Buildings at Risk: Rockhill House, Letterkenny

Rockhill House, Letterkenny

Rockhill House, Letterkenny: the house was occupied by Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War

Rockhill House, Letterkenny: the house was occupied by Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War

Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 00:00

Why is it of interest? Rockhill House is a 19th century country house on the banks of the River Swilly on the edge of Letterkenny, Co Donegal. It is one of only two remaining country houses near Letterkenny. Private owners of the house include the Chambers and Stewart families. The house was occupied by Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War and following independence was used as a teaching college.

Rockhill Estate was sold to the Commissioner of Public Works in 1937 and much of the land was sold on to local farmers. It now stands on about 29 acres. The house and grounds were used as an army barracks from 1969 until 2009.

What state of dereliction is it in? The house is in reasonably good condition but risks deterioration since the Irish Defence Forces (IDF) vacated the site in 2009. There have been some reports that copper piping has been stolen. The windows are now boarded up, having been broken through vandalism.

What repairs have been carried out? Restoration works estimated to cost €6 million were carried out on the building while the 28th Infantry Battalion of the IDF used Rockhill House and grounds. The house was re-roofed and treated for dry rot during this time. Who is championing its cause? The Donegal branch of An Taisce is keen to see the building preserved and a new use found for it. “It saddens me to see how the house is allowed to plunge into abandonment by the Department of Defence, ” says Declan O’Carroll, retired army colonel, a former commanding officer at Rockhill House and author of a booklet on its history. O’Carroll is a past president of the Co.Donegal Historical Society and secretary of the Donegal branch of An Taisce.

“As a listed building, the Department of Defence and, to a lesser extent, Donegal County Council have responsibility for its maintenance but this is not being exercised. Rockhill House is one of the last of the fine houses of the landed gentry around Letterkenny and is very much part of the social and historic fabric of the area,” adds O’Carroll.

The Rockhill House Heritage Association, headed by local businessman Adrian Gallagher has suggested Rockhill House as a location for the National Diaspora Centre. He suggests the 30 acres around Rockhill House be combined with 70 acres of adjoining Coillte land to provide a larger public amenity.

What happens next? The Department of Defence is currently seeking tenders from auctioneers for the imminent sale of Rockhill House. Plans to hand over Rockhill House to Donegal County Council fell through in 2012.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence says Donegal County Council has informed them that they aren’t in a position to acquire the property at this stage.

If you know of an important building that has fallen into disrepair email buildingsatrisk@irishtimes.com SYLVIA THOMPSON

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