Woodhill House and the Nesbitts

"For the house of the planter is known by the trees". (Austin Clarke)

Alexander Nesbitt is said to be the first member of this Scottish family to come to Ardara. His name first appeared in the Muster roll for the Barony of Boylagh and Bannagh in 1630. They were leaseholders under the Earl of Annandale, James Murray, and after his death in 1658 they purchased their lands from his heirs.

From another branch of the family, brothers Thomas and Andrew Nesbitt set up a whaling business in Donegal Bay in 1759. Thomas was the inventor of the gun-harpoon, which was witnessed by Arthur Young during his tour of Ireland 1776-1779, as he states in Vol 1, pp.184-184: "From many experiments he brought the operation to such perfection that, for some years he never missed a whale, nor failed of holding her by the harpoon."

James Nesbitt of Woodhill married a daughter of Andrew Knox, bishop of Raphoe, and had five sons. The eldest, George, became Rector of the parish of Inishkeel from 1696-1742, and it was he who is said to have built Woodhill House. James E, "the Major" Nesbitt (1763-1845), was a magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of the county, at one stage serving as High Sheriff of Donegal. Eventually the house passed on to Rev George Nesbitt Tredennick, a son of Ann Nesbitt. Woodhill House and its surroundings deeply impressed Lord George Hill when he passed there in 1846.

He wrote: "The mountain scenery amongst which Ardara is embosomed is extremely romantic, and well worth exploring. Near the town is Woodhill, the residence of Richard Nesbitt, Esq. It is luxuriously clothed with fine vistas disclosing deep bays, mountain glens and sequestered ravines; and those who have visited the place must ever retain a very pleasing recollection of it."

By 1880 the original Woodhill house was pulled down by Major General Tredennick, who built a new house to his own taste. The Congested Districts Board bought the house and estate from him in the early part of the C20. Woodhill House today is a fine guest house.

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