Hillside above Father Hegarty’s Rock overlooking Lough Swilly goes under hammer today

The back shore at Porthaw, near where the plot of land is located.
The back shore at Porthaw, near where the plot of land is located.

A 28 acres plot of hillside, crowned by an ancient burial cairn and overlooking the spot where a Catholic priest was martyred during the penal era in the early 18th century, is to be sold off in an online auction by Allsop today.

The land is larger in area than the Walled City of Derry, situated in a much-loved beauty spot between Stragill Beach and the back shore at Porthaw, and commands incredible views of Lough Swilly.

The hillside towers immediately above the site of Father Hegarty’s Rock, where, according to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record (IER), Father James O’Hegarty, Dean of the Diocese of Derry and Parish Priest of Fahan and Desertegney in Inishowen, was murdered around 1711.

The plot also features, Croachaisil, which is believed to be a Bronze Age burial cairn, atop a rocky bluff, which is covered in heather, gorse, fern and other vegetation.

According to the auctioneers, the land, at Ballynarry, Buncrana, extends to 28.76 acres, is bounded by land on three sides and Lough Swilly and the hugely popular shoreside walk on a fourth, and has access through adjoining land via a long right of way.

It was in a sea-cave in this area, according to the IER, that Father James O’Hegarty took refuge from the Penal Laws, which persecuted Catholics and Presbyterians in Ireland in the 1600s and 1700s.

“From this wild seclusion he was accustomed to steal, under the shadow of night, to carry the ministrations of his religion to the hearths of the faithful fishermen around the coast and the hardy mountaineer further inland,” writes church historian J. K. O’Doherty in the IER 4th Series, Vol. XV, No. 438, June, 1904.

However, he was eventually captured and murdered by red-coats.

According to Dr. Edward Maginn, who was coadjutor Bishop of Derry a century after Fr. Hegarty’s death: “He was dragged from a mountain cavern - his hiding-place by day (by night only could he appear in those times, commune with his flock, instruct the living, console the dying, and bury the dead) - and was butchered on a rock on the banks of the Swilly, which shall be ever memorable from this bloody tragedy.

“The perpetrator of this murder was a Captain Vaughan, the son of an English colonel who served in the army of Oliver Cromwell (as Carlyle would say) ‘of blessed memory.’ The good captain believed he was doing the work of God, when imbruing his hands in the blood of Popish priests, as many now believe they are doing the same holy work in calumniating them.”

Michael Harkin, of Carndonagh, in his ‘Inishowen, its History, Traditions, and Antiquities,’ which was published in 1967, suggests Fr. Hegarty initially fled into the Swilly but was persuaded to return to shore with the promise his life would be spared.

“No sooner had he gained the top of the precipice than they seized him, cut off his head, and buried his body on the spot where they had committed the deed,” writes Harkin.

The land, which will be auctioned at the end of the month, is being held on reserve for E50,000 in advance of the online auction, which will take place on July 27.

Several other local properties will also be sold off on that date.

For instance a semi-detached four bedroom house at Carraig Bridge, in Bridgend, is being offered with a reserve ranging between E120,000 and E135,000.

In Portsalon, a detached four bedroom house, a couple of hundred metres away from ‘Warden’ Beach or Ballymastocker Strand, which once-upon-a-time, was voted the second most beautiful beach in the world by readers of England’s ‘The Observer,’ will start from between E85,000 and E95,000.

Thirteen flats and houses at Lennon Grove in Ramelton will go under the hammer for between E410,000 and E425,000 - that’s an average of E33,000 per unit at the upper range.

Several four bedroom detached houses at Lisnennan Court in Letterkenny will also be sold off with reserves ranging between E85,000 and E105,000. An end of terrace three bedroom house at Ashfield Terrace in Convoy is reserved for between E15,000 and E25,000.

A third floor one bedroom apartment at Westside Apartments, Letterkenny, startes from between E20,000 and E25,000. Plots of land at Rathmullan, Milford and Annagry are also among the lots.