TV makeover for stately home

Lord Brookeborough outside the stately home in Fermanagh
Lord Brookeborough outside the stately home in Fermanagh
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ONE of Northern Ireland’s most impressive stately homes has enjoyed a remarkable makeover, courtesy of a popular television show.

Channel 4’s Country House Rescue recently visited the seat of the Brooke family in Fermanagh to assess the current occupants’ dream of converting the 1,000 acre estate into a spa resort.

Having rescued Colebrooke Park from near ruin 30 years ago, Viscount and Viscountess Brookeborough have raised the necessary funds to maintain the stunning 1820 property by hosting exclusive shooting parties and activity breaks.

However, that hasn’t proved sustainable and the Brookeboroughs reluctantly agreed to let Channel 4 help investigate whether the spa conversion could be brought to fruition.

Lord Brookeborough said allowing the cameras in was a “necessary evil” given the spiralling maintenance costs.

“Initially we weren’t going to go near it because in the programmes that we’ve all seen, all too often they feature dysfunctional families — which ours isn’t — and a big thing made of the fact that they have a lot of confrontation within the family. We don’t have that,” he said.

Despite his initial reservations, Lord Brookeborough said the experience was extremely worthwhile and resulted in major improvements and an improved tourist attraction.

“We now have a spa – they brought in consultants on the old heating systems and we now have 14 bedrooms with private bathrooms.

“They put us in touch with a business called Rural Generation and, as a result of the programme, we are now fitting a woodchip boiler which has been the saviour of country houses around the UK.”

The grateful peer said both he and his wife Janet were open to new ideas and now have many new ventures in the pipeline, including adventure cycling.

Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Country House Rescue frontman Simon Davis said his experience in Fermanagh was his most rewarding to date.

“It was the first time I’d been to Fermanagh and I thought the countryside was mesmerising — I loved it. Everyone I met was fantastically friendly and hospitable, and there is a real sense of looking forward.”

The television presenter said the Troubles did get a mention but it’s not a subject he was keen to dwell on.

“Things are very different now and Colebrooke, which is such an important house in the area, has a duty in a way to be at the vanguard of changing people’s perception about that part of Ireland,” he added.

This is the first time a property from Northern Ireland has featured on the show and the programme promises an “access all areas” look at the challenges of running a large country retreat.

The Colebrooke episode is being shown on Channel 4 on Thursday at 8pm.

Further information on the house and spa facility is available at www.colebrooke.info.