Official Website - St Johnston and Carrigans, Donegal, Ireland
This castle situated about a mile south of
St Johnston is about seven miles upstream along the River Foyle from Derry.
Only the keep now remains. During
the last century, the walls of the courtyard which lay between the Foyle and the
fortress were still standing and over the arch of the gateway a small stone was
engraved with the initials, 'I.S.E.S.T.' bearing the date 1619. This has
unfortunately disappeared since then. Several scholarly attempts have been
made to decipher this inscription but to no avail.
Another inscribed stone has the following: - 'The Hon. Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of John Lord Culpepper, and widow of Colonel James Hamilton (who lost his life at sea in Spain, in the service of his King and country), purchased this manor and annexed it to the opposite estate of the family, which estate itself has improved by her prudent management to nearly the yearly income of the dower she received threout. She has also settled her younger son, William Hamilton, Esq; in an estate acquired in England, of nearly equal value in the purchase to this, and given every one of her numerous offspring descended from both branches, some considerable mark of her parental care. Her eldest son, James, Earl of Abercorn and Viscount Strabane, hath caused this inscription to be placed here for the information of her posterity. Anno 1704.'
To say she purchased the manor is not correct, as we shall
A few incidents in the castle's history
are of particular interest. In the sixteenth century it was the chief
residence of the beautiful Ineen Dubh, daughter of MacDonnell Lord of the Isles
and mother of the famous Red Hugh O Donnell, Chief of Tirconaill. It was
said of her that she was, 'excelling in all the qualities that became a woman,
yet possessing the heart of a hero and the soul of a soldier."
The State Paper recording her possession reads: "From Cul-Mac-Tryan runs a bogg three myles in length to to the side of Lough Foyle - in the midst of the bogg is a standing Loughe called Bunaber - here at Bunaber dwells O'Donnell's mother (Ineed Dubh MacDonnell). Three miles above Cargan stands a fort called McGevyvelin (Mongevlin) upon the river of Lough Foyle-O' Donnell's mother's chief house!"
Being a princess in her
own right, she had the privilege of bringing her own personal bodyguard to Mongevlin following her marriage to Red Hugh's father. She chose 100 of
the largest soldiers she could find in Scotland. By a strange coincidence, about
eighty of those were named Crawford. When the castle was abandoned by the
O'Donnells, the Crawfords settled in the adjoining district where their
descendants are to be found to the present day.
In 1608, when Sir Cahir O Doherty
tried to recapture Derry he sent Sir Niall Garve O Donnell to Lifford to prevent
reinforcements reaching the city from that quarter, but Niall Garve had bigger
spoils in mind. He wanted to be close to the scene where the booty was
being shared out and Derry offered the best hopes for any persona as avaricious
as he. He turned Ineen Dubh out of Mongevlin and there installed himself
to keep a closer watch on affairs in the city. He sent his men to plunder
all the y possibly could but Sir Cahir incensed at this turn of events, evicted
Niall Garve from Mongevlin and reinstated the Ineen Dubh. It was
impossible for an establishment so hotly contested among members of the same
family to withstand the effects of these quarrels. Actually in a very
short time the castle was abandoned.
On 23rd July 1610, Ludovick Kennedy, Duke
of Lennox, was granted the small proportion of Mongevlin containing 1,000 acres
and the advowson of the rectory of Taghoylin (Taughboyne) and Letergull,
containing another one thousand acres. Among various other grants he now
received was Castleufe (now Drumatoland) with permission to hold a market and
weekly fair in St Johnston. He died without heirs, so the property passed
to his brother, Esme, who became Third Duke of Lennox. Both James and Esme
were poisoned. History does not tell us why, or if anyone was suspected of
the crime. Esme's widow later married James, Second Earl of Abercorn.
Through this matrimonial arrangement, the Mongevlin property passed to the
Baronscourt family, not by way of purchase as suggested by the tablet.
In 1619, Captain Pynnar's Survey mentioned the castle, "Sir John Stewart hath 3,000 acres called Cashell Hetin and Littergull. Upon this proportion there is built, at Magevlin, a very strong castle, with a flanker at each corner".
