GEMMA GRANT continues her series on the castles of Ireland
Lying in the heartland of the beautiful Glenveagh Mountains of North West Co. Donegal, Glenveagh National Park, Ireland’s second largest park, first opened its doors to the public in 1984, with the castle opening two years later.
The estate was bought by the Office of Public Works in 1975 from the third owner, Mr. Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia. In 1983, McIlhenny bestowed the castle, gardens and much of the castle contents to the Irish nation.
Situated on the rugged shores of Lough Veagh, its enchanting beauty was the very paradox that helped initially, to seal the fate of the local people.
On visiting the area in 1857, John George Adair remarked that he was enchanted by the surpassing beauty of the scenery. So much so, that by 1859, he acquired over 11,000 hectares of land on which to build his castle, modelled on Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Taking possession of his new surroundings, Adair set up a police barracks for the Royal Irish Constabulary. Many of the tenants were too poor to afford fencing and any farm animals that strayed onto his land met with a fine for the owners. They also faced prosecution for alleged sheep stealing.
To help with the maintenance of the estate, Adair preferred not to employ locally, but brought in Scotsmen, much to the annoyance of the populace. Adding to his acreage, the squire acquired the right to collect rents from the tenants – but not the right to own the land outright.
Grievances grew between landowner and native. On one occasion, while out shooting fowl, the locals, angry at what they considered trespassing, interrupted the shoot by beating the bushes, frightening the fowl away.
Angered, Adair threatened the locals, telling them they would pay dearly. In 1859, Adair acquired title to all of Derryveagh, placing the local people in a precarious position. The following year, tenants were informed that farm boundaries would be rearranged.
The rearrangement resulted in evictions for the entire Derryveagh population of some forty-seven families. By April of 1861, Adair, with over two hundred constabulary and crowbar men, levelled the houses to the ground leaving over two hundred men, women and children destitute.