Tuesday, 7 July 2020

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 Derry, 1667.

Captain Kennedy, Sheriff during the celebrated 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 Dr Henry Stacy, 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 Beech Hill, 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 Derry, 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.
About 1784 the Earl-Bishop, the Rt Rev Frederick Hervey, had a two-storey summer residence (known as The Casino) built next to his gardens on the site of the future Lumen Christi College's buildings. 
The Casino was purportedly designed by the Milanese architect Placido Columbani, who had supervised the construction of contemporary structures on the Earl-Bishop’s estate at Downhill. 
Calley remarks that The Casino (now demolished) was ‘a stuccoed building 50 feet in length of Ionic temple form with matching bows on its north east and south west elevations.’ 
The Earl-Bishop made little use of The Casino on Bishop Street and by the mid-19th century it formed the centrepiece of a small park that was owned by the Skipton family. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, Francis Kelly (1812-89), acquired the plot of land and The Casino from the Skipton family in 1869.
Mr Kennedy-Skipton sold Beech Hill in 1875 and died unmarried in 1906.


In CLIFFE'S History of Ireland, it is mentioned, that in the reign of ELIZABETH I, Captain Skipton was sent to Ulster to command a fort in County Donegal.

He afterwards purchased considerable property in the neighbouring county of Londonderry.

ALEXANDER SKIPTON was appointed one of the Corporation, in the new charter given by CHARLES II to the city of Londonderry.

He purchased, about 1617, the lands of Ballyshasky, of the Ballymullins, now Learmount and others, in County Londonderry, and built a mansion house on the first named.

Mr Skipton was murdered by the O'Cahans in 1624, and left, with two daughters, a son and heir,

CAPTAIN THOMAS SKIPTON, Mayor of Londonderry, 1670, who styled himself, in his will, "of Skipton Hall", who married Charity, daughter of Sir Thomas Staples Bt, of Lissan, and died in 1685, leaving two sons and a daughter.

The second son,

THOMAS SKIPTON, married, in 1638, Charity, daughter of Sir Thomas Staples Bt, of Lissan, County Tyrone, and was father of

 (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, and was father of

 who built the mansion of Beech Hill in 1717.

He wedded, in 1712, Eleanor, daughter of Colonel John Forward, of Castle Forward, grandfather to the Earl of Wicklow, and was father of

THE REV ALEXANDER SKIPTON, Rector successively of Magilligan and Bovagh, who espoused, in 1745, Isabella, sister to William Kennedy, Alderman of Londonderry, and died in 1793, having had but one son,

THOMAS SKIPTON, of Beech Hill, who married, in 1776, Elizabeth, second daughter of Conolly McCausland, of Fruit Hill, by the heiress of the Gages of Alagilligan; but dsp 1802, bequeathed his property to his cousin and brother-in-law,

GEORGE CROOKSHANK KENNEDY, son of William Kennedy, by Easter his wife, daughter of Alderman George Crookshank, by Elizabeth Pitt his wife, and grandson of Gervaise Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy, on succeeding to the estate of his cousin, assumed, in compliance with the latter's will, the surname and arms of SKIPTON, in 1802.

He married, in 1777, Sarah, another daughter of Conolly McCausland, if Fruit Hill, and sister of Elizabeth, wife of his cousin Thomas, and had issue,
GEORGE, succeeded his brother;
Easter; Elizabeth; Sarah; Theodosia.
Mr Kennedy died in 1819, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

CONOLLY McCAUSLAND SKIPTON DL (1778-), of Beech Hill, Captain, Derry Militia, High Sheriff of Londondery, 1814, Mayor of Londonderry, 1828-9, who wedded, in 1812, Catherine, only child on John Spotswood, of Bellaghy, County Londonderry, who dsp and was succeeded by his brother, GEORGE.

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 Derry'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 hotel 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?

Rivergull said...

If someone claimed to have resided on Casino Lane in 1867, where might that have been on a map?