John Doherty 1812 - 1889

John Doherty

(date unknown)

John Doherty, a younger son of Charles Doherty and Peggy Moore was born on 21 May 1812. Three days later, he was baptised at the protestant St Finian’s Church, Redcastle. He spent the early years of his working life with his father and brothers on their few acres at Crehennan, rented from landlords George and Tristram Cary and their successors at Whitecastle House. 

In 1824, the Ordnance Survey initiated a valuation of land in Ireland, and work started on the survey of each of the 2,500 civil parishes, with the object of preparing maps on a scale of six inches to one statute mile. This work was carried out under the direction of officers from the Royal Engineers, whose regimental depot was at Chatham in Kent. The sappers were assisted by private soldiers and local recruits, familiar with local topography and place names, who mainly undertook simple measuring work. In 1833 the surveyors arrived in Moville, and John Doherty, then aged 21, volunteered his services to help with the measuring chains. Evidently there were also calculations to be done, which the soldiers found troublesome, and John took an interest in these. With his Mother’s help, he learnt how to work them, and quickly became as proficient as the soldiers themselves. By the end of the summer of 1834 the surveying work in Moville was complete, and John had become such an invaluable member of the team that the commanding officer invited him to return with them to their regimental headquarters at Chatham, Kent. John then left his mother and their family home in Crehennan to seek his fortune in England.

A few years later, he found himself surveying the farm of William Blunden, in Kent. There he attracted the interest of the farmer’s daughter, Elizabeth, who invited him to take tea with her. The interest blossomed into romance, and, in June 1840, the couple were married at Frindsbury parish church, near Chatham. The early years of their life were spent at Ightham, where John worked as a grocer, but, by 1849, they had moved, with their first four children to Longfield Hill Farm. There they were to raise a further seven children, and spend the rest of their lives. The farm comprised some 250 acres, and was run with the help of eight men and four boys. It specialised in hop growing, a crop for which the area was well known, and relations from Co. Donegal later recalled hop picking holidays spent there.

Longfield House

Two views of Longfield House

Pictures from a photograph album compiled by Revd. Edward Doherty and sent to his elder brother, Thomas Wells Doherty, who had emigrated to Australia, all of views and places in and around Lomgfield and taken at about the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries.  Presumably the album was a gift to remind his brother of home.  How this album came to be rediscovered is a story in itself, but for another time.  

Charles Doherty died on the last day of 1840. By that time all the family had left home, apart from Hugh, who was an invalid. Peggy Moore was left to look after him and eke a living as best she could, no doubt with support from her sons Thomas, Edward, William, Charles and Archibald, all of whom were living nearby, some with wives and young families. 

1845 to 1848 were terrible years for the people of Ireland, with widescale famine, caused by a potato blight in many parts of the country. In Inishowen, the potato crop was first affected in 1845, and was lost entirely in 1846 and 1847. In March 1846, Mr A. Clements of Shandy Hall, Whitecastle, Secretary of the Relief Committee in Moville reported “…many families have great difficulty procuring food till August. Fever has set in, in many cases fatally”. Typhoid, cholera and dysentery rapidly spread amongst the undernourished population, and many died of starvation or disease. Others, including four of Peggy’s sons, and at least two of her granddaughters, took the only option available to them for survival, and emigrated to the United States or Canada. Many others throughout Inishowen did likewise, and this wholesale departure seriously undermined the precarious economy on which the outdated system of land tenure depended, depriving the landlords both of rents and a liberal supply of cheap labour, and causing many of them to fall into financial difficulties. The Carys were no exception.

