Hazelwood Nature Trail, (co-ordinates 54.26947 -8.41845) a few miles from Sligo Town, is well known locally as a natural beauty spot, consisting of a large wooded area with a number of carved wooden sculptures, picnic area’s and lakeside views.
The Sculpture Trail at Hazelwood was developed in 1985, with the wooden sculptures consisting of carvings of fishermen, local characters, horses and snakes, and were described at the time as being “a dream like procession flitting across one’s line of vision to the shores of Lough Gill”.
Sadly the sculpture trail has, over the years, fallen victim to vandals and has declined into a very bad state of disrepair, with most of the sculptures now having been taken away permanently. Recent rumours have put forward the possibility of more sculptures being build, and the nature trail being rebuilt once again as a tourist attraction and local recreation area. Whether this proposal materialises we shall have to wait and see.
A short distance from the sculpture trail stands Hazelwood House (Not open to the public), owned until recently by the South Korean video tape manufacturing company Saehan Media who employed over 150 people in the production of video cassettes only yards from the rear (South) of Hazelwood House.
The Wynne family occupied Hazelwood House for three hundred years, during which time all the head’s of the Wynne household, with only one exception, bore the name of Owen Wynne.
The first occupant of Hazelwood House was Lieutenant General Owen Wynne 1664-1737, third son of Owen Wynne Senior of Lurganboy, County Leitrim and formerly of the Bala Estate of the Gwynne’s in the old county of Merionith in Wales, now known as the larger county of Gwynedd.
Hazelwood House was designed by the German architect John Cassels and built in 1722 of cut and polished limestone, in an Italian style, with a four storey facade and two lateral curving wings. The Hall door is reached by climbing a flight of stone steps leading onto a spacious platform which offers fine scenic views of the mountains of Leitrim and of North County Sligo.
The estates consisted of 900 acres of arable land of which 80 acres were under tillage, 130 acres were meadow and the remaining 690 aces were for grazing. A further 600 acres were of forestry.
Hazelwood was the venue for numerous sporting and leisure events through the years, with yacht racing taking place on Lough Gill throughout the 19th Century. Polo was another popular sport on the Hazelwood Estate as was shooting, horse racing and rowing.
Owen Wynne died in 1737, leaving the estate to his nephew Owen Wynne 1686-1755 who joined the army at the age of 20, bought a company two years later and served several years in Flanders.
Owen married his first cousin Catherine Ffolliott, daughter of Col John Ffolliott of Donegal, whose wife Lucy was the daughter of Owen Wynne of Lurganboy, County Leitrim. They had three sons John, Owen (who went on to succeed his father in the family estate) and John, and two daughters Lucy and Hannah.
Owen went on to become High Sheriff of County Sligo in 1723 and again in 1745 and High Sheriff of County Leitrim in 1724, he died in 1755 at the age of 79.
Hazelwood House was then inherited by his second son The Right Honourable Owen Wynne in 1754. Owen married Anne Maxwell whose brother John, the M.P. for County Cavan, was created Baron Farnham in the Irish peerage in 1756.
Owen went on to be the elected M.P. for County Sligo in the Irish Parliament, becoming an Irish Privy Councillor in 1756, thus earning himself the title of Right Honourable. He died in 1789 leaving six sons and three daughters.
The Hazelwood Estates were then inherited by his eldest son, also called Owen (1755 – 1841) who, one year later, married Lady Sarah Elizabeth Cole, the eldest daughter of the first Earl of Enniskillen, having two sons and two daughters.
Owen entered the Irish Parliament in 1778 as member for County Sligo whilst at the same time his father was member for the Borough.
Owen was a notable agricultural pioneer, intent on bringing the benefits of the English agrarian revolution to Ireland. Owen was twice the High Sheriff for County Sligo during his fathers lifetime.
John Arthur Wynne (1801 – 1865) succeeded to the family estates in 1841 after the death of his father.
He married Lady Anne Butler, second daughter of the first Marquess of Ormonde, who forebears were distinguished in the history of Ireland, coming from their stronghold at Kilkenny Castle.
Lady Anne Butler bore four children before her death eleven years after marrying John Arthur Wynne.
In 1843, as the famine was becoming more severe, John Arthur Wynne lowered the rents for his tenants. The following year he applied to the Office of Public Works for a grant to improve the navigable channel between to the port of Sligo. However this application was refused, so Wynne had the work of deepening the channel and making it more direct, completed by means of public subscription, this would have been of great benefit to the safe departure of ships full of emigrants heading for America and Canada.
Like other landlords, Wynne paid for the passage of emigrants, with surviving accounts showing he had paid the local Middleton & Pollexfen Shipping Company £364 for 81 passages.
He had also paid another local businessman Peter O’Connor £126, 15 shillings for similar deeds, the destination in each case being Quebec in Canada.
Three years after the extension of the Midland Great Western Railway from Longford to Sligo was completed in 1862, John Arthur Wynne died leaving his son Owen to become one of the promoters and one of the first directors of the Sligo, Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway which ran from Sligo to Enniskillen.
Owen Wynne (1843-1910) succeeded to the family estates in 1865 at the age of twenty three, marrying Stella Fanny, the youngest daughter of Sir Robert Gore-Booth of Lissadell, four years later.
Stella Fanny Wynne was accidentally killed on 27th February 1887. The accident occurred whilst Stella, who was driving her pheaton, (a light four wheeled carriage drawn by a single horse) on a journey to visit Captain Peel‘s house in Newtownmanor, when the horse bolted on a downhill section after the front wheels came off the pheaton.
Stella and her companion Miss McClintock were thrown from the carriage leaving Miss McClintock uninjured, however Stella hit her head against a rock gatepost, leaving her with a fractured skull, dying of her injuries two days later.
Owen Wynne in his youth he had served as a lieutenant in the 61st Foot Regiment, as well as following in the family tradition of being High Sheriff of County Sligo in 1875 and of County Leitrim in 1881.
Owen Wynne died in 1910 at the age of 67 and with no male heir to take over the estates, so too came the end of the Wynne‘s occupation of Hazelwood House.
After the death of Owen Wynne in 1910, Owen‘s daughter Murial and her husband Philip Dudley Percival lived in Hazelwood House, selling off the livestock and machinery until they left Hazelwood House in 1923.
From 1923 until 1930 Hazelwood House remained empty, after which a retired tea planter named Mr Berridge lived in the house, carrying out repairs and renovations until the house and lands were sold to the Land Commission and the State Forestry Department in 1937.
During the Second World War and until 1946, Hazelwood House was occupied by the Irish Army after which the Land Commission put the house up for sale. Under the terms of the sale however, the buyer was to demolish the house, level the site and remove all the materials.
Three days before the auction was due to be held, the offer was withdrawn, a decision welcomed loudly by The Sligo Champion newspaper, who printed a scathing attack on the Land Commission.
Later in the same year (1946) Hazelwood House was sold to Saint Columba’s Hospital who spent some £4000 repairing the building, using it for a number of years as a home for psychiatric patients.
In 1969 an Italian company called Snia bought Hazelwood House and built a factory to the rear (South) of the house. Snia had employed up to 500 people producing nylon yarn.
Like many businesses during the recession of the early 1980’s, Snia hit on hard times and the factory closed down in 1983.
Four years later in 1987 the factory and Hazelwood House were sold to the South Korean company Saehan Media who produced video tapes until 2005, when, due to a downturn in business as a result of the digital revolution, Saehan Media too closed down with the loss of over 150 jobs.
Once again the future of Hazelwood House looks uncertain.