In its most romantic interpretation Enniskillen derives its name from a translation of the Irish ‘Inis Ceithlean’ meaning ‘island of Kathleen’. Up until the early 1600’s, Enniskillen was mostly under the control of the Fermanagh clan– the Maguires. It then came under English control at the end of the Nine Years War when the Northern Irish chieftains were defeated and King James I made Sir William Cole, a planter from Devon, England, Governor of Enniskillen.
Bridges were constructed across the east and west fords onto the island, the church was set on the highest point and the Diamond and Market Place on the next highest points of the island. Gradually a long street of thatched cabins developed between the east and west bridges establishing in general the pattern of settlement on the island.
Enniskillen was threatened during the 1641 rebellion but survived as it did again during the Williamite wars of 1689-90. Artillery forts were constructed on the mainland commanding the bridges at both ends of the island at the Redoubt and Forthill and refortified during the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1705, a disastrous fire destroyed the town and in 1790, with the Napoleonic threat of invasion from the west, the tumbledown Enniskillen castle was rebuilt as barracks. In 1841, Enniskillen had grown tenfold and in the second half of the 19th century, the arrival of the railway in 1854 brought a further boost to the local economy. Enniskillen is twinned with Brackwede, a suburb of Bielefeld in North West Germany. The partnership between the two towns was initiated in 1958 when the Fifth Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards were based near Brackwede.
1 Enniskillen Castle
Enniskillen Castle has a variety of buildings including the main castle (the Keep), the Watergate and other barrack buildings. The first castle was built by Hugh “the Hospitable” Maguire in 1428, the site chosen due to its strategic and defensive advantages. Today the Keep houses the Inniskillings Museum with artefacts from the two regiments raised in the town.
William Cole was given the island of Enniskillen at the Plantation of Ulster and he rebuilt the old castle in 1612. Two distinct turrets known as ‘The Watergate’ were added on later. The castle remained the Cole residence until a fire in 1710 when they moved to nearby Portora Castle and later to Florence Court House. Over time, the castle fell into ruin and in 1796 was rebuilt as a military barracks. The castle and the surrounding barracks remained in military occupations until 1926.
Fermanagh County Museum is located within the historic Enniskillen Castle complex and reflects Fermanagh’s history, culture and environment .The nearby Boer War memorial commemorates the fallen of the Inniskilling Dragoons and Royal Inniskillings in the Boer War 1899 - 1902.
Discover historic Fermanagh with a tour of Enniskillen Castle Museums
T: +44 (0) 28 6632 5000
2 The West Bridge
The West Bridge, originally a wooden structure with a drawbridge was built in the early 17thcentury. In 1698, it was replaced by a stone bridge with 8 arches, a tall tower and guardhouse. In 1775 a new bridge was built with 3 arches. By 1825, the bridge had become too narrow for the heavy traffic crossing and a new bridge with a central pier was built between 1885 and 1892 during drainage works on Lough Erne. In the 1980’s, as part of the bypass, a new bridge was built for outward-bound traffic.
3 The Methodist Church
The current Corinthian fronted edifice was built around 1865 and is the best classical façade in the town. The architect was William Barre, famous for designing the Albert Clock in Belfast. In 1888 this was adjoined to the McArthur Hall. McArthur was an Enniskillener who went on to be Lord Major of London and generously gave to his former congregation.
4 Headhunter's Barber Shop & Railway Museum
The Railways which operated in Fermanagh and the border counties closed in 1957. The Johnston Family who operate this Museum have carefully collected, preserved and interpreted local railway heritage. Discover the re-constructed Railway Booking Office, the General Manager’s Office and Railway Signal Box. Remarkable collection of railway memorabilia including uniforms, nameplates, crests, lamps, tableware, timetables, tickets, photographs etc.
5 St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church
The architect of the church was John O’Neill, one of the most distinguished Catholic architects working in Ulster in the 19th Century. It cost £12,000 to build and was dedicated on St Patrick’s day 1875. Built in French Gothic revival style with a narrow frontage, it had been intended to construct a large belfry and spire but it was not until 1992 that a spire was erected. The interior takes the form of a basilican nave with side aisles separated by sixbay arcardes. Interesting features include an Italian Gothic High Altar, Nativity Window, Murals, Pulpit, Sculpture above the main entrance and flying buttresses on the west exterior, best appreciated from Wellington Road.
6 St. Macartin's Cathedral
The higher of the two hills on Enniskillen town was chosen by William Cole as a site for the first church completed in 1627. Hardly any of the original church remains, but part of its tower was incorporated into the present one and can be seen above the main entrance door where there is a small, old, three light lattice window and a stone with the date 1637. It is essentially the 1842 church which remains today, visible for miles around because of its 150 ft. tower and spire. Part of the nave is the Regimental Chapel of the Inniskilling Regiments. Less than a dozen parish churches in Northern Ireland have towers with peals of eight or more bells and Enniskillen is one of these. The bells can also be chimed, and can play well known hymns like “Abide with Me” written by a former pupil of Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, the Rev. Henry Francis Lyte.
