Salthill Garden, Salthill House, Mountcharles, County Donegal

contact: Elizabeth Temple

Tel:  087-7988078, 074-9735014

www.donegalgardens.com

Listed Open Dates in 2021: May 1, 6-8, 13-15, 20-22, 27-29, June 3-5, 10-12, 17-19, 24-26, July 1-3, 5-9, 12-24, 26-31, Aug 2-7, 9-22, 26-28, 30-31, Sept 1-3, 6-10, 13-17, 20-24, 27-30, 2pm- 6pm

Fee: adult/OAP/student €5, child under 10 years €2, over 10 years €3  

Views of the garden – on the right hand picture, you can see the garden behind the outbuildings, with just grass and the greenhouse. On the left hand side, you can see the garden developing.

In July 2021, Stephen and I dropped in to Salthill Garden on our way up to visit his mum in Donegal. Salthill Garden is just outside Donegal town. The gardens are listed in the Revenue Section 482 list, but the house is not, although the house was built in approximately 1770 and might have been designed by Thomas Ivory (1732 – 1786), who built the beautiful Blackhall Place in Dublin, which now houses the Law Society.

Blackhall Place, Dublin, designed by Thomas Ivory, who may have designed Salthill House in Donegal.

Salthill House was the house for Agent to Conyngham family of The Hall, Mountcharles. The Conynghams of Slane Castle are descendants of the Conynghams of Mountcharles. [1]

Salthill House, image from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
The view of the back of Salthill House.
The Hall, Mountcharles, built for the Conynghams in approximately 1750, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The Conynghams lived in Donegal possibly as early as 1660, when Albert Conyngham purchased land there. [2] The first Conyngham to move to Ireland was Alexander (1610-1660), who joined the clergy and was appointed in 1611 to be the first Protestant minister of Enver and Killymard, County Donegal. [3] He was appointed to the deanery of Raphoe in Donegal in 1630. His son Albert lived at Mountcharles. It was Albert’s son Henry (1664-1705), a military man who also served as MP for County Donegal, who moved to Slane Castle in County Meath. I thought the Mountcharles was named after a Charles Conyngham, but since there are no Charles’s in the early Conynghams of Mountcharles, I believe Mountcharles may have been named in honour of King Charles of England.

The impressive ruins of the Bishops Palace, Raphoe, County Donegal, built in ca. 1636 by John Leslie, Bishop of Raphoe, who married Catherine, the daughter of Alexander Conyngham, Dean of Raphoe. Bishop John Leslie is the ancestor of the Leslies of Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, another Section 482 property that we have visited. [4]

The gardens are a great achievement, recreating a flourishing walled garden. It is a good example of a walled garden that has been brought back to life to provide fruits and vegetables for the home owners, as well as flowers, and a place of beauty and tranquility for any visitor. There is an information centre but it and the toilet facilities were closed due to the Covid pandemic. There is a cafe nearby at the nearby Salthill Pier, the Salthill Cabin.

Russian kale, chard, courgettes, black kale and peas thriving.

Slane Castle was originally owned by the Flemings, who became Lords of Slane. The Fleming estates were forfeited in 1641 (after a rebellious uprising), from William 14th Baron Slane and his son Charles, 15th Baron Slane, but restored to them in 1663 (after the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, who restored land to those who were loyal to the monarchy through the time of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians). The 15th Baron had left Ireland after his land was confiscated and fought in Louis XIVth’s French army, and died in 1661. It was his brother Randall Fleming the 16th Baron Slane who was restored to his estate under the Act of Settlement and Distribution. [5] However, the Flemings’ land was forfeited again, in 1688, with the coming to the throne of William III. It was in 1703 that Henry Conyngham purchased land in Slane.

The Greenhouse.

Henry Conyngham’s son Henry (1705-1781) was created 1st Earl Conyngham of Mountcharles, County Donegal but he died without issue. His sister Mary married Francis Burton and their son Francis Pierpoint Burton took the name of Conyngham and became 2nd Baron Conyngham of Mountcharles. The Conynghams were one of the largest landowners in Donegal: by 1876 the third Marquess Conyngham (George Henry, 1825-1882; the 3rd Baron became the 1st Marquess) and the wider family owned four separate estates in the county amounting to over 122,300 acres of land, as well as extensive landholdings in Clare (centred around Kilkee) and Meath (centred around Slane), and in Kent in the south-east of England.

