Scion of gentry kept Narrow Water Castle in family

 

Roger Hall: Roger Hall, the owner of Narrow Water Castle and Estate in Co Down, who has died aged 78, was something of a rarity among landed gentry.

The son of a staunch unionist, Roger Hall snr, and a Spanish Catholic, he was more often to be seen mounting a ladder to fix the castle roof than living the high life of the privileged few.

His father died when he was just 10, leaving his mother to raise six children alone. The marriage had been controversial from the start. Roger snr's father was an active member of the Ulster Volunteer Force and his brother Francis was the right-hand man of Edward Carson.

The family were scions of the Protestant gentry, having lived at Narrow Water, a huge estate by Carlingford Lough, which at one point included the town of Warrenpoint, since 1670. So when Roger snr returned from Gibraltar in 1919 with Marie Patron, his young Spanish Catholic bride, it caused outrage, more so when the new Mrs Hall insisted that their children should be raised Catholic.

The couple met while Roger snr was convalescing from gas and shell shock after four years in the trenches during the first World War. He continued to suffer ill-health for most of his life and died at 42.

Marie struggled, after her widowhood, to provide for her six children on little income, despite the sprawling estate. With her three eldest daughters she opened a hotel in the castle and later converted parts of it into flats.

Roger, her third child and first son, inherited the estate when he turned 21.

The Narrow Water estate includes the old Narrow Water Castle, built in 1212 by Sir Hugh de Lacey. This original castle is still standing and shortly after Roger took over was given to Northern Ireland's Department of Environment and is now a national monument.

Roger's ancestor, Francis Hall, who originally bought the land, lived in the old castle briefly but set about building a new home on rising ground overlooking Carlingford Lough. Mount Hall, as it was called, was built in the style of an Irish long house. For several generations the Halls lived here, extending their domain to ever larger estates in Armagh, Louth, Down and Clare.

In the 1790s, then owner Savage Hall asked a local surveyor to lay out the town of Warrenpoint on one of his townlands. Savage's son, also called Roger, completed his father's work, building up the harbour and operating his own sailing ships. In 1816, this Roger Hall also decided to build a new castle, adjoining Mount Hall. The new Narrow Water Castle was built in Elizabethan Revival style using granite stone from the family's quarry.

Times had changed by the time the late Roger Hall inherited the 4,000-acre estate in 1950. The buildings and estate needed constant maintenance.

Luckily, Roger had an enormous love of the land. He attended Greenmount Agricultural College when he left Ampleforth School in York. He was a farmer first and foremost, according to those who knew him best.

Despite early antipathy to his father's marriage, Roger grew to be a well respected member of the local community. "He treated everyone he met as equals, no matter what their politics or religious beliefs," says local SDLP Assembly member PJ Bradley.

It helped that Roger believed in working his own land, rising early to feed the cattle, fixing fences, cutting back banks, rejigging walks, whatever was required.

"He saw himself not as the owner but as the caretaker of the estate," said one long-time friend.

Roger married Maize White and together they had three children, Toby, Marcus and Lasarra.

In August 1979 the Troubles came to the gates of Narrow Water when 18 British soldiers were killed in two IRA bomb attacks.

On the same day, the IRA murdered Lord Mountbatten at Mullaghmore in Co Sligo, along with his 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas Knatchbull, Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old youth from Co Fermanagh, and Baroness Brabourne, his elder daughter's 83-year-old mother-in-law.

In the mid-1990s Roger's marriage was dissolved. He met and married Estelle Cushanan, a widow whose family came from Northern Ireland.

With Estelle, Roger discovered a passion for travelling. His new wife had lived for many years in Colombia and they travelled there frequently. Last year, post the Colombia Three controversy, Roger found himself under suspicion when he tried to enter the country on an Irish passport and was very nearly deported.

The couple also set up a wedding venue business at the castle. It is now a popular venue for receptions, a development which pleased Roger enormously.

"He loved seeing the castle come to life again," says Estelle.

Roger Hall died on September 8th following an illness. According to local historian and close friend Dr Liam Bradley, Roger redressed the divide exposed by his parents' marriage. "He really was a very pleasant, charming man," he said.

He also succeeded, by dint of his own hard work, in keeping his beloved Narrow Water estate within the family, no small achievement given that so many surrounding estates were sold or taken over by trust. His last request to Estelle was that his coffin be carried to the local Catholic cemetery by the men who had worked with him on the land.

Roger Hall, born January 29th, 1929; died September 8th, 2007.