7 The Buttermarket
The Buttermarket opened in 1835 for the buying and selling of local farm produce - particularly butter, Fermanagh’s main export in the 19th century. It is situated in the historic ‘Boston’ area of Enniskillen - a former warren of alleys between Water Street and Market Street. The market led on to a wooden quay called Boston Quay. From here you could get a ferry to the other side of the river - mainly used to get over to the workhouse where the former Erne Hospital now stands. The Buttermarket was restored and is now used by local crafts people and has an attractive
8 Convent Chapel
William Scott from Drogheda was the architect for this Byzantine type chapel in 1904. It is especially well known for its fine collection of stained glass windows made during the Tower of Glass period in the early 1900s. The 28 Irish oak stalls, each with their own individual carvings were made by locally renowned woodcarver, William Scott.
A single bronze soldier with his head bowed in prayer tops a plinth, and was the work of an English sculptor Graffin. Those who lost their lives in two world wars and other conflicts are remembered here. More recently eleven bronze doves have been added to remember the eleven people who lost their lives on Remembrance Sunday in the Enniskillen bomb of 1987. The current memorial was designed by the local architect Richard Pierce. The bronze soldier was restored and set on a plinth in a Portland stone surround.
10 Diana's Peace Cairn
This little round island at the foot of the East Bridge was once known as Shilling Island as it was said to resemble the old shilling coin and for a time some promoted the idea that the name of Enniskillen derived from’ Inis Shilling’ or Shilling Island. The Peace Cairn was erected on the island by a group of young people from both traditions in 1993, the last stone being added by Diana, Princess of Wales on 14th November 1993 -Remembrance Day.
11 Cole's Monument & Forthill Park
The monument commemorates General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, one of the Duke of Wellington’s generals in the Peninsular Wars. It took 12 years to build and was opened in 1855. It consists of a fluted Doric Column on a stone plinth with an abacus on which the statue stands. The column is 96 feet high, the statue adding a further 10 feet. The base of the monument rests on the remains of the 17th century fort built to defend the town during the Williamite Wars. Climb the 108 steps and be rewarded by a superb view of the town and surrounding area. The statue is by the Dublin sculptor, Terence Farrell and depicts General Cole wearing his military cloak and with his left hand resting on a cavalry saber. The statue faces southwest so that, on a clear morning, as he maintains his lonely vigil overlooking the town, he can see his ancestral home, Florence Court. The other main surviving architectural feature at Forthill is the impressive Victorian cast iron bandstand.
12 The East Bridge
The English built the first wooden bridge and drawbridge on this site in 1614 where there was a ford guarded by pointed stakes. It was replaced in 1688 by a larger stone bridge again with a drawbridge. It was connected by an underground tunnel to the Eastern Battery on Fort Hill. Enniskillen’s original boundaries were the East and West Bridges on either side of the town and a true Enniskilliner is someone who can say that she/he was born 'between the bridges'.
13 Presbyterian Church
The present church was built in 1897 and was designed by Vincent Craig. Inside is a dramatic interior with a hipped timber roof. There is a memorial, by G.H. Swinstead, to the First World War in the form of a stained glass window called “The White Comrade”. It shows Christ appearing to two soldiers on the battlefield.
14 Enniskillen Courthouse
Enniskillen courthouse was the site of the original gaol and sessions house in the town until a later gaol was built in the Gaol Square. William Farrell was the architect in 1821 and although the interior has been rebuilt, the façade remains. It is a building 5 bays wide with a square portico and 4 Tuscan Doric columns set in 3 steps. It was a very primitive jail in which confinement could be a death sentence from disease or malnutrition or the activities of the other inmates.
15 Enniskillen Townhall
William Cole’s original 'market house' was here as early as 1618. The present building was opened in 1901 at a cost of £13,000. William Scott from Drogheda was the architect. The hall is designed in the Renaissance style. The general façade and most of the tower is faced with Carrickreagh dark limestone and the cornices, columns and figures are in cream Dungannon sandstone. The main doors are oak and were hand carved by the local craftsman, William Scott. The tower is 6 stories high and is topped with a copper dome. The two figures in the tower represent the two regiments raised by the town in 1688 - the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and the Fusiliers.
Other places of interest
Portora Royal School - one of five Royal Schools established in Ulster in early 1600s (past pupils include Henry Francis Lyte, author of Abide with Me; Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde).
Portora Castle - residence of the Planter Cole family until they moved to their family seat in Florence Court.
Gaol Square - where once there stood a gaol and gallows (last public hanging took place in 1849).
Castle Coole - National Trust property; a magnificent neo-classical building built for the first Earl of Belmore and completed in 1798.