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His coffin borne across the lough on a rowing boat, Lord Erne, pageboy at the Queen's coronation and her most loyal lieutenant, is laid to rest in the surrounds of his beloved Crom estate

By Rodney Edwards

Published 01/01/2016

Viscount Crichton and the Countess of Erne bring Lord Erne to his funeral service at his beloved Crom estate
Viscount Crichton and the Countess of Erne bring Lord Erne to his funeral service at his beloved Crom estate
Viscount Crichton and the Countess of Erne bring Lord Erne to his funeral service
Lord Erne

It was the final journey for a Fermanagh man who devoted his entire life to his beloved Crom Castle.

The body of Henry George Victor John Crichton, one of The Queen's longest-serving lieutenants in Northern Ireland, was placed on board a 100-year-old cot and carried across the lough for his funeral service at Holy Trinity Church.

The 78-year-old's wife The Countess of Erne and his son Viscount John Crichton, now the seventh Earl of Erne, and other family members sat on the boat for the short trip to the Victorian church, near their castle.

His coffin rested on fir branches cut from the estate and as it was ferried across Lough Erne, the rain that had pelted down all morning stopped and a flicker of sunlight shone through the clouds.

Mourners including the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn, Lord and Lady Brookeborough, Lady Lichfield and First Minister elect Arlene Foster joined Lord Erne's grieving family as a flag flew at half mast above the home.

Lord Erne passed away last Wednesday, December 23.

It was poignant that the private ceremony should be held at the place he adored his entire life and the ancestral home of the Crichtons for more than 400 years. The service also included the moving words of Seamus Heaney, with a Lough Erne perspective, read by family members, which encapsulated the aristocrat's affection for the surrounding area.

"Stand on a hill in South Fermanagh and the winding banks of Erne are all about you. It looks as if the whole county could be floating on water. The farmland is green and soft as grass on a drain. The marshland is a mat of roots and rushes spread on brown water. And there at our feet is Lough Erne, girdling and glinting between the islands: and there are the islands, scattered like green moss on a mirror.

"Summer or winter, calm or storm, fair weather or frosty weather, the islands lodge in the lap of the lough. The child crosses water to be baptised, the bride in her wedding dress sails out to her wedding, the corpse crosses water to be buried... Here you have a flirtation between light and shadow, between land and sky, between earth and heaven."

Viscount Crichton told The Impartial Reporter that he and his sisters Lady Cleone Versen, Lady Davina Crichton, Lady Katherine Townsend-Rose and Lady Tara Loyd, have been left "deeply saddened" by the death of their "beloved father".

"He was a wonderful man who cared deeply about Crom, Fermanagh, and particularly its people. He absolutely adored this place, he loved it deeply, and worked very hard to keep the estate and the castle together. Crom was his life, and it is a huge honour to take over his legacy. We will all miss him very, very deeply," he said.

Paying tribute to his father, Viscount Crichton added: "He was not only my father but my best friend. He would advise me and I looked to him for advice and wisdom. I will miss that hugely, but he did go knowing that I was back to look after Crom Castle which gave him huge comfort."

He said his father preferred spending his time talking to people in Lisnaskea "than anything else" not to mention the many charities and organisations that he took great interest in, including the Red Cross, Share Centre and the Royal British Legion.

Lord Erne's family has royal connections as his father was equerry to King George VI. King George VI was also Lord Erne's godfather. Lord Erne himself was the longest-serving Lord Lieutenant for the Queen, stepping down in 2012, and was pageboy at her coronation when he was 15 years old.

A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said Her Majesty was informed of Lord Erne's death and is expected to send a private message to his family.

The Queen and Prince Philip attended a lunch at Crom Castle during a visit to Enniskillen in 2012 as Lord Erne prepared to carry out his final duty as Lord Lieutenant.

Earlier that year he was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in recognition of his work, an award made directly by the Queen which he said at the time left him feeling "honoured and humbled."

During his 25 years as Lord Lieutenant, he officially welcomed royalty to the county, in particular the Queen's visit to Ballinamallard, the Queen Mother's visit to re-open Castle Coole, the visit by Prince Charles and Princess Diana and then Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as well as welcoming the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. He also took part in the annual Remembrance ceremony in Enniskillen and of course the Enniskillen bomb of 1987 was only his second year in his ceremonial role at the Cenotaph.

Crom Castle was used as the location for the popular BBC series Blandings two years ago and was once one of the grandest privately-owned castles in Ireland, playing host to lords, ladies and royalty. Born in 1937, Lord Erne inherited the estate when he was just two years old after his father was killed in the Second World War. He moved to Crom when he turned 21.

Speaking about living at Crom, Lord Erne once said: "I came here to live in 1958 when I came of age to find a castle completely empty with no electricity or any central heating and rather modest acres. I mean I spent a lifetime looking after this place and I love it like I can't describe how much I love it."

A memorial service will take place at St Macartin's Cathedral in Enniskillen in the Spring of 2016.

Rodney Edwards is a journalist with The Impartial Reporter newspaper in Enniskillen. His first book, Sure, Why Would Ye Not?, published by Blackstaff Press, is out now.

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