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A Classical House – Castle Saunderson

Castle Saunderson, located close to Belturbet in County Cavan, Ireland, is a rather large castellated mansion. It combines touches of both baronial and Tudor-Revival elements. It is said to bear a great resemblance to Crom Castle that is located only five miles away in County Fermanagh.

It has a long, winding history, and was built in a time far before ours.

Castle Saunderson history

Now a beautiful building, Castle Saunderson has a lovely natural stance within a beautiful estate. Along the northeastern side of the castle, the Finn River flows freely and dwindles into only a narrow channel of Upper Lough Erne further along. While the history of the castle is not overly detailed, what we do know is rather intriguing.

Continue reading to learn more about this delightful classical house that was once the family seat of the Saunderson family.

Saunderson Castle during the day
Saunderson Castle was gutted by a fire in 1990. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The early history

The original castle was inhabited by the O’Reillys of Breffni and was formerly known as Breffni Castle for obvious reasons. It is unknown as to when the first castle was built. Then, it was acquired by the Saunderson family during the Plantation of Ulster. In the year 1676, Robert Saunderson, who fought on the side of William of Orange, inherited the castle from his father.

Unfortunately, in the year 1689, James II’s trooped burned the castle to the ground. A few months later, 400 soldiers under the direction of King James were ambushed at the castle while on retreat from the battle at Newtownbutler. Many were drowned as they were driven towards the Finn River.

A new castle

Another castle was built on the site in the year 1840 after it was burned to the ground. The last Saunderson to have owned Castle Saunderson was Captain Alexander “Sandy” Saunderson. He was a prisoner of the war during the Second World War. In the year 1977, he sold the property to a wealthy businessman.

The businessman had hoped to use it as his private residence, however, this never happened. It was later turned into a hotel until it was damaged by another fire. In fact, it was the third fire at the castle.  

old stone church near castle saunderson
There is a church near Castle Saunderson. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

New hope for Castle Saunderson

In the year 1997, the castle and its grounds were acquired by Scouting Ireland (CSI). While financial difficulties and other setbacks delayed its development, support from the American Ireland Fund and Cavan County Castle saw that substantial progress occurred. In 2012, His Excellency Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, opened the €3.7 million European-funded Castle Saunderson International Scouting Centre in County Cavan.

In 2012, the new building and estate were opened to the public. Further on, in February of 2015, the approval of the restoration by Waterways Ireland of a canal connecting the site to the Erne basin was announced by Minister Heather Humphreys.

The current day

Nowadays, Castle Saunderson welcomes many visitors every year. In 2012, it opened the brand-new, state-of-the-art building and estate to the public. The site is surrounded by vast forests containing many walking trails. Guests also now have access to both a river and lake, both of which are suited to water activities.

The Castle Saunderson walks are impeccable. You can enjoy many beautiful views on the scenic routes. Get lost in the gorgeous surroundings and then head back to the estate to sleep the night. Camping areas and indoor accommodation are available.

You may enjoy reading about other Irish castles such as Dunluce Castle.

an old gutted out castle saunderson
Visible fire damage at Castle Saunderson. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Castle Saunderson Timeline

  • 1676- Robert Saunderson, who fought on the side of William of Orange, inherits the castle from his father
  • 1689- James II’s trooped burn the castle
  • 1840- The new castle is built
  • 1977- The castle and property are sold to a wealthy businessman
  • 1997- Castle Saunderson and its grounds are acquired by Scouting Ireland (CSI)
  • 2012- The brand-new, state-of-the-art building and estate is opened to the public
  • 2015- The approval of the restoration by Waterways Ireland of a canal connecting the site to the Erne basin, is announced by Minister Heather Humphreys

Castle Saunderson facts

  • The entrance of Castle Saunderson is symmetrical, with a battlemented parapet, square, and turrets
  • The house boasts several Gothic features, including the conservatory
  • In 1997, the castle was sold to Scouting Ireland for €420,000 which was estimated to be half of its market value at the time
  • The graveyard around the church and the crypt beneath the church building contains the remains of the Saunderson family
  • Castle Saunderson is almost identical to Crom Castle which is only 5 miles down the road

Books on Castle Saunderson

  • Saunderson’s of Castle Saunderson by Henry Saunderson (1936)

Who owns Castle Saunderson?

The very last member of the Saunderson family to live at the castle was Alexander Sanderson. However, he moved to Santa Barbara and now the castle is in the hands of Scouting Ireland (CSI). As described on Wikipedia, “Scouting Ireland is one of the largest youth movements on the island of Ireland, a voluntary educational movement for young people with over 45,000 members, including over 11,000 adult volunteers early 2020.[1] Of the 750,000 people between the ages of 6 and 18 in Ireland, over 6% are involved with the organization.”

Tourism

These days, you can visit Castle Saunderson and enjoy it in a variety of different ways. You can enjoy the beautiful campgrounds, the vast forests, and a state-of-the-art Hostel and Conference Centre. Accommodation is available either within the campgrounds or indoors, so you’re never short on options.

The campsite is able to cater to over 1000 people on the site at any one time. Instead of sleeping in a tent that is miles away from civilization, the grounds at Castle Saunderson are well-equipped with many great facilities such as drinking water points access roads for moving camping equipment, toilet and shower blocks, places for campers to sit and socialize outdoors, and charging points for devices on the front deck area of the building for campers.

You can enjoy all of this for a small fee of €7 per person per night with discounted rates available for Scouts and Guides. Indoor accommodation can sleep up to 66 people with bedrooms for 4 and 6 people upstairs. There is also an 18-bed dorm room downstairs. Indoor guests have full access to an indoor toilet, shower facilities, an industrial kitchen, a dining hall, and a common room.

Nearby, you can visit Crom Castle, Upper Lough Erne, Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Felim, Cavan, and Cloughoughter Castle.

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