Friday, 29 July 2016

Beech Hill House


CORNET JOHN KENNEDY (1615-80), of Ballymagowan, near Clogher, County Tyrone, descended from James Kennedy, seventh son of Gilbert, 2nd Earl of Cassilis, went to Ulster in 1641 with the Scottish Army and acquired considerable church lands near Clogher.

He married Janet, daughter of Thomas Stewart, of Galston, and had issue,
HORACE, his heir;
James, of Ballymagowan.
The elder son,

CAPTAIN HORACE KENNEDY (1648-1714), settled at Londonderry, 1667.

Captain Kennedy was sheriff during the Siege; was attainted by JAMES II's parliament; and twice, by act of Parliament, appointed a commissioner for Poll Tax for the county.

He wedded Katherine, daughter of Captain Gervais Squire, of Donoughmore, Commissioner for the Peace in County Londonderry, 1677, and had issue, an eldest son,

GERVAIS KENNEDY (1675-1721), who espoused Jane, daughter of William Maxwell, of County Tyrone, and left to the guardianship of his wife's aunt, Mrs Tomkins, of Prehen, two daughters and one son,

WILLIAM KENNEDY (1713-83), who married Easter, daughter and heir of George Crookshank, and had issue,
Maxwell Kennedy (Rev), dsp 1782;
John Pitt (Rev), Rector of Donagh;
The second son,

GEORGE CROOKSHANK KENNEDY (1752-1819), assumed by sign manual the name of SKIPTON in 1801, and succeeded his cousin and brother-in-law in the Beechhill estate.

Mr Kennedy-Skipton, a deputy governor of County Londonderry, married Sarah, third daughter of Conolly McCausland, of Fruit Hill, and had issue (with five daughters),
CONOLLY McCAUSLAND (1778-1854), dsp;
GEORGE, his successor;
The third son,

DR GEORGE KENNEDY-SKIPTON (1782-1847), married firstly, in 1814, Mary, daughter of the Rev Henry Stacy DD, and had issue (with two daughters),
George Henry (1815-47);
HENRY STACY, his heir;
Thomas Kennedy (1820-24);
Conolly (1822-23);
Daniel Pitt.
The eldest surviving son,

HENRY STACY KENNEDY-SKIPTON, of Beechhill, married Elizabeth, daughter of C Stewart, and had issue,

DR ALEXANDER KENNEDY-SKIPTON, of the Casino, the fifth son, who married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of James McCrea, of Londonderry, by Frances, his wife, daughter of William Law, of Dunmore.

Dr Skipton died in 1858, leaving two sons, the younger of whom,

GEORGE ALEXANDER KENNEDY-SKIPTON JP, of the Casino, County Londonderry, was High Sheriff in 1863.

He sold Beech Hill in 1875 and died a bachelor in 1906.


The family of SKIPTON appears to have been of knightly rank, and numerous and flourishing during the reigns of JOHN, HENRY III and THE EDWARDS.

It was possessed of manors in the counties of Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, and Huntingdonshire.

THOMAS SKIPTON, the head of the Skiptons of the last-named county, was living in the reign of HENRY VIII, and had three sons; the eldest inherited the estate, and left a son, Richard, of Cambridge, 1626.

The second son,

 purchased, about 1617, the lands of Ballyshasky, of the Ballymullins, now Learmount and others, in County Londonderry.

He built a mansion house on the first named, and was murdered by the O'Cahans in 1624; and left, with two daughters, a son and heir,

CAPTAIN THOMAS SKIPTON, who styled himself, in his will, "of Skipton Hall".

This gentleman married Charity, daughter of Sir Thomas Staples Bt, of Lissan, and died in 1685, leaving two sons and a daughter.

The second son,

GEORGE SKIPTON, married Mary, co-heiress of Sir Alexander Staples, knight, and left a son, Staples Skipton, who bequeathed his estate of Faughanvale to the Skipton Hall family.

The eldest son,

 (1642-1704), attainted by JAMES II's parliament, married Jane, daughter of Edward Cary, of Dungiven, by Sarah, his wife, daughter of Sir Tristram Beresford Bt.

Captain Skipton was succeeded by his eldest son,

 who served with Lord Peterborough in Spain, wedded Eleanor, daughter of Colonel John Forward, of Castle Forward, and aunt to Alice Forward (created, in 1793, Countess of Wicklow).

He built, in 1728, the present residence (the name of which he changed to Beech Hill), within a few yards of the site of the house erected in 1622.

