Belle Isle is one of Ireland's grand homes

Belle Isle Castle in Fermanagh
Belle Isle Castle in Fermanagh Belle Isle Castle in Fermanagh

THE Anglo-Irish aristocracy left many grand homes. A significant number of these estates have been turned into hotels, spas and golf courses. Some are held in trust for the people in the hands of the state or the National Trust and a very small number remain as private residences.

Belle Isle castle in Fermanagh was bought and saved by the Duke of Abercorn in 1991 and the family continue to invest in the property, recently renovating the Hamilton Wing adding another five double en-suite bedrooms. The 17th century castle can now accommodate up to 26 people.

The estate is set in 470 acres on an island in Upper Lough Erne with beautiful views out over the lake. It’s about eight miles from Enniskillen and four from Lisbellaw.

On our visit the castle was booked out for a family reunion so we stayed in one of the eight courtyard cottages. Ours, Lime Cottage, slept four with an en-suite master bedroom and a twin-room with adjoining bathroom. Downstairs is a large open-plan kitchen-diner and another toilet.

It has a bright, summer feel to it, but there’s also a wood-burning stove to get cosy in the winter. It’s high quality, comfortable accommodation, renovated from an 1860s listed building which was originally constructed to house working animals.

The cottages are set in a courtyard so there’s a camaraderie among residents and with a barbecue available for the grass in front of each cottage, it’s very easy to mix.

The reason you’ll come to Fermanagh won’t be for the accommodation alone, however. There is plenty to do in the area and we started with a visit to the stunning Marble Arch Caves, which are 15 miles away towards Florencecourt and the border.

It fact there is a link between the two. According to our guide, the French man, Édouard-Alfred Martel who first discovered the seven-mile long Marble Arch Caves in 1895 was a guest at Belle Isle at the time.

There’s a well stocked kitchen in the Belle Isle cottages for self-catering, but on one night of our stay we headed into Enniskillen. We drove, but it’s within taxi easy range if the room goes all quite when a request is made for a volunteer designated driver.