The Conyngham’s agent’s house was called Salthill because the area was known in Irish as Tamhnach an tSalainn (‘the Field of Salt’). The anglicization of this is “Tawnyfallon,” as Salthill was also known. The fields along the coast flooded and when they dried, the salt could be collected. This provided an income for the locals and for the Conynghams.

Salthill House was the residence for Hugh Montgomery, Esq. according to the 1777 – 83 Taylor and Skinner map of the area [6]. There is a record of the renewal of a lease on ‘Tawnyfallon, otherwise Salthill’ from Henry Conyngham (1st Marquess) to a Francis Montgomery in 1824 (Conyngham Papers). The National Inventory adds that Salthill was the home of a Leonard Cornwall, Esq., in 1838 (marriage record) and 1846 (Slater’s Directory), and a Robert Russell in 1857 – c. 1881 (latter date in Slater’s Directory). The Hall, belonging to the Conynghams, was sold after World War II by the 6th Marquess.

The walled garden of Salthill House was built around 1800. [7] The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us that the walls are constructed of coursed rubble and random rubble stone masonry, and that the South-east wall abuts main outbuilding to the rear of the house.

More recently, the house was the home of John and Nancy McCaffrey until the early 1980s, when it was purchased by Lynn Temple of Magees, the manufacturers and promoters of Donegal Tweed, and his wife Elizabeth. The Irish Historic Houses website describes the work that the current owner, Elizabeth Temple, has carried out in the garden:

During the last thirty years Elizabeth has re-created the walled garden, which is sheltered by the house and yards, slowly and patiently. She complimented the original gravel paths with hedges and grass paths to provide additional structure, and concentrated on plants that thrive in this northernly environment. The result is an authentic country house walled garden, skilfully planted with a combination of perennials and shrubs, interspersed with vegetables, herbs and fruit trees…the gravel avenue, curved sweep and yards are skilfully raked into swirling curvilinear patterns that recall the abstract la Tène ornamentation that influenced Irish early Christian art. [see 6]

We were greeted at the gate by Elizabeth Temple. I asked her about the curvilinear patterns mentioned in the Historic Houses of Ireland website, but instead she explained that she likes to plant in such a way that there are several layers to see, of graduated heights, in each direction you look. There were several visitors that day so we did not get to chat as much as I may have wished but the day was a little rainy also, so we did not linger for as long as the gardens deserve. We shall have to visit again!

[1] See my entry about Slane Castle, County Meath: https://irishhistorichouses.com/2019/07/19/slane-castle-county-meath/

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/40847025/the-hall-hall-demesne-mountcharles-co-donegal

[3] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/2017/11/slane-castle.html

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/40833005/church-of-ireland-bishops-palace-raphoe-demesne-raphoe-donegal

and see my entry on Castle Leslie, https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/08/07/castle-leslie-glaslough-county-monaghan/

[5] http://slanehistoryandarchaeologysociety.com/index.php/famous-people/13-the-flemings-and-the-conynghams by Terry Tench, ‘Fleming and Conyngham of Slane’ in Ríocht na Midhe, vol. VII, no.2, 1982-83.

[6] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Salthill%20House

[7] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/40909939/salthill-house-salthill-demesne-donegal

5 thoughts on “Salthill Garden, Salthill House, Mountcharles, County Donegal

  1. St John’s Point! I used to collect mushrooms there in the 1950’s! Have such memories of a Donegal childhood. John McCaffery…..a summer dalliance…. Swimming off the pier at Mountcharles…. Playing tennis at the Harmony tennis club in Donegal town…..birthday parties at “Rathforker’ and Maherabeg House…friends with Rosemary Harris….related to TWEED! Possibly related to Elizabeth Temple.
    Valerie Black I was then….. now married for 55 years and my name is HARDEN

    Like

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