An intrinsic part of Louth's history

An Grianan nestles peacefully in the scenic Wee County village of Termonfeckin, an aesthetically pleasing landmark oozing history, character and purpose. It is a unique, attractive and important place, with a key role to play in Louth’s heritage – past, present and future. By Gerry Robinson.
Owned by the ICA (Irish Countrywoman’s Association) for half a century now, An Grianán is of immense historical significance. Its history is interesting - the genesis of An Grianán in its original form dating back to over 220 years ago - but the spectacular residence also has a valuable contribution to make to the Ireland of today.

A charming manor house neatly sandwiched between the long sandy beaches of the County Louth coast and the Boyne Valley, the impressive building is home to a centre that is unique in Ireland, combining a weekend or week-long holiday with courses in arts, crafts, leisure, personal development or self-care. These courses cater for individuals or groups of adults at any age and skill level. And, contrary to collective misconception, they are open to both women AND men!

The college was the first residential adult education centre in Ireland, with its roots in the Irish Countrywomen’s Association – the oldest and largest women’s association in Ireland. The ICA movement was born in 1910 with the foundation of the Society of the Unite Irishwomen but assumed its present moniker in 1935 in keeping with the changing political climate.

Still active in every county in Ireland, the ICA has been to the forefront of women’s affairs for almost a century and has made a singular contribution to the advancement of women in Ireland over the past nine and a half decades. Due largely to ICA lobbying, the role of women in Irish society has been enhanced forever.

The literal translation of An Grianán is ‘the sunny place’. Few buildings are more aptly named. A beautiful stately home built in the late 18th century, An Grianán retains the essence of those times in its primarily Georgian composition. The core of the original building remains intact. Marvellously and tastefully preserved, it reflects the splendour of bygone years in its ornate ceilings and domed central stairway, while the perfectly-manicured grounds that complete the splendid 58-acre site also allude to a time long since passed.

The seeds for the An Grianán we know today were sown in 1952, when Muriel Gahan of the ICA proposed the idea for a college to Dr Morris, the envoy of the WK Kellogg Foundation of America. The foundation, which was preparing to donate its first grant in Ireland, was searching for a beneficiary that would best fulfil its fund’s social and educational purposes. The ICA proposal met these criteria, the funds were granted, and the ICA purchased what was then known as Newtown House, in trust for the benefit of the people of Ireland.

In October 1954 An Grianán was officially opened by the then President of Ireland, Seán T O’Kelly.
In 1956, the building was extended and refurbished, with the addition of a large theatre-style hall, named the Kellogg Hall. Two years later, the out-buildings and stables were converted into classrooms and extra accommodation. Further development work was carried out in 1979 and 1986 when new buildings were added with more accommodation, classrooms and a kitchen/dining room complex. A bar licence was granted in 1999.

An Grianán offers courses in arts, crafts, self care, personal development and leisure. All courses are open to both men and women over the age of 16. The course programme has evolved with the times, enabling the college to facilitate change and growth for all, to empower through lifelong learning, development and a culture of mutual support.

Renowned for its hospitality and warm welcome, the facility is also available (all year round) for week-long holidays or short breaks, at the weekend or even just for one day. Many organisations find the space and atmosphere of the establishment ideal for meetings or conferences.

The original Georgian style stately home was build as Newtown House circa 1780. All the features of the main rooms are retained, including a beautiful skylight in the main hallway which strikes the visitor immediately upon entry. The present-day offices, conference rooms, library and dining rooms are all located in the old building and every effort is made to ensure that the history of the old house is accurately reflected herein. This is successfully achieved, as there is a palpable air of history and nostalgia permeating every part of this charming building.

A new wing was added during the 1970s, replacing the home’s original stables, which were in a state of complete decay and could not be salvaged.

An Grianán couldn’t possibly have a more suitable setting, located six miles north of Drogheda in the postcard village of Termonfeckin, an area renowned for scenic beauty, stunning landscape, tranquillity and – of course – golf.

One of the ICA’s primary objectives has always been to educate women in new technologies as well as crafts and to help make rural Ireland a better place. But it is worth again stressing that An Grianán is in no way exclusive. It’s open to both men and women, with many of the courses suitable for both sexes.

In keeping with the face of modern Ireland and the huge demands that press upon people’s times, weekend courses (which run all year round) are becoming increasingly popular. Monday-Friday courses remain particularly attractive in the summertime.

An Grianán is open to groups who wish to have a browse around the building or stroll through the gardens, and bookings are also accepted for tea and dinner.

The spectacular property is now wholly owned by the ICA, a non-profit-making organisation which employs ten full-time staff members there.

On the site there are five four-star Bord Failte approved self-catering bungalows, which are available to rent to the general public. Groups are also availing of An Grianán’s conference and training centre, while ‘Over 55’ group holidays are also popular here. It’s certainly an interesting alternative to using a hotel.

An Grianán may have a slightly more commercial hue today than it had 200 years ago. But such exercises are necessary to keep this outstanding facility ticking over, keeping alive a strong link to the Wee County’s proud past.