It All Started With a Wedding
“Linen is the aristocrat of textiles. Strong as steel, delicate as silk with an appearance as varied and attractive as an Irish landscape, it is not surprising that it has been preferred by people of good taste for well over 4,000 years.” Wallace Clark, 1982
The Clarks of Upperlands have been involved with the production of linen since 1736.
The firm, William Clark & Sons, harnessed the power of the water which cascades down the slopes of the nearby Sperrin Mountains and courses through the centre of Upperlands as the Clady River.
A few years later, the company built the first of four dams to power a beetling mill and over the next 170 years constructed what was described in 1929 as the best developed small hydro scheme in the world. The four man-made lakes or “dams” (Craig’s dam, Island dam, Green dam and Lapping-Room dam) are today stocked with fish for anglers and surrounded by scenic walks for recreation. William Clark & Sons is still operating in Upperlands today.
In 1888 during the reign of Queen Victoria, the man who was to eventually become Company Chairman, Henry Jackson Clark (“Old Harry”), ran away at the age of 18 determined to seek his fortune in America. His father caught up with him in Liverpool and made a deal – he could go to America, but as a salesman for Upperlands linen. His trip was a brilliant success. Apart from booking hundreds of orders, he visited an Indian chief and went bear-hunting in Quebec, collected a bad debt in Chicago and inveigled his way into a White House reception where he shook hands with President Cleveland. Throughout his life, he retained a fierce affection for God’s country, as he called the United States. See more at the dedicated site: http://www.harryjacksonclark.com.
By 1895 Harry was ready to marry Alice so he built her a home and named it “Ardtara”.
Harry and his family thrived with the growth of the William Clark & Sons linen empire into the 20th century. But by the end of the Second World War, many of the everyday uses for linen had been replaced by synthetics and other fabrics. Linen was nudged into the aristocracy of textiles. By 1956, Old Harry had passed away and by 1975 one of the finest homes in Northern Ireland was bereft of family life.
Happily a Northern Ireland woman came to the rescue 15 years later in 1990. With help from her civil engineer father, her mother, investment from North America and a natural gift for interior design, Maebeth Fenton Martin restored the home to accommodate visitors in the comfort and style of “Old Harry’s” bygone era — but with all the conveniences of an elegant country house hotel. Ardtara Country House opened for business in 1994 and won best accommodation award at the annual NITB tourism awards in 1995.
In the early 21st century, ownership passed to Dr Alistair and Nancy Hanna who continued the investment necessary to maintain the standards which have helped Ardtara Country House achieve a loyal clientele and accolades from the National Geographic Traveler, TripAdvisor, the Automobile Association, the Belfast Telegraph and Ireland’s Blue Book.
Upon Dr Hanna’s death in 2014, Nancy sold Ardtara to Marcus Roulston and Ian Orr (Chef Patron), Co-Owners of the Browns Restaurant Group. Their additional renovation and investment have helped Ardtara continue its award-winning success.
Over the past 20 years, Ardtara Country House has hosted hundreds of memorable weddings as well as ‘romantic couples’, ‘golfing heroes’, ‘Nobel prize winners’, ‘Olympic champions’, ‘Hollywood celebrities’ and thousands of loyal local neighbors.