In a survey around that time, it is
reported that "Sir John Stewart Kt hath built a castle of lime and stone on
the river of Lough Foyle, 50 feet long and 25 feet broad, and 3 1/2 storeys
high, slated and with 4 flankers on the top thereof, and an Iron door portcullis
wise. The principal timber and joists of the floor being of oak are laid
but not boarded nor partitions made, the iron grates for the windows being
within the castle ready to be set up. There is a town erected called St
John's Town which is intended to be made into a borough town, where there are
already 30 thatched houses and cabins inhabited by British whereof there is one
stone house thatched and walls of four houses more made of clay and stone 6 feet
high. There is a foundation of a good church of lime and stone in the
town, the walls whereof are 12 feet high. There is also near the town a
water and tucking mill and also another mill in the proportion of Lettergull and
there is likewise on this proportion 15 stone houses lying dispersedly, whereof
some of two stories high and the rest 1 1/2 stories and there is also divers
other houses inhabited by Britons."
During the siege of Derry, when Lundy
returned to the city he insisted that it should not be defended and many took
the same view. It was decided to bargain with the Jacobite generals about
surrender terms. A delegation for the purpose was sent to St Johnston
which included Archdeacon Hamilton.
Obviously it is the ruins of the latter,
not those of the O Donnell fortress as it is commonly supposed, that remain to
the present day.
By the mid-18th century it was evident
this castle of the Abercorns was beginning to show signs of wear. In a
letter dated 28th August 1745 from John McClintock of Strabane to the Earl of
Abercorn then in Essex, it is noted, "The roof of the castle of Magavlin is
greatly out of repair and John Crawford who is tenant for it refused to repair
it. I don't think he is in a condition to repair the castle or to keep it
in repair and if your Lordship is pleased to order the timber of the roofs and
floors to be disposed of, there may be something to be got for them which will
be lost if they are exposed to the storms of another winter...." (John
Crawford was evidently acting as caretaker/tenant and was in no way responsible
for the repairs). The letter concludes "...if it pleases God to send
some good weather to get the crop raped and carried home".
(Contemporary pronunciation and local usage underlined).
On 19th September following, in a direct
reply to this letter, James, Earl of Abercorn wrote to McClintock, "I shall
be very unwilling to pull down Magavlin castle but would rather have you get
Andrew Kinneir or some workman to view it and if the expense is not too great I
would repair it a little."
Evidently the Earl had a good look at the
Castle in the meantime because on 26th of October that year , writing from
London to McClintock, he said, "As I think Magavelin Castle cannot be
repaired at this season, I believe it will be best to leave the roof on and let
it take its chance till I come into the country."
From this stage onward, vandalism of the
Castle was rife. In a letter dated 28th of August 1746 McClintock writing
to the Earl of Abercorn, who was then in Dublin, said, "Concerning removal
of lock from the Hall door of the Castle of Magavelin by James Davis, who
claimed he had purchased that lock and that he would likewise have the two
chimney pieces (mantelpieces) which I stopped him to carry away some years
The Castle does not get a mention in the
Abercorn letters again which leads to the suspicion that it was gradually
falling into decay and the Hamiltons (Earls of Abercorn) lost all interest in
the building with the passing of the Act of Union when the town of St Johnston
was disenfranchised. They saw no benefit in preserving the trappings of
aristocracy in that particular area. The land though, still remained their
property and would have been greatly prized because of its situation along the
Foyle which, even then, was one of the major fishing rivers in Ireland.
Riparian rights would have been a marketable commodity. Furthermore, the
land was rich, arable, and convenient to their other properties which qualities
gave it additional value.
On 20th of April 1758 Nathaniel Nesbit of
Lifford agent for the Earl, reported that a fine market was held in St Johnston
on 17th and that £100 of green linen unbleached was bought. He said that
the people of the town wanted to hold horseracing and cockfighting but he would
not allow it as he didn't want to gather idle people at all into the fair.
He also informed his Lordship that turf cutting at Carrickmore was stopped.
The above account makes no claim to be
complete. However, it is impossible to avoid the comment that the
Lennoxes, and the Abercorns all are gone from the district. The
Crawfords originally and so humbly connected with the castle now remain.
Finally, Joyce in "Irish Names of Places" Vol II page 31 states,
"There is a place on the west bank of the Foyle, five miles north of
Lifford, called Mongavlin; but it should have been called Moygavlin, for the
Irish name, as the Four Masters write it, is Maghgaibhlin, the plain of the
little (river) fork; from aaghal (gaval), a fork, diminutive gaibhlin."
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