The threads that have been woven to create the fabric of history include many from the family connected with Gracehill House. This family and their royal connection have battled for the souls, hearts, minds and countries of men across continents. Our research to date has thrown up some characters of note, and a sample of their stories are captured below.
In the late 1500’s Gracehill House and estate did not exist. It’s story did not unfold until the early 1600’s when King James I of England and VI of Scotland granted lands in Ireland to a family member James Stuart by royal charter. James was the kings’ ambassador to the court of Italy in Turin. The grant he received included areas of land in Cavan, Monaghan and County Antrim. Unfortunately the ambassador never had the opportunity to take up residence as he tragically drowned whilst on route to occupy his land. The Stuart family over the centuries had members who were prepared to fight for what they believe in, the first that we know of was Brigadier-General William Stuart. William raised a regiment for the service of King William III which saw action at Derry, Augherim, Limerick and the Boyne. The cost of raising this regiment was one for which William never received reimbursement and the effect of this was that he became greatly impoverished causing him to lose most of his estate. His son James served with his father reaching the rank of Colonel; although severely wounded in battle, James still went on to father 21 children with his wife Jane Irwin from Roscommon.
Although the land in County Antrim stayed in the Stuart family it would be some time before Gracehill House as we know it would come into existence. It is through one of James’s children, Irwin Stuart that the story of Gracehill really starts to take shape. Irwin changed the focus of his battle to the souls of men, by taking holy orders and becoming the vicar of Ballywillan and Ballyrashane and later, Derrykeighan. He married Elizabeth McDaniel and had six children – Christopher, James, Charles, Archibald, Elizabeth and Henry. It is not until we read of Irwin’s son James that we hear of Gracehill House being mentioned for the first time.
It is believed that James undertook the construction of the house around 1775 and named it after his wife Grace (Lynd). James, like many of his ancestors was a fighting man raising a Yeomanry Corp, the 2nd Dunluce regiment who were heavily involved in the suppression of the 1798 rebellion. Life was not one totally of war and conflict but a sense of normality continued at Gracehill house and the surrounding lands. The house developed a sense of grandeur with the centrepiece being the planting of the beech tree drive leading to the house. The drive is no longer part of the Gracehill House estate but is known as the world famous ‘Dark Hedges’. It is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland and has appeared in HBO’s Game of Thrones. It is through the ‘Dark Hedges’ that the resident ghost from Gracehill House is reported to roam. Commonly known as the ‘Grey Lady’, there are many stories as to her origin one of which is that she is James’s daughter Margaret, also known as ‘Cross Peggy’. Charles, another sibling of James stayed at home taking holy orders. Two of his sons followed in the footsteps of their military forefathers serving in the 39th Regiment with distinction in the Napoleonic wars with Spain in 1813-1814. It is at this stage that the Gracehill House story becomes a little less clear as the family with the royal connections have moved and settled across the globe and in the North American continent.
The one constant is Gracehill House still standing proud and in more recent times it has been owned by Major Windsor in 1955 who married a Chichester of Galgorm, bought from them was the Gillian family in 1971, who turned the landscape into an 18-hole championship golf course in 1995. The new owners, since April 2015, want you to share not only in the past of Gracehill Houses but its future. They are developing the property, the golf course and the grounds for the benefit of the general public for many years to come. Why don’t you add your thread to the tapestry of history by visiting us at Gracehill House?