Fort Louis, Rathbraughan
One of the oldest houses in Sligo is to be found in Rathbraghan townland in the Parish of Calry. Fort Louis is an historic house built around 1740. It was home to Matthew Yeats and his family in the late 1800s, and was visited many times by WB Yeats. In his Autobiographies, WB Yeats describes how as a child he sailed toy boats in the river in front of the house.
The house, on over an acre of ground, with landscaped gardens to the front, is bordered by a stream, the Rathbraughan River. Behind the house sits an ancient ring fort or rath, which is listed as a national monument.
Fort Louis served for more than a century as the home of a miller. An adjacent 18th Century mill building, visible on the 1837 Ordnance Survey Map of County Sligo, was demolished in the early 2000s. The 18th Century bridge that serves the mill is on the edge of the Fort Louis property.
Since 1957, the house has been home to the O’Beirnes. Nora O’Beirne and her husband, Dick, who died in 1982, reared six children in the house, which they bought when it was derelict.
In an interview with The Sligo Champion in February 2009, Nora said that in the five decades she had lived there, scholars from Japan, Canada, the U.S., and the rest of Europe, as well as visitors from Sligo’s sister cities in Kempten, Crozon and Tallahassee, had visited the house because of its link with Yeats, and its architectural interest and integrity.
The house and grounds are listed on the county council’s Record of Protected Structures and in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s National Inventory of Architectural.
The National Inventory of Architectural heritage describes the house in detail as follows:
Detached nine-bay single-storey rendered house, built c.1740. Oblong main block on north-south axis with central conically-roofed semi-circular entrance projection, two-storey hipped-roof return. Pitched slate roof to main building, artificial slate to return, clay ridge tiles, unpainted roughcast corbelled chimneystacks, profiled extruded aluminium gutters on eaves corbel course. Painted roughcast walling, smooth-rendered plinth. Square-headed window openings, painted stone sills, painted smooth-rendered reveals, hardwood timber casement windows. Large full-height picture window to east elevation. Square-headed entrance door opening, moulded render surround, varnished hardwood door with five raised-and-fielded panels, c.2000, overlight with intersecting semi-circular glazing bars. Set in landscaped grounds, main road to west, garage to south-east, approached by driveway from south, painted semi-octagonal ashlar stone gate piers, wrought-iron gate, painted smooth-rendered boundary wall with saddleback coping.
This unusual house is possibly one of the oldest in the Sligo area. Although somewhat modified, it retains its original plan form and, most interestingly, a conically-roofed semi-circular projecting central entrance with what appears to be, the original fanlight.
In 2009 the house was under threat when Sligo County Council stated it was considering various options to carry out a road realignment project at Rathbraughan between the ‘Old Bundoran’ Road and the N15.
In an interview with The Sligo Champion, Nora O’Beirne stated that “destroying Fort Louis would send a very mixed message about Sligo’s commitment to our Yeats heritage,” she said. According to the website www.preservefortlouis.org put together by the O’Beirnes, the Council was considering relocating the river within the Fort Louis property.
The works, they say, would also involve taking down the 19th Century cut-stone retaining wall on the outside (western side) of the river and replacing it with a brick-faced wall; cutting away the existing natural bank on the inside (the eastern side) of the river to “move” the river inwards; cutting down several trees that were already mature when Dick and Nora O’Beirne bought Fort Louis, and which are home to large numbers of bats; moving the existing lane to have it exit to the east of the current (and traditional) entrance that is marked by stone gate piers.
Thankfully, common sense prevailed and Fort Louis was saved.
The Sligo Champion
The Irish Times
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
O’Beirne website www.preservefortlouis.org/