122 steps to the top, hosts a seasonal exhibition about the surrounding Scrabo Country Park and its history.
With a height of 41 metres, the tower is noted for its solid walls — more than a metre thick — made of dolerite rock, quarried at Scrabo Hill itself; use of this rock was complemented by locally quarried sandstone, employed in some of the more visible features of the tower.
And so whether or not you put Scrabo Tower on your Must See list, when visiting Northern Ireland, there is a sense in any case that when you go anywhere near Newtownards and parts of the Ards Peninsula, you will see it anyway. You can't miss it.
(1) The 3rd Marquess of Londonderry was also a great-grandfather to Sir Winston Churchill.
(2) Other works for which Sir Charles Lanyon was responsible include: the Main Building of Queen's University, Belfast; Belfast Castle; the Custom House, Belfast; the Campanile at Trinity College, Dublin.
Also worth seeing
Mount Stewart (distance: approx. 10 kilometres), the country seat of the Marquesses of Londonderry, now belonging to the National Trust.
Belfast (distance: 16 kilometres); many visitors to Belfast visit Donegall Square, where the domed City Hall, a major landmark, is situated. Queen's University has a noted 1849 Gothic Revival frontage. Belfast Castle is a 19th century structure in Scottish Baronial style. The Parliament Buildings, sometimes referred to as Stormont, are the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to London Heathrow, from where a variety of onward flight options are available to Belfast International Airport, at Aldergrove, where car rental is also available. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.