Like Kylemore Abbey, the handsome neo-Gothic castle at Glenveagh owes its appearance to Victorian romantic imagination rather than medieval origins. The castle is surrounded with stunning gardens that contrast beautifully with the rugged natural setting. The castle was designed by architect John Townsend Trench and built between 1867 and 1873 for John George Adair. He was known as a ruthless landlord, who perpetrated the Derryveagh Evictions, one of the most notorious evictions of the 19th century. Adair expelled nearly 250 tenants from his land, regarding their poverty as a blight on his landscape. This knowledge of their harsh origins lends an underscoring of tragedy and poignancy to the beauty of Glenveagh and the castle grounds.
In 1938 Glenveagh was purchased by Henry Plumer McIlhenny of Philadelphia. McIlhenny was the grandson of an Irish immigrant who had become wealthy through his ingenious invention of the gas meter. McIlhenny served in the American Navy during World War II, after which he used the castle as a second home. Many famous stars holidayed in Glenveagh Castle at this time, including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Greta Garbo. McIlhenny gifted Glenveagh Castle and gardens to the Irish State in 1979, while retaining the right to live there for his lifetime. He had previously sold the bulk of the estate lands to the Irish state in 1974–75, facilitating the creation of Glenveagh National Park, the second largest national park in Ireland. The park is comprised of over 16,000 hectares, where rugged hills run down to clear lakes surrounded by the woodland homes of red deer and golden eages. The estate also includes the two highest mountains in Donegal, Errigal and Slieve Sneacht. Today visitors can enjoy the visitor centre, the castle and gardens, as well as number of walking trails.
Nearby, on the road between Falcarragh and Kilmacrenan, a small bridge known as the ‘Bridge of Tears’ also bears testament to challenging periods in Donegal’s history. Here, many bid farewell to their loved ones as they began their long journey to the United States, Australia or elsewhere across the waves. Many would never return home, and here in the majestic surrounds of Glenveagh, they said goodbye not only to their families, but a way of life that was slowly disappearing . Close to the bridge, a stone bears the inscription in Irish: ‘Friends and relations of the person emigrating would come this far. Here they parted. This spot is the Bridge of Tears.’.
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