Inevitably the time came when Peggy was unable to pay her rent, and word was sent to landlord George Cary at Whitecastle House, assuring him that payment would be made as soon as crops could be taken to the market. She wrote to tell John of her difficulties, and he undertook to guarantee the payment. But no one could have anticipated the urgency of the situation, or the problems that Cary himself might have had. He must have been depending on rent from her and many others to pay his own creditors, and was unable to do so. She was soon to learn of his desperation when, having previously threatened to evict her, he ordered that the timber rib supporting the roof of her simple cabin be pulled down, rendering it uninhabitable, and leaving her and her invalid son homeless, with their few belongings. Word soon got back to her other sons, one of whom took her into his home, while arrangements were made for Hugh to join his brothers in Canada. John was told what had occurred, and he made a solemn promise to his mother that one day he would pull the rib over Cary’s head. Little did they realise how soon this promise was to be fulfilled.

Although George Cary was recorded as the lessor of some 1,520 acres of land at Ballyargus, and Rousky (including Whitecastle) in 1858, the family estate had already run into financial difficulties, and the principle leasehold interest in those properties sold in 1832 to William Pirrie, a Belfast merchant and philanthropist. Thus, when he came of age in 1837, George Cary was himself a tenant. By 1860, the Cary estate was in a critical financial position, and, in that year, John Doherty bought the term lease from the Marquis of Donegall, a direct descendant of Sir Arthur Chichester who had been granted the property after the death of Cahir Rua O’Dogherty. He then converted it into a perpetual lease of the property under the terms of the Renewable Lease Conversion Act, at an annual rent of £116, thereby becoming landlord to the same George Cary who had evicted his mother from her home a generation earlier. John is then supposed to have returned to Whitecastle and knocked on the door, telling Cary “now it’s my turn. You get out”. Whether or not this is true, members of the Cary family, including the mother of the author Joyce Cary, lived on there as tenants until the mid 1890’s, but John’s brother William and his wife Jane had already moved into nearby Shandy Hall. Shortly before his death, John Doherty made arrangements to ensure that the property would remain within the family, and in due course the lease was transferred to his nephew William, who moved from Crehennan to Whitecastle with his family in 1892. 

John Doherty
Elizabeth Doherty nee Blunden

John and Elizabeth Doherty

Pictures taken, presumably, on the same day, later in their lives.

John Doherty died at Longfield House, Kent, on 10 Apr 1889 aged 77, and was buried in the graveyard of the local parish church. His wife, Elizabeth (nee) Blunden died on 6 Aug 1892, and was buried with him. They were survived by four married daughters and five sons, Ellen Phillips, Martha Meers, Alexander Doherty, Octavius Doherty, Thomas Doherty, Elizabeth Cattermole, Edward Doherty, William Doherty, Frances Croudace, and Agnes Piper.

On 3 May 1901, William Doherty was registered as the Freeholder of 60 acres of land in Glencaw, and 69 acres in Whitecastle, together with grazing and turf cutting rights over a further 157 acres in Glencaw, formerly in the possession of Octavius Blunden Doherty, Thomas Wells Doherty, Edward John Doherty and William Pemble Doherty (the four surviving sons of John Doherty). The purchase was apparently financed by a Loan of £1,170 from the Irish Land Commission, repayable by an annuity in accordance with the Land Purchase Acts, which was finally cleared in 1964. In 1929, William Doherty divided the property equally between his surviving son John Alexander (Alec) Doherty, and Alexander (Sandy) Doherty, eldest son of James Moore Doherty, who had died as the result of an accident in 1912. The lands have remained in the ownership of their descendants ever since. At the same time, John Brown, son in law of William and Jane Doherty and husband of their youngest daughter Rebecca, who had cared for them during their declining years there became the owner of Shandy Hall.

Longfield Church

Longfield Church and Churchyard

John and Elizabeth's grave, and later that of other members of their family, again from the family photograph album when it was quite new.  The grave itself can be clearly seen in front of the church in the first picture, but now it is not so evident.  The inscription is below, again from the album, so when quite recent.  Sadly, although perhaps unsurprising, that inscription is now almost illegible (the recent photo was taken in 2014)

Doherty Grave in Longfield, 2014