Like Kylemore Abbey, the handsome neo-Gothic castle at Glenveagh owes its appearance to Victorian romantic imagination rather than medieval origins. The castle is surrounded with stunning gardens that contrast beautifully with the rugged natural setting. The castle was designed by architect John Townsend Trench and built between 1867 and 1873 for John George Adair. He was known as a ruthless landlord, who perpetrated the Derryveagh Evictions, one of the most notorious evictions of the 19th century, when he expelled nearly 250 tenants off his land so their poverty would not compromise his view of the landscape. This knowledge of their harsh origins lends an underscoring of tragedy and poignancy to the beauty of Glenveagh and the castle grounds.
The Derryveagh Evictions
The families had a hard life on the beautiful hills of Derryveagh, largely making a living from cattle and sheep farming and turf cutting, this became more difficult after John Adair purchased the land and exclusive use of the mountain commonage in the Derryveagh estate, bringing in Scottish sheep farmers to mind Scottish sheep.
One of those evicted wrote a song called Cruel John Adair to commemorate the event, as featured in Gleanings from Glendowan, Gartan and Glenveagh by Fr. Frank McHugh (2017).
For fifty weary years our race tilled the mountain side;
And smoothed Glenveagh’s old rugged paths, and stemmed the Atlantic tide.
Full fifty homes are levelled now and wild cries rend the air.
May fifty thousand curses fall on cruel John Adair.
You can read more on Derryveagh in a series of articles in the Silver Voice by Angela Gallagher.
Glenveagh Castle was built after the evictions, between 1868–1873. The architects are said to have been influenced by Donegal Castle in Donegal Town. After John Adair’s death, his widow Cornelia contributed to a number of local causes, including the construction of St. Eunan’s Cathedral in Letterkenny, and the erection of a large cross at Lacknacoo, one of the sites that claims to be the birthplace of Colmcille. The placement of a large cross by the Adair family here is especially poignant, as there is a tradition that those who have to emigrate sleep on the Leac na Cumha (who’s name translates to something like ‘the flagstone of loneliness‘). Many of those evicted at Derryveagh would have undoubtedly spent a night there before going on to Australia, America and Canada.
The story of Glenveagh continues below the gallery.