Setback for campaigner in fight to restore stately home linked to Siege of Derry

Boom Hall was built in the 18th century but has been in a dilapidated state since it was damaged and abandoned in 1969
Boom Hall was built in the 18th century but has been in a dilapidated state since it was damaged and abandoned in 1969

A campaigner for the restoration of a derelict stately home with links to the Siege of Derry has failed in a High Court bid to secure legal ownership of the building.

Bartholomew O’Donnell was appealing a refusal to grant him adverse possession rights to land within the walls of Boom Hall in the city.

Some of the former residents of Boom Hall

Some of the former residents of Boom Hall

He had also sought to be declared owner of its stones, masonry and bricks.

But despite expressing admiration for Mr O’Donnell’s efforts over decades to save the historic building, a judge ruled that he has not acquired legal title.

Built in the 18th century, Boom Hall took its name from being located close to where ships breached the boom across the River Foyle to end the Siege of Derry in 1689.

Since being badly damaged and abandoned in 1969, however, it has remained in a dilapidated state with roof, floors and windows all missing.

Eighteen years later Mr O’Donnell became aware of a plan to demolish the building and use the masonry elsewhere in the city, the court heard.

At that stage he secured a right to remove the stonework for his own use – although his intention was always to avoid any demolition.

Arrangements were made with builders to block up ground floor windows in a bid to prevent intruders gaining access.

In 1997 he reached an agreement after the then Derry City Council purchased the estate.

Its terms included acknowledging the council as owner of the estate and building, determining Mr O’Donnell has the right to demolish Boom Hall and remove the stones from the site, and granting him 12 months to exercise that right.

His case was that over a subsequent 12-year period from 1998 to 2010 he established the exclusive possession of the disputed lands necessary to oust ownership.

In a case against the council first heard at Londonderry County Court, Mr O’Donnell sought a declaration that he had extinguished its title to land inside the buildings walls by adverse possession.

He also wanted a ruling that he is the owner of the masonry at Boom Hall.

The court heard how he has stayed overnight in his car at the property on occasions to protect it from vandals.

It also emerged that representatives from Harvard University Graduate School of Design were asked in 2005 to present plans for key regeneration sites in the city – including Boom Hall.

In 2010 consultants prepared a report in relation to a potential living history development project at the location.

On being refused the declaration Mr O’Donnell mounted an appeal at the High Court in Belfast.

Upholding the original verdict, Mr Justice Burgess said: “I have nothing but admiration for the appellant in this case, and his intentions which, contrary to the basis of his claim, were and continue to be directed towards the public interest in the restoration of a building with such a history.

“However, his actions in my opinion were clearly directed to holding the status quo, to avoid further deterioration, in order that others could acquire the property and carry out the restoration he so obviously desires.

“However, those intentions went no further and therefore ... I determine that he has not acquired legal title by way of adverse possession over the building.”

Turning to the issue of the bricks and stones, the judge held Mr O’Donnell knew he had a year to find an answer to his long-term objective before his rights expired.

Dismissing the appeal, he confirmed: “In the absence of demolition within the 12-month period granted to the appellant, he retains no interest in the masonry.”