Local History by Seán Beattie


The Pitt Kennedys of Carndonagh Rectory from 1782

Cashelnagor Railway Station - possibly the most isolated station in Ireland

The old rectory belonging to the Church of Ireland was occupied until a couple of decades ago, the last incumbent being Rev. Henderson, I believe. The two storey house is not visible from the Carn-Ballyliffin road; the entrance is off the slip road to Malin. The building is still in fair shape but the farm yard is in good heart with impressive red-brick buildings surrounding a courtyard still intact, a model of good design. In fact, I recall seeing Rev. Gilmore’s predecessor selling cattle at Carn Mart as he was the last of the rectors to engage in farming. The old rectory dates from the mid 1700s. In 1782, Rev. John Pitt Kennedy arrived to serve the congregation of Donagh. He was married to Mary Cary from County Tyrone. Her family had impeccable Inishowen connections. An ancestor was Recorder of Londonderry in 1613 and other family members had lands at Redcastle. Rev Kennedy had a short stay as he died six years later leaving a wife and twelve children. All of the children had outstanding careers: five attended King’s Inns and became barristers or solicitors and three were in the navy or military. Among those born in Carndonagh was Tristam who has been credited with the establishment of legal education in Ireland.

In ancient Ireland, the brehon laws were taught in schools but in 1541 King’s Inns was established in Dublin following a curriculum based exclusively on the English education system. For over three centuries Irish students had to attend the inns in London if they wished to become barristers of solicitors. Kennedy wanted to end this system and establish an Irish legal training programme. Called to the bar in 1834 he joined Thomas Wyse MP is setting a process in train which is regarded as establishing the foundations of Irish legal training as we know it today. Later, individual lawyers set themselves up in chambers in houses in Henrietta St. in Dublin and thus developed a rudimentary private system of chambers in Ireland. Tristam Kennedy was the foremost individual in this process.

His brother Evory became a famous obstetrician at the Rotunda hospital in Dublin. Both were very close having attended Foyle College in Derry together in 1815.

A third son of Rev John Pitt Kennedy established a reputation as a great administrator and served on several government commissions that had a major influence on changes in the laws on Ireland. He too was called John Pitt after his father. His passion was for education and he wrote a book on the subject which has been reprinted and can be bought on Amazon.. During a spell in India he met Sir Charles Napier and when he returned to Ireland he set up agricultural schools designed to improve the economy of the country. One was at Cloghan near Ballybofey and there was another at Eglinton near Derry. He became a farm manager and married the daughter of Sir Charles Styles who owned large estates around Ballybofey in 1838.

Outside Creeslough stands the isolated train station called Cashelnagor, made famous by Cathal O Searcaigh in his poetry. The Kennedys had a shooting lodge nearby and they wielded their political influence to have the station constructed at the foot of Errigal. Their house still stands with the windows made of glass from the sand of Muckish mountain, a reminder of Donegal’s world famous glass industry. The interior has a great wall mural depicting Moses crossing the Red Sea. They have left their mark on the county in more ways than one.

Today I visited the old rectory where the Kennedys once lived. I was shocked to see the roof had been removed and It looked as if there had been a fire. I was in the house ten years ago and it was in good shape apart from some dampness. The farm buildings are still intact. I visited the old one-acre walled garden overlooking Trabrega Bay and some of the old trees are still standing. I noted a fine driveway lined with sycamore trees to the east of the house. It was wide enough for a carriage. As the floor had been removed I inspected the basement which had its own entrance and quarters for servants. Definitely not a site for a Blue Plaque now!


  1. Catherine McWilliams

    Wonderful as usual, Sean.

    So much well researched Donegal History in such a concise form yet so very comprehensive

    Totally addicted!

    Catherine McWilliams

  2. Hi Sean
    What a wonderful account of the rectory at Carn but heartbreaking at the same time. I has the privilege of living in this beautiful old house as a child between 1960 and 1964 when my father, Samuel Simpson was the C of I rector of the area. I returned on a numer of occasions as I had wonderful memories of the place and the people. One of my last visits was circa 1993 or so when the house was still occupied I think. I posted this video of my visit if you’re interested : http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=i8PGiKsUERs
    I returned about a year ago and noticed the entrance blocked by a large bush so didn’t go any further. Yesterday I looked at the house on Apple Maps and noticed that it seemed to be in ruins and your wonderful blog confirmed that today…what a terrible shame for a house to survive for over 300 years and reach such an ignominious end.
    Anyway, I suppose that’s progress and I will just be left with my memories of a house that brought us such joy for a small period of my life.

    • Comment by post author

      Thanks Peter for update. I did not know Rev. Simpson as I was in UCD at the time. I knew his successor Rev. Henderson I think. He used to drive a parishioner called Lizzie Crowe past my house on Sunday mornings to Carrowbeg church. Like the rectory this is also a ruin. I am interested if you have any photos of it or the interior. Using the internet I think we can at least keep the heritage of the rectory alive. The farm yard buildings are in great repair, superb red brick buildings. Pitt Kennedy would be very proud.

