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'Neglected treasure' set for restoration to its former glory

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Aerial photo showing Hazelwood House in the foreground, with the former Snia and Saehan Media plant buildings behind, all on the wooded shore of Lough Gill, near Half Moon Bay.

Aerial photo showing Hazelwood House in the foreground, with the former Snia and Saehan Media plant buildings behind, all on the wooded shore of Lough Gill, near Half Moon Bay.

Aerial photo showing Hazelwood House in the foreground, with the former Snia and Saehan Media plant buildings behind, all on the wooded shore of Lough Gill, near Half Moon Bay.

It has been described as one of County Sligo's most neglected treasures. Now, with an application for 10-year planning permission from Sligo consortium Foresthaze Developments Ltd for a €100 million project at the Hazelwood Demesne comes renewed hope that Hazelwood House, an almost 300-years old protected structure, will be returned to its former splendour.

The project, which includes the demolition of the former Snia and Saehan Media factory buildings, also proposes the construction of 158 detached luxury homes, 54 apartments in four blocks, five retail units, 13 berths and a creche.

The developers say the restoration of the neglected 18th century Palladian house would operate as a significant visitor. The low density, high-quality residential units are to cross finance the restoration of Hazelwood House, which sits on a peninsula into Lough Gill.

The permission sought is for the demolition of the former Saehan Media factory and associated structures including tank farms, pumphouse, ESB substations and security buildings, the demolition of a derelict dwelling to the northwest of the site, and the removal of an overhead 38kv ESB line.

Included in the application is the restoration of Hazelwood House and associated outbuildings. The application states that Hazelwood House and the southern range of outbuildings will operate as a visitor attraction, with the northern range of outbuildings to accommodate five retail units.

Restoration of Hazelwood House would include the demolition of some of the additions/extensions to the original house.

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Permission is also sought for site development works and landscaping, access roads, public lighting, utilities including foul pumping stations, improvements to the R286 Dromahair Road at the Hazelwood Avenue junction, and ancillary works to facilitate the development.

Hazelwood House was constructed in the 1730's to the designs of Richard Cassels (1695-1751), architect of Leinster House, Powerscourt House and Westport House. It comprises a central block of three storeys over basement, flanked by two curved wings and was occupied by the Wynne family from the early 18th century until the 1920's.

The Irish Georgian Society points out that this house is one of the most important architectural structures not only in Sligo but also in the northwest as a whole.

To retain its contribution to the heritage of Sligo, the Society says a use must be found for Hazelwood that allows for the implementation of an effective conservation / management plan.

The Society believes that the future of this internationally important building must be preserved and that it could play a strong role as a core educational/tourist amenity for the northwest as a whole.

According to An Taisce, Hazelwood House is the finest 18th Century house in County Sligo and its interiors are among Richard Cassels's most intact, with bold cornicing and plasterwork.

The cut and polished limestone house is architecturally significant, being one of the first examples of Cassels's work in Ireland. In 1745 the same architect designed Leinster House for the Earls of Kildare and Leinster, the Fitzgeralds. More locally, he also designed St. John's Cathedral, in John Street, Sligo, a much-modified Georgian cathedral with Victorian glass and fittings, one of the oldest buildings still in continuous use in Sligo Town.

The ghostly silence now looming over Hazelwood House, on the wooded lakeshore, belies the fact that the 284years old structure was once the hub of an enterprise that, to a large extent, dominated the surrounding Sligo/Leitrim area, economically, socially and politically.

Hazelwood was the seat of the Wynne family who traced their roots to 12th Century Wales. The family first established itself in Ireland in 1658, and Hazelwood Estate, with which the family is principally associated and which was probably originally O'Conor lands, was acquired in 1722.

Hazelwood was designed for Owen Wynne by Cassels and built between 1720 and 1740.

The Wynne family estates in County Sligo comprised up to 14,500 acres, and included Sligo's fairs, markets, tolls and customs. It also owned large portions of Sligo Town itself. A lookback through reports of the political and business goings-on in issues of The Sligo Champion from 150 or 100 years ago sees the name "Wynne" crop up time and again.

The first occupant of Hazelwood House was Lieutenant General Owen Wynne (1664-1737), third son of Owen Wynne Senior of Lurganboy, County Leitrim, and formerly of the Bala Estate of the Gwynnes in the old county of Merionith in Wales, now known as the larger county of Gwynedd.

With one exception, the head of the Wynne family bore the forename Owen. The last, Owen VI, died on November 21st, 1910, aged 67, his death bringing to an end a dynasty that had dominated the local area, socially, politically and economically, for almost 200 years.

His wife, Stella Fanny, the younger daughter of Sir Robert Gore Booth, of Lissadell, had died in a horse carriage accident on February 27th, 1887. The accident occurred whilst Stella, who was driving her phaeton, (a light four wheeled carriage drawn by a single horse) on a journey to visit Captain Peel's house in Newtownmanor, when the horse bolted on a downhill section after the front wheels came off the phaeton.

Stella and her companion, a Miss McClintock, were thrown from the carriage leaving Miss McClintock uninjured. However. Stella hit her head against a rock gatepost, leaving her with a fractured skull, dying of her injuries two days later.

As Owen had no male heir, that accident was, in effect, the beginning of the end of the Wynnes of Hazelwood. It's even been suggested Stella's ghost still haunts the House!

After Owen's death, his daughter, Muriel, and her husband, Philip Dudley Perceval lived in Hazelwood House, selling off the livestock and machinery until they left Hazelwood House in 1923.

From then until 1930, the House remained empty after which a retired tea planter named Mr. Berridge lived there.

In 1937, the House and lands were sold to the Land Commission and the State forestry department.

During the Second World War, Hazelwood House was occupied by the Irish Army after which the Land Commission put the house up for sale. Under the terms of the sale, the buyer was to demolish the house, level the site and remove all the materials. The Sligo Champion, at the time, expressed outrage over such a suggestion and, some days before the auction, the offer was withdrawn.

Later in that same year, 1946, Hazelwood House was sold to St. Columba's Mental Hospital, which used it for a number of years as a home for patients.

In 1969, the Italian textile manufacturer, Snia, bought Hazelwood and built a factory at the site, providing hundreds of jobs at a time when employment, rather than environmental conservation, was a top priority. Snia closed in 1983 and four years later, Korean videotape and cassette manufacturer, Saehan Media, purchased the facility. After it closed in Spring 2006, the lands and property were put up for sale.

Now, with the latest plans come hopes that Hazelwood House may be about to be launched on an exciting new chapter in its history.

*The history of "The Wynnes of Sligo and Hazelwood" by Winston Guthrie Jones was published in 1994 by Drumlin Publications, Nure, Manorhamilton.


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