THE RT REV JOHN PORTER DD, formerly Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, came to Ireland in 1795 as viceregal chaplain to the 2nd Earl Camden, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1795-98.
There was a convention that viceregal chaplains became bishops. Dr Porter, however, fared exceptionally well because, after only a two-year purgatory in the remote and undesirable bishopric of Killala in County Mayo, he was translated to the singularly valuable bishopric of Clogher, where he remained from 1797 to his death in 1819.Bishop Porter married, in 1786, Mary Smith, of Norfolk; and dying in 1819, left issue, his eldest son,
His son and heir, the Rev John Grey Porter, was in 1813 preferred to the prebend and rectory of Kilskeery, also in the diocese of Clogher, which he held until his retirement in 1871.
THE REV JOHN GREY PORTER (1789-1873), rector of Kilskeery, County Tyrone; wedded, in 1816, Margaret Lavinia, eldest daughter of Thomas Lindsey, of Hollymount, by his wife Lady Margaret, daughter of 1st Earl of Lucan. The only son,
JOHN GREY VESEY PORTER JP DL (1818-1903), of Belle Isle, County Fermanagh; High Sheriff, 1844; married, in 1863, Elizabeth Jane, daughter of Richard Hall, of Innismore Hall, County Fermanagh.
Dying without an heir, in 1903, the estate devolved upon his nephew,
JOHN PORTER PORTER JP DL (1853-1939), of Belle Isle; married Josephine Henrietta, daughter of Colonel Jesse Lloyd, in 1884.
Mr Porter was given the name of John Porter Archdale at birth, though, in 1876, his name was legally changed to John Porter Porter, when he assumed the surname and arms of Porter only in lieu of his patronymic by Royal Licence; High Sheriff of County Longford, 1879; High Sheriff of County Fermanagh, 1883; also lived at Clonbalt, County Longford.His 3rd son,
NICHOLAS HENRY ARCHDALE PORTER MC JP DL (1890-1973), of Belle Isle; married Amy, daughter of Charles B Gunther, in 1919; educated at Harrow; Military Cross, 1916; fought in the 1st World War, as a Lieutenant with the 9th Lancers, and was severely wounded on the same day and in the same action in which his elder brother was killed; High Sheriff, 1941.
Mr Porter's marriage was childless, and he had been long pre-deceased by his wife. The heiress to Belle Isle was, therefore, his niece, Miss Lavinia Baird, only daughter of his sister, Audley Josephine, and William James Baird of Elie, Fife.
Miss Baird sold the estate, in 1991, to the 5th Duke of Abercorn KG.
The beautiful Belle Isle Estate is situated on an island in Upper Lough Erne, the nearest village being Lisbellaw, County Fermanagh.
The Castle seems to incorporate a two-storey, 18th century range with a three-sided bow at one end, to which a range of 1820-30 was added at right angles, including a staircase hall, lit atop by an octagonal lantern.
The Castle was re-fashioned after 1880 in the plain, English-Tudor manor-house style, incorporating a gabled entrance front with mullioned windows, projecting porch and a lofty, church-like battlemented tower at the corner of the 1820-30 range.
The latter range, at the garden front facing the lough, is unaltered with the exception of Victorian, plate-glass windows; and Georgian astragals at one end.
Inside the Castle, an oak staircase with barley-sugar balusters replaced the original stairs; and the walls were panelled with oak, too. The octagonal ceiling lantern was left undisturbed.
In 1907, the entrance front was prolonged by a wing in the Tudor style containing a long, tall gallery with a timbered roof, an elaborate fireplace and a minstrels' gallery.
At this end of the entrance front there is a pedimented and gabled office wing, possibly 18th century.
The original castle dates from 1629 and the present house was created round the core during the mid-19th century.
It is sited in a glorious position of great natural beauty, which has long been acknowledged. Loudon in his Encyclopedia of 1825 remarks that there were 200 acres:
‘… charmingly diversified by hills, dales and gentle declivities, which are richly clothed with old timber through which gravel walks are constructed, and a temple erected, from which a panoramic view is obtained, not only of this but all the other wooded islands of the lough. One of them is exclusively used as a deer park …’.Parkland still sweeps down to the lough shore, though the temple has gone. As well as good stands of parkland trees, there are mature shelter belts and wooded areas.
Early 20th century ornamental gardens at the house have been grassed over.
There is a walled garden. Two substantial gate lodges were built at the same time as the house was restored and extended.
The original Belle Isle estate came on the market in 1830. Since the Plantation, it had belonged to the Gore family, baronets, of Manor Gore, County Donegal.
The last of this branch of the Gore family was Sir Ralph Gore, 6th Baronet, later Earl of Ross and Viscount Belleisle (1725-1802).
He had greatly ornamented the pleasure grounds, particularly with follies and garden buildings designed by the well-known Thomas Wright, but the main house was still the modest lodge built by his father in ca 1720.
Lord Ross had died without legitimate issue, leaving Belle Isle to his natural daughter, Mary, wife of Sir Richard Hardinge, 1st Baronet.
Lady Hardinge died in 1824; Sir Richard in 1826.
His nephew and successor, the Rev Sir Charles Hardinge, 2nd Baronet, of Tunbridge, Kent, had no connection with Ireland and presumably no interest in Belle Isle.
Accordingly, in 1830, Sir Charles and his trustees sold the entire Belle Isle estate, consisting of the manors of Belle Isle and Carrick, together with a small leasehold addendum acquired by Sir Ralph Gore, 4th Baronet, in 1724, to the Rev John Grey Porter of Kilskeery for £68,000.
In the 1830s, the Rev John made further extensive purchases of land, in both counties Fermanagh and Longford, this time from the 2nd Earl of Belmore. The Fermanagh lands alone had a rental of £1,869 a year and cost him £75,000.
The combined rental of all these estates (Belle Isle included) was about £6,750 a year - a staggering scale of acquisition (even for one whose father had been in possession of the income of the bishopric of Clogher for 22 years), the more so as the Bishop and the Rev John Grey Porter had each in their time to make provision for six younger children.Belle Isle remained in the ownership of the Porter family until 1991, when Miss Lavinia Baird sold the estate to the 5th Duke of Abercorn KG.
Belle Isle Estate has published a fuller history here.
The Duke bought Belle Isle for his younger son, Lord Nicholas Hamilton.
The Abercorns have admirably transformed Belle Isle into a truly wonderful 470 acre estate with holiday apartments, cottages, a cookery school and the Castle itself.
One interesting feature on the estate is the new wood pellet burner: Belle Isle Castle currently consumes approximately 25,900 litres of oil per annum which should be reduced by approximately 85% with this new system.First published in January, 2011.
A certain amount of oil is still required to fuel the Aga cookers. The 22,000 litres of oil will be replaced by approximately 53 tonnes of wood pellets (based on approximately 2.4kg of wood pellets replacing 1 litre of oil).
More detailed information can be obtained at www.belleisle-estate.com .