Captain Skipton died in 1739, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

THE REV ALEXANDER SKIPTON, rector successively of Magilligan and Bovagh, espoused Isabella, daughter of Gervais Kennedy, of Londonderry, and died in 1793, having had but one son,

THOMAS SKIPTON, who married Elizabeth, second daughter of Conolly McCausland, of Fruit Hill, by the heiress of the Gages of Alagilligan.

He died without male issue in 1802, bequeathing his estate to his cousin and brother-in-law,

GEORGE CROOKSHANK KENNEDY, who assumed by sign manual the name of SKIPTON.

The first house to stand on the richly-wooded Ardmore site was built in 1622 and was known as Ballyshaskey.

It was commissioned by Alexander Skipton, who was killed in a land ownership dispute with a local family.

His son, Captain Thomas Skipton, took up residence in 1638.

However, in a period of rebellion three years later, Thomas and his wife Charity were forced to flee under cover of darkness, narrowly escaping with their lives. Their home was burned to the ground.

Seemingly undeterred by these disasters, in 1661 Captain Skipton built a new house which he called Skipton Hall.

It stood on the opposite side of the brook to the original building.

The family remained there until the siege of Derry, when a retreating army reduced Skipton Hall to ashes. 

Thomas’s son and heir, Captain Alexander Skipton, continued to live on the estate, in an out-house, until his death in 1704.

Captain Thomas Skipton built the present mansion house in 1739 and, because of the large number of surrounding trees, named it Beechhill.

Two generations later, Thomas Skipton added a wing stretching out towards the brook and made some significant changes to the gardens.

When he died the estate passed on to his cousin, George Crookshank Kennedy, who immediately changed his name to Kennedy-Skipton and continued a programme of improvements.

He planted a substantial number of new trees and much  improved the layout and appearance of the grounds which he believed  would give people much pleasure.

An impressive porch was added to the  front of the house and also the big room that is situated over it and which is known as The Library.

A change in ownership came in 1872, when Beech Hill was bought by the  wealthy Nicholsons of Newbuildings.

At this time, the estate comprised 1,169 acres.

The Nicholsons made a number of internal changes to the house during their tenancy but, in general, it remained  their simple family home.

In 1942, the United States Marines occupied Beech Hill.

They had been sent to protect Londonderry’s war-time military installations.

In 1989, Beech Hill was bought by present owners, Patricia (Patsy) O’Kane, MBE, and her brother, Seamus Donnelly.

They undertook two years of refurbishment.

Beech Hill Country House opened for the first time in 1991. 

In 1998, the former US President, Bill Clinton, arrived.

By 2000, Beech Hill had become so popular that twenty-two bedrooms were inadequate, hence a new wing created ten more rooms and suites.

In 2011, restoration work costing almost £500,000 was completed.

It included new sash windows, extensive re-roofing and external and interior redecoration.

Atkinson wrote of Beech Hill in 1833:
‘… full grown timber, richly planted glen, an excellent garden, walled in and in full bearing, and sanded walks for the accommodation of the passenger through its richly
wooded lawns …’
The house is still surrounded by mature trees, with a lime and beech avenue and woodland walks. The raised portion to the north-west of the house.

The shape of the demesne has changed little: There are terraced lawns near the house and a series of ponds on descending ground, controlled by sluices.

Overflow car parks are amongst trees.

First published in July, 2012.


Northern Scrivener said...

Rt Hon Sir Michael Nicholson would I think have been the last of the Nicholsons to own and live at Beech Hill.

Anonymous said...

Next year a small museum of the US forces in the area 1942/45, is to open at Beech H ill House

Mark Lusby said...

How Captain Manus O'Cahan of Ballyshaskey (and later Brackfield) ended up transferring most of his freehold of 10 town lands to the Skiptons is still unclear. Manus and the rest of the O'Cahans were on a sticky wicket after his brother Donal was imprisoned in the Tower of London. An O'Kane version of the story is that Manus contracted Skipton to build him a new house at Ballyshaskey and Mr Skipton liked his work too much.
The Grocer's Map of 1622 shows Manus' freehold but describes it as The Freehold of Capt Manus O'Cahan Ballyshaskey, hence why we believe he had his primary residence in the town land of Ballyshasky before it was transferred to the Skiptons. So the Beech Hill may be on the site of the residence of one of the last Gaelic princes in West Ulster?