Fermanagh Gold Introduction
 
FLORENCE COURT, Enniskillen

Associated Families: COLE


A tall, early to mid-C18 block of 3 storeys over a basement and 7 bays, its front heavily enriched with rustications, balustrades, pedimented niches and other features; joined by long arcades with rusticated pilasters to pedimented and pilastered single-storey pavilions.

The centre block was probably built by John Cole, MP, afterwards 1st Lord Mountflorence, whose mother was the Florence after whom the house is named; the name was probably originally given to a shooting-box built here in the days when the family lived at Enniskillen Castle.

The arcades and pavilions seem to date from ca 1770, and would have been added by William Cole, 1st Earl of Enniskillen; they were possibly designed by Davis Duckart.  They blend perfectly with the centre block, and the whole long, golden-grey front has a dream-like Baroque beauty that is all the greater for being somewhat bucolic. The centre block has a 3 bay breakfront with central pedimented niche between 2 windows in the top storey, a Venetian window between 2 niches in the storey below, and a pedimented tripartite doorway on the ground floor.

The rear elevation has a central 3 sided bow with rusticated window surrounds; but there is nothing like the lavish ornament here that there is on the front. Curved sweeps join the back of the house to outbuildings.

The interior contains some wonderfully vigorous rococo plasterwork, in the manner of Robert West and apparently dating from 1755.  In the hall, which is divided from the staircase by an arch, the decoration is architectural, reflecting the outside, with banded pilasters and a Doric frieze. Through the arch and up the staircase of splendid joinery with this handrail of tulip wood, the plasterwork becomes more rococo; great panels of foliage on the walls, and a cornice of pendants and acanthus.

From the half landing one gets a view downwards to the hall and upwards through 2 arches at the top of the stairs to the Venetian Room, lit by the great Venetian window, which has what is probably the finest ceiling in the house; with a swirl of foliage and eagles and other birds of prey in high relief. The drawing room, to the right of the foot of the staircase, has a cornice of acanthus foliage, masks of "Tragedy" and "Comedy", baskets of fruit and birds. The ceiling of the dining room, on the other side of the staircase hall, is more elaborate, with foliage and birds and a central panel of cherubs puffing from the clouds. There was formerly a delightful ceiling in the nursery on the top floor, with drums, rocking horses and other toys incorporated in the ornament.

The park, which is dramatically overshadowed by the sombre mountains of Benknocklan and Cuilcagh, contains the original Irish or Florence Court yew. The 5th Earl and his son, the late Viscount Cole, gave Florence Court to the Northern Ireland National Trust 1953. 2 years later, the centre of the house was severely damaged by fire; fortunately the staircase and much of the plasterwork was saved, and most of what was lost was restored under the direction of the late sir Albert Richardson. No photographic record existed of the nursery ceiling, which was among those destroyed; so this was not reinstated.

Florence Court is open to the public.

Source: Burke's Guide to Country Houses: Volume I Ireland pp. 125,6