Local History by Seán Beattie


Tiernaleague House, Carndonagh

The house was the home of the Cary family who were the landlords for the town of Carndonagh and was built by Robert Cary about 1820. Cary owned the extensive woodlands of Cnocnacoilldara. Subsequently it was acquired by Rankins. Samuel Rankin was a close friend of James Norris Thompson (where Maura Harkin lives), a prominent magistrate, diarist and proficient farmer.During the Great Famine, members of the Rankin family frequently engaged in hunting with horse and hound and returned in the evening to a great feast or supper. In the 1870s Samuel was Chairman of the Board of Guardians of the Workhouse where he came into contact with the poorest of the peninsula. In 1870 William Rankin went on a holiday to America and his sister, Sara did her best to stop him because she considered it was too dangerous and she was afraid he would never return alive. The Rankins, the Carys and the Thompsons were highly literate people and all of them wrote poetry which is extant. Thompson used his writing skills to create a diary which is a magnificent record of life in Carn in the 1800s. Joyce Cary was in good company.  A cousin of the Rankins had an international reputation as a writer of children’s books. Her name was Enid Blyton.

The enlarged Victorian bay windows of the house are unusual; they flooded light into the living spaces in the early morning. The porch is striking and has features like a battlement as if the house was built for defensive purposes. The original hallway was lined with fine furniture and bookcases. The porch was purely for ornamental reasons to emulate the minor castles that were being built in the same period. The roof has a very strong edge. Until recent times, the original gravel path leading to the house was in use. Captain McClintock later acquired the property which was a large demesne consisting of 4 acres of parkland and a fish pond which supplied he house with a regular supply of fish. There was also a one acre walled garden with a wall of over six feet and a pretty gate lodge. Up to 5 men were employed to grow vegetables, potatoes, fruits, apples and rhubarb for family use. Part of this wall is still standing and the interior of the walls was lined with red-brick to retain heat for the plants and trees.The stables at the back were extensive.Horses were kept here when Samuel Rankin was Master of the Carndonagh Hunt. The Chief Secretary for Ireland visited the house in the 1890s when the railway line was constructed. In the 1890s the house was a popular venue for garden parties and local clergy of all denominations, members of the gentry and other landlords attended. Up to ten people were employed at times as housekeepers, butlers, cooks, stewards and gardeners. Hired servants were on hand during the hiring season from May to November to carry out farm duties. As the house was about a mile from the town centre, it was considered a country residence so the parties were held on the open lawns in front of the residence. The McClintocks were the last landlord family to live there; they went to live with relations at Hamstead Hall in Derry around 1940. A Derry tobacconist William Doherty, with Glenagannon (Inishowen) connections, bought the house from McClintocks for £1,200. He lived there for a while with his sister Catherine. Both were unmarried. After Catherine’s death, William sold the house, lands and woods to a well-known farmer and cattle dealer, James Doherty (Glackin) of Pound St., Carndonagh. James had little time for the house and the woods were of no benefit to a livestock farmer so he disposed of both to another family of O’Dohertys. The woodland had been cut down during World War One but has since returned to full growth. James Doherty worked the fairs of Inishowen buying and selling cattle. I recall seeing him buying stock in Carn mart in the 1970s. I also knew his daughter, Mary Carmel who was a radiographer in Dublin. She died recently.

William Doherty’s sister Catherine made her will in 1939; she died on 10 July 1940 and the will was admitted to probate in 1941. Her witnesses were a Derry manufacturer, John Grant and Charles McCormick, solicitor. She left large sums to charity – £2,000 to Fr. Reid, PP, Carn for the new church; £1,000 to the Nazareth Sisters, and other sums to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Vincentians, the Oblates and the Jesuits, some of whom had given missions in the town. The residue went to Fr. Reid for the new church. It is said that Fr. Reid was unhappy with the amounts donated to charity as he had a church to build.

When James Doherty disposed of the house and garden at Tiernaleague , it  remained in the O’Doherty name. Sally O’Doherty was a primary school teacher at Culkeeny N.S. near Malin, the daughter of an RIC constable. She married Eamonn de Valera, a son of former Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera who later became President of Ireland. There were 5 boys in the de Valera family: Eamonn, Vivian, Ruairdhi, Toirleach (Terry) and Brian and all of them stayed in Tiernaleague House. In fact I recall my mother having a conversation with Ruairdhi de Valera, as he extolled the beauties of Tiernaleague House and environs: the lush farmland, the rich moorlands, the old rectory, the sound of the bell of the Protestant church and nearby beaches. (Thanks to Eamon de Valera, McCann FitzGerald Solicitors, Dublin, grandson of Eamonn for this information)

I visited the house in the 1980s to meet the last occupant Miss Alice O’Doherty. She was a teacher and member of Donegal Historical Society. As far as I recall her sister owned the Montague Arms in Portrush. Sometimes I dropped in during school lunch break. She always asked me to stay for tea but I was always in a hurry to return to my classroom duties. I was part of a small group of teachers who got permission to use her private walk at lunchtime. The family put the house on the market in the 1980s for £80,000 but it got no offers. Some years later the house was bought by Patrick Shorthall who has renovated it and resides there with his family. The gate lodge has also been restored but it is not possible for a member of the public to wander along the old gravel path to the house as an impressive wrought iron gate bars the way. Tir-na-liag = the land of the standing stones.


  1. Kevin Doherty

    This is utterly fascinating. Do you happen to know if the woodlands at Cnocnacoilldara were sold on with the house or are they owned by the State or an organisation now? As a Churchtown Doherty I am very enamored by them and would love to know anything about them, Churchtown or Carn!

    • Comment by post author

      Kevin- Thanks for your comments. The good news is that the woods are in safe hands – those of local owners who will keep it under their control. A walk has been preserved from the main road to the mass rock and I have heard proposals for extending it across the hill. But this is unofficial and I am not sure if all landowners are on board.


    As a child my sister and I walked passed THE TIERNALEAGUE HOUSE on our visit to our
    grandmother….Brigid Kearney and aunt Mary. Maura Harkin lived next to the police station–
    we lived in the post office house where Mamma was the postmistress. Grandpa William O’Connor
    was the blacksmith on the New Road . HAPPY MEMORIES. mary gemma hearney HUBBELL.

    • seanbeattie

      Mary Gemma – thanks for your memories. Please keep in touch Sean

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