True North: Restoring Ormiston

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Ormiston House is a rather ornate highlight on the otherwise ordinary landscape of Belfast. Lying on the outskirts of the East of the city it has a rich and varied history, but lay dormant and derelict for years until it was taken on as a renovation project by one Belfast based couple. Restoring Ormiston was shown as part of the BBC's True North series this week and told the story of a spectacular building which was nearly lost.

Built in 1867 on thirteen acres of land Ormiston House, which in the past had belonged to one of the owners of the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, they neglected until it was bought by Pete Boyle and Ciara Denvir who decided to turn it into their family home. As the renovations on the much run down façade begins what unfolds is a rich history of the house that they are to call home. It was originally built when James Coom commissioned Belfast architect David Bryce to build him a home in the Scottish colonial style. Edward Harland owned the house between 1880-1897.

After not being occupied very much by him it lay empty for three or four years before being bought by John Peree and his wife who spent a lot of their time entertaining before moving to London in 1910. It was rebought by Harland and Wolff, a man by the name of George Cumming moved in in 1916 and lived their until 1919. Peree at this point moved back in until 1924 when it was purchased by Campbell College, in whose hands it remained until it was sold to the Police in 1974.

It is illustrated at this point that the delicate and ornate light which once adorned one of the main rooms was replaced when modern tube lighting was fitted, something which seems absolutely criminal. In 2001 the building was obtained by the Northern Ireland Executive which was the beginning of the salvation of this beautiful building.

As the renovation progresses it becomes clear that not all the original fittings can be saved, however Ciara states from the off that she is determined to keep as many of the original features as possible; a move which is to be commended. The house is to be restored in the Georgian style and among the people overseeing the renovation is Donna Collins an architect and designer who will be aided, because of the age of the building, by a conservation architect. Restoring an old house isn't as simple as building a new one from scratch, as Donna explains, "You almost have to take it apart and put it back together". It would also seem that restoring an old house also presents difficulties when it comes to the exterior of the building as you need permission for what you also build on the grounds. By May 2017 however the restoration is complete and the family are seen living in what is now a beautifully and suitably restored Ormiston House.

Those who quite often bulldoze beautiful period home to make way for twenty modern town houses, or who own sites where "accidents" are suddenly seen to happen would do well to take a leaf out of this family's book.

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