Monellan Castle was an impressive building located just south of Crossroads in Donaghmore (Killygordon) Parish, County Donegal. The castle, which was the manor house of the Delap family, was a 35 room dwelling with part of it underground to be used as a place of safety if required. The castle and its grounds were in full glory from the late 1700s until its demolition in the 1930s – on orders given to the Irish Land Commission from the new Irish government. It was the largest building in the Finn Valley at the time, set in beautiful surroundings second to none in the area.
It is believed that the Monellan estate was granted to a Colonel in the British army for “services rendered to the Crowne.” The Delaps became owners in the late 1700s.
Monellan Castle was built by expert stonemasons from the localities of Meenreagh, Lismullaghduff and Killygordon, with Scottish supervisors looking after the work and took almost three years to complete. It also had a large number of outhouses for the use of the land stewards, servants, maids and coachmen. These buildings extended from a spot known locally as McGlynn’s Bridge, and included Monellan Burn Pass, Edenoughill and Casey’s Brae, and included byres, stables and other buildings for domestic uses. Surrounding the main house were beautiful flower gardens, tennis courts and a bowling green. The approach to the castle must have been beautiful to behold, done out with rhododendron hedges, especially when the hedges were in bloom.
The house, gardens, private grounds, arable land and small parts of the forest were protected by a high wall, extending three miles around most of the estate. Most of this wall remains today and is the only lasting sign of this once fine estate. No wall was required for the part of the estate adjoining the townland of Ballinaman, as a large tributary of the River Finn, known locally as Monellan Burn, served as protection.
The Delaps gave employment to many local men and women. For the then wage of sixpence per week, each worker could take home with them on Saturday night, some milk, potatoes, vegetables and even flowers if a special celebration was in order. Up to twenty women would be employed at the castle each Monday, wash-day, to wash the bedclothes, linen, and tablecloths. All had to be steeped in tubs on the previous Saturday for washing on Monday. On completion of the washing, all the garments had to be put through a hand-operated roller-wringer and dried outdoors. Those walking on the Monellan-Glen road would see the long line of clothes laid out on the neatly trimmed rhododendron bushes.
The Irish Land Commission ordered the destruction of Monellan Castle in the 1930s. The Land Commission was created in 1881 as a rent fixing commission by the Irish Land Act 1881 for Ireland. Later the commission developed into a tenant-purchasing commission and assisted in the transfer of land from landlord to tenant. It’s easy to say now that the destruction of the estate was a mistake but many local people benefited at the time. Some of the small farmers who had bad housing conditions were particularly lucky as the Land Commission built them new and better houses. Most of the stones from the castle were used to build roads on Cronlaughey and Meenlaught in early 1945. Most of the bogland divided at the time has been cut out and is no longer workable.
The aerial photo shows just how much and how little the area has changed since the original buildings were demolished. It’s probable that the presence of the estate wall has helped preserve the outline of what is now forestry.
The Delap Family
The Delaps came into possession of Monellan after Robert Delap of Ramelton married Mary Anne Bogle, the only child of James Bogle who owned the estate. They married in 1776. Robert inherited the estate following James Bogle’s death. Robert and Mary Anne had three children, Samuel Francis Delap (b. 1777), James Bogle Delap (b.1779), and William Drummond Delap.
Following Robert’s death in 1782, Samuel obtained ownership of Monellan and started the building of the “Big House.” James moved to Surrey, England and became a Colonel in the King’s 1st Regiment of Dragoon Guards. William moved to Monsterboyce in Co. Louth.
Sam Delap married Susan Bennett in 1800 and had sons Robert (b. 1802) and John and two daughters. Both sons eventually became clergymen. Sam’s son Robert was the last of the Delaps to own the estate prior to the Land Commission taking ownership. Robert was a trained barrister and a student with Daniel O’ Connell. Soon after qualifying he changed from the practice of law to become a clergyman. Having completed his studies, he returned to Monellan Estate as Rev. Delap and became first Minister of St Anne’s Church of Ireland, which he was responsible for building.
Rev. Robert Delap married Isabella Galbraith in 1834. Isabella died in 1870.
Rev. Delap is buried in the grounds of St. Anne’s Church and his father Sam is buried in one of the aisles. He was buried standing up with a stone slab over the coffin. The slab had to be repaired several times due to subsidence as the coffin rotted away. Rev. Delap’s daughters lived at the estate for over 20 years after his death but eventually left when the estate was sold. They were buried as requested “in the grounds” with their dogs buried beside them. There are a number of graves close in the grounds of Monellan but only one of them is marked as a friend of one of the daughters, but it is pretty certain that this is the final resting place of Rev. Delap’s daughters.
Getting To Monellan
From the N15 Ballybofey to Lifford road, turn off at Killygordon for Crossroads. At the crossroads go straight on for Castlederg. Just past Donegal Creameries take the left turn over the old stone bridge. After approx. 400m, turn right up a tarred road. This looks like a private lane but leads past some houses to the forest gate and the old entrance to the former estate.
The land is now owned and maintained by Coillte who operate an Open Forest Policy. This policy prohibits the use of vehicles and bicycles on forestry land. However, the gate is usually open to allow access to the grave site and parking is limited outside the gate.
Thanks to Chris Irwin of Crossroads for collecting the information about the Delap family which I used in preparing this document.