It is unlikely that we shall ever know how our family links with the historic figures of the past, as few records of native Irish families have survived from the dark period of over two hundred years which followed the arrival of Sir Arthur Chichester in 1609. Such information as we have about the earliest known ancestors of the present family of Doherty of Creehennan and Whitecastle comes by word of mouth, passed down over six generations, and from land and church records.

Family tradition tells us that our branch of the Doherty sept are Cahirroes, distinguished from others, including Ruekans and Sheskin Banns. Remarkably, until the end of the nineteenth century, all members of the family (including girls) were tattooed with a small star on their right wrist, between the thumb and forefinger. The significance of these traditions and customs is unclear, but possibly one day it may become apparent, and throw some light on the origins of our branch of this proud and ancient family

Charles Doherty was born in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and it seems likely to have been his parents who converted from the traditional Catholic way of worship to the protestant Church of Ireland. According to a story that circulated in both Catholic and Presbyterian circles, they changed their religion for a bag of seed potatoes, but this has never been accepted within the family, where there is an alternative explanation. Afflicted by illness, they looked to their priest for support, but found him unsympathetic, in contrast to their more understanding protestant neighbours, whose christian example led them to abandon the church of their ancestors. Members of the family have claimed relationship with catholic families still living in Cabry, and unconfirmed recollections have also suggested that Charles’ family may have originated in Clonmany.

Charles Doherty married Peggy Moore, probably in the early 1790’s, and settled at Greenhill in Creehennan townland, overlooking Lough Foyle, where their children were born between 1794 and 1822. We know of eight sons, and at least three daughters. The church registers of St. Finians, Redcastle in the parish of Upper Moville, which date back to 1812, record the baptisms of three of the couple’s children, John, Margaret and Anne, and the burial of Charles Doherty on 2 Jan 1841 at the age of 67. It is possible that Widow Doherty, who was also buried there on 31 Jul 1845 aged 91 may have been his mother. 

Four of the sons, Archibald, Charles, Hugh and Alexander emigrated to Canada, probably between 1845 and 1847. Archie and Charles had both married, and started families before their departure. They both settled initially at Shawbridge, close to where their sister Elizabeth was already living, later moving to Morin Flats and New Port, Compton County respectively. Alexander evidently did not find the New World to his liking, and sent word to his brother Billy of his intention to return to Ireland. When the vessel arrived at Derry, it transpired that Alexander, who was unable to read or write, had been unaware of the requirement for passengers to provide their own food, eating utensils and bedding for the return voyage of between 50 and 80 days, and had been put off in the Upper St. Lawrence. Nothing was ever heard of him again. John had moved to England in the mid 1830’s, and only William (Old old Billy) stayed on at Crehennan, his other brothers, Thomas (Tam) and Edward (Neddy) taking tenancies in nearby Drung townland, where they lived out the remainder of their lives. 

We know very little about the daughters, other than that Elizabeth, widow of James McHenry, married Neil McLaughlin at the catholic church in St Hyppolytes, Terrebonne, Quebec in 1849, and had a son and a daughter in the two successive years. The son was brought up as a catholic, but the daughter, Suzanna worshipped with her mother and uncle Charles in the protestant church. It is possible that the Jane Doherty, who married Andrew Hunter at Redcastle in 1824 and was living in Canada in 1880 may also have been a daughter, but this has not yet been substantiated. Margaret died in 1829 at the tender age of 15, and nothing is known of the fate of Anne, who was born in 1816.

The townland of Creehennan is situated south of Whitecastle and Rousky, and extends from the mountain, adjoining Glencaw, down to the shores of Lough Foyle, for a short distance immediately above Whitecastle. In 1826 it consisted of some 926 acres, of which 500 were held (and probably sublet) by landlord Mrs Cary, and Tristram Kennedy, with just over 400 acres let to the 44 families who depended on the land for their living, and who between them sent 60 children to the National School. Charles Doherty was recorded as the tenant of some 8 acres, and Hugh Doherty, who may have been his brother held 14 acres. The land was generally of poor quality, as the inhabitants could not afford manure, and the only means of fertilizing it was by seaweed, laboriously collected from the shore. The rundale system of rotating tenancies still operated at this time, discouraging any serious effort to improve the land. Consequently, the inhabitants sought a living where best they could, from fishing, weaving linen cloth and agriculture. The main crops were oats, corn, flax and potatoes, with small amounts of wheat and barley, and occasionally oysters dredged from the lough. 

