A proud standing tower set in the beautiful Clandeboye Estate, also available to stay in

Helen’s Tower  is part of the Columban Way, a heritage trail between Comber and Bangor covering 20 miles (32 km). A trail to experience the area’s rich and diverse history, Bronze Age relics, monastic settlements, Viking attacks, industrial heritage and military influences in both the First and Second World Wars, are just some points of interest you will discover along the way. Find out more about the Columban Way Heritage Trail.

Helen's Tower Dufferin and Ava

The Blackwood Family arrived in Bangor when John Blackwood, a Scottish settler, came in the 17th Century. In 1674, his son, also called John, settled on the Clandeboye estate, then known as Ballyleidy and by the early 1800s they had become the Barons of ‘Dufferin and Claneboye’. The most distinguished member of the family was the Victorian diplomat Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood (1826-1902) who, in acknowledgment of his illustrious career, was created 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava in 1888. Lord Dufferin, who started out as an explorer and author, became one of the most successful diplomats of the Victorian age holding all of the major diplomatic appointments of the day such as being Governor General of Canada, Ambassador to France, Russia and Italy and Viceroy of India. Despite his many travels he always loved Clandeboye and developed and landscaped the Estate extensively into what exists today. He also developed the nearby village of Helen’s Bay (named after his mother) and was instrumental in the founding of the Bangor to Belfast Railway.

Helen's Tower

Lord Dufferin built Helen’s Tower to celebrate the life of his mother, Helen Selina Sheridan, granddaughter of the famous Irish playwright but also as a way of providing local employment in the aftermath of the Famine. Its architect, William Burn, was famed for designing great country houses including nearby Bangor Castle. In an early drawing,
the tower was titled the ‘Gamekeeper’s Tower’ but was ultimately named Helen’s Tower. The exterior was completed in 1850 with the interior not finished until 23 October 1861.

The tower consists of three floors complete with bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. It is, however the upper room which is the most special, adorned with poems by many of the greatest contemporary writers of the time which were all gifted or requested by Lord Dufferin. The range and quality of authors including Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning and Rudyard Kipling among the contributors clearly shows the family’s strong literary connections. The most famous poem is by Tennyson - ‘Helen’s Tower here I stand, Dominant over sea and land. Son’s love built me, and I hold Mother’s love in lettered gold. Would my granite girth were strong As either love, to last as long. I should wear my crown entire To and thro’ the Doomsday fire, And be found of angel eyes In earth’s recurring Paradise’. Lord Alfred Tennyson, October 1861

Ulster Tower

A more sombre association with Helen’s Tower, is the replica built at Thiepval in Northern France to commemorate in particular those who died in the Battle of the Somme. Many of the Ulstermen who died had trained at Clandeboye under the shadow of Helen’s Tower and recorded seeing Helen’s Tower as the last feature on the landscape as they sailed out of Belfast Lough towards France. Traces of the training camps that housed them still remain on the Estate. The Ulster Tower was built through public subscription to commemorate their huge sacrifice during World War One and was dedicated on 19 November 1921. An inscription inside reminds people of the link to Clandeboye, with the following variation on the original dedication for Helen’s Tower -

‘Helen’s Tower here I stand
Dominant over sea and land
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Ulster’s love in letter’d gold.’

Irish Landmark Trust - Holiday Let

Helen’s Tower is available for holiday letting as part of Irish Landmark Trust’s portfolio of restored properties. It certainly makes for a romantic spot, or simply a quiet getaway (Adults only letting).

Helen's Tower is located within the grounds of Clandeboye Estate.

Great War Trail

The tower took on an unforeseen poignancy after the battle of the Somme in 1916. The land around the tower had been used as a training camp by the 36th (Ulster) Division prior to their embarkation from Belfast for France and for those soldiers Helen’s Tower would have been a lasting image as they sailed out of Belfast Lough. For this reason, a replica was built in Thiepval through public subscription in memory­ those f­rom Ulster who lost their lives in the Great War.  The Thiepval Tower was dedicated on 19 November 1921 and was inscribed with a slightly altered version ­ Lord Al­red Tennyson’s original poetic dedication or Helen’s Tower.

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