    • Hi Peter, Sean,

      I am delighted to have found some information on this property and the wider history of the family. I live near by so was doing some research on it and struggled to find much. I tried the youtube link but it no longer works – it would be great if you could re-send an updated link or any other material or photographic content you may have of the property.



      • John M. Collins

        Sorry, this is not my comment although I have checked on these Pitt Kennedys.

        John Collins

        Sent from my iPad


  3. Linda M Mason

    Rev. John Pitt Kennedy was my great great great grandfather and I was so delighted to find these interesting extracts about him and his home. His son, Evory the obsterician,, was my antecedent. I had no idea either that his wife, Mary, was widowed and therefore solely resposible for their large family. Not an easy job!! Maybe,one day, I might get to view the remains of the rectory.
    I know that Evory lies in a family vault in Dublin but I would love to know more of the Pitt Kennedys ie where buried and anything touching on the family’s life.

  4. Seamus Kennedy

    Hello Sean. The Rev. John Pitt Kennedy was also my great great great grandfather and I am descended from his son Lt. Col. John Pitt Kennedy. I grew up in the ‘shooting lodge’ close to Cashelnagor Railway Station. However, I don’t think the Kennedys caused the placement of Cashelnagor Railway Station – rather, they built the house in Cashelnagor, in 1906, because it was close to the existing station. There is a station gate house further along the line close to Loch Trusk which is even more remote with hardly a road leading to it.
    Keep up the good work.
    Regards, Seamus Kennedy

    • Comment by post author

      Hello Seamus. Great to hear from you and for clarification about the station. I have to blame my good friend May McClintock for this; it may have been appropriate to say that they had some influence on the location but the date 1906 seems to put the matter at rest. The line and the station have become shrouded in myth and fable but this is inevitable given the location and route adopted. Lord Lifford was responsible for bring the line past his house at Meenglass but he was heavily involved as an investor.
      I was aware from May that the papers were in NLI but have never seen them. I was there last week and will check next time. It is good to keep pressure on NLI to engage with deposited papers. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the family and the Congested Districts Board. I have argued elsewhere that the CDB failed to access relevant research on the county when it carried out the Baseline Reports in the 1890s. This is the first area I would look at.
      I am also interested in anything on the Pitt Kennedys and Carndonagh.
      I would be keen to get a paper for the Donegal Annual 2014 if you know of anyone doing research or perhaps you may wish to contribute yourself. Or perhaps one of the family has written but is not yet published.

      I don’t think Donegal Archives in Lifford has anything on deposit but the archivist does a very good job on Donegal material. I know some people in the county who are very interested in the family history and will be very pleased to hear that they are being dealt with. Sean

  5. John Collins

    Encountered the Pitt Kennedys when chasing my COLLINS lines. A Dr. Robert Collins married as his second wife, a Mary Kennedy, daughter of John Pitt Kennedy on 16 Aug 1849 at Taney Parish C of I, Dublin. She was living at St. Bridgets, Clondkeagh and Collins at 2 Merrion Sq. North, Dublin. Witnesses were Evory, William, George and “Irishtorn” (sic) KENNEDY.

    Evory was an obstritician like Collins and a few years younger, and both closely associated with the Rotunda Hospital. Collins is noted for his modifications in hospital practices that reduced childbirth fevers and deaths markedly. Kennedy would have been involved in those changes.

    Does anyone have details on which John Pitt Kennedy was Mary’s father? No children are known by that marriage although Collins had five by his first wife Barbara Clarke, daughter of Dr. Joseph Clarke, also of the Rotunda.

    • Comment by post author

      The Kennedy papers in the National Library in Dublin will provide the answer if you call.

      • John Collins

        Thanks Sean.
        Since I live in Canada, I’ll have to work on how I make contact with N.L.I. In Dublin. I do not expect there were children as both were age 49 at marriage. He was buried in his family plot at Coolick, north of Dublin. Her name was not with his so I suspect that she may heve been buried in her family’s plot.

        Mary’s status, spinster or widow, was not mentioned in the marriage record. I have no knowledge that she brought children into the marriage.

        Since the prior post, I have come to believe that the Rev. John Pitt Kennedy (born 1759) was her father, and the younger males of that family name were her brothers.

        Best to all

        John Collins

    • Seamus Kennedy

      If you click on the ‘online catalogue’ button on the national library of Ireland website, it will bring you to a wealth of information on John Pitt Kennedy, all searchable online. Hint: click on the ‘context’ button to see background information.
      Seamus Kennedy

  6. Peter Hope

    Hi Sean, I came across your blog when searching for details of the Rectory captured in a few slides taken by my parents. I stayed at the Rectory in late 1965 as a youngster with my family. The Padre (as my mother called him), Alec (or Alex) Stewart had been based in Beira, Mozambique, during the early 1960’s where my father (an expat from South Africa) worked for the Standard Bank. I have digitized a couple of slides if you are interested. Regards, Peter Hope.

  7. Local Eye

    The house had now been demolished and most of the trees felled. It is believed the house was deliberately set on fire to ensure that heritage people would not put a protection order in it. It is a very sorry site indeed.

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