IT just goes to show that you can drive a road through a chap’s garden and bulldoze his ancestral home, but never get between one man and his dog!
Incredible as it might seem, back in 1981 Antrim Council was involved in a ‘tug of love’ with a furious Viscount - and the bone of contention was a rather unconvincing, tatty old statue of a wolfhound.
The statue itself dates back to 1612 and has been heralded as the earliest example of its kind in existence, though it has certainly not been treated with the reverence of museum piece.
Oh no, its broken ears and patched up legs tells their own story of it being used as a goal post during its long stay outside the Antrim Forum and as a climbing frame at its new home at Clotworthy.
Supposedly carved to commemorate the valiant beast which saved Lady Marian Longford from the jaws of a wolf by the shores of Lough Neagh in 1607, the wolfhound has watched over Antrim ever since from an array of vantage points.
But it would have been gazing out on vistas new, if the Rt Hon John Skeffington (pictured above) had his way.
In September 1981 he wrote to tell the council that he intended to pay a visit to Antrim - and when he left he was taking his wolfhound with him.
The councillors, however, were not playing ball.
Town Clerk Sam Magee was instructed to pen a terse reply. The monument, they said, was part of the fixtures and fittings when they acquired the Castle Grounds.
It was their dog now, and they had no intention of parting with it.
The Historic Monuments organisation and the Irish Wolfhound Club agreed that it should remain in Antrim too.
“The wolfhound has been around Antrim long enough to establish that it is the property of the Antrim people,” said Councillor J Blakely.
So, was it just churlishness on Viscount Skeffington’s part?
Well, not exactly. There was more to this doggy tale than met the eye. There was history here. Hundreds of years of the stuff.
The Viscount was not a happy man - and he had little time for Antrim Council.
Indeed, some say he was consumed by an anger that he took to his grave when he finally passed away in 1992.
and the source of that rage was a decision in March 1970 to flatten Antrim Castle. It had been claimed that the ancient structure had ‘become a danger to children’ - but the move also proved to be a wrecking ball to the peer’s fragile relationship with civic leaders.
The council conceded that the building could be shored up but that would come at a cost - and the leaders of the New Town apparently had little regard for the relics of the past.
Today when historic sites are sifted by hand for fragments of interest, it is almost unimaginable to think that a building that had stood for almost 400 years was quite literally smashed into rubble by JCBs.
Worse still, they decided to serve an order on Lord Massereene forcing him to remove what was left.
It clearly came as a shock to him. after all, he felt he had a good working relationship with Borough fathers after signing over the Castle Grounds to them for the relatively measly sum of £13,000 in 1961.
In a letter penned in 1977 he revealed his true feelings on the ‘historic vandalism’ of his ancestral home.
‘Regarding the Castle Grounds, the council did assure me when I handed them over to the town that they would be cherished,’ he said.
‘But local authorities and government departments have no feelings of sentiment, tradition or honour. That has been my experience and especially so in Northern Ireland’.
Strong words to be sure. But there was more.
‘Clotworthy House was compulsorily taken from me against my will. It is all very sad, but there is little I can do.
‘With reference to the private cemetery where my father and sister are buried, I have long been contemplating erecting a wall around it, but fear in present times it may be blown up.
“I erected a very strong fence around the castle ruins to protect it from vandalism. Within a couple of weeks great holes were cut in it.
‘The council then demolished the ruins against my will. A wicked thing to do since there were some very fine Norman arches in the building.
‘Such an event would never have happened in England or Scotland where old buildings are preserved’.
The castle, alas, was gone but the Viscount still had his dog. Or so he thought...