Ballywalter Park is a picturesque demesne near the village of Ballywalter, Co. Down. The grand early-Victorian style house is home to Lord and Lady Dunleath of the Mulholland family. Mulhollands have resided at Ballywalter House for more than 150 years.
In 1846, Andrew Mulholland purchased the house and demesne for around £23,000. He commissioned architect Charles Lanyon to transform the Georgian House. Andrew Mulholland also oversaw the planting of over 93,000 trees and shrubs to protect his property from the harsh winds of the Irish Sea. This dense wood would prove useful for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
By the late 1800s, the Mulholland family was exceptionally wealthy and known throughout the linen industry. The Palazzo style house has evolved throughout the decades and during this time, has attracted many high profile visitors. In 1924, the Duke and Duchess of York visited for a shooting party and were photographed playing tennis in the grounds. They later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. By this stage in the history of the house and demesne, much had changed. Some wings of the house even became a Military Hospital during The Great War.
Second World War at Ballywalter
During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force used Ballywalter Estate as a Bomber Repair Base. Pilots could land aircraft on flat sandy land towards the shore. The R.A.F. could then use the thick tree cover to conceal planes and in some circles, this forested area is still known as “Bomber Wood”. In more recent times, Ballywalter House has doubled for the Hotel Bristol in Paris during filming of the 2013, Tim Fywell directed ‘Wodehouse in Exile’, set during the Second World War. The B.B.C. drama ‘Mrs. Wilson’ also made use of the house as the backdrop for several residences and The Empire Club in London.
The stable blocks and outbuildings of Ballywalter House became wartime billets for soldiers of the Royal Ulster Rifles and Royal Berkshire Regiment. Graffiti from this time remains on the walls. Much of the artwork created by the soldiers in the early 1940s is faded and difficult to read. Some other pieces, however, remain clear and provide a glimpse into life at Ballywalter House in wartime.
One piece wishes “A Merry Xmas” from the “Officers, Warrant Officers, N.C.Os. and Men” of a Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles. It seems this particular piece of wall may have been shared with the Royal Berkshire Regiment as there is also a faded dragon and the word “China”. Elsewhere, walls are emblazoned with the insignia of both Regiments. A Royal Berkshire Regiment crest shows the date 8th December 1942. The names of the 4 soldiers responsible have faded over the decades but a scribbled warning still reads:
… completed this work of art on 8.12.42 in co-operation. Please don’t [scrubbed out text] about with it or else.
A final piece of artwork on the outbuildings walls depicts 3 bottles, one labelled “Old Irish Bushmills”. Perhaps it took more than Andrew Mulholland’s trees to keep the cold winds of the Irish Sea at bay.