Florence Court
Florence Court is a large 18th century house and estate located 8 miles south-west of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. It is set in the foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain. The nearby village is distinguished by the one-word name Florencecourt. It is owned and managed by the National Trust and is the sister property of nearby Castle Coole. The other National Trust property in County Fermanagh is the Crom Estate. Florence Court was the seat of the Earls of Enniskillen before the National Trust acquired it in 1953, shortly before a devastating fire destroyed the upper floors of the house. Extensive restoration efforts have since returned Florence Court to much of its former glory, although some rooms on the upper floors remain closed. The house is best known for its exquisite rococo decoration and fine Irish furniture. Many original items of furniture, previously sold, have been re-acquired and returned. The estate includes a walled garden with displays of both temperate and semi-tropical plants, a working water-powered sawmill, an ice house, a natural spring well and the Florencecourt Yew. The Larganess River flows through the estate. Pasture lands and forestry occupy much of the estate. It is a prime source of Irish yew wood.

The fire
Early on the morning of March 22 1955, a fire broke out on the first floor landing at Florence Court, adjacent to Lady Enniskillen’s bedroom. Whilst fire brigades almost had control of the fire by 9am, dry weather conditions helped re-ignite the blaze. Flames reached the roof of the building which crashed down into the hall, so that by the evening around two-thirds of the Florence Court interior lay in ruins. Lady Enniskillen, born Mary Cicely Nevill of the marquesses of Abergavenny, discovered the fire, which broke out during one of her husband’s rare absences from home. After rushing downstairs to the servant’s quarters to raise the alarm, she went to nearby Killymanamly House to telephone her elderly husband (1876-1963)at the Ulster Club in Belfast to tell him that the house was on fire. He is said to have cried “What the hell do you think I can do about it?”. Much of the damage to the interior of Florence Court was caused by the gallons of water pumped onto the flames. The Dining Room, with its exquisite plasterwork decoration, was saved only by the prompt action of local builders Bertie Pierce and Ned Vaughan who, on the instructions of Viola, Dowager Duchess of Westminster, drilled six holes in the flat part of the ceiling to allow the water which had accumulated on the floor above to quickly drain away and thereby preventing ceiling collapse. These holes are still evident in the Dining Room today. The fire was only one of a series of events in the 1950’s and 60’s at Florence Court which marked the end of an era for the house and family. Following World War II falling agricultural prices, rising wage costs, death duties and a drastic reduction of the size of the demesne, the lifestyle of the 5th Earl of Enniskillen and his second wife Mary, was increasingly difficult to sustain. To secure the long term future of the house, Lord Enniskillen gave Florence Court to the National Trust in 1953. It was opened to the public the following year. In 1956 Lord Enniskillen’s only son and heir died suddenly. In 1961, as the restoration of the house was nearing completion, Hurricane Debbie devastated the estate. In 1963, Lord and Lady Enniskillen died within three months of each other.