Ballygawley House

This stately pile stands abandoned atop a hill overlooking the A5 Omagh to Ballygawley Road in western Country Tyrone, not far from where I was born and raised.

According to the official history of Ballygawley House, it was built by Captain Andrew Stewart, a native of Scotland, who settled in Ireland in 1627. His arrival in Ireland was obviously part of the Plantation of Ulster (1609-1690), when the English Crown decided that the only way to pacify Ireland was to “plant” it with Scottish and English settlers.

This followed the Battle of Kinsale (1601), the ultimate battle in England’s conquest of Gaelic Ireland, which resulted in The Flight of the Earls (4 September, 1607), when Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Red Hugh O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell (Donegal) fled to France, following their defeat by the forces of the English Crown.

Having replaced Queen Elizabeth 1 on the throne in 1603, King James 1 ordered the forced colonization of Ulster, Ireland’s northernmost province, by handing over large swathes of land, taken from the exiled Earls and their clans, to Scottish and English planters. The plantation saw half a million acres of prime arable land, including this site outside Ballygawley, forcibly taken, without recompense, from the native Irish and handed over, free-of-charge, to Scottish and English settlers.

Facade of Ballygawley House

As for Captain Stewart, his official biography records that “he had been actively engaged against the rebels and fell in one of his encounters with them in about 1650.”

That’s something to be cheerful about, at least. Though quite how native people who have had their ancestral lands stolen from them and handed over to foreigners qualify to be called “rebels” is beyond me.

Something else to be cheerful about is that Ballygawley House is now a hollow shell, its innards used by a local farmer to store plastic-wrapped hay bales, the classical scrolls of its Ionic columns gazing dejectedly down on the hulk of an abandoned, rusting car.

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