Peggy (Margaret) Moore was said to have come from Carrick, near Carndonagh, a member of the protestant family of that name who held land there until recently, and it was in its ancient graveyard, next to a church founded by St Patrick himself, that she was buried. There are no local burial records to indicate when this might have been. Some time after her death, her son John, on a visit from England, went with his brothers William and Edward to pay their respects, and to arrange for the placing of a memorial stone. Sadly they were unable to find the grave, and the gravestone was never erected. Land records indicate that Alex Moore occupied land at Carrick, next to the church, in the nineteenth century, and another Alex Moore, a generation earlier had signed a petition in support of an Act of Union. Whilst there is no proven connection with them, it is remarkable that the names of both Alexander and Moore have been passed down through seven successive generations of descendants of Charles Doherty and Peggy Moore.

Charles and Peggy’s youngest son, John Doherty, was born at Crehennan in 1812. In the early 1830’s he assisted the army surveyors preparing the first ordnance survey maps of the district, and moved to England with them when their work was completed, based at the Royal Engineers’ depot at Chatham. There he met and married a farmer’s daughter, and later became the owner of a 250 acre hop farm at Longfield in Kent. Subsequently he bought the freeholds of Whitecastle, Rousky and Ballyargus townlands, enabling him to provide his elder brother William (Billy) and wife Jane (Simpson) with a home at Shandy Hall. This was then a small mansion on the banks of the Foyle, about half a mile north of Whitecastle, but is now in ruins. His nephew, also William Doherty, who was a witness to his Will in 1889, moved shortly afterwards into Whitecastle House, previously occupied by the Cary family, and William’s descendants have lived there and farmed the adjoining land ever since.

The poem “The Widow’s Faith”, written by William Starr recalls the hardships suffered by Peggy Moore after the death of her husband in 1840. It refers to two of her sons, Hugh, a weak sickly boy, and John, who by that time had left Ireland, married, and was living at Ightham in Kent. As the poem indicates, Hughie’s fate in Canada is unknown, but John Doherty (1812-1889) was to become a wealthy man, and did indeed purchase Whitecastle when the landlord, George Cary became bankrupt. His story is set out in more detail below. Her grandson, in the castle on the Foyle was William Doherty (1840-1930), who with his wife Sarah Ann Handcock (1839-1925), brought up their nine children there. 

“A toast for William Doherty, he is a decent man. 
He has a scolding woman, they call her Sally Ann.
They have a large family, the children number nine, 
seven bonny daughters, and two of th’other kind.”

William Starr (1859-1931) was Master of Whitecastle School, and lived with his wife and family at the Schoolhouse, now Whitecastle Methodist Church. Sadly, his wife, Alice Elizabeth Doherty (1869-1896), William and Sarah’s eldest daughter died at the age of 28, leaving four young children, who then went to live with their grandparents at Whitecastle House. Later, they returned to the Schoolhouse with their aunt Rebecca (1875-1962), and her husband George McCahey (1878-1950), William Starr’s successor as Master. 

The poem, described by its author as  “a true story, versified by W. Starr” was written in the 1890’s, some 50 years after the events which it portrays, but will undoubtedly have been based on the recollections of William Doherty, who would have heard his grandmother’s story directly from her, and who enjoyed passing it on to his own grandchildren.

The Widow’s Faith

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” Palm 24-1

In byegone days, a landlord sent a widow from his door.
Not that she failed to pay the rent, and not that she was poor,
But she was left a widow then, with a weak, sickly boy;
And yet she could have managed if no-one would annoy

But those were days of bribery’s ways, when landlords drank their fill,
And folks must leave the dear old home long held, beside the hill.
The landlord said an imbecile could never push his way
But John, her son, of London town had guaranteed to pay.

“The earth’s the Lord’s” the widow said, but they began to scoff,
And cried “we want no scripture here”, and told her to be off.
Alas! In vain the widow pleads for her poor helpless Hugh,
Evicted from their little home, whatever shall they do?

To friends beyond in Canada her boy was sent away
But none shall tell where Hughie fell until the Judgement Day.
On these rich folk misfortune seemed by God in justice sent.
Did Hughie’s blood upon them rest? From bad to worse they went.

The likely thought the widow’s word and scripture quite absurd.
But they forgot the Lord of Lords is faithful to his word.
‘Ere long, the estate for debt was sold, and strange enough to say,
The widow’s son from London sent, and bought it out that day.

Her handsome son had wed, you see, a lady of the land.
And very rich grew John when he had won her heart and hand.
Reflect, kind friends, nor think it strange, the Lord is overhead !
Fulness of means and ways has he, just as the widow said.

The widow and her sons are dead, and he who owned the soil,
But now her Grandson’s living in the castle on the Foyle.
Grandfavie tells the story, weans, my bairns do you hear?
The earth unto the Lord belongs, serve him with godly fear