Belfast Telegraph

Video: Historic Belfast home's multi-million pound transformation

Couple fund three-year project with own money

By Jonathan Bell

The owner of successful jewellery chain Argento has put the sparkle back into one of Belfast's most historic buildings.

Belfast businessman Peter Boyle and his partner Ciara Denvir's major regeneration of Ormiston House in the east of the city has been nominated for an Ulster Architectural Heritage Society Heritage Angel award.

The annual awards celebrate individuals or groups who have rescued an historic building or site, worked as craftsmen or apprentices, or recorded and interpreted an historic place, preserving it for future generations.

Cast your vote - Shortlist for Northern Ireland Heritage Angels awards announced 

The shortlist includes 15 different projects across five categories, including Titanic Hotel in Belfast, Lissan House in Cookstown, which dates back to the 1600s, and the restoration of Portaferry Presbyterian Church into an arts and heritage centre. And the public can have their say on who wins the awards.

Ormiston House is in the over £2m major regeneration category of the awards.

However, unlike the other nominees, the Ormiston build was entirely financed by the couple and did not receive any public money.

It was built in 1867 by Scottish architect David Bryce as a family home for James Combe, the Scottish merchant and owner of the Falls Iron Foundry.

Nestled on a 13-acre site off Hawthornden Road, the Scottish baronial-style stately home was once the residence of Harland & Wolff chairman Lord William Pirrie.

In later times it accommodated Campbell College schoolboy boarders and the RUC's Complaints and Discipline Department.

In 2001, the Assembly Commission bought the property from the Policing Authority for £9m. It was intended as plush office accommodation for civil servants but never used. In the intervening years the building was allowed to descend into ruin.

In 2015, it was reportedly bought by Peter Boyle for £1.5m and the couple then stepped away from their business for a year to concentrate on the restoration work.

Peter and Ciara worked tirelessly to restore the home to its former glory. Before buying it, the couple had only ever seen the inside by torch light. "First thing we did was pull all the boards off the windows and that was really exciting. But that's when the scale of the deterioration really came apparent," said Peter.

"The civil servant who gave us the keys said 'I suppose you'll gut it' and I looked at him as if he was mad. I had every intention of salvaging as much as possible... but we ended up gutting it.

"We lost 90% of the internal fabric of the building."

What they discovered were grand rooms turned into toilets, strip lighting screwed into ornate plasterwork and the building had been vandalised over the 20 years it sat empty.

Ciara and Peter have now transformed the building and its 13 acres of gardens into a beautiful family home. Where possible, they have tried to restore original pieces or replicate them.

To ensure the work was done to their exacting specification, the couple set up their own construction company for the three years it took for completion.

"That gave us more control and more time. If something was more tedious we were prepared to go down that route where a contractor might not be," Ciara added.

"Literally if there was the tiniest thing we could salvage it was taken out meticulously, stored meticulously and put back in some way into the house."

The couple said they always had a desire to refurbish an historic building.

"To have had this opportunity has just been fantastic," said Ciara. "A lot of people locally have some connection to this house.

"We poured our hearts into it, gave everything we could and we are as true to the house as we could be."

  • For the full shortlist and to cast your vote in the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society Heritage Angels awards visit www.ulsterarchitecturalheritage.org.uk/heritageangelawards/about-the-awards/

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