Necarne Castle Equestrian Centre
Clare O'Connor finds horse sense in Necrane
Few students enjoy as picturesque a campus as the students of Necarne Equestrian Centre, where acres of parkland and mature trees surround what was formerly Castle Irvine, deep in the Fermanagh countryside.
The College of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Enterprise has other sites in Greenmount, Loughry and Levaghy which offer a host of agriculturally related subjects, but Necarne Castle and its grounds were restored and purpose built in order to specialize in equestrian studies only.
Fermanagh District Council bought the estate in 1981, refurbishing its stable yards and building indoor, outdoor and warm-up arenas. Some 4 miles of paths and tracts were newly lain. Developments continued with 5000 metres of all weather track, 24 fences designed by Kitty Kees and 1500 metres of all weather gallops designed by Newmarket training consultant Peter Amos.
There are also self-catering facilities and an impressive spectator area overlooking the indoor arena adds to the social setting.
Of course nobody handles horses like the Irish and students come from all over the world to study at Necarne. This year's register includes pupils from America, Kenya, Austria and Turkey. The school offers a wide range of courses from 3 year long degrees in Equine Studies to a lungeing class, lasting a day.
It may be a state of the art equestrian facility now, but the castle dates right back to 1618 when it was built by Gerard Lowther as part of the Plantation. In 1629 the lands were leased to Christopher Irvine and the Irvines remained there until 1922, even though they were hounded out and the castle burnt during the Irish rebellion in 1641.
In 1925 Captain Richard Hermon from Sussex bought the Castle, turning it into a haven for shooting parties. Hermon himself was ‘Championship Marksman’ of Great Britain in 1936.
During the Second world War Necarne was used as a hospital by the Royal Air Force and the American Navy. On the castle grounds stands an easily missed single stone mortuary slab from this time - a more fitting memorial than any militaristic bronze.
In 1988 The Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland leased the estate on a long-term basis from Fermanagh District Council, hopefully securing the future of this lakeland showpiece for a long time to come.