Castles, Romance and heartbreak

This week Olga Bradshaw continues her trawl through the stories and lore of Donemana village as she talks to Raymond Forbes and Billy McClintock about the stories behind some of the grand old houses that have fallen into ruin...including Donemana Castle and the Ogilby Estate at Liscloon otherwise known as Altinaghfree Castle.

THE picturesque countryside in which nestles the townland of Liscooley harbours one of Northern Ireland's former grand homes which in its day was a centre of socialising for the great and the good of high society - Altinaghfree Castle, near Liscloon, just outside Donemana village.

At one time aristocracy and the successful artists of the day would have beaten a track to its impressive doors, but sadly today the former Ogilby Estate now stands in ruins. Still, it is a very impressive sight at the side of the road as you travel from Dungiven to Claudy.

William Ogilby was a landlord, and he farmed some of the land and the remainder of his estate he sub-let to tenant farmers. The castle, Billy McClintock tells me, was built somewhere around the mid-1800s, and Ogilby had two sons.

"He was married first on an English lady and she died, and then he married Adelene, a daughter of Douglas's from the rectory over there. She was quite young and they had two sons, and four daughters. One of the sons was a 'throughother' character - Claude - and he never done too well. He died about the village - he was a down-and-out sort of a craiter, de ye know?

"But James the other brother he went to Trinity College in Dublin, and he studied biology. So he came back and he was driving from the castle over to Derry, probably out over Curryfree country and he overtook this lovely young girl, carrying a bundle.

"She was a girl, Mary Jane Jameson from Glenagoorland, and she was what you called a stitcher and her father was a tenant farmer at Glenagoorland and it would have been Glebe land and belonged to the church. So tenant farmers and landlords didn't like each other too much and Ogilby being a landlord, well Jameson didn't like them too much, but anyway, young James asked the girl to get into his horse-drawn buggy - I suppose it was the sportscar in them days - she refused and said she did not take up with strange men," says Billy.

"Anyway, she walked beside the thing and they talked and eventually she plucked up courage and got in beside him, and before they reached Derry they fell in love. So he being gentry and her being poor girl, her people didn't approve of the romance at all, and thought this boy was going to take the mickey out of her, de ye know. Then of course, the Ogilbys were not happy about their son taking up with a low class person like that, and didn't approve of James' romance with her.

"Mrs Ogilby got to know about it and sent James away to some friends in Co Cavan to get him for to forget about this doll, but he didn't and they kept in contact with each other. He came back again and they used to meet away down in the valley someplace, and they used to leave messages for each other in a hold in a tree. Mrs Ogilby was having a banquet at the castle and all the nobility was invited and there was all the girls there from high class and people with money - and she was looking for potential brides and money.

"But what did the bold James do but land with Mary Jane and introduced her to all and sundry as his future wife, and all hell broke loose and James and her was banished and he said he'd never set foot again in Altinaghfree Castle," says Billy.

"He was banished then again to Australia, and him and Mary Jane corresponded by letter. And I suppose the post was few and far between in those days, and he arrived back without telling her and she was walking to Donemana this day and looked in the hole in the tree and this day there was a note in it. She recognised his writing right away and it said that while she was reading this he'll not be far away. She looked round her and he was standing behind a tree. And he asked her to marry him right away and they were to get married in Belfast by special licence.

"She went home and told her parents and they said no, that if she was to get married she would be married in the church she belonged to, Earls Gift or not be married at all. So they were married and moved to Australia, where he was the curator of the museum, and then he took up this biology and fisheries business, but she died. She lived only nine years after they got married and they never had any children, so he went into drink, and Claude the elder brother he drunk it out too, and the castle was sold," he says.

The building - it is actually a Tudor mansion - has been roof-less since 1909.

Donemana Castle

Another impressive building is Donemana Castle, which also has a sad story attached to it.

"According to what I've read in 1602 there was a man Sir John Drummond who was granted 1,000 acres by James I, and he built a Bawn (fortified farm house) as was required.

He started to build a castle for he was getting married to a French girl, and everything was going well until she was coming across from France and there was a storm in the English channel and the ship was sunk and she was drowned.

"Sir John packed up and off he went back to his townhouse in London, and that's the story.

"Somehow the building was let or allocated to Sir Claude Hamilton, an ancestor of the Hamiltons (Abercorn Family). But Claude never got to Donemana either - he died too before he got the length.

"He had two sons who were underage so Sir George, he lived at Mountcastle, and he was guardian, and Hamiltons built the castle anyway and it was known as Hamilton's Tower. There was a rebellion in 1641 and the Castle was burned and the occupants some were killed and Sir George's family were believed killed on the road to Derry in a place known thereafter as Murder Glen."