Exhibition offers a glimpse into Glenveagh’s glamorous past

FROM the late 1800’s to the 1980’s gentry from across the globe gathered in Glenveagh. The wide variety of fascinating guests, included actors, writers, poets and prominent politicians who visited the castle in the Derryveagh Mountains to fish, hunt and stalk deer.

As part of a fascinating new exhibition in the castle both the guest books and game books from each of the owners’ periods in Glenveagh have been digitized so visitors can get a glimpse into who stayed there and what they did to entertain themselves.

Visitors can browse through the many pages of signatures, photos, drawings and poems depicted in the books by the guests who visited and immerse themselves in another time and age.


Sorcha O’Donnell is part of the visitor service team at Glenveagh National Park. Sorcha and James McGinley have been working tirelessly to receive museum status for Glenveagh and are aiming to receive full accreditation in 2024.

Making the castle’s history more accessible was a big part of this drive.

“I’ve been here ten years and I’m looking through these books all the time, and thinking that these need to be available to the public,” she said.

For many years only one book had been on display, on the same page. But Sorcha wanted to offer their thousands of visitors an opportunity to delve deeper into the castle’s captivating past, this is how the idea to create a digitized version of the guest books was born.


The first guestbook is mostly filled with the guests of Lady Adair, the wife of the infamous John Adair. Sorcha explained how many of her guest would have been depicted in Vanity Fair at the time. This alone is a testament to their status.

Amongst the many familiar names was Lord Kitchener, the face on the “your country needs you” British Army recruitment propaganda poster from World War I.


There are also sketches by Percy French who is acknowledged as one of Ireland’s greatest songwriters and entertainers.

Guests of the second owners, Arthur Kingsley Porter and his wife Lucy, included renowned artist George Russell who adopted the pseudonym Æ, who left his mark with doodles and drawings in the guest books. Æ was a very good friend of Mrs Porter and visited the castle regularly.


Guests of the last owner of the castle, Henry McIlhenny included bankers and business people, Sorcha explained, such as members of the Rothschild family, who are the most famous of European banking dynasties and the Pulitzer family.

As well as Hollywood A-listers such as Greta Garbo a Swedish-American actress, who is regarded as one of the greatest screen actresses of all time and Ella Fitzgerald, a jazz singer who is often referred to as ‘the Queen of Jazz’.

Famous American journalist Gloria Braggiotti Etting, visited and wrote extensively about her visits with the McIlhennys, she left a stunning drawing in the guest book.

Prominent families from across Donegal also stayed stay with the McIlhennys including Derek Hill and the Batt family from Rathmullan.

The exhibition will be on display in both the visitors centre and the castle, at Glenveagh National Park. The Castle is open daily from 09:00 to 16:30 for self-guided visits.

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