Glengollan House

The story of Glengollan House

The following article appeared in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper on the 15th Dec 1937. Thanks are due to Roberta Ferguson for supplying the archives and photographs for this post.

"From Bishop's palace to republican fortress - the end of an historic Co. Donegal mansion." 
J. Jay tells the story of Glengollan House, Fahan. A 300 yr old mansion which is to be demolished.

Oh there's not in our island a vale or a lawn, like that lovely recess in the valley of Fahan.
Sweet vale of repose may thy inmates be blest, both here and hereafter with comfort and rest.
May the blessings they wish to the world be their own, and long may they flourish in old Inishowen.

Thus a century ago wrote Rev John Graham, sometime curate of Fahan and afterwards rector of Tamlaghtard or Magilligan. Today sadly disturbed by the noise of contractor's workmen steadily engaged in the demolition of Glengollan House, situated about ten miles north of Londonderry on the shore of Lough Swilly. 
   Few persons are probably aware of the historic association of this once imposing building, now fated to annihilation. It is stated to have been originally erected about three hundred years ago by the celebrated prelate, Dr John Bramhall, who occupied the See of Derry from 1634 to 1660. At all events he made Glengollan House his favourite residence when in this country and many of the letters of his published correspondence are dated from the 'charming recess in the valley of Fahan'.
   A native of Worcestershire, he first came to this country as chaplain to Wentworth, Earl of Stafford, when Charles 1 had appointed the latter Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Subsequently promoted to the Bishopric of Derry, Dr Bramhall was consecrated in the Castle Chapel, Dublin, by the famous Archbishop Ussher and other prelates. 
   On arrival in Derry, Bishop Bramhall found his diocese in an impoverished condition, but applying himself with remarkable real, he achieved such outstanding success that he is said to have doubled the revenues within a few years. So mush so, indeed, that Harris in his 'Writers of Ireland' enthusiastically remarks - 'Many poor vicars now eat of the tree which the Bishop of Derry planted, and many of their grounds refreshed by his care and labour, who know not the source of the river that makes them fruitful.'
   The Bishop's sojourn at Glengollan house, however, was destined to be made during a troublous period. His active measures in promoting the interests of his clergy and in eliminating abuses soon aroused influential opposition. Accordingly, in the Parliament of 1640 he was impeached of high treason by Sir Brian O'Neill and a party of Irish Roman Catholics 'backed by some violent and deluded Protestants.'
   Although otherwise advised, Dr Bramhall,  with characteristic courage, proceeded to Dublin to meet the accusation, and for a time suffered the ignominy of imprisonment. No charge against him, however, could be substantiated, unless that of endeavouring to retrieve the ancient patrimony of the Church can be regarded as possessing criminal tendencies. Though the malice of his enemies was eventually overruled by the King, the result was not altogether satisfactory, because while the Bishop was liberated without any public acquittal, the criminal charge remained indefinite to be revived when the opportunity presented itself to his enemies. 
   Shortly after the rebellion of 1641 Bishop Bramhall found it necessary for his personal safety to leave his beloved Glengollan and his diocese for England. After the Battle of Marston Morr he retired to the Continent, where he remained until 1648 when he returned to Ireland, passing through a succession of hazards of which the most remarkable was his subsequent escape to France. With the Restoration of 1660 he returned to Ireland to be rapidly advanced from the See of Derry to the Primacy of Armagh, which exalted office he only enjoyed until 1663 when he succumbed to an attack of apoplexy in the seventieth year of his age. 
   Later Glengollan House became the residency of some of the vicars of the parish of Fahan. Its next distinguished occupant was Dr William Knox, also Bishop of Derry. The third son of Viscount Northland, Dr Knox was born on June 13, 1761. Primarily appointed in 1794 to the joint Bishoprics of Killaloe and Kilfenora, he was translated to the See of Derry in 1803 as successor to the famous Earl of Bristol. Finding the diocese neglected and the Cathedral badly in need of repair, he spent vast sums of his private wealth on remodelling the Cathedral, and contributed munificently towards various charities. His expenditure on the Cathedral was alone estimated to exceed £3,000. His reconstruction of the diocese is evident in the number of churches and glebe-houses  now existent which were mainly originated by his efforts. Amongst them may be mentioned Christ Church, Londonderry, and the present Parish Church of Fahan. 
   Bishop Knox eventually disposed of Glengollan House to the Norman family, then resident in Fahan House, a neighbouring villa which is still occupied. 
   As the Normans had intimate connections of an historic nature to the city of Londonderry, it is somewhat interesting to trace briefly the family descent. Tradition has it that the Norman family came originally from Somerset or Sussex. Samuel Norman, who was Mayor of Londonderry in 1672-3-4, and an eminent figure during the siege, is credited with the founding of the family in Ireland. His tombstone, within the precincts of Derry Cathedral, bears the following inscription - 'Near this place lieth the body of Samuel Norman, Esq., late of this city; he married Margaret, the daughter of William Latham (sometime Recorder of this place) and Elizabeth, the daughter of John Gage, Esq., of Magilligan, in this county. He departed this life on 17th May, 1692.'
   His two sons, Charles and Robert, emulated their honoured father, in so far as each served double terms as Mayor of Londonderry, and on several occasions were elected to represent their native city in Parliament. Charles, the elder, died childless, but of Robert's family, the fourth son, Conolly, eventually succeeded to family estates, portion of which embraced several townlands surrounding Glengollan. Florinda, a daughter of Robert, was mother of Charles Gardner, the first Viscount Mountjoy. 
   Thomas, second son of Conolly, appears to have been the first of the Norman family to occupy Glengollan House, and on his death in 1833, was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles. It is interesting to note that the latter, who was a keen yachtsman and racehorse owner, and who died at sea in August, 1843, was the first to be interred in the family vault, situate in the grounds of Glengollan House. His only son, Thomas, born 1831, was High Sheriff for Donegal in 1864, J.P. for the county, and captain in the Donegal Militia. 
   He married his cousin, Miss Anne Norman, and died in May 1894, leaving his only son, Charles, who was killed while on active service in France during the Great War. The latter left an only daughter, from whom the Free State Ministry of Lands acquired the Glengollan estate under the Land Act of 1923. 
   Glengollan housed Crown forces in 1920; also Republicans in 1922, but the last real tenant was County Court Judge Cooke, the final holder of such office for County Donegal. It was reckoned one of the largest of is kind in the North-West, but decay from lack of occupation had made sever ravages in recent years. Its considerable size, indeed, provided serious objection towards letting , owing to the high cost of modern maintenance, The Free State Ministry, therefore finding no use for Bishop Bramhall's once palatial edifice, obtained a purchaser desiring building material for the erection of a villa nearby, and partitioned the splendid demesne of several hundred fertile wooded acres among a dozen 'landless men.'
   So passes Glengollan! Such, no doubt, has become the fate of many similar manorial halls of 'the old gentry' in the Free State, and merely accentuates one of the phases of a revolutionary change which is gradually asserting itself in that fateful area. 


  1. This was my families home. I am a direct decendant of the Norman family 😊

  2. Samuel Norman ( 1625 to 1692) was my Great great great great great Grandfather.


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