It took us just a few minutes to drive the one and a half miles from the village square of Strangford to our parking spot just outside the walls of Castle Ward, known to Game of Thrones fans as Winterfell, the home of House Stark — the Kings of the Winter and Wardens of the North — in Season One of their favorite show.
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The Castle Ward Estate covers 332 hectares (820 acres) and includes an 18th century mansion, formal gardens, forest paths and a sea shore trail. This property about seven miles east of the town of Downpatrick once belonged to the Earls of Kildare and was called Carrick na Sheannah. It was purchased by Bernard Ward in 1570 and in 1590 he built his castle. One of Ward’s descendants built a mansion in 1720 but it was demolished in 1850. Some of this mansion’s formal gardens still exist and there is a renovation project going on to restore these gardens to their 18th century grandeur. The current mansion was built in 1760 by another of Ward’s descendants.
For about 200 years the Ward family lived in their mansions and the old Castle Ward became their farmhouse. The property remained in the hands of the Ward family until 1950 when it was turned over to the government of Northern Ireland in lieu of death duties. The government then presented the house and estate including the castle to the National Trust in 1952.
Castle Ward was the third National Trust property we visited during our one-week visit to Northern Ireland. The other two were the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in County Antrim.
The National Trust (its full name is the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty) is a charity and membership organization that operates in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its most popular site in Northern Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway where they manage the park and maintain the Visitor’s Centre. The National Trust was founded in 1895 and is one of the largest membership organizations in the world — 5.2 million members by 2017. Membership subscriptions provide the largest source of income. They also charge admission fees to some of their properties such as Castle Ward.
More than 3,500 people were killed during the 30-year period between 1968 and 1998 known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Two of them died on the grounds of Castle Ward. On February 10, 1973 two Catholic members of the IRA, Leonard O’Hanlon (23) and Vivienne Fitzsimmons (17), were killed by a premature bomb explosion.
For 40 years no one wished to go to Northern Ireland. Then HBO came to Belfast and set up their studio and spent eight weeks in Castle Ward building their sets and filming their episodes for the first season of Game of Thrones. Now Game of Thrones fans from all over the world are visiting Northern Ireland and the economy is booming.
After our visit to Castle Ward we hiked a couple of miles to Audley’s Castle and examined more locations used for the filming of Game of Thrones. We will cover this hike in my next posting. Stay tuned.
Bonus — The Game of Thrones theme as interpreted by a bunch of Galway buskers.
Listen to what can be done with a fiddle, an accordion, a guitar, a drum, a harp, and a clarinet.